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The Best Language Learning Games (That Are Not Online)

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I’ve previously written about my favorite language-learning games that I use in the classroom (see Games Students Play: Using Classroom Games To Teach And To Learn).

Last month, I asked readers to share their favorites, too. Here are their contributions (feel free to leave additional ideas in the comments section of this post):

Yoon:

This is a popular game in my country. I used to play it in Malay and English when I was in school, but I am not sure if children now are still playing. I personally think this is a good game because I looked for map and dictionary when I was free in order to win! This game can be played by more than one person, or in big groups.

1. Divide a piece of paper into 6 columns.
2. Column 1-Name, Column 2- Country, Column 3-Animal, Column 4-Fruit, Column 5- Thing and Column 6-Points
3. The first player choose an alphabet. Everyone then fill up the columns with an answer which starts with the chosen alphabet. For example, alphabet ‘M’ is chosen, I write Mark, Malaysia, Monkey, Mango, Mat.
4. Award 10 points for each correct answer. However, if more than one person give the same answer, the players with the same answer get 5 points (half).

I don’t know what is the name of this game. I called it Name & Country (Nama & Negeri in Malay). I played this game with my students and they got particularly excited when alphabets like ‘Q’ and ‘X’ were chosen.

Eva Porson:

1: Pass the Bomb. Cut out slips of paper with topics on them (e.g. nouns starting with s, things found in a circus, verbs, American presidents, genres of fiction….). Divide students into groups of four, and give each group a set of topics. Each group also has a small item (e.g. an eraser or a pencil) that can be passed around between them. Start the timer on your cell phone and call out ’start’. A student in each group now pics up a topic from the pile and says one word connected to this topic. As soon as a relevant word has been said, the student passes on the small item to the student next to him/her. This student now has to say a new word, pass on the item and so on. The student with the item in his/her hand when you call out ’stop (after appr. 30-45 seconds), gets a point, and in this game, you don’t want to get points. This works great with vocab-recap.

2: I have the answers, you have the questions. Another great way of practicing vocab is to write a pile of words or phrases you want students to revise. Cut of the words and group students in fours. They pair up within the group. Student A now has to pick a slip of paper with a word on it, and create a questions that will make student B say the exact phrase that is on the slip of paper.

For example, a slip of paper might say ‘milk’, and A’s question would be ‘what do you put on your cornflakes in the morning’. A pair gets appr. one minute to try to ‘win’ as many of the pieces of paper as possible. After that, the other team gets a go with the remaining words. Continue till all the paper slips have been guessed. The winning team in the pair with most paper slips.

Danielle:

I love using games, and have compiled quite a few on my blog. My fav is “caterpillar,” and you can read a detailed description of it here.

A 2nd game that my students currently love playing is “hot or cold” as a pronunciation activity – while one student is outside, hide something somewhere in the classroom then invite them in. The rest of the students have to chant a word, phrase or sentence (focusing on correct pronunciation). They get louder when the searcher gets nearer the item, and softer when the searcher is more distant – you do need to be prepared for quite a bit of noise though!

Walton:

I love Taboo where students have to describe a word but they can’t use the word or any related keywords. The other student has to guess the word. Helps practice vocabulary and also talking over a vocab gap.

Another great game vocab/logic game is False Definitions. Students are given cards with a (hopefully) unknown word and 3 definitions only one of which is correct. Students have to guess which definition is correct. One variation is to have one student who knows which definition is correct read all three definitions to the other and try to bluff the other student.

Naomi Epstein:

It is particularly challenging for teachers to find games suitable for one-on-one situations. “Baseball” (on blackboard or paper, played with a die) is one my favorites, works with all ages. Good for classes too. You can learn details here.

Clare Seccombeon:

I like playing simple games with flashcards. This one is a firm favourite of all my primary classes:
Guess which card / Beat the teacher: Hold the pile of flashcards with the pictures facing you, carefully concealing the pictures. Students have to guess which one is at the top of the pile. They have to listen carefully to each others’ guesses to eliminate wrong answers and work out what the right answer is.

The children also enjoy having mini-sets of the flashcards together with word cards and inventing games to play with them.

More on my blog.

Kevon:

My favorite is making up a story with the students, the younger ones get really excited as the story grows and we use new vocabulary.

Doug Moore:

“La batalla de familias” (Family Feud). divide the class into families (groups), givr them a large sheet of papare.call out a category,( colors, ar verbs, furniture items, etc) then they have 2 minutes to come up with as many words possible for that topic. I have each member of the group write their own word and pass the paper when they are done. Then they count the words and i tabulate the results the team with the most words wins. I collect the papers to verify the answers.

Martina Salluzzoon:

For a quick revision of the new vocabulary – I like playing tic-tac-toe in which I put beginning letters of the new vocab.in focus.
One student is on the board, two other represent two groups and play against each other. Each group has a posibility to ask “joker” from another member of the same group.

Fran Loon:

How about the card game Apples to Apples? It puts adjectives and nouns together in creative ways – generates a lot of conversation and laughter.

Thanks to everybody for their contributions!

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

10 Comments

  1. Great Tips! Thank you….
    and BTW, the first game that you call “Yoon”, in Mexico is called “BASTA” (Enough). When the first person has finished completing the columns, counts until 20, saying “basta 1, basta 2, basta 3….” up to Basta 20, as to give the rest of the players time to finish….
    In Spanish, having a “K” or “W” is really something challenging!
    Warm regards,
    Mel

  2. Great games! #1 in Argentina is called TUTTI FRUTTI (an italian name meaning “a little bit of everything”. Thank you! Interesting post!

  3. I’m a student from Philadelphia studying abroad in France, and on a whim I chose to do a teaching internship while I’m here, helping middle-school aged French students improve their English. I’ve got little to no teaching background, and one of instructors that I’m helping pretty much told me “I’ll give you half of the class, and you can do whatever you want with them”. I was sorta mortified cause I have no idea what would be good, but this is a great help! Thank you very much for everyone who contributed these great ideas.

    • Hey Bobby,
      Just curious, where are you located in France? I am an American, teaching English to French speakers and French to English speakers. I actually come from Philly area too, though have lived in France for 12 years. I live in Aix en Provence. If you want some more ideas, or teaching material I would love to help. I teach all ages so I have lots of good ideas!

  4. Hi, I’m a remedial teacher in Cape Town, South Africa and always looking for ways to get the learners who are struggling interested in reading and writing. Thanks for all your ideas.

  5. The first game you describe is much like a game called Facts in Fives – a Bookshelf game by 3M. It had a deck of subject cards. We also played this with pencil and paper.

  6. Hi
    the games described are all very practical, but please add games related to speaking and production.. I think most of the games ar focused on vocab learning.
    thanQ

  7. Wonderful blog! Thanks so much for the traditional games, I’ll try them.

    I like using games with adult LLs because they become emotionally involved and forget to monitor their speech. I find games very useful when working with students who have learned to avoid complex tenses. Fun and games make it easier to teach, for example, conditional tenses. SS working in teams can either practice future or past: you could do this or that, you should have done whatever, why don’t you try this… you can model examples and they will actually use them!

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