In our ongoing Sticky Ball Series, Teacher’s House looks at all aspects of toys and props in the classroom, including but not limited to: when to use props, what props to get, and how to use them. This article offers an introduction to the controversial little toy.

If ESL teaching in China had a mascot, it would probably be the sticky ball. For some teachers, it’s a class-essential. For others, it’s a “break-in-case-of-emergency” tool. Yet, according to some teachers, the sticky ball is the worst thing you can use in a class. There even exists a small number of teachers that see the sticky ball as a symbol of everything wrong with ESL teaching in China.

Why is this little toy so popular, yet so divisive?

If you’re very new to teaching, you might not yet be familiar with a sticky ball, but once you know of it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere: in teaching videos, mentioned in chats and in articles for a popular ESL teaching network. A “sticky ball” is a ball made out of suction cups. In ESL classes, it is most often thrown at a set of flashcards. Whichever flashcard it sticks to is repeated or put into a sentence or otherwise used to practice the target language.

Kids like toys. The sticky ball is a toy. Ergo, kids like using the sticky ball. What’s the problem?

Using the sticky ball repetitively can get boring. Not justor even mostlyfor the students, but for the teacher. When the teacher gets bored, the kids get bored. When kids get bored, they act up. When kids act up, a teacher loses control of the class.

Producing the target language can also be done in more realistic and effective ways than just randomly choosing a flashcard. Using the sticky ball as the method to choose a flashcard doesn’t add anything to learning other than “fun.” While that is an essential element, the result of sticky ball activities is too often basic repetition.

Finally, the sticky ball makes it easy for a teacher to be LAZY. Why bother trying a new activity, making a powerpoint, or producing a relevant card game, when you can just let the students toss a ball around? Teachers should constantly strive to improve themselves and their skills. Using the same activity

But, there is hope! Plenty of different props can be used in to add the “toy” element to your classes. Games without props can add fun and increase engagement. A few simple guidelines can even “save” the sticky ball from being a lazy teacher’s go-to while still keeping it in the classrooms.

Here at Teacher’s House, we aren’t afraid to dive into the controversies nor are we afraid of challenging the golden gooses of ESL teaching. We also want to help teachers create engaging classes and be the best teachers we can be. For more prop and toy articles, check out the other parts of the sticky ball series.

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