Using Traditional Games with Language Learners

Using Traditional Games with Language Learners

Chris Speck
by Chris Speck 8,520 views

Sick of technology? Why not try some more traditional games? Traditional games, such as board and card games, have a lot to offer your classroom. Here are 10 great traditional games you can use in your class!

1. Card Games

Start by teaching learners the names of the suits: clubs, spades, diamonds, and hearts. You will also want to teach the face cards: jack, queen, king, and ace. When playing card games, you'll want to start with an easy game that doesn't have a lot of rules. For example, a game of War or Go Fish won't require a lot of thought, but will require students to practice speaking English at the same time with phrases like "I declare war" and "Do you have a two?"

2. Guess Who

Guess Who is a two-player game where each player has a board full of faces. To determine which face the other player has selected, players must ask a series of yes/no questions. These questions help them eliminate the faces on the board. The first player to correctly guess the other person's face/character wins the game. This game is great for English language learners because it teaches them how to form a question and reminds them of common vocabulary words used to describe people. Students will ask question such as "Does your person have brown hair?" or "Is your person wearing a hat?" Students can play solo or as part of small teams.

3. Top Trumps

Top Trumps is a card game that requires students to ask each other questions in order to win information cards. You can purchase the cards in themed sets that cover nearly every topic from cars and superheroes to plants and television shows. This is a great way to get students to learn vocabulary words related to a particular topic or to capture their attention with a set of cards related to their interests. If students particularly enjoy the game, you can also challenge them to make their own sets of Top Trumps cards.

4. Scrabble

 Scrabble is often considered the king of word games. In this traditional game, players make words to score points. They can earn more points for using less frequently used letters (such as Q and Z) or by playing their letter tiles on bonus squares that give double and triple letter and word points. When playing Scrabble with English language learners, allow them to use a dictionary or a word finder while playing. However, before playing a word they must be able to say and give the meaning of the word. This will prevent students from using the craziest words to score the most points.

5. Risk

 The world conquest game  Risk is legendary. Simple, fierce and easy to learn, it will have your students engaged straight away. Learning the rules and asking questions is all part of the language activity, encourage students who know the rules to explain them to those who don’t. Once students know the rules and get the gist of the game, you can add in other language components. For example, you can use the goal cards with higher level students to encourage sneaky tactics. 

6. Monopoly

Monopoly is an iconic game that may not initially seem like something you could use in the ESL classroom. However, what better way to learn a language than to engage in trade? As they play the game, encourage students to make deals with each other by buying and selling the properties they have. Students will also have to speak during some of the more basic aspects of the game, saying phrases such as "I need $200 for passing GO" or "I'd like to buy Baltic Avenue."

7. Drawing Games

Using mini whiteboards, you can have students play all sorts of drawing games with each other. In pairs, they could play hangman, Pictionary, Battleship, and more. These games require students to use new English words to guess what words are being drawn, describe a picture, or even explain a location. You can incorporate current spelling or vocabulary words that students are learning to make the games more relevant. For example, students could play Hangman or Pictionary with the focus on animals or articles of clothing.

8. Describing Games

Games like Taboo and Catchphrase are great for the ESL classroom. The goal of these games is to get players to guess a word. Sometimes, such as in games like Taboo or Password, they must do so without saying any of the words listed on the card. For example, you may have to guess the word "red" without saying that its a color. Before you play, make sure you arm students with some good phrases to use when describing things. For example:

‘It’s used for….’

‘You can find this in …’

‘You do this when you …’

You can buy one of the games for students to play or you can make your own cards with words that your students have learned recently or that you want to focus on.

9. Matching Games

Matching games are great for lower level learners. Students spread cards face down on a table and then take turns to turn them over and match them together. If you search Google for ‘pelmanism cards’ or 'matching games' you’ll find lots of sets to print out, but, if you have time it’s much better to make your own. You can have students match pictures to words, match synonyms or antonyms, match places to things (like a student to a school), or even have students pick up two words and use them in a sentence.

Playing games in the ESL classroom is fun and requires students to use their English language skills. You have to explain the rules, give advice on how to play, ask for tips, encourage, discuss and engage in basic conversation while you play. These are all the perfect ingredients for a language activity. Games might not always be good for a full class, but they could be great to fill a tutorial hour with a small group or engage students as part of an ‘English Conversation Club’. 

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