Affect, Cooperation and Humour in the EFL Holistic Classroom

Teachers who have difficulties controlling their emotions and their classrooms tend to have students who experience more negative emotions such as shame, sadness and guilt. EI (Emotional Intelligence) skills (or, more exactly, the lack of them) seem to be one of the roots of these problems. That is why the training of teachers’ emotional skills becomes vital for creating a more stable, supportive and productive learning environment – one that encourages positive social interaction, active engagement and academic achievement among students.

Following the principles of Humanistic Language Teaching Movement represented by Rinvolucri, Moskowitz and Galyean, among others, many language teachers seriously take affect into account. Teaching methods such as The Silent Way, Total Physical Response (TPR), Suggestopaedia, Natural Approach, Cooperative Language Learning (CLL) focus mainly on students’ affect and feelings. Based on psychology, these approaches to EFL teaching are concerned with treating the learner as a ‘whole’ person.

Affective language learning fits within what appears to be an emerging paradigm that stretches far beyond language teaching.  In the presence of overly negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger or depression, our optimal learning potential may be compromised. It has been proved that anxiety is the affective factor that obstructs the learning process the most. Also, strong criticism and words of ridicule can greatly weaken the students’ ego and the weaker the ego, the higher the walls of inhibition.  Unfortunately, the necessary emotional and social competencies for coping adequately with the negative, destructive emotions generated in a competitive context have not been explicitly taught in our schools. That is because, in our society, intellectual and academic aspects of learning have been given priority, under the conviction that their emotional and social aspects belong to the private sphere, where each individual is responsible for his or her own personal development. But teaching emotional intelligence has become a necessary task in the educational arena and many parents and teachers nowadays consider this a priority in the socio-emotional and personal development of their pupils.

Good communicative language teaching and developing emotional intelligence go hand in hand.

A multiple intelligences approach to EFL learning supports the class as a community, accommodating differences and sameness. It is the teacher’s role, through differentiation, to ensure that the differences between students do not create a social barrier, such as isolation. The group dynamics needs to be fostered through techniques which build self-confidence by creating a positive classroom atmosphere and by promoting cooperation. The learners must be encouraged to experiment together, discover the target language and take risks without feeling embarrassed. Personalised language practice is affective in that it encourages learners to talk about themselves and their feelings while making the use of the language relevant. According to Scrivener (2011), any feelings that might be expressed in English, any topic that might be discussed using English can become the subject matter of the class. Moreover, emotional literacy content should be applied consistently across the curriculum.

All students should be regarded and accepted not only as leaners, but also as individuals.

In the differentiated classroom students develop, more than compete, against one another, always moving toward – and often beyond – designated content goals.  Collaborative language work helps students to develop their multiple intelligences and benefit from one another. Learners should work in a variety of group settings, regarding the fact that whole language EFL teachers think of social interaction as fundamental to the development of cognition. Teachers need to balance the interests of individuals against what is good for the group and to be aware of certain individual traits when putting students into pairs and groups. Collaborative work helps students develop skills for interacting with each other, solving interpersonal conflicts and problems, supporting one another in learning. Students in cooperative environment have a more positive attitude toward learning and develop higher self-esteem and self-confidence. When students work together, they tend to like each other regardless of ability differences, because in cooperative situations they are dependent on each other and share common goals. One’s unique contribution is required for the group to succeed and this leads to a feeling of solidarity and comradely supportiveness.

There is an agreement among researchers that humour helps the process of learning a foreign language because it blocks the negative states induced by language anxiety.  Krashen’s concept of the affective filter defends the use of humour in language teaching and the good sense of humour the language teacher needs to have. ”The idea of using humorous materials, gesticulations, jokes and riddles can seem very appealing to teachers as a way to create a relaxed classroom environment with enthusiastic, motivated learners.” (Stroud, 2013) This will ultimately lead to establishing a good rapport with the students. Students may feel that a humorous teacher is enhancing their learning, helping them to retain difficult material. Singing, chanting and acting together is fun and it stimulates the children’s sense of humour. It also helps children play with the target language in a funful environment.

On the whole, we should all make an effort to add an emotional element to our lessons whenever possible in order to make learning English meaningful and memorable for students. It is definitely worth it!

Arnold, J. (1999), Affect in Language Teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Dornyei, Z. (2001), Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press
Krashen, S. (1985), The Input Hypothesis, New York: Pergamon
Richards, J., Rogers, T. (2001), Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching,  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Salovey, P., Shyter, D. (1997), Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence. Educational Implications, New York: Basic Books
Scrivener, J. (2011), Learning Teaching (The Essential Guide to English Language  Teaching) (ed. A. Underhill) (3rd edition), Oxford: Macmillan
Stroud, R. (2013), The Laughing EFL Classroom: Potential Benefits and Barriers. In: English Language Teaching 6(10):72-85.
Tomlinson, C.A. (1999), The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All  Learners (2nd edition), Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and  Curriculum  Development


prof. Iuliana-Alina Muntean

Liceul Teoretic I.C. Brătianu, Hațeg (Hunedoara) , România
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