"Playing is a child's natural way of learning." - Genevieve Roth
Perhaps as busy, responsible, mature adults, we have somehow sadly forgotten what it was like to have fun. If we consider the above quote it is not difficult to realize that playing was once our own "natural way of learning" as well. So we should not look at games as just child's play, but rather as a tool that can (and should) be used for teaching English learners at all ages. The ELT Grammar Book describes games as a way "to have fun dealing with grammar as a change of pace." (Firstien, 526) However we would suggest that there is more to it than that. Games can be a safe opportunity to practice without fear of ridicule. Due to the competitive nature of many games, they can provide a great sense of accomplishment for many students and their teammates as they watch their progression.
While games to teach English learners are indeed a "change of pace" as stated above, they are also very useful tools for fluency, as "Children tend to forget they are learning and so use the language spontaneously." (Roth) In our own teaching experience, it seems the same can be true for adults. Basically, if you are having fun doing something, you don't have time to be bored or frustrated with it and will get more out of the activity.
Please keep in mind when teaching English as a second language and teaching English as a foreign language, that the classroom may be the students' only exposure to the language. Games to teach English learners can help to make language learning a positive and exciting experience, which will be important and motivating to the students. If we keep students motivated and engaged in the lesson, the results can be incredible!
How do we use games to teach English learners in the classroom? Now that we realize the importance of games to teach English learners, the next step is to apply them within the classroom. When researching games to use as classroom activities, it is easy to see a correlation between popular children's games and the adapted classroom version. A creative teacher will find that almost any game can be adjusted to suit the needs of a lesson. As we are dealing with the TESL TEFL TESOL setting, it is important to be sure that any games we might use are linguistically relevant, simple to explain, easy to set up, and fun to play. (Roth) Games can be used as an ice-breaker or warm-up at the beginning of class, as an introduction activity for new vocabulary or grammar, or as a review exercise at the end of a lesson, chapter, or before an exam. While the preparation of materials may be time-consuming, " the time and effort it might require to create the materials for each game will be well worth the while, and from then on, you'll always have the materials available to you" (Firstien, 526).
Tips on games to teach English learners: We know it may be discouraging to read about having to do more preparation - especially when the phrase "time-consuming" is used. Never fear. Games to teach English learners are supposed to be fun, remember? "The ELT Grammar Book" suggests having students help you in preparing materials for the games. "Not only will that cut down on your work, but it will also give your students practice on the language points your game is focusing on." (Firstien, 527) You will find that many students enjoy being part of the creative process and will be more than willing to help - this is especially true with younger students. Another suggestion is to limit groups to four or five students so that the students won't "get restless waiting for their turn to come up again." Depending on the size of the class, this may mean that you will have to walk around the room to monitor various groups and assist them during the game as needed. (Firstein, 528)
Genevieve Roth makes the following suggestion for presenting the game: "Play the game with one or two pupils in front of the class as a demonstration." This will allow the others to see a model of what is to be done and how the game is to be played. She also suggests that the students sit in a circle around you as you explain. You may decide to act out the game by playing first one part and then the other for them to see. And finally, she suggests that you give the game a chance and not be discouraged, as it sometimes takes time for students to understand the game enough to really enjoy playing it. (Roth) Roth's work is geared mostly toward teaching English to children; however her advice may still be helpful when working with adults.
Examples on games to teach English learners: If you are still uncertain of what kind of game to teach English learners you may want to use or how to go about making them work for your classroom, perhaps the following examples may help.
We hope these ideas and suggestions on games to teach English learners have been helpful for you and that you can find a way to use them in your next class. Have fun!
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