Sunday, September 16, 2012

Competition Vs. Non-Competition: You Decide Who Wins!

One unhappy participant 
When I first started teaching elementary school in Korea, other teachers would tell me how much the kids liked to compete. Competition sounded like the ESL, elementary school teacher's holy grail-- a way to get the students excited, on task, and behaving. So we played games for a bit; however, I found not all was well in the land of competition. For all those students that got energized by the competition, I also encountered students that became frustrated or just apathetic. After a game of telephone, I had half of a third grade class crying because they had lost. It was then that I took the sage advice of those before me and gave it a second thought.

That didn't mean than I got rid of games. I love the way games coax and trick us into learning; however, I stopped playing up the extreme competition, winner take all, aspect of games. I also stopped pitting group against group. I changed the games to be individual against other individuals with board or card games. There was nothing more on the line than just finishing the game. I also turned to game-like activities. "Draw the Monster" is probably my most successful lesson plan and activity with elementary school students. It can be downloaded on the Resource page on my site: Active ESL. In this activity, there's dice, there's surprise and chance, there's sharing and communicating, but there's no competition and the children love it.
A proud student with his creation

I find that younger children can take competition too seriously and older kids (6th grade and up) can easily dismiss it. Everyone has their own teaching style and will have different results; however, I've found competition to be a mixed bag.

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