Archive for Tag: materials development

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Playing Games, Part 4

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

Concentration

Many students will already know this classic matching game, but even if they don’t, it’s not hard to explain. I use this game as a vocabulary review. Allow a good 45 minutes! And with the extension activities listed at the end, it can fill an hour. However, if the preparation is done the class before or as homework, it can be played in 20 minutes.

Students are divided into groups of 4-6. If time permits (here is the step that can be done as homework), each group is given 20-25 words or allowed to choose words from their textbook or other source they have used. Words should be ones previously studied, however; this is a review game, not a teaching game. Students write a definition of the word or an original sentence that exemplifies the word, with a blank line where the word would go.

Example: the target word is “luxury”

For me, a cell phone is not a _____ . It’s an essential tool for my personal and professional life.

It’s important that you check each sentence or definition to make sure it is correct and sufficient, since the group will be drilling with these sentences.

When the definitions and sentences have been approved, students write the word on a small blank flashcard (I cut standard 3″ x 5″ file cards in half) and the matching definition or sentence on another. The words are shuffled together, and the sentences and definitions are shuffled together.

The cards are then laid face down in rows. If you are playing with 25 vocabulary words, then you will have 5 rows of 5 cards on one side of the table for the words, and 5 rows of 5 cards on the other side for the definitions and sentences.

A player starts by choosing, at random, one card first from the word side and then one card from the definition/sentence side, and — here is the important part! — reading each out loud. If they match, the player keeps them and earns one point. If they don’t match, each card is returned to the original position, and the next player draws two cards.

In some forms of this game, a player who correctly matches two items wins another turn; however, I believe this method favors the stronger students and gives them more practice, whereas it is really the weaker students who need more practice, so I don’t allow it.

Inevitably, cards will be drawn again and again, even after their matches have been seen before. This is the nature of the drill — students are repeating and remembering, repeating and remembering. It may take some supervision on your part to remind them to say the words and definitions/sentences aloud each time, yet this is the crucial step.

The game finishes when all cards have been matched.

If time remains in class, have students make two stacks of cards, again keeping the words together and the definitions/sentences together. First, have them take turns drawing a definition/sentence and recalling the words (they should be pleasantly surprised by how easy this is!). Then, have them take turns drawing a word and either recalling the example definition/sentence or creating a new one.  This, too, is usually pretty easy by this point.

Students of all ages and levels enjoy this game, and the advantage for you is that they will drill and drill until they really know the words, with minimal supervision on your part. You can even keep the games the groups have created to use with other classes (as long as those other classes are studying the same vocabulary, of course). Cutting out the preparation step means less practice for new groups, but does save the preparation time.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Playing Games, Part 3

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

A Vocabulary Recognition Game: Flyswatters

Following on my previous posts, here is another game that is easy to put together, useful, and that students enjoy.

This vocabulary review game is a good one for large classes, and because it is active, it’s a good one for waking up sleepy classes or injecting a bit of energy into a lesson.

I first saw this game demonstrated at a monthly JALT meeting in Chiba in… 1988? and I’m afraid I can no longer remember the name of the presenter.  But thank you so much, whoever you were!

To play requires flashcards with words or pictures, and two flyswatters. If you check the dollar store at the beginning of summer, you can probably find cheap flyswatters in bright colors and interesting designs.

The class is divided into two teams. A large class might require two or more separate games, but each team can easily have 6-10 members (and the number needn’t be the same on each team), because play moves very quickly. The teams gather on opposite sides of a large table, and the flashcards are scattered all over the table.

One representative from each team steps up to the table, flyswatter in hand. The teacher (or, later, a student leader) can, at the lowest level, simply call out the name of the object on the card. The first student to smack the correct card with the flyswatter “wins” the card and one point for the team. (And now you see why we use flyswatters—they can reach any point on the table, and it doesn’t hurt when the person from the other team smacks down on top!).

The person who wins the card hands her flyswatter to the next person on her team and moves to the end of the line or group (I don’t think I’ve ever had a class manage to stay in a single-file line–they get too excited and want to crowd around the table watching). The person from the other team who “lost” remains in place for a maximum of two more plays. In this way, an unsuccessful student gets more chances than a successful student—presumably, they need the practice more. But even an unsuccessful student is not put on the spot for very long. Whether a team wins or loses doesn’t depend on one person, which also reduces the pressure for each student.

Here is a game that is easy for the teacher to “fix”—if one team is winning by too great a margin, I might do something like call out the card and then simply hold the arm of the player of the winning team, or cover his eyes. In this way, the player from the other team has all the time necessary to locate the card. If you are very obvious about it, the class will accept it. After all, you have made it clear from the beginning what the purpose of the activity is—practicing vocabulary recognition. That is always the goal, and not “winning.”

