Running out of game ideas?
Think you’ve played all the games there are to play in a language classroom?
Oh yeah, and they’re sinfully fun, too!
I know you can’t wait to get to them, but before we actually dive into the games, it’s important you know about “teachable moments” during games.
Teachable Moments: Bite-sized Learning During MFL Games
Teachable moments are those unique opportunities that arise during game play where you can drive home a linguistic lesson.
They’re short, quick bursts of teaching—moments that you grab because you simply can’t help but teach a language point at that very point in the game. It’s no arduous lecture, just a focused form of teaching: quick and painless, but robust with useful content.
Students may have a different mentality when playing these games, and tend to focus more on winning than realizing what language they’re learning. But you should always be on point and remember that games are vehicles for lessons. Sure, you can use games to bring up the energy level or to hike up interest for the topic, but the best games are those that also educate (whether or not the students know it at that time).
There are plenty of teaching opportunities that arise when you facilitate a game. For example, when a student commits a mistake or gives a wrong answer during the game, don’t let that error go to waste.
Be quick to pound on it and explain why the answer was wrong and give the correct answer. Explain why it’s easy to make the mistake. Never embarrass a student, but capitalize on any error so that the rest of the class can benefit.
Even when a student gives the correct answer, you can still use that moment to teach! Congratulate the student and explain to the class why the answer is correct. One of the games below involves shooting objects into a box, so when a student performs well and shoots the object in the correct box, highlight what was done right and engage in some repetition in order to sear the lesson in students’ minds.
Sometimes you might need to slow down the game in order to do this, so pick your spots such that the dynamics of the game are maintained. Just know that even a correct answer can be a “teachable moment.”
Another “teachable moment” during games arises when two competing teams provide different answers to the same question. For example, one of the games that follows involves putting words into categories (like the “masculine” and “feminine” noun genders). When one team places a word in one category and another team places it in another, take it as a sign that you need to clear something up.
When you do give the correct answer, briefly explain why this is so. And once again, mention how others might trip up and how easy it is to make the same mistake. This isn’t only to console the team that guessed wrong, but it’s a good way of creating memories for lessons.
Those are just three instances of “teachable moments” during games, but they don’t end there. Take advantage of the times when students are so engaged in the activity that virtually all eyes and all ears are on you. There’s nothing like games to wake up the interest and competitive spirit of your wards.
Long after the course, they’ll remember the vocabulary words or grammar lessons that came by way of games—especially the last word in a hotly contested vocabulary game. Whether they win or not, the word will hold a special significance for them.
7 Fun MFL Games That’ll Make Your Mondays Feel Like Vacation
This comprehension game is played in silence, hence the name. It involves two competing teams performing a task (written on a card) in front of the class.
Ahead of time, you’ll need to write five group tasks on 3×5 index cards, making two copies of each (one for each team). Fold the index cards and number them to ensure you hand out the same task to the groups during the game. On a PowerPoint slide, write the tasks and their English translations. Make one slide per task. You’ll be showing these slides to the whole class during the game. If a computer and a projector aren’t available, you may opt for a poster instead.
Possible tasks include:
- Dance the Macarena
- With eyes closed, point to the most charming person in the group
- Pose as a supermodel
- You’re a mime. What would you do?
- Recreate a scene from “The Titanic”
Vary the instructions according to the language level of your students.
How to Play:
Make two groups of 4-5 students each. Each group stands in front of the class, but with their backs to the other team. (No peeking!)
Hand each team a piece of paper with instructions written in the target language. Give the teams 10 seconds to “discuss” (or rather, gesture away) how they’re going to do/perform the tasks.
Meanwhile, inform the class of the task about to be performed by showing them the slide or the poster you prepared earlier. Make sure no one from the competing teams sees the English translations.
After 10 seconds, you get the groups on their marks and say, “Ready, 1, 2, 3!” (in the target language).
In front of the class, the teams now perform whatever instruction was written on the paper.
By the way, the remainder of students—unlike the competing teams—are allowed to talk the whole time. They can cheer on their friends, who they’re going to judge moments later. Students in the audience will decide which of the teams did the task better. Determining who gets the point can be done via raise of hands or the very unscientific volume of shouts (or applause) for each team. First to five points wins the game.
2. Three-word Throw
Students throw clay balls at word matrices to have three words they need to use in a sentence. This game is a fun way to practice crucial sentence constructions skills while also sparking student creativity.
