Why Teach Grammar with Games
Imagine your pupils looking forward to a grammar lesson instead of looking bored. Teaching grammar with games not only makes the lesson more enjoyable but it's more effective than copying from the board and re-writing.
Teaching grammar with games works research shows
Authors Arif Saricoban and Esen Metin, in "Songs, Verse and Games for Teaching Grammar" discuss why games work for teaching English grammar, as a second or foreign language. They say, "Games...have a purpose beyond the production of correct speech, and are examples of the most preferable communicative activities." They add that grammar games help pupils understand grammar and apply and use it.
In addition the repetition that many ESL games solicit means students "practice and internalize vocabulary, grammar and structures extensively." Repetition is the mother of skill! It is only through repeated exposure to the target grammar that it can be memorized long-term. During the game, students are focused on the activity and absorb the grammar subconsciously.
Aydan Ersoz, author of "Six Games for the ESL/EFL Classroom" gives further reasons why games do work for teaching grammar. Importantly he says games allow meaningful use of the language in context. Games add excitement. They add challenge. Students co-operate because they enjoy games and are motivated to join in the lesson.
Any teacher knows that when a lesson is engaging and effective a bond of appreciation is created between teacher and pupils. This is one of the things that makes teaching so rewarding.
The theory of intrinsic motivation provides insight as to why teaching grammar through games is so effective. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual. Most young learners will not internally decide that they want to learn grammar. They probably think it's boring and the relevance of English grammar in their lives seems remote. You can tell them it's useful, but that is an external factor that won't affect them much. It's much more fun to play, and intrinsic motivation can encourage them to play games. If the games are good then pupils learn as they play. In "Play and Affect in Language Learning", author Joel Bacha explains how this theory works. Exposure to challenges piques the children's natural curiosity and, in turn, activates their mental capacities and stimulates neural networks, thus promoting learning and retention.
Which games work best?
It's essential to use games with a linguistic purpose, not just a time filler. Since you have a limited time with students a game has to do double duty! Lin Hong, author of "Using Games in Teaching English to Young Learners", suggests these questions to check if a game is educationally useful:
- Which skills does the game practice?
Tip: use listening games to introduce new grammar, speaking games to practice and reading and writing games to consolidate.
- What type of game is it and what is its purpose?
Tip: Vary the games you use to appeal to different learning styles.
- Does the difficulty level of the game fit the students' ability level?
Tip: If the game is a flop it is usually because students are hesitating too much and the game becomes a drag. If it's a speaking game, go back a step and drill the language through a listening game. If it's a listening game reduce the vocabulary and simplify the task. Build a firm foundation before moving forwards.
- Does the game require maximum involvement by the students?
Tip: Avoid games where only one student is involved while the rest of the class sit there.
- Do students like it? Do you like it?
To add to these questions make sure you know:
- What specific vocabulary or grammar are you working on with this game?
Tip: either teach new vocabulary, or new grammar, but not both at the same time.
- Can you maintain good classroom discipline and use this game?
Tip: Use exciteable games towards the end of the lesson. Calm children down with a writing task if they have become too noisy. See my classroom management tips on this blog for concrete ways to control the class.
- What materials do you need and are they easy to find?
Tip: I often have the children make their own board game, chart or flashcards by sketching them. This saves time, money and involves children more in the learning process. I also have nice colour flashcards. I use small sizes for table top games and A4 for display.
- What controls, if any, will you use to ensure the children are on track?
Tip: As well as observing the class yourself, walking around and listening in, use other pupils to act as referees and quality control during games. For example a student from one team listens and controls the other team. This prevents a team from cheating or rushing through without repeating all the required language.
The easy way to find them
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See my next blog for tips on how to use grammar games in the ESL classroom.
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Ersoz, Aydan. Six Games for the ESL/EFL Classroom. iteslj.org/Lessons/Ersoz-Games.html.
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 Teaching Grammar."