English is a complex, yet strikingly beautiful language. The precision by which we can define an exact moment along a time continuum, describe a scene in front of our eyes with scrupulous detail and relate a seemingly indescribable emotion are all reasons I love the English language.
I have taught English Language Learners (ELL) in some capacity for over five years, two of which were spent teaching English in Colombia. During my time as an ELL teacher I have discovered, through a lengthy—and at times painstaking—process of trial and error, activities that my students have loved. These games and activities get them jazzed about English while helping to develop their skills.
Creating fun and relevant activities is one of the most important aspects to ensuring that your students are flourishing. Students are much more likely to comprehend the lesson behind the activity and engrave it in their minds if they have fun while learning. Additionally, the more relevant to everyday life that you can make the topic, the more likely the student is to engage in the activity and learn the intended lesson.
Students show enthusiasm and excitement for the following list of games and activities, all of which are engaging and make learning fun.
A Great Game for Beginner Level Students.
Stop is a great game to use when practicing spelling and as a tool for recalling vocabulary. It also adds a little bit of fun competition to the classroom environment.
What You Need:
One piece of paper and pen per team. A stopwatch or phone.
The objective of the game is to be the team with the most vocabulary words—spelled correctly—that all start with a certain letter or are within a certain category.
To play Stop you should start by breaking the students up into groups of three or four (depending upon class size). Ask each team to make a team name (in English) and take out one piece of blank paper and a pen or pencil. Write the team names on the board. Each group may only have one writer and the writer must change each round. All students on the team must be the writer before a student can be a writer for the second time. The team must work together to come up with vocabulary words, spell them correctly and write them down.
As the teacher, you will pick either a letter—for example ‘C’—or a category—for example ‘Food’—and then say go. The students will then have 30 seconds to write down as many vocabulary words that either start with the letter you chose or fall within the category. As soon as the 30 seconds are up yell Stop and the teams must hold their paper in the air immediately (this is done to prevent cheating as you walk around and check the different teams’ papers). When the time is up you then walk around the room and check each list, make sure that each word is spelled correctly (if it is not it doesn’t count) and fits the topic (letter or category). Then add up how many words they got and the team with the most amount of words gets one point—put it on the board under their team name. The team with the most points by the end of the game wins.
I usually play the game for five or ten minutes and give one or two extra credit points to each member of the winning team. Make sure that the students clear their desks so that they cannot be looking in notebooks and books for more words. After you yell Stop make sure that all of the teams have their papers in the air so that they cannot add more words while you go around and check the papers of the other teams.
An Adaptable Game Great for All levels (This is an Oldie, but a Goodie)
Anything you want! Jeopardy is great because you can practice multiple skills—grammar, vocabulary and listening—all at once. This is a great game to play for unit/chapter reviews.
What You Need:
You can either make a Jeopardy board on your chalk/white board or you can make it online and project it. I prefer to make it online using templates such as those found on Jeopardy Labs.
You can adapt this game to any level of difficulty and any topic. The team with the most points at the end wins.
Follow the classic TV show rules. I do not make my students answer in the question format. If you use an online template, you can even include audio and/or video for listening practice.
I love playing this for unit reviews. I give extra credit points on tests for the winning team. Depending upon the class size and the number of teams you can give different points to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.
3.) Three Letter Paragraph
A Difficult, but Fun Game/Homework Assignment for Advanced Classes
This activity helps students to practice vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure.
What You Need:
Your students will need a piece of paper and a pen per student/team.
The objective of this activity is for students to write a 20 to 30 word coherent “story” or “paragraph” using only words that start with 3 letters you choose.
This activity can be an in-class group activity or a solo homework activity. Start by picking three letters that the students must use to start every word of their paragraph—for example S, N and H. The students then make paragraphs that contain 20 to 30 words that start only with the letters you chose. (I let students veer from those letters only when using prepositions, articles or conjunctions, but no more than three times.) Here is an example (30 words):
Saturday night, Scott sweetly surprised Sarah. She had spent several hours studying so Scott served her some salty snacks. Surprised, Scott noted how Sarah seemed super hyper, somehow not sleepy.
Be intentional about the letters you choose. I almost always include the letter ‘H’ since it allows for both gender pronouns and multiple conjunctions.
4.) 45 Word Race
A Good Game for Intermediate and Advanced Level Students (Typically Better for Advanced Students)
This game targets grammar, sentence structure and paragraph development.
What You Need:
This game is played at the white board with two teams, so you will need two dry erase markers.
The point of this game is to be the first team to create a 100% grammatically correct 45-word-paragraph revolving around the theme chosen by the instructor.
Split the class up into two teams and assign each team one half of the white board. You will then put a vocabulary word on the board, this will be the theme of the paragraph and it must be used within the paragraph—I recommend choosing a vocabulary word from that week’s unit. When you say “go,” the students must work in their teams to create a paragraph that is exactly 45 words long and 100% grammatically correct. Each team member may only write one word at a time, rotating through the entire team before someone may write a second word—by rotating through the entire team it ensures that everyone participates.
Twice during the game, before the teams believe they are finished, they may ask you to check their work. If there is an error, everything written after it must be erased. The students may then fix the error and continue on with the activity. When a team thinks they are done they will call you over to check their work. First, count and make sure they have exactly 45 words. If not, they must erase and rewrite the last sentence to fit the word count. After seeing that they have 45 words, read through their paragraph and make sure it is free of grammar and spelling errors and that it contains the theme word. If the team meets the criteria, they win.
I usually play this game at the beginning of class to get students ready and excited for class. I will sometimes give one extra credit point to the winning team.
I have personally seen these games actively engage students in the learning process and increase the retention and understanding of key topics while having fun.
My students would ask me everyday if we could play these games, reinforcing my notion that my students, not just myself, enjoyed these activities. Try these games out and let us know how they go.
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