Wait! What are you doing? Do not throw those random pieces of board games away! You can repurpose them for your ESL class with almost no work!
Here are some ideas to get that junk out of your closet and into the classroom for some fun and creativity.
10 Great Things You Can Do With Game Pieces
Everyone has dice laying in the bottom of a closet or drawer somewhere at home just getting in the way. Dice in the classroom, however, make for a lively and fun idea generating activity. Come to class with a list of categories you may want your students to brainstorm. You can tie these topics in to an area you are already studying (types of food, types of travel, colors, clothing, etc.) or list some not related to class. Before telling your class what the topic is for the round, have each student roll two dice and write their number at the top of the page. Then tell them the topic, and explain that whatever number they rolled is how many examples they must list. After students complete their lists, have them share their creativity with the entire class or with a small group. Keep playing until you run out of categories or until you run out of time. Your students will have fun thinking up new ideas and trying to roll low or maybe high numbers.
You say you have a Twister spinner but no game board? Well, you would not want to ask your students to roll around on the classroom floor anyway. Instead, use the color-coded spinner as a spark for an I-spy style game! Have each student take a turn spinning; he must then think of something that is the color he spun. For example, if he spun the color red, he might think of an apple, lips or a fire engine. (You may want to specify that items that can be any of the colors be excluded, a sweater or book, for example.) Give his classmates a set amount of time (between one and five minutes depending on the level of your students) to ask as many yes/no questions about the item as possible. At the end of the time, allow each student to guess and award points to any student who gets the answer right. If no one can guess the item, the student who spun gets the points (as long as it was a fair item).
What can you do with a game board if you have no other pieces from the game? There’s an activity for that as well. You may decide to run this activity for one class period or longer, up to a week. Have your students choose items to use as markers – coins, buttons, or other small, heavy items work well. Then set the rule for moving along the game board. Do you want your students to use current vocabulary words in the appropriate context? Are you looking to hear a particular grammatical structure? As you go about your daily activities, every time one of your students uses the goal word or structure appropriately, allow him to move his marker one space. You can use any game board that has spaces that players travel along – anything from Candyland to Balderdash. The game you use will determine how quickly students can reach the end of the board. When someone does, acknowledge his accomplishment and set a new language usage goal for the next week.
You do not need to play with a full deck to benefit from this cross breed between a number review and a math game. With aces counting as one point and face cards counting as ten points each, divide as many cards as you have among four students. On the word go, each student flips over the card on the top of his pile. The four students must then determine how to reach the answer twenty-four with the numbers on the cards. They may use addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. When using this as a number review (always a challenge to students of a second language) make sure the explanation is stated correctly before awarding a point to the player with the answer.
Is your Scrabble or Upwords game not as complete as it once was? Letter tiles make a useful item to keep in the ESL classroom. Just throw them all together in a bag for this activity. Have one student select eight to ten tiles and put them where everyone can see them or write the letters on the board. Give your students five minutes to make a list of all the words they can think of that are spelled with just the letters on the board. When time is up, have your students compare their lists and eliminate any repeated words. Whoever has the most words remaining wins the round.
Another activity you can do with letter tiles is a Scattergories style activity. Give your students between five and ten categories of items such as sports, boys’ names, world leaders, food or colors. Then have a student pull one letter from the bag. The challenge is to list a word that fits each category that begins with the letter your student pulled from the bag. Give your students a certain time limit, three minutes is a good length of time. Depending on the letter, this activity can be very challenging. Your students may want to use dictionaries, but discourage that until after the round is over. You may want to compile a running list of the words students used in a class book or have your students copy them into their vocabulary notebooks.
Many games come with instructional cards. They may be the Community Chest cards from Monopoly or the direction cards from the game of Life. When you do not know what to do with all your loose cards that no longer make up a complete game, put them all together as a bank of story starters. With intermediate and advanced students, you can instruct each student to select one card from the bunch. (More advanced students should select their card without reading what is printed on the card before hand.) The writing homework is to write a story in which the directions on the card can be quoted and make sense in context. This activity will challenge your students’ creativity as well as their language skills. Most often, the quotations will most easily fit as dialogue, but encourage other creative uses as well. If you like, you can display your students’ stories in your classroom with the game cards hanging next to them.
Other games contain similar cards with pictures of people or items on them (think Clue). You can present a similar challenge to your students with these cards by asking them to write a story in which this character appears. Using the picture, students can also write a character description. For lower level students, you may simply want to provide a list of questions about the person and have your students answer them.
You can encourage conversation among your students with stacking blocks like those from the game Jenga. Write one icebreaker question on each of the blocks before bringing them to class. Then, as you play, have each student answer the question she pulls from the stack. Your students will learn about one another as they learn new vocabulary. It does not matter when the stack falls or if all the pieces to the game are there since the main purpose is to get your students talking to one another.
Create Your Own Game
Finally, collect all your pieces, cards, spinners, dice and anything else you can find and put them all in a box for your students. Have each student select one item from the box and then divide your class randomly into teams of four students. The task those students now have is to create a game using at least two of the pieces the group has selected. They can make additional items for use with the game. After giving the groups time to work together, have your students practice giving instructions by explaining the game their group created. You may want to try to play the game and see how well your students communicated their instructions to the rest of the class.
With a little creativity and ingenuity, even seeming useless items can find a purpose in the ESL classroom.
If you do not have pieces of your childhood games laying around, do not despair. The next time you drive by a garage sale check to see what games they have (they will be very inexpensive, especially if they are missing pieces) and use the items you find. One of the best parts of being a teacher is using your creativity, and students will like that challenge as well!
Susan likes to enjoy every day to its fullest whether she is freelance writing, teaching homeschoolers, or developing her special talent of instigation. When she is not imagining sand castles or catching others off balance, she cooks, sings, reads and takes walks in the sunshine. She earned an M.A. from the University of Delaware in Linguistics and an M.A. from Trinity School for Ministry in Youth Ministry. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and her three cheepy cockatiels.
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