Grammar with Games in the ESL Classroom
remember when you were in school the dreaded grammar lessons of sitting
in a desk writing, correcting and rewriting sentences to learn proper
grammar usage. Well, while some people may still teach
grammar in this method, there is a movement towards teaching grammar
with games. Just imagine your class when you announce that
it's time for a grammar lesson and instead of moans and whining, you
get smiles and excitement. It is possible and believe it or
not, teaching grammar with games will still be as effective, if not
more effective, as just teaching them through repetitive writing and
gives excellent reasons to teach grammar with games
Saricoban and Esen Metin, authors of "Songs, Verse and Games for
Teaching Grammar" explain how and why games work for teaching grammar
in an ESL classroom. They say, "Games and problem-solving
activities...have a purpose
beyond the production of correct speech, and are examples
of the most preferable communicative activities." They go on
to explain that grammar games help children not only gain knowledge but
be able to apply and use that learning.
Additionally, games have the advantage of allowing the students to "practice and internalize
vocabulary, grammar and structures extensively."
They can do this through repeated exposure to the target grammar and
because students are often more motivated to play games than they are
to do deskwork. Plus, during the game, the students are
focused on the activity and end up absorbing the grammar subconsciously.
While games are motivating for the students, probably the best reason,
according to Saricoban and Metin, to use games is that "the use of such
activities both increases the cooperation
and competition in the classroom." Indeed games
can be used to add excitement through competition or to create bonding
between the students, and between the students and teacher.
Aydan Ersoz, author of "Six Games for the ESL/EFL Classroom" also
explains more reasons why games do work for teaching grammar.
Learning a language requires constant effort and that can be tiring,
but Ersoz outlines two good reasons why games should be included in the
* Games that are amusing and challenging are highly motivating.
* Games allow
meaningful use of the language in context.
The Value of Intrinsic Motivation
The theory of
intrinsic motivation may also give some insight as to why teaching
grammar through games actually works. Intrinsic motivation
refers to the internal factors that encourage us to do
something. Most young learners will not internally decide
that they want to learn grammar. They don't yet understand
the concepts of why it's important to know proper grammar, so these
external factors won't affect them much either. Instead,
intrinsic motivation can encourage them to play games. If
these games are good then they will be learning while they are
Joel Bacha, author of "Play and Affect in Language Learning", explains
how this theory works. Exposure to challenges and stimulation
piques the children's natural curiosity and, in turn, promotes learning
through the activity's required skills. This is because
activities that get the students to move around activate their mental
capacities and stimulate neural networks, thus promoting learning and
retention. Bacha's article goes on to point out that some
studies are even beginning to show that intrinsic motivation can
promote long-term language retention.
What kinds of
games work best?
When you are
looking for games to use in your classroom, don't just pick something
to be a "time filler" that does not have any linguistic
purpose. These games may entertain the students, but when you
don't have much time with them each day as it is, you want your game to
do double duty to get the most out of the time you spend playing games.
Lin Hong, author of "Using Games in Teaching English to Young
Learners", explains that not all games are going to work to teach the
students language skills. If the game is simply for fun and
not linked to educational goals it may not be the best use of your
time. It is possible to have a fun game that is educationally
sound, however. To find out if the game is educationally
sound, think about these questions posed by Hong:
- Which skills
do the games practice?
- What type of
game is it and what is its purpose?
- Does the
difficulty level of the game mesh with the students' ability level?
- Does the game
require maximum involvement by the students?
- Do the
students like it? Do you like it?
To add to these questions also ask yourself:
- What specific
vocabulary or grammar are you introducing or practising with this game?
- Can you keep
control of your class and play this game?
materials do you need for the game and can you obtain these easily?
controls, if any are needed, will you have in place to ensure the
children are on track?
is not always appropriate, and it is not appropriate at all for five
year olds and under. Can you play a game for the sake of the
game and not in order to define winners and losers? Here are
some ways play down competition: Do not keep score all the
time, make sure the teams tie, play down any "winning", praise
everyone, play until everyone has finished - the winners are those who
finish, not those who finish first, and everyone finishes. Etc.
- Are the rules
easy and clear?
