One of the most common misconceptions about language learning is that it is all about memorising vocabulary and constant repetition of grammar rules. But the advent of digital technologies such as apps and games are enabling and encouraging teachers to be more creative in their lessons to better engage their students.
Such digital tools can certainly facilitate online learning games, but there’s also a strong argument for using more traditional techniques. A previous blog post reiterates how and why to use games in the language classroom. But it didn’t provide any specific recommendations of which games to play – hopefully this new blog post fills that gap!
These six language learning games that we are introducing offer a dynamic and engaging way to reinforce language skills in the classroom. They encourage active participation, creativity and communication in the target language, making the learning experience both enjoyable and effective for your students. We’ve also provided some step-by-step guides on how to set up and deliver each game in your classroom.
So as the saying goes: “Let the games begin!”
1. Language Jeopardy
This is a fun and competitive way to review and reinforce language skills such as vocabulary, grammar and cultural understanding.
Setup and delivery:
- You’ll need to buy or create a jeopardy-style game board with categories related to your lesson or language objectives. Each category should have a range of questions with varying levels of difficulty.
- Develop some question cards or slides containing the questions and answers.
- Divide your class into teams.
- Teams take turns selecting a category and a point value (e.g., “Grammar for 200 points”). The educator then reads out the question.
- The first team to buzz in or raise their hand gets the opportunity to answer the question. If they answer correctly, award them the points and allow them to choose the next question. If they answer incorrectly, open the question to other teams for a chance to respond.
This simple game helps enhance students’ vocabulary and spelling skills as well as supporting their deduction and guessing capabilities.
Setup and delivery
- Write a word or phrase related to the lesson on the board, using dashes to represent the individual letters.
- Divide the class into two teams.
- Select a student from one team to guess a letter.
- If the letter is in the word, fill in the blanks; if not, start drawing the hangman.
- Continue taking turns between teams until the word is guessed or the hangman is complete.
- Emphasise pronunciation when revealing the word.
- Repeat with different words related to the lesson.
- Of course, the game could be played by peer pairs or by smaller groups to give more students the chance to choose and guess the word and even more chances to participate.
Educators can use this game to build students’ vocabulary and to reinforce core listening skills. After all, if students aren’t listening they won’t hear the words on their cards!
Setup and delivery:
- Create bingo cards with words or phrases related to the lesson.
- Distribute cards to students.
- Explain the rules: When you call out a word or phrase in the target language, students mark it on their cards.
- Call out the words or phrases and encourage students to listen carefully.
- The first student to complete a row or column shouts “Bingo!” and wins.
- As well as just playing the game, there are some interesting extension activities here. Why not review the words/phrases called during the game, asking students to provide translations or use them in sentences?
4. 20 Questions
In addition to building fluency through language production, students playing this game can also develop their critical thinking and questioning skills.
Setup and delivery:
- Choose a student to think of an object or word related to the lesson but without revealing it to their peers.
- The class takes turns asking yes-or-no questions to guess the word.
- Emphasise that the questions must all be in the target language.
- The student can only respond with “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.”
- Continue until the word is guessed or the class has asked all 20 questions.
- Rotate the role of the thinker to involve all students.
- This game is highly flexible and could work as a whole class, small group or pairs activity.
5. Story Cubes
This is a great game to get students talking and to develop their creative and storytelling skills in their chosen L2.
Setup and delivery:
- Provide each student with a set of story cubes. These are simply dice with pictures attached. (These are widely available for purchase but could easily be created for a specific topic.)
- Instruct students to roll the dice and use the images to create a short story in their target language.
- Encourage them to use vocabulary and grammar that they’ve worked on during the lesson or topic.
- Students take turns sharing their stories with the class.
- Discuss the stories as a group, highlighting correct language use and offering constructive feedback.
Students develop strong vocabulary retention so they know what to act out and can build non-verbal communication skills to get the message over to their teammates.
Setup and delivery:
- Prepare slips of paper with words or phrases related to the lesson.
- Divide the class into two (or more) teams.
- A student from one team selects a slip and acts out the word or phrase without speaking.
- Their team members must guess the word or phrase in the target language.
- Set a time limit for each round.
- Rotate roles within the teams so that everyone has a chance to act and guess.
- Review the words/phrases after the game, discussing their meanings and usage.
If you’re looking for more games to play in the language classroom, then check out this excellent blog post from Preply. And don’t forget to explore the wealth of free resources available online through sites such as Games for Language.
How to use games effectively in the language classroom?
Whichever of the above games you play with your classes, there’s three key things to do at the end of each one.
- Who won? Whether you want it to be competitive or not, your students will certainly want to know who won the game. It’s important therefore to keep a note of the score and to reward the winners / commiserate with the losers in some way.
- When the game ends, take the time to review the questions and answers with your students. This provides an opportunity for extension learning activities and to clarify any misunderstood concepts.
- It’s also important to have a brief discussion about what students learned and enjoyed about the game. Always encourage their feedback and seek their suggestions for future games.
Incorporating games like the above into your language classes can powerfully enhance your students’ overall language learning experience. They help to build a dynamic and immersive language environment in which students are active participants in their language journey and not just passive recipients of content provided by the educator. More importantly, there’s clear evidence that games-based learning helps improve their language skills and enables them to relish the joy of learning through play.
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