What games work well in the language learning class?

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What games work well in the language learning class?

Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL Specialist

Brewster, Ellis and Girard (2012) discuss the idea of playing Bingo or Dominoes as games for connecting various curriculum areas. Brewster (2012) explains that playing games like these can be a support for learning target vocabulary, for example, playing a Dominoes game before or after reading where learners can either match the words or the pictures together as they listen is an excellent way to learn the target language. You may be studying the human skeleton vocabulary in the game and making connections to the class book e.g. The book,Funny Bones, where learners are encouraged to explore the theme of bones and skeletons through listening to the story.

Brewster et al (2012) also give the example of using the book Princess Smartypants, which is suitable for older children, as a theme of gender stereotypes. For example, the teacher can read the book and introduce a classifying game where they write descriptions of the characters using the three headings: A Typical Princess, A Typical Prince, Not Typical (Brewster et al, 2012). Learners could then read descriptions and decide which classification they might be; usually wears beautiful clothes, is usually handsome, likes riding horses, or likes to rescue princes and classify the cards. This type of game can be adapted for any other lesson, for example, games that discuss people, events or cultures (Brewster et al, 2012).

Barrier games are also very useful. Scott (2012) explains that these games require students to give and receive information over a barrier. This allows the learners to develop their speaking skills through asking questions in the target language. For example, Scott (2012) suggests offering each student a different, yet similar, picture and the students need to find out what is different in each other’s picture. Finally, Scott (2012) believes that these games are not only useful for small group support sessions but also, with adequate differentiation, suitable for the mainstream classroom.

You may prefer to use the Top Trumps Cards (see free downloadable example). Mitchell (2016) discusses the idea of using revision Top Trumps, which you can adapt for revising topics or use for classroom content language. Mitchell (2016) explains that Top Trumps is a trading card game that shares common themes. Each card will present either a list of data which can be adapted for the language around that topic. One idea for developing the cards is to see which group of students can find the most interesting facts about the topic. The language focus can be related to vocabulary and/or the present or past simple in the 3rd person.

In groups give each learner two cards. The learners have to read the information on the cards and identify one or two interesting facts about each one. Learners then have to construct a sentence. The next learner must repeat the sentence and then add their own sentence to form a sentence chain. At the end of the game each group reports back on how many interesting facts they were able to find. There are many other ways you can adapt and use these cards depending on the level of your group.

Finally, another idea is to use a simple noughts and crosses game. Thompson (2017) explains that this game is particularly popular with teenagers and is best used as either a starter, filler or plenary activity. The teacher draws a grid on the board and puts in topics related to something you have been studying in class, for example, Geography. The learners then select a category and answer the question, “What is the capital of Australia?” and supply their answer. You can adapt this to work on grammar points, so if you have the word ‘preposition’ on the board you can ask the students to complete the missing preposition e.g. “He is …. the computer” then the students have to provide you with the correct preposition to win the box.

Download a free Top Trumps resource here.


Brewster, J., Ellis, G., and Girard, D. (2002). The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Mitchell, J (2016). 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Revision. London: Bloomsbury.

Scott, C (2012) . Teaching English as an Additional Language, 5-11: A Whole School Resource File. London: Routledge.

Thomson, K. “Noughts and Crosses Quiz Game” Teaching English. British Council BBC. British Council, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

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