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English as Entertainment: Do my lessons have to entertain?


If you follow us at Inspireteach then you know that we are all about teaching as performing and storytelling and so yes, lessons that entertain. But teachers often ask us whether that means they have to be all singing and dancing and extroverted in the classroom. It does not. Let us look first at what it means to entertain so we can find the answers to this question.
In his work “Performance studies” Richard Schechner says:

The paradoxical structure of entertainment (…) binds, in a productive dialectic, the seeming opposites of focussed attention and diversion, concentration and distraction, serious maintenance and playful amusement.”

We love this quote and in one of our sessions earlier this year, we had a deep dive into this subject. But what does it mean and why is entertainment paradoxical? Well, if we look at the meaning of the word it comes from the French entretenir meaning to keep or to hold. To be entertaining we need to keep and hold the attention of our audience. But when we think of entertainment, we often associate it with the idea of having fun. Another French word divertissement, the word for fun, incorporates the notion of diverting and turning elsewhere. So, when we are having fun and being entertained, we are in fact having our attention diverted from other things.

If you are at the cinema and watching the latest James Bond film, then you do not generally have the urge to get out your phone and start scrolling. You are also not likely to be thinking about what you are going to make for dinner. If the film is fulfilling its function, then you are completely engrossed. Your attention is caught and held, and you are diverted away from other things.

The same is true of the classroom. If your students are disengaged, checking their phones, and not concentrating then you are not providing a lesson that is entertaining them. Nowadays with all the distractions of technology and social media many teachers complain that it is harder and harder to keep their students’ attention. But if we are honest with ourselves and ask “are my lessons entertaining? Do they capture my students’ attention and divert them away from other distractions?” then we can find clues to what it is we should focus on. If you are interested in this idea and how to make your lessons more entertaining, then check out our free workshop video series on the website for inspiration.