Write three 7×5-word matrices on the board. One matrix contains all words that are nouns, another matrix contains only verbs, and the third has adjectives.
You’ll also need three clay balls. Students will use them to hit the words on your matrices. Wet paper balls may also be used if desired.
How to Play:
Call on individual students to come up to try their luck, throwing one clay ball onto each matrix (one at a time) from about 6-7 feet away.
(The words in the middle of the matrix may get hit most often, so you may decide to cross them out after a couple of hits so that the other words can be used.)
When the student has their three words, they’ll have to use them in a sentence. Each student is given 10 seconds to come up with a grammatically sound statement.
The sentence doesn’t be realistic, practical or even logical. The important thing is to come up with a statement that demonstrates correct structural/grammatical relationships between the noun, verb and adjective. So, for example, a student might end up with the words “cat,” “laugh” and “red”—among which there’s really no inherent relationships.
If the student barks out, “The red cat laughs at the moon,” then that would be deemed a very correct answer. Don’t go questioning, “Is there really a red cat? “Can a cat even laugh?,” etc.
We’re just after structure here, so it’s all good.
When a student runs out of time and fails to come up with a grammatically sound sentence, open it up to the whole class and ask for a raise of hands. This makes sure that the whole class remains actively involved, even when it’s not their turn.
Three-word Throw mixes both students’ excitement of not knowing the words they’re going to get with the chance of honing their sentence construction skills.
3. Category Cards
In this game you give students a jumbled set of words, and their job is to group them into neat categories. Students demonstrate their ability to spot similarities or relationships between words in the target language.
Print or write on index cards words that are thematically related. Write one word per index card, and pick seven words per category. You’ll need four copies of each card, such that all four groups can receive the same cards.
Possible categories include:
- Words related to food
- Mode of transportation
- Days of the week
- Names of girls
- Parts of speech
- Sea creatures
- Famous landmarks, etc.
After you’ve prepared each group’s cards, shuffle them well.
How to Play:
Divide the class into four groups.
Give each group a set of cards, and let them have 5 minutes to sort out the mix of words. You may or may not tell them how many categories there are.
When time’s up, hands must come off of the cards so that students can check their work together with the whole class.
First, ask the class what categories they came up with. Afterwards, reveal the categories that you had in mind. As a teacher, you might be surprised how students decide to group the words! They might have seen a relationship between words that you haven’t considered before. And that’s not a bad thing! As long as the group is able to give a rationale for their work, be as open as possible.
Next, go through the words as they were grouped in your “original” categories, one category at a time. Stick the index cards on the board so the whole class can see.
You’ll notice that many of the groups will have the same answers, so you may feel like you’re constantly repeating as you go through the groups. That’s exactly the purpose of this: repetition.
You already know how important it is. You want to seal the vocabulary into their heads with repetition.
In the end, the group with the most correct answers wins. A lot of ties may happen, and that’s really a good thing, isn’t it?
4. Question and Answer Roulette
As music plays, two objects will be passed around by students sitting in a circle. Whichever two students are holding the objects when the music stops get to do a round of question and answer. This game’s good for practicing Q&A skills and honing the interrogative forms of the language.
Get two objects that students can easily pass around. (These can be anything really.) One object represents the question and the other represents the answer.
You’ll also need a music player. This could be a radio, a CD player, a computer or even a guitar that you play.
How to Play:
Have students sit in a circle.
Play the music and release the objects, each from different points in the circle.
After some 15-20 seconds, hit “pause.” The two students caught holding the objects will get to do a quick Q&A in the target language. One asks any question and the other answers.
The question can be anything from “Who is your crush?” to “What is 5 times 3?”
If a student fails to ask a grammatically correct question or gives a wrong answer, the student will be asked to do a fun task given by the class. Step aside and let the class decide what one of their own should do.
After the task is done, start another round and make sure you position the objects at various points from each other every time.
There’s no point system here because everybody wins!
5. Longest Line
This game involves putting objects from end to end on the floor, with the goal of being the group who comes up with the longest line of objects within one minute.
Before the game, make sure that the students understand two important rules: (1) They can only place objects whose name they know in the target language. (2) Duplication of objects isn’t allowed. For example, if there’s already a book in the queue, there can’t be another book anywhere else in the line.
How to Play:
Divide the class into three teams.
