Why English Language Games are essential in a teacher's toolbox

Many people think using English language games in the ESL/TEFL classroom is a trivial time-filler, but teachers experienced in using the right types of games will tell you otherwise.  English games, when used correctly, take the stress out of learning a language and help pupils succeed by learning naturally.


Why People Do not Like Games


According to Lloyd Rieber, author of Seriously Considering Play: Designing Interactive Learning Environments Based on the Blending of Microworlds, Simulations and Games, 'it is somewhat surprising that one of the most fundamental and important concepts of human interaction has received so little attention.'  He goes on to explain how the misconceptions surrounding play foster this attitude.  For example, people view work as respectable and play as easy – even though many of the things we "play" are actually quite difficult (such as chess, sports and music).  This is why many people balk at the thought of pupils playing games in the classroom – it is not respectable or rigorous enough to be useful. 


How Pupils Benefit From English Language Games


What people don't realize, however, is that many people have different learning styles.  Henry Gardner explains this through his theory of multiple intelligences.  Most people do not function well under the typical range of intelligence used in schools (including verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical skills).  As reported in Learning through many kinds of intelligence, by Dee Dickenson, using games can help pupils tap into the different learning styles (or intelligences) such as visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, naturalistic and intrapersonal. When pupils have opportunities to learn using their preferred styles, they often become more successful at learning any subject.


Furthermore, as reported on FamilyEducation.com, 'Probably the most important developmental benefit is that games require children to interact and speak with each other. They have to negotiate rules, take turns and correct and challenge each other.'  This helps your pupils use and improve their thinking, problem solving, listening and speaking skills.


What Pupils Think


Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen and Khuat Thi Thu Nga, authors of Learning Vocabulary Through Games: The Effectiveness of Learning Through Games, conducted a study exploring just how successful games are in terms of helping pupils learn vocabulary.  During this study, they gathered pupil reactions to using games in the classroom and found that they were positively received for various reasons.  They 'like the relaxed atmosphere, the competitiveness and the motivation that games brought to the classroom'.  Pupils also reported that they like using their imagination and creativity and that they learned new vocabulary during that games 'but also were forced to recall existing knowledge and put it to use.'


What Types of Games are Best and Why


Sally Flood, in her article All Play and More Work explains how games are beneficial IF the right types of games are used.  She highlights four components of successful games: competitive elements to engaging content, reward and objective relevant content.  If the game is missing one of the first three elements, the pupils might not have the needed motivation to participate.  If you leave out the last element, the game doesn't serve the purpose of helping you promote the lesson at hand. 


When it is Most Effective to Use Games


For advanced pupils, games are great when you or pupils need a break from intense studying. They are also helpful to introduce a new topic or to recall or review a recent lesson.   With intermediate pupils you can games more often and with beginners you can use them most of the time.  It is possible to teach the year's curriculum exclusively using games backed up by one written exercise or activity sheet per lesson so that pupils over the age of 6 have a record of what they have learned and practise writing and spelling. It should hastily be added that instead of an exercise or activity sheet you can also use a writing game instead.


Games are a great component to include in your classroom repertoire of activities because they allow pupils to explore different learning styles and learn the proposed topics at the same time.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shelley Vernon, conscious of the vital role teachers can play in the lives of their pupils, promotes learning through encouragement and games.  Receive games and inspirational ideas free! English Language Games