Teaching Children with ESL Grammar Games

ESL and TEFL teachers often wonder how you can teach grammar through games.  It's easy enough to see how you can teach vocabulary, but grammar seems a little trickier.  However that depends on how you see grammar.   If grammar means learning rules about how to string words together then using games might not be the best answer.  However if grammar means having a good command of English then ESL grammar games are ideal, at least they most certainly are for elementary pupils to lower intermediates.

If you don't want your class to glaze over with dictation, writing exercises and "Jimmy, would you please read paragraph 1," then take heart! You'll find you can teach everything you want with games, and the children remember it better to boot.

The best way to show this is to give an example of an ESL gramar game in action, such as the game below, All Change.

A few teachers have reported not being able to control their class using this language game, and All Change is best for smaller groups, PLUS you need floor space.  If you are teaching 40 children in a class lined with benches then this game is not going to help you AT ALL!  (Aside from the fact that in teaching we often move around and our circumstances change, so you never know when it might come in useful).  It should therefore be mentioned that there are dozens of esl games which are ideal for large classes with no room to move, and which CAN successfully be used to teach elementary grammar.

First, the game itself:

The players stand round in a circle with one player standing in the middle. Each player has a picture of an item, or a word flash card, except for the player in the middle. Call out two of the picture card items or words. The two players holding these cards have to change places without the person in the middle grabbing one of their spots. If the person in the middle manages to slip into the spot in the circle then the one left standing goes in the middle. The new person in the middle hands their flash card to the child taking their place in the circle.

If someone is stuck in the middle for two turns say, "All Change!" When the players hear this they must all change places, which gives the person in the middle a very good chance of joining the circle. Once everyone has had one go ask your class to pass their picture to the right, and take the one handed to them from the left. You can give them another go with the new picture.

Notice that only 2 children move at any one time (aside from when you say "All Change"), which makes it easy to keep control.

Secondly, how the above game can be applied to teaching English:

Firstly, you can use it to reinforce new vocabulary, secondly, for revision, thirdly to help spelling by playing the game with word flashcards instead of pictures, and fourthly, to learn or practise a grammatical structure.

Let us say you want to teach the conditional tense and you start with "I would like". Hand out pictures of food that your pupils already know. Call out "I would like bananas and pie". The pupil with the bananas tries to change places with the pupil holding the pie without the person in the middle taking one of the spots in the circle. Continue until everyone has had a go, repeating the target structure each time. With a class that learns quickly you can also introduce the rest of the declension (he and she would like, etc.). You are now ready to proceed to a speaking game where your pupils use the target structure, as they will have heard it repeatedly by now. You can follow the speaking game up with a writing game, and hey presto your children can understand, say, read and write the new target structure.

Your pupils will take that grammatical structure on board and be able to use it spontaneously because they have heard it so often, it has been so frequently repeated within the game, that they have learned it by heart. Now what better way is there to teach grammar than that? You are teaching grammar by absorption and repetition, which is the way we learn our native tongue, and for children it is by far the best way to go.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shelley Vernon has helped 1000s of teachers be an inspiration to their pupils and achieve results 2x as fast. Teaching with ESL grammar games can improve the effectiveness of a lesson by up to 80%. Receive free children's games now! ESL Grammar Games