10 Tips for Games in the ESL Classroom
From the creator of the world’s best-selling ESL board game—ten practical ideas on using games when teaching English
1. Find books and e-books of ESL games and become familiar with the type of games in each. This will make it easier to find the right game for a particular lesson.
2. When choosing games for a class, check that they’re for the right age group, the right level of proficiency, the right number of students and they’ll take up a suitable length of time. Books and e-books of ESL games should provide all these details for each game.
3. Occasionally games can be used to fill in time or provide a break from the usual class routines. But most of the time games should have a function within a lesson plan. For example, they can be used at the start of a lesson to introduce material or they can be used towards the end of a lesson to test, reinforce or practise the language elements or skills presented.
4. Choose games with simple rules and clear instructions. You shouldn’t have to waste valuable classroom time explaining complicated rules or giving complex instructions. After explaining how a game works, ask if anyone has any questions.
5. In classes for adults and young adults, you might need to briefly explain the purpose of the game in terms of the material covered in the lesson. Some older learners will think games are only for children, and explaining their function can help these learners see games as a valid and useful activity.
6. For younger learners up to the ages of 10 or 11, games that involve some physical movement often work best. When children are enjoying themselves and having fun, they often feel excited and full of energy. If they’re forced to stay still, they can become restless and even disruptive.
7. Don’t put too much emphasis on winning a game by awarding prizes or titles like “class champion”. The emphasis should be on having fun and learning. If the emphasis is on winning, negative feelings like disappointment, shame, envy or blame can spoil the atmosphere.
8. If a game involves quiz questions or information exchanges, try to use topics that interest your students. These can be topics like music, movies, sports, local news, etc. This will help to make the game more interesting and help your students to stay focused.
9. If you have many students and you’d like them to play a game that works best with just a few players, have them form small groups. Then explain the game while modelling it with one group while the others look on. When everyone understands how it works, the other groups can begin playing. This is better than having one group play while all the other students watch and wait for their turn to play.
10. Start a “Games Diary” in which you keep notes on each game you use in your classes. You can note how difficult or easy it was to explain, whether your students enjoyed it or not, and how well it performed its function. After using a game, you can even ask your students questions like “Was it fun?”, “Did it help you to learn?”, “Could it be improved?” and record their answers in your diary as well.
Matt has been teaching English for over thirty years and is the creator of Word Up, the world’s best-selling ESL board game, and the author of Matt’s ESL Games and Quizzes Book 1.