By Mike Astbury

25 August 2017 - 15:47

'[Games] can form the integral core of a well-staged lesson.' Image (c) Michal Parzuchowski, used under licence and adapted from the original.
'[Games] can form the integral core of a well-staged lesson.' Image ©

Michal Parzuchowski, used under licence and adapted from the original.

Mike Astbury, four-time winner of our TeachingEnglish blog award, explains how classroom games can benefit your students, lessons and professional development.

Picture a perfect class of English language students. They are motivated and work hard. They communicate their ideas in English and create a positive atmosphere by working together.

I think you can take steps towards creating this ideal environment, by considering how to build games into your lesson plans.

Some teachers may consider classroom games to be frivolities or distractions. But they can form the integral core of a well-staged lesson. Here are some examples of how you can use games to strengthen your lesson plans and develop your classroom strategies.

Games are a good way to revisit content that you've already covered

Well-known games such as ‘back to the board’ (in which a student sits with his or her back to the board and has to guess the word written on it from their teammates' clues), the charades-inspired guessing game Pictionary, and ‘board race’ (where students race each other across the classroom to write the answer to your question on the board) can be effective ways to revisit a previous topic. They allow you to remind your students what was covered in the previous lesson, and offer those who were absent a chance to catch up.

Most teachers will agree on the benefits of using these activities at the start of your lesson, but it can be easy to get stuck in a routine. Games that you repeat too often can lose the energy and excitement that they initially generated.

Fortunately, by making slight changes to the rules of a regular game, you can add new challenges and keep students engaged. You can also introduce new games periodically by building your repertoire of ‘go to’ games. For example, here's a game you can play with any collocations.

Games can pep up a course book-based lesson

When you are teaching a lesson that follows a course book, you will probably want to adapt it. Why not try incorporating games to add some life to parts of the teaching materials that might seem a little dry?

This isn’t just about adding ‘fun’ to the lesson. Games can help your students engage with course book content in a more meaningful way. Think about how you could use games to encourage students to collaborate, or create a little friendly competition.

You should make sure that this stage is pedagogically sound, just as you would with any section of your lesson plan. Try a few of these game ideas for reading and listening texts in a course book.

Games encourage creativity in students' use of language

During a game, students can be creative with the language they are learning. They can tell jokes, create descriptions or construct arguments. In each of these activities, your students will act as a receptive audience for each other. By listening to one another in this context, they are more likely to connect with the language and each other.

Here are a few examples of games where students have to get creative and elicit a reaction from each other in order to win:

  • Caption competition – Students compete by writing witty and funny captions for an image with the aim of making each other laugh.
  • Is it true? – Students try to fool each other by telling a story and inviting others to guess whether it is true or made up.
  • Jobs and personality – Students have to convince the rest of the group that the job card they selected is the best fit for the personality adjective.

These games will give your students the chance to use humour and ingenuity in their answers, giving them a more memorable connection to the language. This principle is not restricted to games, and is the same reason like to use task-based learning and role play in class.

Games help you become a more inventive teacher

Adapting and creating games for the classroom is a good way for teachers to come up with new strategies and add more variety into their typical lesson plans. I’ve been making games longer than I’ve been teaching, so I am well aware of my bias in this area, but making games has helped me develop as a thoughtful and reflective teacher.

There is an incredible variety of games out there, but some teachers may be stuck reusing the same activities again and again. If you move outside your comfort zone, you may find, or create, some new imaginative games for your classroom.

Find games and activities to inspire your lesson plans by visiting Mike’s blog Teaching Games EFL and the British Council's TeachingEnglish website.

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