Games are valuable for learning a foreign language by children because they make them use the target language in an activity that is real to them. Using games in the English class is a great way to motivate our learners to take part, because they have a real reason to be part of the game and can enjoy the real fun and excitement of playing while using highly controlled language. We need to catch their enthusiasm, engage their curiosity and use it to develop their language skills. We want children to be able to communicate in both oral and written language modes.
Games can play a key role in helping children recycle, consolidate language and learn new language in context. A successful game makes pupils actively use the language in a meaningful way. Games can help pupils develop confidence and a good feeling as a group about playing and learning together.
We must be aware that we are using games to develop language, so there must be a language focus in any games we ask our students to play. Games should be at or just above their linguistic level in order to help them develop. Any game in the English class is linked to an aspect (or several aspects) of language: grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation.
We should try to provide a range of games that allow children to play individually, in pairs or in groups. Games must be suitable for their cognitive and age-related levels.
Games can give our language learners a great opportunity to develop all four language skills in English: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
There have to be clear rules and clear outcomes to games.
When introducing students to the rules, you will need to help them learn the necessary language. This is likely to include the following words and phrases:
Follow the rules / You're breaking the rules / That's not allowed;
Take turns / It's (my / your / his / her / their) turn / Whose turn is it? Wait for your turn;
Play in pairs / groups / on your own;
Ready? Go / Stop; Start / Finish / Time's up!
How many points do you have?
Congratulations! / Try again! / Good try! / Good job! / Be a good sport!
Games can easily be adapted and pitched at the specific level of language learners you are teaching. Some language games can be played quickly and simply, such as Guess the word which needs no materials or tools. Meanwhile, some board games may involve complex rules, a lot of materials (such as a board, dice, counters, cards) and a lot of time and to prepare and play. Other games provide varying amounts of involvement.
Rules for Successfully Using Games in the Classroom:
- Plan in advance how each game will be played and what type of instructions you will need to provide to your students to help them understand what is required of them. Students can learn a lot of valuable language by just listening and responding to your clear instructions.
- Try to involve all students in activities.
- Once students have learned how to play a game, bring it back another day (involving new language structures or vocabulary items they have been studying).
- Try to predict how long it will take to prepare for the game and play it. It can be frustrating for students if you have to stop the game before it has been completed. However, if the game carries on for too long, it can also create problems.
- End the game on a happy note and leave your students wanting more.
Many of these wonderful ideas for games originally appeared on the British Council Language Assistant website. I decided to write about some I have tried with my students. Try the games and have fun.
1. Who can see a (door) in the room?
This game has children moving quickly around the room. Make sure they will be safe from tripping over chairs, tables, bags, and so on. The teacher picks an item in the room and asks the students," Who can see a door (a window, a TV, a poster, etc.) in the room?" The student who is first to get to the door, touches it and says, "I can. I can see a door".
You can also use flashcards of items the students have studied (such as places in town), and put them around the room. Have students go to the corresponding flashcard when you say," Who can see a (post office) in the room?"
2. What am I? Who am I? (Guess who you are!)
Make a label for each child of whatever topic they have been studying (involving animals, food items, occupations, and so on). These labels are placed on the students' backs (without them knowing what their individual label says). Students walk around the room and ask questions about their own label and answer questions about others' labels. Through their questioning, they try to determine what is on their label.
For senior students put the names of famous people (either dead or alive) on some labels and stick them to the students backs. They can't tell each other who they are. Then they take turns to describe the person to one student who tries to guess "who" is at his/her back. We really had fun!
3. Jigsaw puzzle
Take 3-4 large pictures/photos and stick them on card. Pictures can come from travel brochures, calendars, magazine adverts etc. Pictures specific to students' interests will motivate them( e.g. film stills, cartoons, famous paintings, famous people). Draw puzzle shapes on the back of each picture (4-5 shapes) and cut out the picture pieces. Give each student in the class a jigsaw piece. They must not show their piece to anyone. Students then mingle and question each other about what is on their puzzle piece to try and find people with pieces of the same jigsaw.
