Whether you’re getting the class warmed up for an hour of work or you’re invoking a bit of friendly classmate competition to consolidate something you’ve just taught, language learning games are every ESL teacher’s most valuable resource. They can encourage even the shyest of pupils to get involved and the loudest students in the class to settle down in the hope they’ll be picked to play. They can also be adapted to all ages, classroom levels and topics, making them the perfect resource if you’re ever stuck for ideas.
In short, language learning games will be your best friend as a TEFL teacher, so make sure you’ve got a few in mind before entering any classroom. Here are three that I found particularly useful:
The target game
All you’ll need for this one is a sticky ball and some kind of board! This can be used for teaching new vocabulary or grammar points and can be set up in a matter of minutes.
- First, you need to split the class into teams (it’s usually best if you just divide the class down the middle to make things fair and even) and draw a target on the board.
- You can draw as many rings as you like, but consider starting with three and adding more as the game goes on to keep things interesting. Each ring should have a certain number of points – these can be positive or negative values – with the smallest circle being worth the most.
- Then, all you need to do is ask for a volunteer from team one to come to the front of the class. You’ll ask them a question relating to the language principle you’ve just taught, and if they get it right they can throw the ball at the board.
- Award their team the number of points they’ve won and then it’s the next team’s turn!
Top tip: If you don’t have a sticky ball, you can improvise using a piece of scrunched up paper or by using a soft sports ball.
The zombie game
I have such fond memories of this game, as I hope my students do too! This game works particularly well with young children and is better suited to vocabulary-based lessons.
- First of all, write five or six terms on the board that you have matching flashcards for. Hand these flashcards out to students, making sure they’re spread out across the classroom.
- Then, ask for a volunteer (a pupil without a flashcard) to be the zombie. They need to stand at the front of the class pretending to be asleep.
- As the zombie “sleeps”, the pupils with the flashcards will take it in turns to creep up to the front of the class and stick the picture they’ve been given underneath the correct term written on the board.
- Upon hearing the flashcard being stuck on the board, the zombie will “wake up” and chase the pupil back to their chair. If they make it back without being caught, they’re safe. If they’re caught, they replace the current zombie and take over the next round.
Top tip: Only play this game in classes where there’s enough space to move around freely. You don’t want children tripping over or knocking other pupils down!
The grid game
This is a rubbish name for a very, very fun game! You’ll need a minimum of 10 minutes to complete it so make sure you leave enough time during the lesson. This game is great fun to play right at the end of the lesson, giving the class a chance to consolidate what they’ve just learnt.
- Before the lesson, draw a 4 x 4 grid on a piece of paper and number each box. Then, write a rule in each box – e.g. 20 points, -5 points, double points, give 10 points to the other team, etc). Make sure your pupils don’t see this!
- During the lesson, re-draw this grid on the board without filling in the points or rules. Give each team a symbol (e.g. swirls, stars or hearts) and ask for a volunteer from team one to come to the board. Make sure each team starts with at least 10 points before the game begins.
- Ask them a question based on the language principle you’ve just taught. They may need to answer a question using a particular grammar structure or correct the spelling of a sentence you’ve written on the board. This will vary every time. If they get it right, they can draw their team’s symbol in any box they choose.
- Once they’ve chosen their box, there’s no going back! Check your own grid to see what rule you attributed to that box – sometimes they’ll get lucky, and other times they’ll see their points disappear!
- Let each team take it in turns until every box has been chosen and then see what points they’re left with. Your winner should be clear!
Top tip: Your pupils will remember which boxes are full of extra points and which boxes they should avoid very quickly, so make sure to update the rules every time you play!
There are many other helpful language learning games that I’ll share in my next few posts, but these are three that I think are particularly fun and helpful in the classroom. I hope you enjoy playing them!