Using Games in the Classroom

19 Dec 2016

One challenge in the English as a second language (ESL) or foreign language (EFL) classroom is getting the learners to use the language frequently and willingly. If English is to be learnt for communication, learners should have many opportunities to hear, speak, read and write the target language.

Language games provide authentic contexts for language learning in the classroom. They provide a natural context for language to be used in and are motivating and fun. They are a legitimate way to provide some relief to long lessons.

Games, as described by Gibbs (Quoted in Rixon, 1991, p.3), are “activities carried out by cooperating or competing decision makers, seeking to achieve, within a set of rules, their objectives”. Hadfield (1990) described games as “an activity with rules, a goal and an element of fun.”  

Guidelines for using games in the classroom

Before launching into any games, do bear in mind a few principles in using games. An element of luck instead of pure skills or knowledge always makes a game more interesting. Think about how to incorporate this luck element into any game.

Games need to be properly structured with a marked beginning and an end. In addition, consider the types of interaction patterns possible in a game. Do not limit it to just teacher-student interaction. 

Bear in mind too that games can focus on accuracy of language use (fluency) or the communicative function. With the latter, remember that many possible ways are available to the learner to reach the goal, including non-linguistic ones. To facilitate genuine communication, include an opinion or information gap in the game. An opinion or information gap refers to the disparity in information or opinion between players at the start of the game. Players have to use language to bridge this gap and to get the information needed to complete the activity.

2 examples of  games with an information gap

To be played in pairs or in small groups or as a whole class

Game 1: Listen and Draw

Level:         Any level, depending on the complexity of the picture
Material:   A picture, preferably nothing too complicated (see example below)
Skills:        Giving, listening and following instructions (the language involved
                   could vary depending on the picture)
Method:    When played as a group, every student in the group is given a piece
                   of paper. The group leader studies the picture and gives instructions
                   on how to draw the picture. All students listen to instructions given
                   and draw the picture. The person whose picture is closest to the
                   original picture wins.  (See picture below)

Possible instructions:

  1. Draw a small triangle in the middle of the page.
  2. Draw a small circle under the triangle.
  3. Draw a line on the right side of the triangle and circle.
  4. Draw a longer line under the circle
  5. Draw a cross under the line.
  6. Draw a large circle around what you’ve just drawn. Make sure your circle touches both ends of the long line. 

Game 2: Find the Difference

Level:         Any level, depending on the picture
Material:   2 photographs or drawings that look similar but have differences
Skills:        Listening and speaking. Describing
Method:    To maximise language use, have students play this game in pairs. 
                   They will label themselves Student A or B. They are then given a
                   picture each. They will take turns to describe the picture and find the
                   differences in their pictures. You can specify the number of
                   differences to be found.

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