The object of the game is to find all pieces and put together the jigsaw. The first who completes picture puzzle wins.
4. Something in common or 'give me five'
Explain that we can all find something in common with those around us. The object of this game is to discover as many things you have in common with fellow students. You can limit this to 5 things in common.
Brainstorm examples with the whole class, noting suggestions, e.g.
- We both have long-haired cats
- We both went to see Robbie Williams in concert
- We all like Harry Potter
- We both have a younger sister
- Our favourite colour is green
- Our families go to the same supermarket, holiday place
- We both believe in love at first sight, ghosts.
Give students a time limit to mingle and find out 5 things they have in common. The first person to shout 'five' is the winner.
5. Teenage time capsule
Divide the class into groups of 4 or 5. Each group of students is going to bury a box in the ground for future generations to find. This box will contain 5 photos (or objects) which will tell young people in the future about life at the start of the third millennium in their country and/or school.
Students must choose their objects/photos together and each member of the group describes it to the rest of the class or another group. Explain why it is important and what it tells of life today.
6. Crosses and noughts
In the event you have students who are bored by the dull approach to teaching grammar, there's a game you can play.that will lure students into a communication approach to what is being taught. I used this for teaching 3 forms of irregular verbs.
Draw a 3 by 3 playng grid on the blackboard and write infinitives of 9 irregular verbs in each cell.
Divide your class into 2 teams "Crosses" and "Noughts".
The teams take turns and say 3 forms of the irregular verb they have chosen and try to fill 3 cells in a row (in any direction).
You can of course adapt this for many different language points: plural nouns, comparative and superlative adjectives, indefinite pronouns some/any, etc.
7. Interview the Experts
Three students sit in a line at the front of the class. They are the experts, but they
don't know what the are experts about. The rest of the class choose the area of expertise
- eg cooking, car maintenance, trees. Ignore students who shout out 'sex' or 'kissing' or
other unworkable topics.
The other students then ask the experts questions and the experts answer them. Each expert uses only one word at a time.
They are experts about fashion.
Question: What colour will be fashionable next year?
Expert 1: I
Expert 2: think
Expert 3: that
Expert 1: blue
Expert 2: will
Expert 3: not (Expert 3 trying to hi-jack the answer - this is good!)
Expert 1: be
Expert: 2: unfashionable (Expert 2 trying to hi-jack the answer back)
A very simple and effective speaking activity which the rest of the class enjoys listening to.
8. Preposition basketball
This is a lively activity to practise prepositions of place: "Let's play
Choose a spot in the classroom (a corner, the teacher's desk...) and place there several different objects (pens, rubbers, books, etc) at random and a small box or a bag that represents the basket. Decide with your students how many points you will score if they send the ball (you can make a very simple ball with a piece of paper) into the basket (you could give 3 or 5 points, depending on how difficult it is).
What is fun is that each student, even if he doesn't succeed in throwing the ball into
the basket, will score one point for every correct description of the final location of
the ball that he/she can say: "The ball is behind (in front of) the pen",
"It is under the teacher's desk", etc. In such a way, it often happens that a
student scores more points when the ball doesn't go into the basket, depending on the
student's ability to use the correct prepositions.
You can choose if you prefer to divide the class into teams or make an individual competition. Students have a lot of fun in practising this activity that is suitable for children and teenagers as well.
9. Running Dictation
This is a lively activity that practises reading, speaking, listening, writing, walking and remembering!
Choose a short passage or dialogue and make 2 copies. Put the copies up on the walls of the classroom or on the blackboard.
Put the students in two groups. The aim is for one of the students in each pair to walk (or run!) to read the passage on the wall. They remember some of the passage and walk (or run!) back to their partner. They quietly dictate what they remembered to their partner, who writes it down. They then swap roles. Over several turns they will write down the whole passage. This means they really do have to run back and forth because students will only remember four or five words at a time.
