Competition is one of the most important motivators in the learning process. However, unhealthy competition doesn’t give the learners the chance to demonstrate their language skills and knowledge to the fullest. 

Here are some negative points that competition can lead to:

  1. Increased stress level in the classroom because of the constant fear to fail or to be behind classmates. Learners get stressed when they don’t win, they start underestimating their strengths and abilities and as a result, may show poor academic progress.
  2. Diminished personal and group effort because it substitutes extrinsic motivation for the development of self-discipline and an internal desire to try hard to do well. Students get interested in scores and prizes more rather than the actual learning process.
  3. Labelling students as good or bad at something which as a result leads to self-defeating beliefs children may already have. 
  4. Increased performance anxiety in highly driven students and those who tend to achieve perfect results in whatever they do.
  5. Low level of a secure climate which results in a lack of cooperation and collaboration among students. Instead, students learn how to cheat, develop a poor sense of community, lack the necessary skills to work in a team and be responsible for the final result.

Teachers must think of some tricks which will turn the competition into a more cooperative activity in this way enabling more students to become “winners”. There are a number of ways teachers can use to minimize the competition level among students.

  1. Think of rewards for those who showed respect and empathy against one another. In this way, teachers indicate the importance of a good attitude towards fellow students. From my personal experience, I used to organize weekly ceremonies where I announced the most polite, the most friendly, the most caring students. We would take photos of those students and treat them with pieces of chocolate. This was a great way of demonstrating how they can contribute to the collaborative classroom environment, and offering a badge or award to learners who are particularly good at giving their fellow learners encouragement or a helping hand was a very productive way of reducing unhealthy competition among learners. 
  2. Use competitive games as a shift from one span to another during the lesson rather than the main focus of the lesson. Competitive games sometimes leave students in a heightened emotional state. Because of the undesirable result, students may even cry. The teacher, therefore, may use competition games as gap-fillers or warmers.   
  3. Encourage teamwork and team projects where the final result is important and it shows how hard the students worked, what kind of skills they have developed. As a teacher, I practised a lot of group projects and when all the groups were done with their presentations we used to have a feedback session where groups were assessing their peers following some criteria, like what they liked the most about the another group’s presentation, what kind of presentation skills were used, what target vocabulary was used, etc. Students can fill out self-assessment forms which help to turn their attention toward their own progress. As a result, they don’t compete against their peers but against themselves. 
  4. Think of more than one award for competitive tasks. In this way, you will certainly reduce hostile competition among learners. Usually, when we organize some competitive activities, we have one winner and the rest of the class may feel disappointed and discouraged by the failure. Therefore, to avoid frustration you may think of more than one trophy/competition category. Suppose, you were covering a creative writing session. Over the course of the class you may ask your learners to come up with short stories or poems each week in a variety of genres, and each week a number of students may be awarded for the best submissions. The change of genre would more likely give a broader range of learners an opportunity to write in a style they love and have a chance to get a “trophy” and feel more motivated.  

Surely, competition is an integral part of the learning process. However, in many cases, it undermines the positive learning climate we need in our classrooms so use it wisely. 

Implement activities which are more focused on the process rather than the result, reduce hostile competition and give the learners the chance to feel safe.

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