Most authors would agree that games have plenty of advantages. However, when it comes to learning a language, some of them are more effective than others. I personally prefer games which are fun and engaging and, most importantly, boost learner participation and involvement. I would usually choose the ones that can be played in pairs or small groups so that all the students have equal opportunities to participate. I usually go for games which involve producing more than just one word or phrase in order to ensure that the learners have plenty of opportunities to practice their English. Of course, training students to play games in pairs or groups may be time consuming, and you may well want to play them whole class at first so that learners get used to these games and feel ready to have fun in smaller groups. Games need to be “carefully selected or designed to make sure they do in fact work: that they are both “gamey” and learning rich.” (Ur, 2016, p. 25)
1 – Who am I?
If you have headbands for your learners, fantastic! Surely, they’ll love them. If you don’t, you can simply stick some post-it notes with a word or “I am….” Sentence on your learners’ foreheads or backs and get them to work with a partner or mingle around the class to find out what word they got.
- Before the class, come up with a set of words that your learners have learned before but that you think they should revise. You should create flashcards or post-its which say I am….. and the name of the vocabulary item you want to revise. If you want to make this more challenging, you can vary the tenses I am going to….. / I was….
- The first time you do this exercise, you should probably demonstrate it whole class. Stick a post-it note on your forehead e.g. I am a lion and ask your learners a range of yes or no questions in order to guess the word: Am I a person? Am I an object? Am I a film? Am I an animal? Do I have four legs? Can I jump? Do I roar?
- The first couple of times you play this game, elicit and write a range of possible questions your learners may ask during the game on the board.
- Demonstrate whole class with a stronger learner.
- Check instructions by finding out if your learners understand that they can only ask yes or no questions.
- Divide your class into pairs and get your learners to do this exercise with a partner. Ask them to change flashcards without peeping and get them to continue the game for a few minutes.
- Ensure you finish the game before momentum is lost.
Another variety of this game is: Guess who? (Ideal to revise parts of the body) – in this board game your learners will have a board each with 24 characters and by asking yes or no questions related to physical appearance, they will be able to guess the character that their partner has selected.
2 – Charades (An adapted version)
This classic family game is certainly a hit in the English language classroom. It allows learners to produce plenty of language or have fun acting out. Most people play it whole class with two opposing teams, personally, I prefer to divide the class into a range of smaller teams, and have one person describe a word in each team, as this boosts learner participation.
- Before the class, write different words on small slips of paper. These words should be carefully selected based on whether you want to revise specific vocabulary items or you simply want your learners to be able to produce a lot of language when explaining the meaning of the word.
- Divide the class into small groups of 4 or 5 students. Give out a set of word cards to each group. Tell them to take one card out, and set a time limit of 60 seconds. If the group were able to guess a word, they get 1 point, if they weren’t they don’t get any.
- Do a couple of rounds and finish the game before momentum is lost. Whoever gets the most points, wins the game!
Another variety of this game can be done with the phone apps Charades or Heads Up. This makes the game more environmentally friendly, and if teachers choose to ask learners to create vocabulary lists on the Charades app on their phones, by the end of the year, each student will have gathered a big list of words with all the vocabulary that was learned in class.
3 – Stare!
In this game, your learners will have plenty of opportunities to speak, to have fun and to develop learning skills. If you have the family board game Stare, excellent! Otherwise, you can create your own and use it as many times as you want to.
- player A gets to pick up a flashcard from a pile and stare at it for thirty seconds.
- Once time is up, player B looks at the same card and asks a range of questions to player A (the teacher can choose the number of questions, or the time that this player will have to ask the questions).
- If player A remembers all the details, they get 5 points. If they remember some details, they get 3, and if they only remember 1 detail, they get 1 point.
Stare is learning-rich, not only because it allows learners to practice their fluency in a meaningful context and their ability to ask clever questions about a photograph, but also because it helps learners to test their photographic memory and visual intelligence.
4 – Mini Whiteboard fun!
Whether you have bought a set of mini whiteboards for your class, or you have decided to create your own using plastic sleeves or laminated sheets, this low-tech resource will certainly allow you to exploit it in such a range of ways, that you won’t regret buying / creating them.
The truth is that with this resource, you will be able to do more than just 1 game, but I have decided to group these as one, and share a range of tips so that you turn simple classroom activities into more engaging games using mini boards.
a) Spelling race – show a flashcard and get learners to spell a word or sentence. Once they finish, they put up their boards. The ones that got it right get a point.
b) Board race – Say a definition of a word and your learners write it down on their boards. Once they finish, they share their answers with the rest of the class.
c) Collaborative Writing – Divide the class into groups. Give learners the first line of a story. After that, they need to add 1 sentence to that story, and pass it to the left. When they finish, you can get learners to share their boards with other teams, and they can all get to choose the funniest, most memorable, most creative, etc, story!
d) Hangman – Personally, I am not a huge fan of hangman, as I often feel that it is very time consuming, and learners get to practice very little language, especially because this game is usually done whole class. However, if you have a set of mini whiteboards, you can get students to play this game in groups of three, and that makes it a lot more effective.
e) Pictionary – you will need one mini whiteboard every two teams. I strongly suggest, you make very small teams of two or three people, so that they play against each other and have plenty of opportunities to speak. One learner will draw a word or phrase on the mini board, and the other learners will have to guess. As simple as that, but certainly loads of fun and English production guaranteed
5 – Foamy Letters time!
Very often, course books bring rather dull word-formation or tense transformation exercises. Our learners may not enjoy them that much, but a focus on accuracy can be very useful. Foamy letters are an excellent resource to turn word formation or tenses exercises into a game and they require minimal preparation!
- Divide the class intro groups of two
- Show learners a word-formation or fill in the blank with the appropriate form of the verb in brackets exercise, and get them to use the foamy letters to create the word that goes in the blank.
- The one who finishes the fastest and spells out the word correctly gets a point.
What other games do you enjoy playing with your learners which you think are learning-rich and gamey? Please comment and let’s create a useful list for ELT teachers together!