Are you tired of vocabulary Bingo as your go-to game in Spanish class?
Want to get your students out of their seats to have a fun time talking with each other in Spanish?
Introduce communicative games into your Spanish classroom!
Communicative games are outstanding options for language classes, and the five games below might just become your students’ new favorites.
What Makes Spanish Games Communicative, Anyway?
When it comes down to it, all language skills can be broken down into just two big categories: receptive language and productive language. Receptive language covers the skills that students have in listening and reading as they make sense of the words of a language to make meaning. Productive language, on the other hand, encompasses the skills that students use to express themselves and communicate with others. These skills include speaking and writing.
Both receptive and productive language skills are important, but receptive skills are much easier to learn. Your students understand much more than they can express, so it’s the productive language skills that often need more work.
But getting students to speak in the target language during game play can be challenging. A communicative game is designed to make students use the target language as an integral component of winning the game. Here are some factors to look for when choosing a truly communicative game:
- Hidden information: Students must use Spanish to find out something they don’t know to solve a puzzle or complete a challenge.
- Asking questions: Students must ask questions in Spanish to get the information they need. These can be highly structured and consist of just sí or no answers, but the act of inquiry makes the game communicative.
- Answering questions: Great communicative games give students a chance to be on both sides of a conversation in Spanish.
- Real-time feedback: Communicative games let students know when they’ve misunderstood the target language with immediate feedback—such as an inability to solve a puzzle or a wrong turn on the game board. Earning points and winning (or losing!) is quick, engaging feedback about their language skills.
How to Tell If Your Spanish Games Are Truly Communicative
First, let’s look at an example of a non-communicative game to see its weaknesses.
Bingo is fun, but it’s just not a communicative game. Students sit in their seats and listen to you, the teacher, talking the whole time. Sure, they have to understand individual vocabulary words to play, and it’s a great game for measuring receptive language skills, but students aren’t the ones doing any of the talking, much less asking questions and giving answers.
They also aren’t getting immediate feedback, as they won’t know if they’re marking the correct items until well into the game (and then only if they’re the lucky ones calling out “Bingo!”).
Compare that to a well-planned communicative game:
Hangman is a simple communicative game that takes no preparation to play. When you make the puzzle on the board, there’s automatically hidden information that students need to figure out. They get instant feedback on their letter guesses—the letters are either added to the puzzle, or they receive a part of their man in the gallows.
There are opportunities for basic, structured questions and answers as you ask students what letter they’ve chosen, whether they would like to solve the puzzle or pass their turn, etc.
The best communicative games have simple rules and get students talking. Remember, it doesn’t have to be complicated to get your students thinking and speaking in Spanish!
Now, here are five excellent communicative games to get you started.
5 Fun Communicative Games for Your Spanish Students
1. Restaurante (Restaurant)
Vocabulary Topic: Food and meals
Materials: Menus in Spanish, diner-style guest checks, worksheets with a picture of an empty dinner plate, colored pencils
How to Play: Pair students up and have them decide who will be the mesero (waiter) and who will be the cliente (customer). Meseros bring clientes their menus and jot down their orders on the guest check, then go to “cook” the meal requested.
This is done by drawing the meal on the plate worksheet. When they serve the cliente, they’ll know right away if they got the order right, and clientes can leave additional feedback by tipping well (or not at all!). Students should switch roles for the second round.
Variations: Students can make their own menus to practice writing and tailor the game to your specific vocabulary. Menus can also include culturally specific foods if you are studying a particular country or region. You can also allow clientes to sit together and chat in Spanish while they wait for their meals.
2. Adivina Quién? (Guess Who?)
Vocabulary Topic: Physical appearance, clothing
Materials: 20-30 full-color photos of people
How to Play: Hang photos in a grid on the board where everyone can see them, or project a PowerPoint slide containing 20-30 photos of people. Working in pairs, one student will choose a photo of a person to describe. The other student asks questions about appearance and clothing to narrow the field until he or she is ready to guess. Partners switch roles and play continues.
