You know what they say about “all work and no play.”
It makes the Spanish classroom a dull place to be.
Okay, maybe that’s not as snappy as the real expression, but you get my point.
Teaching Spanish effectively does require discipline and patient repetition of important grammar points. But if that’s all you were to focus on, you’d see student motivation tank pretty quickly.
In order to hold students’ attention and keep your lessons diverse, a little bit of educational fun just might be what you’re looking for.
Traditional Spanish games are a wonderful way to bring both work and play into your classroom. These authentic games offer students a chance to activate multiple language competencies, and you can adapt them further for reading practice and writing practice.
There’s also an important cultural element in teaching these games, and they give students a chance to think about connections between themselves and Spanish-speaking kids their own age.
So, don’t be a dull boy or girl! These 11 traditional Spanish games can help you liven up your lessons.
Why Use Traditional Games to Teach Spanish?
Games can be a clever and memorable way to sneak some Spanish culture into your lesson plans, no matter what age you teach. Here are some ideas to consider while you decide how these games can fit into your lesson plans.
- You’ll expand student knowledge about regional Spanish cultures. Many of the games below originate from or are unique to a particular region in Spain or the Spanish-speaking world. Combine a geography session with some time for playing games for an effective cross-disciplinary lesson.
- You can combine teaching Spanish culture and history with Spanish language and play. For example, some games come from physical training activities that prepared youths for battle long ago, while others have traveled to Spain from other parts of the world.
- Playing Spanish games allows students to be a part of a global community. Remind students that children and teens in other parts of the world actually do play these games! This reminder could cultivate a sense of international citizenship and perhaps increase their curiosity about Spanish-speaking countries.
- Games are fun, no matter where you live and what language you speak. What could be more unifying and culturally significant than games, play and laughter? After all, offering your students a break from grammar lessons with traditional Spanish games still encourages learning.
Want a Winning Classroom? Teach Spanish Through 11 Traditional Games
These 11 games include everything from familiar outdoor games to number-heavy card games to sports. We’ll show you how to use each one for maximum language learning, plus tips on the best age and proficiency level for each.
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Spanish Versions of Games Students Will Recognize
Play familiar games like the ones below, but with a Spanish twist. Kids can practice new vocabulary while learning that these games are popular with children their age in Spain. Keep the English names of these games a secret, and students will enjoy being surprised when they read the basic Spanish instructions and recognize their old favorites.
Young students between the ages of five and 12 will particularly enjoy the games listed below, but they’re fun and appropriate for all ages. All these games offer opportunities to practice listening and speaking skills. Add a reading element by printing out Spanish instructions.
You can even incorporate writing by assigning students a written summary of the game rules for homework or for an in-class journal.
Students can practice numbers and counting in Spanish with this game. Encourage students to count out loud while hopping to facilitate vocabulary building and pronunciation practice.
Offer students a vocabulary list that contains both the English and Spanish versions of relevant words like coronada (crowned, kinged or queened—as in, at the opposite side of the board), peones (the normal pieces), and rojo (red) and negro (black) to describe the board and playing pieces.
Escondite (Hide and Seek)
Students can count down in Spanish and create their own Spanish versions of the “ready or not, here I come” call to play. Encourage students to create silly rhymes in Spanish to give them a sense of the musical quality of the language in preparation for play.
Spanish Games That’ll Get Students Moving
Introduce these traditional games unique to teach culture and history. Offer students reading practice through basic descriptions and instructions that translate easily to increase confidence in new learners.
Chapas (The Bottle Cap Game)
Support recycling efforts by asking students to keep metal bottle caps in preparation for your classroom chapas tournament. This game is usually played outdoors, between two people or as many as six.
Gameplay is simple. Students draw a race track (they can do this in chalk on asphalt, in sand in a sandbox, etc.) and take turns flicking their chapas towards the finish line.
Allow classroom time for students to decorate the bottle caps with personal logos so they know which chapas belong to which players, and then draw your chapas course on the ground outside.
Be careful not to flick outside the boundaries of the course, and the first one to the finish line wins! Encourage speaking skills and playful competition with Spanish futbol (soccer) idioms—they don’t have to make perfect sense to be fun and educational!