You may sign
classroom games in the top left box of this page if you
have not done so already.
for Using Grammar Games in Class Successfully
The first thing you should do when start teaching a preschool or
elementary school ESL class is to figure out how to organize your
class. For the younger students you'll want to change your
activities every five to ten minutes because they have shorter
attention spans. If you don't change your activities, they'll
soon start losing interest. As you get towards the higher
elementary grades, you can expand the time you spend per
activity. The best way to gauge this is to pay attention to
your class for the first few days to see what length of time works the
best for them. Additionally, try to have everything ready to
go before the students enter the classroom. That way you can
go from activity to activity with minimal downtime. This is
essential as you can lose control of the class if you do not keep them
If you notice that your class is getting noisy or rambunctious, it's
time to change activities. Kids of this age like to be
active; in order to balance out the energy levels in the classroom,
alternate between active activities and quiet activities.
Be careful how you use activities that require fine motor skills - or
more importantly pay attention to your expectations for activities that
require fine motor skills. Children in preschool and early
elementary are just learning to write in their own languages.
This is not the best time to expect them to write in a foreign language
as well. As they progress through elementary school, however,
you can begin using games and activities that require them to write
You want to make sure your activities appeal to all sorts learning
styles, so even when you are using games to teach grammar you'll want
to vary the types of things you expect your students to do.
For preschool and early elementary grades, stick to games that use
talking, listening, looking and moving. For middle and high
elementary, you can continue to use games that use talking, listening,
looking and moving and add in some games that use writing and reading.
Going along with this same idea, think about what children learn from
the easiest. Television commercials are short and catchy and
the most memorable are the ones that are repeated often. Keep
these characteristics in mind when you are teaching grammar to your
students - incorporate these characteristics into your daily activities.
To make games work for you and your class, be sure to operate your
class with the utmost respect - both to and from students.
This includes teaching your students from the very start that you
expect respect at all times. This includes giving
encouragement and following the rules.
That said, you'll need to make sure the rules for all of the games are
clear and manageable. When possible, explain the rules in the
students' native tongue so that they all know what is expected of
them. When there is an environment of respect in the
classroom, the students will feel safe enough to participate in the
games so that they can get the most educational value out of them.
Towards the end of elementary school, you can start introducing
competitive games, but only if the class is respectful and it shouldn't
be the main focus of the game.
Even if you only have your students for a short time every week,
establishing a routine will help the class go smoothly.
Children of this age (preschool through elementary school) thrive on
routine and if they know what to expect next, they will be more able to
participate in what's going on now. Set up a schedule for the
type of activities you'll be doing at any given time throughout the
class whether it is a game, story or song or whatever you want to
do. Then, when you are planning your class, plug in the
appropriate activities to each section of time. You should
also leave a little time at the end of the class period to allow the
students to clean up and gather their things as well as time for you to
recap the class, praise the students and tell them good-bye.
You can also designate a "sign" to use to signal to the students when
it is time to change activities such as clapping or signing a specific
song so that they know it's time to return to the circle, table or
Perhaps the most important thing you can do with your students is to
nurture them everyday. For each child in your class, find
something you like about him or her and be sure to tell him or
her. Be encouraging, patient and kind while playing games and
participating in activities and they'll like you as a teacher and a
person which will in turn help them get excited about your class and
what you have for them to do everyday.
Using games to teach grammar can be both fun and rewarding for you and
your students. Just remember to keep them engaged and make
sure that you're games are truly teaching the skill at hand and you'll
soon have a class full of students who get excited about learning
grammar! If you need some ideas to help you get started, just
the link in the box below this article for some free materials on how
to use games in your classroom.
THE AUTHOR: Shelley Vernon has inspired thousands of esl
teachers with her games. Get her free games now to find out how to
enjoy your time in class more and make
your teaching even more effective. Receive the free games
here! Fun ESL Games
for Children aged 4-12
And FREE Games and Illustrated Story here:
Fun games and
stories for children aged 3-5
Ersoz, Aydan. Six Games for the ESL/EFL Classroom.
Hong, Lin. Using Games in Teaching English to Young Learners.
Bacha, Joel. Play and Affect in Language Learning.
Saricoban, Arif and Esen Metin. "Songs, Verse and Games for