Teach children using games
Many teachers believe that using games in the classroom is inappropriate. Games are for fun, not for learning. At best a teacher might use a game occasionally as a reward to the class for good behaviour. This is such a shame since using language games motivates children, improves learning, makes lessons more dynamic and fun, and creates a bond between teacher and students. Motivated, engaged children make teaching more satisfying. This article looks at the whys and hows to teach children using games to make your classroom a better place.
Creating enthusiasm for English
Children love to play and do so naturally. Using play in class makes learning English fun and exciting. Consequently, pupils enjoy lessons more and are more interested and motivated to learn English. A teacher may have a beautiful textbook but find the class sleepy and disinterested. An English proverb states that ‘you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’. You cannot force your pupils to learn if they are not motivated. Using games will turn your pupils into ‘thirsty horses’!
Repetition is the mother of skill
Children need repetition to learn. In some classrooms this means the teacher saying a phrase which students repeat over and over again until they are literally yelling out the phrase at the teacher, as if to say, “We’ve said this ten times and you are driving us crazy asking us to say it again.” But the next day students have forgotten the phrase completely. How so? Because to remember something it has to be meaningful to you. Teaching parrot fashion requires no thought. No thought, no effort, no retention.
Repetition is however essential for language acquisition since children need to hear a word and use it many times before it becomes part of their knowledge bank. Drilling is necessary but it needs to be fun in order to engage pupils and have them participating actively. Without this participation words go in one ear and out the other.
Games give the opportunity for repetition but also, when used correctly, will force a student to think rather than repeat parrot-fashion. This is the secret to being able to build vocabulary and grammar and remember it.
Tapping into different learning styles
There are many types of language games including listening drills, speaking drills, spelling, reading and writing drills. There are also games for fluency in listening, speaking, reading and creative writing. The sheer variety of approaches means teachers inevitably tap into different learning styles and as a consequence reach more pupils. Games involving looking at things, such as pictures and movement, appeal to those who learn visually. Listening games appeal to those who learn through audio. Moving the body and touching things appeals to kinaesthetic learners. Good teachers need to use variety if they are to achieve the greatest success.
Creating a bond and supportive learning environment
When students enjoy a particular topic they usually like the teacher. A teacher who is fun and effective is seen as “cool” by students. Students will respect a teacher they like and pay more attention in class. This leads to better results, which lead to confidence in learning. A teacher using games is making more effort than the one who just opens the textbook. This effort is rewarded by a bond between teacher and pupils. This is the true reward of being a teacher.
It’s not all about competition
Bear in mind that a game does not have to be competitive. Highly competitive games will not appeal to all students. Some competition is beneficial to create excitement but the learning environment should not be pressurized. Some children who are bad losers will cry if their team loses a game. Award points sometimes, but not always, and never make a big deal out of the winners or draw attention to the losers. The younger the children the more delicate you need to be with regards to competition. As for children aged six or younger, never use it.
Games can get children over-excited and that is a challenge. Good classroom management is crucial to success when using games. Helpful tactics are to mix up quiet games with more active ones, insist on silence during listening games, deduct points from a team if anyone in that team is noisy, use attention grabbers and always calm the class down before the end of the lesson. An excellent attention grabber is to play a song children know and have actions for. They will join in and at the end of the song you have their attention. Another attention grabber is to start a wave such as those performed by the crowd at a football match. Children who are distracted will see it and join in.
Examples of Games
To introduce new vocabulary try a simple listening game such as Jump the Line:
Group size: 2 to a big class
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Materials: Picture or word flashcards and/or a classroom board
Age: 4 to 12
Pace: Wake up
This game is ideal to present new vocabulary. Ideally play in a space on the floor. Designate an imaginary line and place pictures or words either side of that line, to the left and to the right. In a class with no room draw a vertical line down the middle of the board and stick up or draw pictures either side of the line. Call out the items and players jump to the right or to the left depending on the location of the picture in relation to the line.
If your children are stuck on benches with no room to move they can make arm gestures instead of jumping.
As well as presenting new vocabulary use this game to familiarise players with a grammatical structure by repeating the same sentence each time, with a different noun represented by the picture or word on the board. Call out actress, singer, businessman, if you are learning the professions for the first time. Call out a sentence such as, “I’d like to be an actress” or, “I’d like to be a singer” to revise professions and introduce the conditional. Do not introduce new vocabulary and a new structure in the same game.
An easy speaking drill game to gain confidence and memorize new language is Hot Potato:
Group size: Small group to a large class
Level: Beginner to Advanced
Materials: One or more potatoes or similar. Optional blindfold.
Age: 4 to 12
Pace: Wake up
Sit the children in a circle with one player blindfolded or eyes closed in the middle. If you have no space for a circle leave the children sitting at their desks and they can pass the potatoes from their seats. The players pass the potato round as quickly as they can until the player in the middle calls out “Hot Potato!”
The player holding the potato at this moment has to do a forfeit. See Forfeits for ideas. With a big circle or class have two or more potatoes passed round at intervals of a few people, to keep everyone actively occupied. In this case all those holding a potato do the forfeit together.
Large class variant
Use this game as an excuse to frequently go over a song or a rhyme. You’ll want to have introduced the song in a previous lesson. You’ll need at least one potato to every six students. Establish the route the potatoes will take around the class and pass the potatoes along it by way of demonstration. Start the song and while pupils sing they pass the potatoes. Somewhere during the song, unexpectedly, you make a loud noise or clap. The class instantly stop singing and all pupils with potatoes do a forfeit.
Singing, chanting or saying a rhyme as the potato is passed round, or, with a small to medium group the person in the middle can ask the people caught holding potatoes a question, and if they answer it correctly they do not have to do the forfeit.
A more advanced idea is for each player to say a word beginning with a certain letter as the potato is passed round. A word cannot be used twice. If pupils cannot think of a word they hold the potato while thinking – increasing their chance of being caught with it.
A variant of this is to say any word as long as it is part of a given theme such as an animal, a profession, a place such as bank or supermarket, a country or a colour. After each round change the theme or the letter.
Another variant for players to think of a word that begins with the last letter of the previous word. If player 1 says “bat”, player 2 can say any word beginning with “T”, such as “tree”, player 3 must now think of any word beginning with the letter “E” and so on. Allow the repetition of words to help keep the game flowing and pass around several potatoes around at once.
If you would like to receive free games please email the author to request them on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website in the about the author box below.
In this article we encourage you to spice up your lessons with language games to help motivate your pupils and give them the repetition they need to become confident using English. We have described why games are helpful to both pupils and teachers and we hope you will try out the example games suggested.