Variations: For an even easier version of this game, skip the photos and have students simply choose a classmate to describe. Use portraits to focus on facial features or full-length photos to practice clothing and color vocabulary.
3. Mi Familia Loca (My Crazy Family)
Vocabulary Topic: Family and pets
Materials: Blank family tree template worksheets, a set of 20-30 small photos of famous people and animals (the sillier the better—cartoon characters welcome!) for each student, a folder or binder
How to Play: In pairs, students sit facing each other with a binder standing between them to block the view of each other’s family tree template. One student will place photos on the family tree template to create a familia loca.
The second student must recreate that family tree without looking, so will ask questions like, “¿Quién es tu mamá?” (Who is your mother?), using the answers to place photos on their family tree. When the tree is complete, students remove the binder and check their work.
Variations: To make the game more challenging, use photos of non-famous people to force students to also use their physical description vocabulary, i.e. Mi mamá es alta y rubia. (My mother is tall and blonde.) If you use photos of animals instead of people, you can incorporate a review of Spanish animal sounds as well.
4. El Taxista (Taxi Driver)
Vocabulary Topic: Professions and workplaces
Materials: Play money, stations around the classroom with two chairs side by side
How to Play: Divide the class in half: Half of your students are taxi drivers, and the other half are customers. Each taxi driver chooses a station and sits in the “driver’s seat.”
Customers each get a handful of play money and must decide what person they need to see (a pharmacist, teacher, lawyer, etc.). Each customer sits in the “passenger’s seat” of a cab station and gives a clue about where they are going—without naming the person they need to see or the place they are going.
For example, someone going to the doctor might describe having a headache. The taxi driver makes a guess about the location based on the clue. If the taxi driver is correct on their first guess, the customer gives him or her $5; if not, the passenger gives another clue. A correct guess on the second guess is worth $3.
If a third guess is needed, the customer can name the profession of the person they wish to see; a correct guess is now worth $1. When the round is over, customers move into a different taxi station and play continues. The taxi driver with the most money at the end wins.
Variations: You can make this game more or less challenging by structuring the questions and answers to match students’ skill level. AP students can play a very open-ended game, while beginners can stick to yes/no questions and have prompts on the board to help. For example, you can prompt passengers to give clues by writing “Necesito _____.” or “Estoy _____.” on the board. Taxi drivers can guess using the prompt “¿Vas a _____?,” which passengers can answer with a simple sí or no.
5. Limpia Tu Cuarto (Clean Your Room)
Vocabulary Topic: Parts of the house and its furnishings
Materials: A worksheet with a cross-section of a house or labeled floor plan, small photos of furniture and items found around the house, a binder or folder
How to Play: Students play in pairs, with a binder or folder standing between them to keep their home diagrams secret from the other player. Each student selects a photo card to place in each room—locations do not have to make sense. The goal is to “clean up” your partner’s items before he or she can clean up yours.
To play, one student must ask the other for an item, i.e. “Necesito una silla. ¿Está en la cocina?” (I need a chair. Is it in the kitchen?) If they correctly guess the location of the item in their partner’s house, the partner must hand them the photo. Play continues as students take turns guessing; the first person to collect five items wins.
Variations: You can also use photos of family members, pets, food and clothing instead of furniture to keep the game interesting over the course of the school year.
Making Your Own Communicative Spanish Games
Once your students get a taste of how fun it is to use all their Spanish words to play these games, they’ll never want to go back to boring old Bingo again. Luckily, each of these great games can be modified to include different vocabulary sets, and you can make them more or less challenging to suit the needs of your students.
Once you get the hang of how they work, you’ll be ready to apply the principles of great communicative activities (hidden information, asking and answering questions, and real-time feedback) to make up your own, original games. Get creative, and you’re sure to make this the most fun year of Spanish your students have ever had!
Elizabeth Trach teaches Spanish in a public elementary school in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she co-authored of the district’s original K-5 Spanish curriculum. In her spare time, she sings in a band and grows her own food. You can read about all her adventures at Port Potager.