15 classroom language games

Using English and avoiding L1 for instruction language and common questions in the classroom is absolutely vital if you want students to use English every day and realise that what you are teaching them is relevant to their lives. Below are 15 games to practise this kind of useful language. NB: if you want to […]

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net

Using English and avoiding L1 for instruction language and common questions in the classroom is absolutely vital if you want students to use English every day and realise that what you are teaching them is relevant to their lives. Below are 15 games to practise this kind of useful language. NB: if you want to add spoken production of the classroom language to any of the action games below, you can have the students chant the actions they are doing as they do them and/ or allow students to take turns giving each other instructions

1. Simon says
In this well known TEFL game, students only do the action they are told to when the sentence starts with “Simon says…”, e.g. “Simon says open your books on page 27”. If they hear any other command, e.g. “Knock on the door”, they should remain totally still and not even start doing the action. To add some more useful language, you can replace “Simon says…” with “You have to…” or “The teacher wants you to…”.

2. Only when it matches
Students only copy if the action and what the teacher says is the same, e.g. if the teacher both says “Stand up and face the window” and does that action. If the action and words don’t match, e.g. if the teacher faces the window while saying “face the door”, the students should just stay still. You can give points to individuals or teams who do the correct actions the quickest, and take points away or make them sit down out of the game if people do things when they shouldn’t.

3. Tell me off
Students should only copy if the action and what the teachers says is the same, and shout something negative like “No” , “That’s wrong”, “They are different”, “One more time, please” or “You’ve made a mistake” if they don’t match (unlike just staying still like the variation above)

4. Do as I say, not as I do
When the actions and what the teacher says don’t match, students don’t copy the action, but do what the teacher says instead

5. Do what’s right, not what I say
Students don’t copy if you ask them to do something that they shouldn’t do in the classroom, e.g. “Shout”, “Bang on the table” or “Kick a boy”, but race to follow instructions that are okay, e.g. “Bow to your neighbour” or “Shake hands”

6. Tell me off too
If the teacher tells them to do something that isn’t allowed in the classroom, the students shout out “That’s naughty”, “That isn’t allowed”, “That’s bad”, “Don’t (whatever the action was)” or similar useful classroom language for discipline, but rush to do the action if it is something good or okay

7. Instructions protests
Tell the students to do some typical classroom actions, then throw in some things that are impossible, e.g. “Clean the whiteboard” then “Clean the ceiling”. With the impossible ones, they shout back “I/ we can’t (clean the ceiling)”, “That’s too difficult” or other useful classroom language for telling the teacher they have problems in class.

8. Teacher robot
Elicit useful classroom language you want the students to say by doing things that make life impossible for them, e.g. writing in tiny letters on the board, speaking very quietly, speaking very fast etc, and only doing it properly when they ask you with the correct language. To add some fun, you can sometimes go too far the other way when they ask you, e.g. writing in huge letters, speaking very very slowly etc.

9. Pedantic robot
The students follow each other’s instructions, but only if they are so unambiguous that they can’t be misunderstood, e.g. they should open their comics rather than their textbooks if their partner says “Open your book” rather than “Open your red English textbook” or rattle the door if their partner says “Open the door” before they say “Turn the door knob”

10. Classroom language brainstorm
After the teacher says or does something, the students try to use as much classroom language as they can to ask the teacher to do it again or another way, e.g. if the teacher says “This is a whiteboard”, the students can say “How do you spell whiteboard?”, “Can you speak more slowly please?” (several times until it isn’t possible to speak any more slowly), “Can you speak more loudly please?” (ditto, until the teacher is shouting) etc.

11. Classroom instructions collocations brainstorms
Give the students a verb and see how many possible things they can tell the teacher or another student to do using that verb, e.g. for open “Open the cupboard”, “Open your pencil case”, “Open your mouth” etc.

12. Classroom instructions collocations pellmanism (= memory game/ pairs)
Give each group of 2 to 4 students a pack of cards that has common classroom language verbs (pick up, draw, listen to, look at, face, copy etc) on half of the cards and common classroom nouns (the window, the air conditioning, your eraser, your partner etc) on the rest. Students spread the pack of cards face down across the table and try to find a verb and an object that match up. If they think two cards match up, they should do that action in order to prove it. If the group agree that the two cards don’t match (or if they pick up two nouns or two verbs), they should put them back face down exactly where they took them from.

13. Classroom English ranking debate
Give students a list of 20 to 25 sentences that are useful for them to use in the classroom, including some more unusual ones like “Can I blow my nose, please?” and “Can you lend me some money, please?” In pairs or threes, students debate which are the top ten most useful sentences. These can then be turned into a poster or worksheet, and should be the ones the teacher is strict about not allowing L1 for from then on.

14. Classroom language Pictionary
Students try to draw a typical thing that students or teachers say in the classroom, and the rest of the class or their team try to guess what the sentence is e.g. a drawing of a confused face and a question mark for “Sorry, I don’t understand” or a drawing of arrows going from a book, pen, eraser etc to a bag for “Put everything away in your bag”. Drawing of symbols and numbers is okay, but no writing (even of single letters) is allowed. This can lead onto students making posters of useful classroom language with accompanying pictures to leave up in the classroom for reference, e.g. the 10 most useful ones they decided in the ranking debate (see above).

15. Instructions action chains
Students race to do the typical classroom action written on the board, e.g. “Open your book”, then the teacher adds one more to the bottom of the list, e.g. “Close your book”, and the students race to do both as quickly as possible when the teacher shouts “(Start) now” or “(Let’s) go”. The teacher adds one more to the bottom of the list and repeat over and over until they are doing at least 10 actions in a row.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net
July 2008 | Filed under Games
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.

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