Games With ESL and EFL Language Learners
EFL learner is someone who is learning English but does not live in an
English speaking country while an ESL learner does live in an English
speaking country. Both types of English language learner have a lot in
common, and benefit from the use of games in the classroom, but
sensitivity to the different circumstances and goals of each group
should be used in selecting and presenting the games.
EFL learners will generally have similar backgrounds, but
varied motivations. They are usually stable as regards to income,
residence, and schedules. They are also usually literate in their first
language. They may be learning English as a foreign language for a
hobby or for their work. Aside from those studying for academic
requirements, there is less emphasis on writing and literacy in
English, and more on verbal communication. Academic EFL students will
often want to focus on tests and test practice.
When selecting games for EFL classes select according to students'
EFL learners who will be taking exams check if the test has a speaking
component and if it does games can be very helpful in preparing for
this. If speaking is not tested in the exam focus on English games that
will support listening, skimming, reading, and writing skills. These
students genuinely enjoy language games that are both relevant and
still a break from the drudgery of exam prep. Quiz games and trivia
games based on English vocabulary and grammar rules are excellent ways
to work on exam topics while injecting some fun into the
both EFL and ESL learners may pin you down for specifics of how a game
is supposed to help them prepare for a test, so it is a good idea to
have a prepared answer detailing exactly what the game is re-enforcing.
This has actually happened on more than one occasion with European
particular German student was quite offended at the idea of playing
games during class time, until she was shown the list of questions to
be covered, and informed that many of them were taken directly from the
same test practice books she would have used on her own. This EFL
student became very enthusiastic about the weekly quiz competitions,
and passed her Cambridge exams with flying colours.
those who study English as a hobby, or conversational English, almost
any speaking or listening game will be of interest. Rhythmic chants,
songs, and rhyming games are a lot of fun with these students. You can
also work in some reading and writing painlessly, by playing
build-a-sentence or build-a-story games and then having them actually
write up the sentence or story they have just composed.
163 games and activities are included in the English
Language Games Digital Book for adults.
students will appreciate games as a relief from the grind of daily
work, but you will have greatest success if you connect them to the
goals of the course and business situations in which the students hope
to use their English. Role-plays and skits can be especially helpful
with advanced business students, as they often bring out aspects of
cross cultural communication that are taken for granted and not
mentioned in books.
Japanese student taking part in a mock board meeting once stopped the
game in the middle because he couldn’t believe that it was accurately
portraying how the meeting would be run. The dynamics of business
meetings in the U.S. and Japan were so different that this student
simply couldn’t believe it. A colleague who had been stationed at an
American branch of the company was able to assure him that the
role-play was, in fact, true to a U.S. style of business meeting.
Later, this role-play turned out to be one of the most highly rated
parts of the training seminar.
ESL classes are marked by the diversity of cultures and
backgrounds of the students. The economic resources of ESL learners are
often, but not always, quite low. Schedules may be problematic due to
appointments with immigration, and family responsibilities and long
work hours. ESL students may have come from highly traumatic situations
such as fleeing from war, poverty or persecution. Families may not be
complete. Recent deaths may make certain topics difficult, or it may
simply be that some members of the family were forced to stay behind
due to financial limitations. Work hours may be long and hard. Students
will often arrive at class exhausted, especially if it is a night
selecting games for ESL classes, one must take a much wider look at how
the students came to be there, and what English they need to survive ·
When ESL students come from traumatic situations and directly into your
class, games can relieve stress, and allow them to laugh and have fun
at a time when there may not be a lot to laugh about.
sensitive to your students’ experiences – Don’t play family games with
refugees from a war zone, for example. You will probably have more than
one dissolve into tears or ask to leave the room. That may seem like an
extreme example, but it actually happened to a teacher with a class
that turned out to be mainly comprised of Bosnian refugees.
without a war, students with refugee status, or those who have had to
struggle to reach a new country, will often have suffered many
hardships. For these students, board games that help with vocabulary
and grammar are great ways to start out, since they don’t require
players to touch on emotionally charged issues, and they cover basics
that these ESL learners need to focus on.
aware of the variety of cultures in your class and how comfortable they
are with each other. You might well have members from each side of a
conflict in your class. Games can break the ice, relieve tension, and
provide a structured venue for interaction between students from
cultures that don’t traditionally get along. For example, Korean and
Chinese students often view Japanese students with hostility. Arab
Christians and Muslims can create tension in a class, as can Pakistani
and Indian students. These are groups that have long standing histories
to games like “Find someone who…,” board games, and team games
like charades and Pictionary at first. These games have clear
boundaries and objectives that keep hostility to a minimum while
maximizing student interactions. Games with more improvisation, like
role-plays, debates, and ‘murder mysteries’ are riskier, so wait until
you know your students well before you try one of these.
games are a great way to show recently arrived ESL learners that
certain activities, like mixing genders in the same class, are
acceptable in their new country, where it might not have been in their
both ESL and EFL students want to learn English, and using
games will help them to achieve these goals with more fun, laughter,
and ease than any workbook or lecture ever could. All it takes is a
little forethought, a wide variety of games to choose from, and
sensitivity to the needs and experiences of the students.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shelley Vernon promotes learning through English language games and
activities. Go to: Digital
Book of 163 Games and Activities