English Language Game Teaching Ideas

     Academics and teachers have been touting the benefits of playing games in language classes for many years.  Research shows that playing games can indeed support language learning in many tangible ways.  They provide students with a concrete way to practice the language in context, they encourage students to communicate with one another, and they can provide practice in all four skill sets, reading, writing, listening and speaking.

     Games can also provide a much-needed break from class routines.  They not only bring exciting and fun dynamics to a lesson but they can help students to regain focus after a stressful exam or an unfocused lunchbreak.  

      We will discuss all of the above facets of game playing in the classroom under the rationales, why we play games, when we play games, and how we play games.

Why We Play English Language Games

     In this section, we will look at some of the assets, benefits, and effects of playing games in the classroom.

     There are many assets that playing classroom games provide such as goals, motivation, context, interaction, and feedback.

     Goal attainment is provided by creating an ongoing process of task completion.  The use of games maintains learner choices by offering tasks that are goal orientated.  Games are also dynamic and offer a solution to static learning-driven tasks. 

     Student motivation is a key reason for using games in a language class.  Design elements that make a game engaging are good motivating factors but other factors such as politeness and intercultural competence are true motivators as well.

     The language context is created by the game narrative and the context of playing the game itself.  The narrative, community, and characters, are powerful tools that help students develop literacy in a second language.  These narratives lead students to interact by discussing and comparing the settings, characters, and themes while playing the game.

     The level of interaction depends on the type of game, how it is used, and how the players value the interactive experience.  Student interactions can occur around and throughout the game.  Therefore, games offer a context for interaction that emerges as a part of playing the game that cannot be simulated in other classroom activities.

     Receiving feedback is a crucial asset to playing games in class.  Not only do students have an opportunity to gain useful tips from the teacher but they will receive a lot of feedback from other students in the form of hints, encouragement, challenges, and even protests.

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Barnyard Interactive PowerPoint Games

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Sinking Ships Board Games

     In this part, we will discuss game playing benefits such as lessening affective filters, improving cognitive skills, adding to class dynamics, and the adaptability of classroom games.

     Playing classroom games can lower student's affective filters.  Krashen coined the term in the 1970s and described the affective filter as an invisible, psychological filter that either aids or deters language acquisition.  A low filter can aid language learning by increasing confidence, risk-taking, and the desire to explore.  A high filter can present an obstacle that actually deters or hampers the language learning process.

     Playing games can improve cognitive skills by reinforcing learning through reviewing and extending the use of classroom material.  Other cognitive skills are also used during gameplay such as focusing on grammar in a communicative manner.

     Games can add to classroom dynamics by fostering whole-class participation and creating healthy competition.  These student-centered activities also build class cohesion and foster cooperation.

     Finally, classroom games are extremely adaptable.  Savy teachers can create a template and merely exchange pertinent vocabulary from one topic to another.  They are also very flexible when it comes to student levels and age groups. 

     The effects that gameplay has on students are as numerous as they are positive but mainly, they increase motivation and fluency by creating a controlled competitive environment where students can safely practice the new language.

     Playing language games can increase student motivation by encouraging them to participate and engage themselves in classroom activities.  This, in turn, provides a meaningful context for using the language which further motivates student's desire to participate.

    Games can help students increase their fluency level by aiding them in producing the language more accurately.  When a student becomes more accurate, they are able to increase the natural flow of their speaking skills, thereby increasing fluency.

     Last, controlled competition has proven to be a good motivator among students and their peers.  It not only provides peer positivity and friendly fun but it reinforces teamwork and cooperation.  It can also reduce the stress level of students while learning.

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Regular Board Games

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When We Play English Language Games

      A warmer is an activity at the start of the class to warm up the learners by getting their attention and asking them to focus on a fairly simple task of some sort.  Warmers should not only be short but they should be dynamic to enable the students to interact with the teacher and other students.  

     Short games are a perfect activity to warm up a class and get them to focus after a difficult exam or unfocused lunch break.  They can also be used to access the previous knowledge level of your students before studying a topic in more detail.

     This type of activity can not only be used at the beginning of a class but can help you bring closure to a class by using it as a cooler or ending exercise.

     

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Bookworm Interactive PowerPoint Games

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Tic-Tac-Toe or Bingo Card Games

     Games are also an excellent way to get students to practice newly acquired grammar points or vocabulary language.  

     Giving students a practice activity will allow them plenty of opportunities to try out a new aspect of the language.  It will help them to become familiar with it while only receiving limited input and guidance from the teacher. 

     Keep in mind that a practice activity must provide learners with the opportunity to rehearse the skills contained within the material.  Also, try to use games that focus on one language point at a time.  This way, students won't become confused and overwhelmed by having to remember too many things at once in order to play the game successfully. 

