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How can an instructor effectively use games with adult EFL students?

How can an instructor effectively use games with adult EFL students? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

When I first made the transition from primary school to university, I knew that my lesson plans were clearly going to have to change. As I began to come up with ideas for my new job, I was disappointed that most of the content I previously used had no place in the university. Games, such as Hangman and Pictionary, worked excellently in capturing the interests of my young students, but I didn’t think these childish games had any place in a university classroom. I found out weeks later how wrong I was when I used Pictionary at the beginning of one of my courses to ‘preview’ the vocabulary we would be covering in class that day. I discovered that day that games can support a lesson if the educator effectively incorporates it into his/her lesson plan.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Drew P.

What is a game?

Before moving on I think it is important to clearly define what a game is. Looking on Merriam-Webster, the first definition that comes up is “activity engaged in for diversion or amusement.”

We could say role playing is an amusing part of the lesson, though I wouldn’t categorize this as a game and would instead label it as a ‘speaking activity.’ To make my position more clear, a game is not just fun or diverting from the normal course of a lesson, but it also must have students attempting to solve a problem. In a role play, there is a clear objective and some students will do a better job than others, but they are not trying to reach a definitive solution. In a game like Pictionary, there is a clear answer that is getting drawn on the board. Also, games often carry a competitive element with them; a game like Pictionary rewards correct answers with points. When an educator chooses a game or really any part of a lesson plan, nothing should be an afterthought and each stage of the plan needs unity and flow.

How to choose an appropriate game?

To effectively choose a game directed towards older learners, the educator needs to consider the content being taught and the stage of the lesson.

Let’s take for example a straight arrow ESA approach that uses a small game at each stage of the lesson to teach the past tenses. The engage stage would consist of a warmer: Slow Pictionary. I found the description in Unit 3 was a better way to go about the game as opposed to how I typically do it; I now think calling on a student after each pen stroke does a better job in getting the students to interact with the game. Though this does not necessarily link in to the lesson’s topic of verb tenses, the warmer still does a good job at capturing the students’ interest and gives them ample time to ‘warm-up’ their minds before the lesson takes way.

Learning stages using a game

The first part of the study stage would begin with a game of Hangman that incorporates that day’s vocabulary (i.e. past tense, past participle, irregular verb, etc.). After this the instructor can write those words up on the board and elicit responses from the class (i.e. can anyone tell me an irregular verb? How do we know when to use an irregular verb?). The final part of this stage involves a gap fill exercise that students will first complete individually. Then, the students get into groups of 4-5 to go over their responses and give their reasoning for any discrepancies. Finally, the class goes over the correct answers while stating the reason why the answer is correct. Depending on the level of the students, the instructor can try to elicit the correct answers. This stage is concluded by going over a short PowerPoint that describes the form and usages for each tense with accompanying examples.

The active stage begins with one of the activities mentioned in the course contents. This is perfect in having students practice past simple and past continuous while they also make connections with their written work and expressing themselves. Students then share their stories in their groups. The final part of the lesson involves groups competing against one another in an adaption of Jeopardy. There will be four categories for each of the past tenses: past simple, past continuous, past perfect, and past perfect continuous. The rules are the same as the TV show Jeopardy: questions range from 100-500 points and groups have an opportunity to steal if another group gets a question wrong. The questions can include form (i.e. what is the form for past perfect?), gap-fill, multiple choice, giving an example of the tense, etc. Since the game is a bit competitive, this can be a great way to make the students stay focused and try their hardest.

Perks of using games with adult students

Incorporating games into a lesson plan for adult students is essentially the same as with younger learners: captivate their interest in an amusing way and tie in the content of the lesson. When I first began learning Mandarin Chinese, the most memorable part of my lessons was when we would play a game. This is similar to my experiences learning German in high school; I listened to the German Metal band Rammstein and studied their lyrics. Even though I have remembered little from my German studies, I can still translate the lyrics to many of Rammstein’s songs. When I cared about what I was learning, I was more receptive to what I was studying.

As educators it is not only our duty to provide students with knowledge, but to find ways to make what we teach matter to them. Through the use of games, speaking activities, and application of technology/resources, learners become more invested in what is being taught and thus they are able to take away deeper meaning and understanding from their lessons.

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