The winning pair is the team that finishes first - although you need to check for mistakes. If there are mistakes, they must keep walking to check!
10. Third conditional guessing game
This is a simple game for spoken practice of the third conditional.
Ask a student, a volunteer hopefully, to leave the room. While that person is out of the room you and the rest of the class decide on something very unusual that could have happened while they were out of the room. A good example is two students get married, basically whatever the students can suggest.
Then, the person who has left the room comes back in and asks each student in turn only one question and the full question is 'What would you have done if this had happened?'
And each student in turn answers in a full sentence for example, 'If this had happened, I would have bought some flowers'
Now, they mustn't mention the names of anyone involved because at the end the student who is guessing has to work out what happened to whom and, if they can't, you can go round again with new answers.
As this is for speaking practice, the students can use the contracted form for the conditional grammar - 'If this'd happened, I'd 've bought some flowers.'
11. Hot seat
This is a good activity for revising vocabulary.
First, split your class into two teams
Sit the students facing the board.
Then take an empty chair - one for each team - and put it at the front of the class, facing the team members. These chairs are the 'hot seats'
Then get one member from each team to come up and sit in that chair, so they are facing their team-mates and have their back to the board.
As the teacher, have a list of vocabulary items that you want to use in this game.
Take the first word from that list and write it clearly on the board.
The aim of the game is for the students in the teams to describe that word, using synonyms, antonyms, definitions etc. to their team-mate who is in the hot seat - that person can't see the word!
The student in the hot seat listens to their team-mates and tries to guess the word.
The first hot seat student to say the word wins a point for their team.
Then change the students over, with a new member of each team taking their place in their team's hot seat.
Then write the next word:
12. Erase the dialogue
If you have students that aren't very confident or happy about speaking this is a good idea that always works for me.
Make up a dialogue of about six or eight lines, for example, a dialogue on making arrangements. So the dialogue would be something like this:
A 'What are you doing this evening?
B 'Nothing much, why?'
A 'Would you like to come and drink a cup of tea with me in the cafe?'
B 'Yes, I'd love to. What time?'
A 'Hmm, shall we say 6 o'clock?'
B 'That'll be great. See you then.
A 'OK. See you later. Goodbye.'
B 'See you later.'
This is relatively simple English but the aim is to make it as lively and realistic and as natural as possible.
So, the first thing to do is to write this dialogue on the blackboard and then to drill it. Get the whole class to repeat each line after you a number of times until they sound very natural.
Then once you've been through this dialogue a few times , begin to erase a few of the words from each line. For example, in the first line - 'What are you doing this evening?' - perhaps erase the words 'are' and 'doing' to focus on the grammar point.
Then go through the dialogue again, this time with the class trying to remember the complete lines without prompting them and then drill it again without those words.
Then erase some more words, so this time the first line might be 'What ..'.
Of course they're not allowed to write anything down during this and it becomes a bit of a game.
Finally, you end up with more and more of it being rubbed off until you have the dialogue with just perhaps one or two words in each line as prompts. Then all the students try to say it all together and it's become fun and they're now concentrating on remembering and they're losing their fear of speaking. The final practice could be done in pairs and the students should then write the dialogue down.
13. The Silent Sounds Game
This game is a good way to practice the vowel and diphthong sounds, and it is particularly enjoyed by young learners.
In 'Silent Sounds' you mouth a sound silently and the children guess the sound from the shape of your mouth. Use the game to contrast sounds that are often confused such as /ae/ and /e/ - found in words like 'mat' and 'met'.
Before you start, divide the board into two halves - left and right. On one side write the phonemic symbol for one of the two sounds - for example /ae/, or a word containing the sound - such as cat. On the other side of the board, write the other sound - for example /e/ or the word 'bed'. Now mouth one of the two sounds, the children should watch your mouth attentively and then identify the sound by shouting the correct sound, or - with a small class, by jumping left or right!