When you say, “Longest line go,” students take any object they find inside the classroom (whose name they know in the target language) and lay them from end to end on the floor. So perhaps in one group you’d see a line of a pencil-book-eraser-potted plant-broom-chalk-etc. And on another group you’d see chalk-belt-shoes-sweatshirt-pencil-etc. Anything they find in the classroom, as long as they know its translation, is okay to use to make their line grow longer.
With this game, and particularly if you have some really competitive and creative students, you could easily see lines of objects snake out of the classroom, running through the halls and maybe even beyond. (Once, I had a student who happened to have yarn for another class project. Needless to say, her team was very happy.)
Just make sure that the teams start and follow identical pathways so you can actually compare who has the longest line. Again, repetition of objects isn’t allowed. So if there’s already a book on the queue, students can’t place another one even if it’s of a different title, size or author.
When the minute of pure ruckus ends, it’s time to check the lines one at a time. Ensure that at least one member of the group knows the translation of the objects in their line by asking. If the group fails the oral inquiry, they’ll forfeit that object. After the whole line has been checked, teams should readjust the line to cover for any objects which were taken.
The team with the longest line, of course, wins!
6. Shoot It Right
Students shoot objects into specific boxes stationed in front of the class. Every time there’s a moment in a language lesson where you feel students need some skills to differentiate one linguistic class/concept from another, you can use this game.
You’ll need to prepare two things for this game: boxes and objects.
Boxes will serve as baskets that students try to shoot the objects into. How many boxes will depend on your purpose for playing the game.
For example, when teaching French and you want students to get the hang of differentiating gendered nouns, place two boxes in front of the class and label them “Le (Masculine)” and “La (Feminine)”. (For languages with neuter gender, like modern Greek, add a third box).
Or maybe you’re teaching English and want students to remember that there are regular and irregular ways of forming the plural of nouns. (One way is simply adding an “-s,” another is adding “-es,” and the others require more tweaking.) Place three boxes labeled accordingly.
Next, prepare 20 objects that the students will be able to toss into the boxes. If you find it difficult to secure objects that’ll work well in the game, you can always write the names of those objects on Styrofoam balls or plastic balls instead.
How to Play:
Place the boxes in front of the class and have a decent shooting distance between the students and the boxes.
Get an object first and call out a student. Hand the object to the student and let them shoot the object/ball into the proper box.
Remember the first section of this post about “teachable moments”? You’ll have one after each shot in this game. Whether the student gets the correct answer or not, you can come in and deliver a quick lesson or two.
When a student gets it wrong, give them another shot. Ask the student to take the object out of the wrong box, walk back to the shooting line and shoot it into the proper box.
This may seem trivial, but the visual aspect and the movement of actually shooting the object to the right box will benefit not only the student playing, but the rest of the class observing. There’s nothing like the sight of an object going into the right box to serve as a powerful memory aid.
7. Word War
This final game is good for learning the synonyms and antonyms of words. Boy and girl groups sharpen each others’ vocabularies by challenging them to give the synonyms or antonyms of specific words.
How to Play:
I like to play this game boys versus girls, but you can obviously adjust as needed for your classroom. Huddle the teams on opposite ends of the classroom.
A representative from each team comes in front to play rock-paper-scissors to determine who goes first.
The winning team huddles for 10 seconds to choose a word which they’ll “throw” to the other team. (The whole team should mimic throwing a baseball to the other team as they reveal their word.) Their representative would then shout “synonym!” or “antonym!”
Let’s say the girls’ team won rock-paper-scissors, for example. After the huddle, they then throw the word “bad” to the other team. Their representative follows by shouting “antonym!”
Anybody from the boys’ team would then have to shout and reply with “good!” within 5 seconds.
If the boys’ team gives the correct answer, it will then be their turn to challenge the ladies. They’ll quickly huddle and give their vocabulary word. So, for example, if they say “big” and “synonym,” the girls can counter with any of the word’s synonyms—like “large,” “huge” or “enormous.” (You’ll judge and determine whether a given word is an acceptable answer or not.)
However, if the boys fail to give correct answer, the challenge will volley back to the girls and you’ll require them to answer their own question. One point if the ladies successfully do this. Otherwise, you’ll hit them with a 2-point deduction for not knowing the answer to their own word.
The losing team gets to treat the winning team for snacks, how about that?
Use these seven awesome games in your language classroom. They’ll make your classes an absolute hoot. But remember, use “teachable moments” all throughout the game and make the most of those moments when students are actually totally engaged in the activity.
I wish you a wealth of fun and learning from these games. And, of course, may the best team win!
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