Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Games for language teaching and learning

Following on from Jyh’s post about the play museum, I thought I’d write about how we can use games in language teaching and learning. 

As a language teacher in Portugal in the 1990s, there were lots of games I used with my students. One favourite was the grammar auction, where students had an amount of (imaginary!) money and had to bid for sentences. If the sentence was correct, they doubled their money; if it was ungrammatical, they lost their money. Fortunes were made and lost in the space of a lesson! 

Another favourite activity was picture pairs, where cards represented pairs of words and pictures. For example, a picture of an umbrella was matched by the word ‘umbrella’ on another card. All the cards started off face down, and students could turn over two cards at a time in order to find a perfect pair. These cards could be difficult for the artistically challenged teacher to make, but fortunately there were several good books of grammar games with photocopiable activities. Two very useful  books were Penny Ur’s Grammar Practice Activities and Mario Rinvolucri’s Grammar Games. There were others whose names I’ve forgotten, but perhaps you’d like to share your ideas in the comments box below?

Another game was snakes and ladders, in which students threw a dice to go round a board and answer questions on aspects of English grammar. If they answered wrongly when their counter was on the head of a snake, down they went to the snake’s tail a few rows below. However, if they answered correctly at the foot of a ladder, they could go a long way up the board.

We also played dominoes, with words and definitions, or pictures and written words, on different domino rectangles. And of course, we played a lot of bingo, with numbers and words. A
photo by Julia Miller
slightly less lugubrious variation on the word game hangman was the spelling shark, in which students had a limited number of opportunities to guess the letters that made up a word. If they weren’t quick enough, and didn’t guess the word in number of chances available, the stick figure on the whiteboard walked off a cliff and fell into the mouth of a hungry shark.  The number of chances increased if the teacher was feeling generous!

photo by Julia Miller
With very young students, musical colours was a winner. The children danced around to an English song, and when the music stopped they had to stand on a large piece of paper in the colour called out by the teacher. We also did this activity with shapes.

Many games were enjoyed by students of all ages. However, some adult learners and parents of younger students worried that games were not a ‘serious’ learning activity. Their fears were unfounded, as students in my classes were motivated by the games and did well in exams. 

Although, as a teacher, I spent a lot of time preparing materials, these games could be used again and again, and brought a lot of pleasure to my students, while at the same time stimulating them in their language learning. Nowadays, of course, there are so many opportunities for online language games too. What are some of the language learning games and websites that you like best?


Peter Rettig said...

Our Quick Games ( no login required!),@ may work for older children. interested in some feedback!

Julia Miller said...

Hi Peter
I've just had a look at the English for Portuguese L1 speakers section (Babbel). I like it, but need to try more exercises. The ones I tried were all based on translation between English and Portuguese. I guess maybe there is more variety/less translation in some of the other exercises?

Julia Miller said...

Hello again Peter
I've just tried the French directions game and think it's great!

jyh said...

Dear Julia

Thanks for the interesting post.

I notice different behaviors among my three nieces.

The first two who are sisters like 'Hi5' very much and learned from the VCDs.

The third one who is the cousin, go with Disney Junior, as her parents subscribe to paid TV.

All three girls learn some words and styles of saying things...,
especially the emotion words like happy, surprise, disappointment, etc.

More interestingly, one of them says it with a dance-like fashion. She just like the kinesthetics.

Sadly, none of them like the Mandarin animation on the free television channel. None of their parents watch with them as the parents have their own Ipad, Iphone and other needs to be away or running errands or work. The children are big enough (age 4, 5, 7)to be on their own now watching the animation on screen.

I think the intervention in or around play/games may also create some changes in terms of accessing the play/game material and in charting the materiality of the outcomes.


Anonymous said...

These are great ideas! My students love games, and I write about some of the ones I use with them.

Julia Miller said...

I like your blog post on the need for a neutral pronoun, friendlymoth. Or maybe we should just drop the pronoun altogether? Lots of languages manage well without one!

Unknown said...

Hi Julia:
Peter again; Great that you liked the French direction game. We are now adding more Quick games nearly daily.