The Use of Games in the Classroom
I have been teaching English as an assistant language teacher in Japan for the past 4 years. I have taught all grades from kindergarten through 9th grade, and have worked with many teachers with a variety of teaching styles. In this essay I will look at the use of games in the foreign language classroom, drawing from my experiences to look at several specific games and discuss how they help students learn and use English.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Tansly S. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
1. Games are a good way to make class fun, increasing student motivation while using English.
There are many types of games that are used in numerous contexts. Some games can be played with different age groups, modifying the language used to adapt it to beginners or advanced students. In general, games find a place more often with younger learners in elementary school classes. They can be used with older students; even adults can enjoy learning language through games, but since there is a large focus on preparing students to pass tests starting from junior high school, teachers generally dedicate much less time to games and speaking activities. When choosing a game for a lesson, it is important to pick a game that is appropriate for the level of the students and ideally one that is simple enough to be demonstrated without too much explanation.
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2. Creating activities with existing resources
In elementary school, the course books that students use come with sets of small vocabulary cards that can be used for a variety of games and activities. For example, when students are first learning the letters of the alphabet they can use alphabet cards to test their ability to recognize the letters and match the sound to the shape. One popular game is racing to arrange the letters of the alphabet in order from A to Z. Students can work individually, in pairs, or as a group to arrange the letters, and once they are done can help their peers to do the same. The first group/team to finish is the winner. The competitive nature of the activity adds an element of fun, as well as encouraging teamwork. Another often-used game is bingo, where students each create their own bingo “board” with the cards they have. When the teacher says one of the vocabulary terms, the students flip the respective card over, and students who get one (or more) bingos are the winner(s). To make the activity more communicative, students can ask the teacher (or each other) questions, to which the answer includes the keywords needed to get bingo. Another game using cards is called “karuta” in Japanese. This game is played in pairs or groups, with a set of cards spread out in the middle. When the teacher says a keyword, the students all try to take the card with the keyword on it. This game is not as communicative and tests the students’ listening comprehension. It can be a little discouraging for weaker students who are unable to get any cards. In this case, I have seen teachers do multiple rounds where the winners sit out around, so the weaker students get another chance to play and hopefully get some cards.
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3. A possibility to communicate
Foreign language classes need to be as communicative as possible, giving students ample opportunities to use the language they have learned. One simple activity that is often done is having a quiz game where students split into groups and work together to answer questions. To make it competitive the teacher can keep score of how many questions each team has gotten correct. The questions can be related to whatever the students are currently studying, but the format I have seen the most for this activity is the “Three Hint Quiz”. The “question” is three hints read out by the teacher (or a student), and students must guess the answer based on those hints. For example, the hints could be about a student in the class, and what their interests or hobbies are. Students get more excited when the theme is something they care about or can relate to, so it is important to keep that in mind when planning. It is best if students can write the questions themselves beforehand, and spend some time interacting and talking to each other before starting the quiz game.
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4. Examples of games
One of the most commonly used games in the Japanese classroom is one for learning and reviewing vocabulary. Called the “keyword game,” it is played in pairs, with an eraser between each pair of students. The teacher calls out vocabulary terms, with the students repeating each word after the teacher, and when the keyword (chosen beforehand) is called out, students try to take the eraser before their partner does. It is essentially a way to drill vocabulary, but the competitive nature makes it more fun than simple choral repetition.
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These are just a few of the many games used in English classes throughout Japan. Students of all ages tend to enjoy playing games, and once they learn the rules the game can be quickly set up and played again and again. However, it is important to vary the types of games and activities. Class size should also be taken into account, as some games work better with a certain number of students. If the game is an exciting one that involves speaking, the noise level can get loud, so it is important to have a strategy to deal with the noise. Additionally, while younger students may become very invested in winning the game, it is good to remind them that using the language is more important than winning or losing. Finally, it is worth noting that each class is different and one game that works well with one class will not necessarily work well with others. The teacher must get to know their students’ personalities, interests, and culture to choose and make the most out of games in the foreign language classroom.
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