Why Classroom Games are Essential for Building Confidence in English Language Students
In my years of teaching English to students aged 4 to 14, I have found that nothing brings a child more confidence than being able to do something they previously thought impossible or too challenging. Speaking in front of an entire class, having to memorize speeches or dialogues, and being put on the spot in general can all pose a huge challenge for students and can often end in hurt pride and a lowering of confidence. I have seen students hang their heads in shame as they return to their seats after giving an almost perfect speech, hyper fixating on one single mistake that elicited a laugh or two from their audience. While serious practice and formal testing are all part of learning, having the confidence to face these challenges is something that is cultured in a different setting. Games offer a relaxed and fun setting for language learners to feel comfortable trying out the English language, worry less about making mistakes, and to inspire them to practice and gain experience, all leading to the development of confidence integral to furthering their ability to use English.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Alexandra H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The necessity of low-pressure language practice
To get students to take chances and begin practicing, there is a need for a low-pressure environment where inexperience and mistakes are not only permissible but expected and entertaining. Being able to talk freely and laugh at mistakes with peers is the first step to gaining confidence, and one situation that creates that atmosphere is games. Having a mutual goal in which using English is the only way to achieve it can lead to comical interactions where students can playfully try out the language and gain the practice and experience needed to have confidence using English. Taking the pressure off through games while simultaneously offering an achievable challenge immediately changes a student’s approach to practicing. When they realize that mistakes with their friends can be funny and entertaining instead of being put on the spot in front of their peers leaving them embarrassed and ashamed, they enter a positive feedback loop of gaining confidence and experience while they are driven to practice more as a result.
Also read: 11 Fun ESL Activities for Young Learners
Classroom games are much more than just a bit of fun
Young learners may not be motivated to learn English to begin with, and the added risk of making a mistake can further discourage them and cause them to lose any confidence they may have had. A motivated student is more likely to gain confidence and vice versa. The best way to enter students into this feedback loop is to make learning fun and interesting, give them a chance to showcase their personal skills and cater towards their interests to give them material they’d actually enjoy studying. Games offer this on all fronts. A well-developed game will give students the ultimate opportunity to gain confidence because they will be interested in playing, invested in its completion, and motivated to take chances as they are in a relaxed and comfortable position. Younger students are especially susceptible to embarrassment, and when placed in high pressure or potentially embarrassing situations they are less likely to perform wholeheartedly or sometimes at all. In order to get to a point where students can feel comfortable taking chances in more high-pressure situations and be confident in their skills, games should be used to offer a break from monotonous studying, add an air of excitement, and motivate students to try.
Also read: 7 Fun Activities for Teaching Vocabulary in the ESL Classroom
A wide variety of games is essential
While games do indeed play a crucial role in building students’ confidence, choosing and creating the right games can make or break how successfully this is achieved. A wide variety of games can give every student a chance to shine and indulge their confidence. Learners with different intelligences often excel at different types of games, and using various games challenging different skill types is a great way to ensure that every student has an opportunity to contribute a way of thinking that they feel most comfortable with. For example, if only writing word games are implemented then the students who specialize in learning through music or math are not in a position where they can be as confident and may look to others for help. This is not a problem because teamwork is encouraged, but if the games are never rotated then only the same students will take the lead every time, and as a result, the others’ confidence may suffer. It is important to understand how students learn most confidently and incorporate all aspects of language production and receptive skills when creating games. Cycling through games centered on reading, writing, listening, or speaking not only gives students a wide variety of learning opportunities but also gives students with different intelligences a chance to gain confidence when they play games that suit their learning style.
Also read: The 5 Best TEFL Games for Adult Students
Language should be fun to use
Besides communicating our wants, needs, and essential information, one main function of language is entertainment. Real life conversations are, more often than not, fun for the people involved, lighthearted and stress-free. Giving students this scenario through games sets them up for using the language in the same way they use their mother tongue, which they have the utmost confidence in compared to English. When students realize that practice and mistakes don’t have to be shameful or scary, it opens the door to a world of confidence.
Also read: 7 Awesome ESL Conversation Activities to Really Get Your Students Talking
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