Churro, mediamanga, mangantera
Just trying to translate the name of this game into English provides students with an interesting linguistic challenge!
Ask students to research the various components of the name as an introduction to the activity. Making connections between churros (fried dough) and mangas (sleeves) could lead to some hilariously creative discussion. You could even follow up with a list of food vocabulary that students could then use to invent new titles of games.
In this game, kids gather into two teams to create a human barrier and then take turns trying to jump over each other. This game might be better suited to watching online than playing as the conditions of the game require the kids to clamber over each other in an amusing (but possibly hazardous) way!
Popular Spanish Card Games
Develop math skills while practicing speaking with Spanish card games. Encourage older students with at least a year or two of Spanish behind them to engage with Spanish numbers and math skills with these card games.
Players must draw cards and then try to determine who has the best hand, providing lots of opportunities to bluff and to make jokes. There are four hands in this game, which can each be won a different way: getting the highest cards; getting the lowest cards; getting the best pairs; playing to 31 points. Here’s a rundown of how points are scored.
Assign students homework beforehand so that they all bring in a handful of suitable jokes in Spanish that encourage fun and speaking practice among the players.
Siete y Media (Seven and a Half)
This game is enjoyed throughout all of Spain and Italy. It’s usually played with a Latin-suited deck of 40 cards, but a 52-card deck can be adapted by removing all the eight, nine and ten cards. Players aim to collect cards that total seven and a half—no more.
Ask students to learn about the Latin-suited deck of cards beforehand.
Manilla (a.k.a Botifarra)
This card game hails from Catalonia, in the northeast corner of Spain and requires two pairs of players and a Spanish deck of 48 cards.
The game is played in a series of tricks, where each team tries to get the most number of points with valuable cards. Gameplay typically goes until one team hits 101 points. There are a bunch of additional rules and twists making this a strategy-heavy game—find a comprehensive rundown of the game here.
Quiz the students on the rules beforehand to give them a break from the usual vocabulary test!
Traditional Spanish Sports
Get physical with traditional sports from Spain. These games require specialized equipment and playing areas, so check to see what resources you have available beforehand. Alternatively, students can work together to adapt a game for the resources that are available, or to present interesting findings to their classmates.
Group projects as described below provide some great opportunities for more advanced students, like those in AP Spanish, who can speak Spanish with some confidence.
This sport comes from Murcia in southeastern Spain. Two teams of two people compete on a flat surface equipped with a wooden baton (the caliche), a small metal disc that sits on top of the baton (the moneda) and a larger metal disc that’s tossed at the baton (the moneo).
Players throw the moneo at the caliche in order to first move the moneda off the caliche. Later tosses of the moneo must land closer to the moneda than to the caliche, or else the throws are considered invalid.
A match consists of 12 or 20 rounds (called a mano) of eight throws, four per team and each player must throw twice. Teams earn a point if they win the mano. Most points wins!
Before playing, tell students that they’ll be practicing counting in Spanish as well sporting idioms, and that any debate over throws must be held in Spanish.
This word can refer to any number of ball games in Spain, but here, pelota refers to the Basque sport. The Basque region is in the western Pyrenees, on the border of France and Spain. This sport is played on a two-walled court with a racket and ball, by two teams of two people each.
A net or line on the ground separates the teams. As a homework assignment before playing this game, ask students to look up “jai alai,” a variation of Basque pelota that’s considered by some to be the fastest sport in the world. Task different students with preparing descriptions of different elements of the sport as informal presentations.
La verdadera destreza (The True Skill, a.k.a Fencing)
This sport doesn’t belong to a particular region in Spain, but rather to the peninsula of Iberia as a whole. Iberian fencing, or swordsmanship, has a long and interesting history of over five hundred years.
Methods and styles of fencing developed over the years in Portugal and Spain, and many different weapons were used. Of course, we’re not recommending that you send your students out to the playing fields with swords—but this sport could inspire some very interesting group research projects complete with paper-mache replicas of daggers and shields.
Increase student engagement with any of these traditional Spanish games and give your students memories that they’ll hold for years to come.
Lynn Ramsson is an educator who enjoys working with students of all ages. She has taught in Virginia and California, and now, she writes from the south coast of England where she lives with her family. She travels to Spain as often as she can, in search of the perfect gambas al ajillo.
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