Tried and tested (and approved!) games and activities to help English learning.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Crows & Cranes

Level: All.

Skills: listening.

Topic: warmer.

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This one is a quick 'warming-up' game, aimed mostly at listening comprehension and attention. More suitable for teenagers than adults, chiefly because it involves a lot of movement and physical contact, which some cannot be comfortable with. It definitely whips students up!

Students stand in two lines, divided into two groups, the 'Crows' and the 'Cranes'. The distance between them should be an arm's length so that their fingertips can touch the fingertips of the student in opposite line. Explain that behind each team is a home base (the wall) which if they reach they are safe from capture.

If you call out ‘cranes’ this team becomes the chasing team and each crane has to catch their respective 'crow' partner before he/she reaches their home. If however you call out ‘crows’ then the opposite happens and crows have to catch the cranes. Each time a person is caught that team scores a point and this person changes team (if he/she is a 'crow', he/she becomes a 'crane', literally changing sides). Try to slur in order to confuse the students about which team is being tagged.

Game ends when either team is completely devoid of members.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Animal, Country, Job...

Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing (speaking).

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: pencils and paper.

Time: 20 to 30 minutes (sometimes longer).

This game is called by many different names, depending where it's played: Categories, Town/Country/River, "Adedanha", Stop!, Jeu de Baccalauréat, Stadt Land Fluss...

First, each student creates a grid on a sheet of paper. On the left side of the paper, they draw a vertical line to create a column (it should be just wide enough to accommodate a capital letter). Next, they draw five more vertical lines to create six more columns of equal width. Their categories sheet is then ready!

Then, on the board, write a replica of this grid, labeling the columns. The categories are entirely up to your imagination, but some ideas follow:
  • Animals
  • Countries
  • Languages
  • Colours
  • Jobs
  • Food (and Drink)
  • Objects
  • Irregular verbs in the past (or participle)
  • Body parts
  • General or personality adjectives
  • Etc.
Important: the seventh column is the 'Total' column, where students should write the points they have scored each round.

You have some ways to start the game: you can call a letter arbitrarily; you can open a book and choose a letter from one of the words there; you can ask students to have a show of hands, where each finger shown is a letter of the alphabet (e.g., ten fingers shown, letter J). I have used the three systems, in different times, with similar success.

With the letter chosen and announced, the students have to immediately fill all the columns of the grid with a word (which begins with the chosen letter), as fast as they can, because the first student who finishes doing this must yell "Stop!" (or "Bazzinga!", or imitate a donkey, or clap their hands - it's your decision!) so the other participants stop writing.

Guidelines for deciding if a word is acceptable or not are up to you. You can use group consensus, your own judgment (my choice), a dictionary, the Internet... Whatever you think is fair and suitable for your class.

Students call out their words one by one. They score 10 points for each answer they give that no one else has. They score 5 points if one or more students have the same answer and deduct 10 points for every misspelled or utterly wrong word written (believe me, the students will come up with a lot of those. Once, I had a student, not remembering a fruit with letter O, simply wrote "ongoiaba" to general puzzlement and laughter). The game requires the players to be honest. It can be difficult to prove afterwards, if all answers are correct. The person sitting next to a player can control the players answer sheet or you can walk around class, with a watchful eye.

Students write down the total score for that round. Then restart the game by writing a different letter on the board, repeating the procedure. The number of rounds is up to you. In the last round, ask students to add all their points up. The winner is the student with the highest score.

In addition to being just plain fun (it is a blast when a student says a word which is pretty obvious but most of the class has forgotten, and they make that "oh, no! How could I forget that?" face), the game helps revising previously taught vocabulary – and I can testify that playing this game regularly can prevent nouns from getting stuck to the tip of students' tongue.

Variation: For each category students think of an appropriate item that begins with the chosen letter. Then they think of an item from that category that ends with the chosen letter.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Word Tennis

Level: All levels.

Skills: listening and speaking.

Topic: vocabulary. 

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This English teaching game is an ideal warmer when teaching English to kids, especially 6 to 8 year olds, but it can be used for any age group, and is an excellent way to review vocabulary. It also teaches category names to the students. Another good thing about it is that it requires no material whatsoever, so you can use it at any moment (as a filler, for instance) during your classroom.

Divide the class into two teams. Write the team names on either side of the board at the top. Leave a space in the middle of the board to write a list of categories. Write the first category (for example, animals). Have the students read this to you. If they can't do it yet, read it to them (repeated exposure to the category names will help them recognize them).

Point quickly to the first student. The student must respond with an animal name within a few seconds. Then the 'ball' bounces to the other team, and the first student quickly gives the name of another animal. Then the second student on the other team answers, and so forth.

This game must be done quickly, and without any repetition of vocabulary. When a student cannot answer, a point is given to the opposing team, and a new category is written on the board. The whole process is then repeated. Ideally, this game should be a fast review of vocabulary items.

The very first time you do this activity the students may well need help. However, once they are familiar with it, then it should become faster. Any categories can be used, from vegetables to verbs, and from city facilities to parts of the body. This game can also be used to teach/practice more advanced vocabulary categories (for example things that melt, personality types, phrasal verbs).

I tried and tested this game with Elementary (irregular verbs in the past, nationalities, parts of a city), Intermediate (irregular past participle verbs, clothes, animals) and Advanced (personality types, transport vocabulary, cinema words) students and it worked very well. Students loved it!