     Finally, games are one of the most productive activities you can supply for your students in the classroom.

    Games should be used that can be set up with minimal work by teachers and minimal assistance from students.   The whole point of a productive activity is to pass over the control of the learning experience onto the students, so it is best to find something that the students can set up and use on their own.  

     Productive activities provide an excellent opportunity for students to use their newly-acquired language in context.  Using the language in context will help cement important vocabulary and grammar concepts into the student's memory. 

     Productive activities are especially useful to help students produce newly acquired language.  Teachers also find them to be helpful tools that can aid in reinforcing review topics, especially before an exam.

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Bananas Interacative PowerPoint Games

     There are three main periods in a class where games can be used as effective learning tools.  Games can be used as a warmer, a practice, or a productive activity. 

How We Play English Language Games

     Finally, we are going to look at how we play English Language Games.  We will discuss necessary teacher preparation, whether the games should be printed or projected, and whether they should be played in pairs, small groups, or as an entire class.

     So, you found the perfect game, what's next?  Depending on what it is you may need to do very little preparation or your preparation time could be very time-consuming.  For obvious reasons, try to error on the side of less prep time.

     If you have chosen a PDF digital game, don't forget to print it out before class.  Trim the edges if needed, cut out any accessory pieces that came with the game, and laminate everything for durability.

     Be sure to gather any additional items that your students will need in order to play the game such as, dice or a coin, place markers, an egg timer, and dry erase markers.

     If you have chosen a pre-made mass-produced game set it up beforehand by placing all the pieces where they are needed, if at all possible.  That way when your students arrive, they can sit down and begin. 

     If the students are already in the room when it is time to play, enlist a student or two to help you get the game ready as quickly as possible.

     If you have decided to project a PowerPoint game on the wall, make certain that you have the game loaded on your computer, opened, and ready to play before you announce your intentions to play it.  This will help to minimize the ruckus students could create in their excitement and anticipation of playing the game.

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Conversation Card Games

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Checker Board Games

     Many teachers don't use games in the classroom because of budget constraints on printing costs.  With a classic board game, for example, they believe that they must print out a separate copy for every two to four students.  With a class of thirty-five students not only would it be time-consuming to print and laminate enough games for the entire class but it would be expensive too.  So, what's the alternative?

     There are actually two choices.  The teacher can use a projectable PowerPoint game or project the board game for the entire class to play with.  Now you ask, how can you use the projected game with so many students?  The answer is quite simple. 

     If you are using a PowerPoint game make sure it has movable place holders and a good scoreboard.  Separate your students into small groups or teams with as equal a number of students in each group as possible.  Have students roll dice to see which team goes first then get each team to choose their place marker.  Student groups can do the same thing to see who gets to take the first turn within their groups.

     What about digital PDF games?  How can those be used with a large group?  The process is the same as above with just one or two additional steps.  You must have a good PDF editor in order to do this.*  If you don't have one follow the link at the bottom of this article.

     Once you have your game, open it up with your PDF editor.  Use the shape tools to make your own place markers.  Get out your dice or open up your digital dice program if you have one and project your game on the wall.  Separate your students into small groups or teams with as equal a number of students in each group as possible.  Have students roll dice to see which team goes first then get each team to choose their place marker.  Student groups can do the same thing to see who gets to take the first turn within their groups.    

     The final decision a teacher needs to make is whether to play their classroom games in pairs, small groups, or as an entire class.  This decision will be dependent upon the class size, budget constraints, and the game itself.

     It may seem like a silly thing to discuss due to the fact that it is easy to play games as a group with only four to eight students but what about larger groups?  The decision should not rest on class size or budgets alone.  The amount of time each student will have to practice should be a crucial consideration.  For example, if you have a class of forty students, how many chances will each student have to answer in a half-hour class?  To complicate things further, what if there is a "lose a turn" space?  Some students may only have one chance at participating in a board game with a group of this size.

     In other words, there are other things to consider when planning to use a game besides how much time it will take you to prepare or how much money it will cost you.  Remember, playing a game is supposed to be a fun experience for all of your students.  So, whether you print or project, or how many you decide to allow in a group, preparation is the key to successful game playing in the classroom.

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Flash or Card Games

Conclusion

So, after going through a long list of why's when's and how's regarding playing games in the classroom, one of the most important take-aways from this article should be to plan your game time with your students in mind.  Don't expect to find them interested in something just because you are.  Get to know your students so you can begin to decipher what activities will be well-received by them, and what will bring out the best in them, in order to enhance their learning experiences.

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