Despite the visceral reaction many teachers may have against it, I believe gum chewing should be encouraged in the EFL classroom. For classes with a heavy emphasis on intra-group discussion, allowing the students to chew gum may relieve anxiety regarding halitosis or bad breath, and thus encourage them to participate more actively. In my own personal experience I have found that students who freely chew gum in my classes have higher attention and participation rates compared to the majority of their peers. These perceived benefits are supported by research on memory and cognition. Research suggests that chewing gum may benefit cognitive functions, such as improved mood (Scholey, et al., 2009), memory, and focus (Baker et al., 2004; Scholey, 2004). In addition, research also suggests that the presence of flavor in gum may positively affect memory (Herz, 1997).
This is the empirical evidence in favor of chewing gum in class as validated by researchers, but it also has the nod of endorsement from perhaps a more pertinent individual: Mrs. Nettie Kitzes. Madame Kitzes was my colleague’s high school French teacher, and was by all definitions a master teacher of foreign languages. After graduating from Hunter College – a Hall of Fame Alumnus – in the 1940s, Madame taught French, Spanish, German, Latin, and Morse code in the US military, and then won a scholarship to the Sorbonne where she obtained a degree with distinction. In her 50-year public school career, her class was so renowned, members of the French diplomatic service in Washington, DC sent their children to the Maryland school to further their education en français.
According to my colleague, who claims to still think to himself in French, her pedagogical weaponry included audio-lingualism, suggestopedia, grammar-translation, communicative techniques, literature, and sheer force of will. It also included gum chewing during tests.
Baker, J. R., Bezance, J. B., Zelaby, E., & Aggleton, J. P. (2004). Chewing gum can produce context-dependent effects upon memory. Appetite 42, 207–210.
Herz, R. S. (1997). The effects of cue distinctiveness on odor-based context-dependent memory. Memory and Cognition 25(3), 375-80.
Scholey, A. (2004). Chewing gum and cognitive performance: A case of a functional food with function but no food? Appetite 43, 215-216.
Scholey, A., Haskell, C., Robertson, B., Kennedy, D., Milne, A., & Wetherell, M. (2009). Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress. Physiology and Behavior 97, 304–312.