I love playing games in language lessons – it’s a great way to engage students and make the learning fun. However, it’s important to ensure that the games exploit key vocabulary and grammar as much as possible. With that in mind, here are my 5 favourite minumum-prep, maximum-fun games to play in the language classroom.
1. Corner game
Pick 4 students and send each one to stand in a corner of the room. The teacher says a word or phrase in the target language (TL). The first person to shout out the correct translation of the phrase moves clockwise to the next corner. If there is a student there, that student is knocked out and has to sit down. If the corner is empty, everyone is ‘safe’ and the teacher calls out the next word or phrase. The winner is the student who knocks out all of the other students.
Use the rest of the class to ‘referee’ who shouted the word out first.
Don’t get students to put their hands up, as this doesn’t show who actually knew the word first and encourages students to stand with their hand up before the teacher/nominated student has even said the word/phrase!
Say the word in English and the students have to shout it out in the TL.
Allow 2 students to stand in each corner so they can work as a ‘team’. This involves more students and can encourage weaker students to participate.
Nominate a student to call out the words/phrases – give the nominated student a list of the vocabulary used in that lesson or recent lessons.
2. Connect 4
This is a great game to play with the whole class. The rules are fairly simple and can be adapted for any topic.
Students are split into two teams. To be allowed to place a coin on the Connect 4 grid, students must give a sentence about the topic at the top of the column where they want to place their coin. The winning team is the one who gets 4 in a row. Encourage students to be tactical, blocking each other and planning their steps as a team.
For ideas on how to use Connect 4 with a specific topic, see my recent blog post containing a Year 7 lesson plan.
Connect 4 can also be played in pairs or small groups on a piece of paper. The same rules apply as when they are playing as a class.
Use a real Connect 4 game. Have a vocab list or a set of cards. Students can ‘test’ each other on vocab and if they get it right, they can take a turn in the game.
I bought this version of Connect 4 cheaply in Tiger and use it all the time with my students.
3. Snakes and ladders
This game can be used to practise any vocabulary, phrases, translations, and so on. I have made a very versatile snakes and ladders board which can be used with any topic. Click here to download it.
Students play in pairs or small groups. They have a list of vocabulary, phrases, translations, etc. When a student lands on a square with a ‘?’ on, they must answer a question. The others must decide if they have answered it correctly and can stay on the square. If they don’t get it right, they have to go back to their previous square. They must answer a question before they can go up a ladder.
This could be played as a whole class game on a whiteboard, although I’ve never done it! I’d be interested to know if anyone has and how they have done it!
I play this game all the time with my students and they love it!
Students work in pairs with something like a folder or big book between them so they can’t see each others’ boards. Each student draws 3 ‘ships’ of 4 blocks on the top grid. They then have to guess where their opponent’s ships are, by saying the number (down the side) in the TL, and the item of vocabulary. For example, “bed, one” for the top right-hand square on the grid. If there is a ship there, their opponent says ‘sink’ and they make a note of it on the bottom grid. The winner is the first person to sink the other’s ships.
The version in the picture above was made using Microsoft Word and clip art that I googled. I have similar boards for a number of different topics, all made the same way. I laminated them so I can use them over and over again. Click here to download my bedroom furniture Battleships board.
Battleships can also be played on a PowerPoint with a whole class. Click here to see how it can be used (the link also includes a Connect 4 board and a Blockbusters board).
5. Card games
My favourite card game to play is ‘pelmanism’ or ‘memory game’. Make a set of cards for each pair/small group of students in a class. The set needs to have one card with the English word or a picture and one with the TL word. Students start by matching up the correct cards to ensure they know all of the vocab. Then they can turn all the cards face down and play the game. Turn two cards over per ‘go’. If the cards match, the player wins the pair. If not, turn them face down again and the next player has a turn. The winner is the person with the most pairs at the end.
Linguascope has this game for each different topic and it can be played as a whole class on the whiteboard.
Students can also play the game on their own, either with physical cards or on a website like Linguascope.
Get students to make their own cards to practice vocab they are struggling to learn. I have made a number of sets of cards using these blank ones I found in Tiger.