I don’t think many teachers truly believe that having fun is the only prerequisite to learning. Even with my preschoolers, whose teachers I often tell that our 20 minutes may look like chaos but is really learning through play, I have to carefully structure our fun in order to maximize acquisition.
So why does it seem like even really good, communicative, proficiency-based classrooms include games that serve no other purpose than filling time with something I don’t have to grade?
I have seen some really, really bad game ideas.
Most of them involve using a word out of context. For example, one game involves drawing random letters out of a hat or otherwise randomly selecting a letter of the alphabet. A student has to think of a word (or as many words as she can) that begin with that letter. Aside from the complete lack of associated meaning, this is not even the way word recall typically works when we are trying to think of words to express meaning.
What about word searches? Here’s a list of thematically associated words. Find them in the jumble of letters. Better yet, here’s a list of English words. Put their Spanish translations in the crossword puzzle. Or how about this – I give you a verb, then the subject, and the first person to conjugate the verb correctly gets a point.
When did we forget that interacting with vocabulary in context is the only way long-term memory is created?
So, what makes a good game?
Basically, anything that gets students talking and using real language to accomplish something. Drama inmóvil is a fantastic game that my students love. Spin the bottle is a game that gets students using idiomatic expressions in context. Jeopardy lets you do a vocabulary recall game by eliciting vocabulary using contextual questions. Many corporate websites have games that get students interacting with language in a way that’s fun to them.
For sure, plan fun for your students. Laughter, drama, and other emotions have a way of encoding memory like no drill ever will. But make sure it has a communicative, contextual purpose – or your students might as well have more PE.
What are the best and worst games you’ve encountered?
Illustration snipped from warnerbros.es.