Making a classroom fun can be difficult. Gamification can help you get your class from drool to cool! This is the method of using games within a classroom setting to help teach your students. The use of ESL games can have huge benefits for you and your students, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. It can be used for all levels of English and of all ages. Just make sure not to use too much of a young game when teaching adults. 

What does it mean by ESL games?

ESL games are essentially games used as activities to learn English as a second language. Nearly every game you know can be implemented to enhance a students’ English skills. As long as the game that you play with the students does in fact improve their English fluency, you can define it as an ESL game. 

There is no setlist of games to choose from for your lesson plans, but you will find lists on lists of game suggestions on the internet. The popular ones are popular because they work well with all different sizes of classrooms, are easy to explain in simple terms, and are easily adapted to ESL lesson plans. 

child with blocks

Also Read: Last-minute Tricks to Set up Your ESL Lesson Plans for the Day

How do you make an ESL class fun?

When working on a lesson plan, your main priority is to teach English. However, a very close second is to keep the classroom engaged. There are many methods to keep the attention of your students, but one of the most effective is by making the classroom fun.

So, how do you make a classroom fun? This can be through song, quizzes, rhyming, group work, or field trips, but the easiest way to do this is through gamification. Implementing games into your lesson plans is a seriously beneficial way of learning! And bonus points that the time absolutely flies in class. 

Why are games important in ESL?

Games have a number of benefits when it comes to teaching English as a second language. 

  • It will engage the students for the whole hour. They will listen and learn without even thinking about it. 
  • Your students (and you) will not get tired or bored throughout the lesson. Time does fly and this interactive method keeps away the boredom. 
  • It enhances the students’ memory. When a learner has fun, they will remember their new vocabulary a lot better. When trying to think about that word or phrase in the future, their memory will trigger through that game. 
  • Games will build a rapport with your students. They will look forward to your class and be excited to learn. This motivation is needed for learning a language as it’s one of the hardest things people can do. 

What are English language games?

English language games are newly made-up games, or recycled from traditional games, with the intent to improve the English language skill of students. Some examples of these are: 

  • The ESL Bomb Game (explained below)
  • Simon Says (great for listening skills)
  • Hangman (great for vocabulary and spelling)
  • Pictionary (great for vocabulary and speaking skills)

playing pictionary

What are the types of language games?

There are many ways and publications for classifications of games. We feel that the Hadfield method explains it the best! As with all categorizations, this one has a bit of overlap. 

  1. Sorting, ordering or arranging games

    For example, students have a set of cards with different products on them, and they sort the cards into products found at a grocery store and products found at a department store.

  2. Information gap games.

    In such games, one or more people have information that other people need to complete a task. For instance, one person might have a drawing and their partner needs to create a similar drawing by listening to the information given by the person with the drawing. Information gap games can involve a one-way information gap, such as the drawing game just described, or a two-way information gap, in which each person has unique information, such as in a Spot-the-Difference task, where each person has a slightly different picture, and the task is to identify the differences.

  3. Guessing games.

    These are a variety of information gap games. One of the best-known examples of a guessing game is 20 Questions, in which one person thinks of a famous person, place, or thing. The other participants can ask 20 Yes/No questions to find clues to guess who or what the person is thinking of.

  4. Search games.

    These games are yet another variant of two-way information gap games, with everyone giving and seeking information. Find Someone Who is a well-known example. Students are given a grid. The task is to fill in all the cells in the grid with the name of a classmate who fits that cell, e.g., someone who is a vegetarian. Students circulate, asking and answering questions to complete their own grid and help classmates complete theirs.

  5. Matching games

    As the name implies, participants need to find a match for a word, picture, or card. For example, students place 30-word cards, composed of 15 pairs, face down in random order. Each person turns over two cards at a time, with the goal of turning over a matching pair, by using their memory. 

  6. Labeling games.

    These are a form of matching, in that participants match labels and pictures.

  7. Exchanging games.

    In these games, students barter cards, other objects, or ideas. Many card games fall into this category, such as the children’s card game

  8. Board games.

    Scrabble is one of the most popular board games that specifically highlights language.

  9. Roleplay games.

    Roleplay can involve students playing roles that they do not play in real life, such as dentist, while simulations can involve students performing roles that they already play in real life or might be likely to play, such as a customer at a restaurant. Dramas are normally scripted performances, whereas, in role-plays and simulations, students come up with their own words, although preparation is often useful.

How do you play the ESL bomb game?

The bomb game is a fun way to practice vocabulary and fundamental conversation phrases. Before passing the “bomb,” students must recite the target word/phrase. Everyone gets quite thrilled when playing this game, but keep in mind that tensions might rise quickly.

Levels: Can be played by all levels

You will need: 
  1. Something to be handed from student to student, a “bomb.” The go-to for this is normally a light ball. 
  2. A countdown timer (which appears to be present in most classes); the louder the beeper, the better. Smartphones are a good alternative if your classroom doesn’t have a timer. 
Method
  1. Get the students to form a huge circle (or if that is not feasible, just have the bomb go up and down the rows).
  2. As the teacher, you can start the game (which will also help with the demonstration). Start the timer as you speak. 
  3. The second part of the target dialogue is said by the first student holding the “bomb,” and the “bomb” is passed to the next student. The second student responds to the first and then moves on to the next. Repeat.
  4. The student with the “bomb” is out when the timer goes off. The faster the student can think of a word or sentence, the less likely this is to happen to them. If you feel like you need to make a rule to say they can’t pass the ball until you say their answer is correct, that’s ok. This may be necessary depending on the students’ level of English. 
Examples of target dialogue: 
  • For beginner levels, you could simply think of a category like “household items” and ask the students to name items. 
  • For intermediate levels, think of a current event like the Olympics to start a dialogue about it. 
  • If you are teaching advanced levels, perhaps ask the students to finish your sentence with a transition word and then start their own sentence for the next student to finish the compound sentence with a transition word. This will get them thinking on their toes! 

boys learning

Let’s hope that we’ve answered all of your questions on gamification. If you feel like you need a  little more help making lesson plans and implementing ESL games into those plans, there are tons of resources to help you! From us, we suggest the Teaching Young Learners Course, the Lesson Planning guide, and Warmers, Fillers, and Coolers Guide. They are amazing resources to help you with your new career!

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