Teaching Ideas for the ESL Classroom
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Using Games in the ESL Classroom

Teacher Joe likes to have fun in class, but he doesn't want to have fun if students don't learn at the same time. Unfortunately, most games used in language classrooms do not require students to use the target language very much. Think of the game "hangman". Students call out letters and try to guess one word. That's very little language! What is worse, most students wait passively for their more eager classmates to guess. Bingo, as it is normally played, is not any better. Students hear the letters B, I, N, G and O along with some numbers, but that is all. It's fun, but students don't learn.

In his teaching, Teacher Joe often uses two games that get students involved in learning English. One is Speaking Bingo and the other is a Logic Game. If you want to make your own games beyond those two, it's not that difficult. Just follow Teacher Joe's suggestions below:

1. Use Quiz Games - You can divide your class into two halves or take each row as one team, then ask dozens of questions (which you prepare in advance, of course). Students get extra points for answering with a full sentence. (Teacher Joe also includes 10 billion bonus points - NOT dollars! - when a student includes a nice comment about him in an answer!) Questions can be about any topic from the textbook, or questions using vocabulary and grammar you are using in class. With advanced students, Teacher Joe has them make questions on slips of paper, which he then uses in the game. Students often make mistakes when writing their question, but it's not a problem - just turn their mistakes into a "learning opportunity" and show students how to do it better!

2. Use Guessing Games - Teacher Joe sometimes brings an object to class (usually a delicious snack!) and students must ask yes or no questions to find out what it is. (The winner gets a taste of the snack.) Next, you can give students a word on a piece of paper and others must ask questions to him or her. Later, you can do this as pair practice and see who can guess their partner's word the fastest.

3. Play Games on the Blackboard - Divide the blackboard into 4 to 8 sections and have one student from each row write answers on the board. This makes for a very lively activity to end a class.

4. Make Card Games - Make cards with questions on them that students can ask to their partner. See who can get the most points - one point for a correct answer, plus a bonus point for a good sentence. Put a time limit on the game. Teacher Joe makes cardboard cards which he can re-use in future classes. (Be sure to tell students not to write on the cards nor bend them!) With students who understand advanced TPR, Teacher Joe tells them how to make their own cards. This gives them listening practice and saves time.

5. Have a Tournament - All students have the opportunity to participate in small groups first. The winner from each group, or the top two students, can compete in a quarter-final, a semi-final, and a final match. Make it like the World Cup. (Teacher Joe calls it the "TJ Cup"! You can make up your own name.) Although the final match only involves tw o students, all the others are interested because they've been watching the tournament from the beginning. You can also have other students act as judges, timers or referees.

At the top of Xiang Shan, west of Beijing