Teachers Use Language Games With Adults?
into a classroom full of adult English language learners can be far
more intimidating than facing a class of children. You are there to
teach a serious subject, one that may affect your students’ careers,
hopes for the future and even their
ability to survive in a new country. You may not feel that
asking students your own age, or older, to play games is going to help
your teaching or their learning, but in fact you couldn’t be more
wrong. English language games can help you overcome numerous roadblocks
that stand between your students and their mastery of English.
The main roadblock you may face, as a teacher who might want to use
language games in the classroom, is your
own hesitance about using this approach with adult learners.
However, basically, there is no difference between young and adult
learners because we all like to have fun. Classes for adults that
contain games are refreshing and allow ample opportunity to practice
According to research many
adults feel anxious when learning a foreign or second
language. Games can help them forget that they are learning and instead
enjoy the experience while enhancing their knowledge. The positive
emotions make them relax and feel more confident. Adults can learn
through games in English language teaching just as much as children.
They learn from known to unknown. As a Chinese proverb says, "I hear I forget. I see I
understand and I do I remember."
people learn differently, and there are many factors involved as to why
there is so much variation. Gender is an important factor to consider.
There is a tendency for women to be more flexible and for men to be
more competitive. The idea that women are more verbal and men
more analytical is one that is widely accepted. Women are
often seen as more contemplative, and men as more active.
How does any
of this impact your English language teaching?
provide a safe, fun
outlet for competitive urges and help keep the class from becoming too
'exam centered.' They also create a changeable situation that
thinking in all students. Role-play games, re-enactments,
and ‘murder mysteries’ where students have to improvise and play
parts outside their every days lives are good examples of this.
Students who struggle with test-anxiety often achieve new levels of fluency
in these language games because the goal is not to get a good score,
but to find out "who did it" or to achieve some goal, such as
bargaining with other groups for items they need to complete their
Most language games combine verbal
and analytical elements so that both male and female
students can excel at them. Word puzzles, such as Hangman and Rivet, as
well as quiz games, like Jeopardy, mix language skills with strategic thinking
in a way that is fun for everyone. It is not unusual to have teenage
boys remain silent all through class, because they feel they are too
cool for school, until these games come out. Suddenly, it’s all about
winning, so they don’t mind speaking in English. The girls want to show
off as well, and pretty soon you can’t keep them quiet!
Games provide a way of linking language and activity so that both men
and women can learn effectively in your class. The most obvious example
of this would be Charades, but Simon Says and Hand Sign Stories also
accomplish this. Men are more likely to be kinaesthetic learners, who
take in information best through touch and physical activity. Women are
more likely to be auditory learners. They got a lot from the language
games as well, through calling out answers and listening to others’
these games are included in the English
Language Games Digital Book for adults with 163 games and
The culture question
including a lot of English language games, it is important to consider
the cultural background of the students you are working with and the
cultural setting of your class.
Students in multi-cultural
classes in an English speaking country are usually more
flexible in the expectations of the class. Start with get to know you
games and games that allow your students to examine their
preconceptions in a new setting. Riddle contests where students try to
stump each other, or where you set the class a riddle to solve, can be
a really fun way to do this at the intermediate level, since riddles
inherently require players to look at ordinary things from a different
point of view. It makes for an interesting cultural lesson if the
students translate riddles from their own countries. If you have the
students solve their riddles in teams, then this also makes a good
Students in mono-cultural
classes in their home country will bring a lot of their
own cultural expectations into class. Get to know just what these
expectations are in regards to adults playing games. If you are new to
the country, it’s important to ask teachers who have been there for a
while, as well as read up on the culture before going. Even if you do
all that, be sure to get a run down on individual students from your
school administrators or secretaries whenever possible. Adult Japanese
students will enjoy all kinds of language games from the beginning,
partly because organized party games are a big part of their normal
after-work socializing. If you are teaching in Germany, on the other
hand, you may run into resistance at first, since adult game playing
tends to be less rambunctious, and language study is seen as a very
You may need to start out doing mostly role-plays in order to get your
students ready to step outside of their daily roles. Build up your
classroom as an English culture-zone so that students will begin to
expect interactions that are not like their own cultures. Games will be
less surprising then. Decorating the walls is always a good way to
start, but may not always be possible. Bringing in weekly comics from
English speaking papers, English news magazines, and sharing out snacks
from home are other good ways to set up your cultural boundaries.
Comics especially can lead to some interesting cultural discussions,
since many kinds of humour tend to be dependent on cultural norms and
How can you
play games while still treating your students as adults?
useful theory for working with adult learners is Malcolm Knowles'
(1975, 1984, 1984) Andragogy theory. In this theory he makes four basic
assumptions that have definite relevance to how we use games in the
Adults need to know why they need to learn something. So don't assume
students will be interested just because the teacher is telling them to
do something. Make sure to explain how the game will help their
Adults need to learn experientially and language games provide a far
greater variety of experience than any textbook exercise, through the
simple process of human interaction.
Adults approach learning as problem solving. Children learn
instinctively through trial and error, but adults bring a lifetime of
strategies into the classroom. Many games are inherently
problem-solving situations and allow students to apply new and
different strategies for language learning in a non-stressful
Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value. 'Immediate
value' is a tricky term. We all have different things that we value. As
you get to know your students, you will be able to select language
games that enforce not only the current teaching point, but also wider
goals, such as making friends, socializing, and gaining knowledge of
another country. Find out what your students want, and select
activities that will directly help them on the path to attaining these
Ultimately, if you respect your students and get to know their goals in
learning English, then you will be able to use games to enrich their
learning experience and improve their English skills. It’s fun and
easy, and all it takes is a little planning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shelley Vernon promotes learning through English language games and
activities. Go to: Digital
Book of 163 Games and Activities