You’ll notice that even though only one person plays for a team at each time, the entire team will crowd around the table to watch; even though they are observers, they are just as focused on the vocabulary as the players. You might need to remind them a few times not to point or “help” the person playing! But they will certainly be rehearsing the vocabulary in their heads. After  7-10 minutes of play, in fact, I like to stop the game and point this out to students, and ask them to notice how engaged they are and how focused on the vocabulary they are even when it is not their turn.  In this way, the students know that their time is not being wasted.

If you find that students are, in their enthusiasm, randomly slapping cards hoping to get lucky, rather than actually locating the correct card, impose a “return one card to the table for every incorrect slap” penalty.

To increase the difficulty level, you can say whole sentences with the words in them, or even short paragraphs or longer stories; you can describe the word without giving it directly; and so on.  The flashcards needn’t be picture cards—they can be single letters for young learners, or even complex linguistic terms for graduate students (for which you give a definition or example).

If you wish to have picture cards but don’t have the time to create your own, why not assign the task to students? Give each student or group a certain amount of vocabulary and some blank cards, and let them draw pictures or find them from magazines or the Internet and glue the images onto the cards. If you can, then laminate the cards so they will last longer, and keep them for use in future classes as well.

The game may look as though it is designed for children, with cards and flyswatters and constant motion, and certainly children love this game (it’s an excellent way to review colors, letters of the alphabet, and numbers). However, I’ve used it with teacher trainers and company employees and university students and other groups, who enjoyed it immensely. Adults love games too!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Playing Games, Part 2

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

A Conversation Board Game

My previous post, Playing Games, Part 1, offered my reasons for playing games in the language classroom and a description of what I feel makes a successful and useful game. However, what most teachers really want to know is, What are some good games that I can make and use? So in this and the following two posts, I will describe how to create and play some games. These can be adapted to a variety of classroom levels, and I have used them with private students and huge classes alike (though note that in larger classes, students will be playing in groups, and  you will need one set of materials per group).

This conversation board game is easy to create, but one of the most useful ones I have in my magic bag of teacher supplies. If the ones in the photos here look a bit beaten up, it’s because I’ve been using them since 1992! The originals are made of heavy cardboard that has been painted and then shellacked; the questions are written with permanent marker. I have also made color photocopies of the boards and had the copies laminated, so that I can roll them up and travel with them when necessary.

The game is a merely a series of questions, such as What do you like to do on rainy days? What is something that makes you angry? How does your family celebrate birthdays? I have simpler versions that feature only topics: children, money, television, birthdays. Students play in groups of 4-5 (more than that means that some students will fall silent).

Each student places a marker on start, and then they take turns to role a die and move their marker around the board. I buy the 8- or 12-sided dice from hobby shops to spread students around the board more; if you don’t have access to these, I recommend using two of the traditional six-sided dice.

When a student lands on a question (or topic), she speaks about it as much as she likes. She can address any aspect of the topic; it is entirely her choice. Her group members ask her questions, but do not offer their own answers or opinions. When she feels she has finished, she passes the die to the next student, and play continues.

It’s not a game that anyone can “win”—if someone reaches the end of the path, the final square says “go back,” and play reverses. I generally have students play for 20-30 minutes, but I have never had a group where any player got all the way back to start.

This is my game for the first day of class. Students get to know one another, and while they are playing, I walk around and listen to them—this is my evaluation of their English level. It provides solid practice in speaking and listening and turn-taking. An extremely simple activity, and yet just having the questions in a “game” format makes it more interesting than the standard pair interview presented on a worksheet. I’ve frequently had classes request to play the game again during other sessions.

More complex questions can of course be designed that practice only the past tense, or conditional structures, or certain vocabulary.

I’ll close with a look at a blank game board I’ve used for grammar games—this takes more effort to create, but you can also consider having students make your game cards or at least using the game over and over again if you are lucky enough to teach the same class for several terms.

This game board, as you can see, has nothing written on the squares other than a few simple game-play instructions not related to language; however, the squares are all painted one of six colors. Each color represents a type of task, and I create a stack of cards with the tasks on them. For example, yellow might indicate “spell this word.” If a student lands on yellow, he draws a card and hands it to a fellow player without looking at it, and the other player asks him to spell the word. If he succeeds, he stays where he is; if he makes a mistake, he moves back one square. Blue squares might ask a student to put a sentence in the present tense into the past, and so on. You could assign students in groups to come up with a series of tasks or exercises as homework and then have each color represent a different group’s cards.

Really, any type of drill-based language exercise can be put onto cards, where suddenly it becomes fun instead of boring. You needn’t think up all of the exercises yourself, even—copy them out of your class textbook as a review. A student who has done Exercise 13 on page 143 doesn’t want to do page 143 again. However, if items from Exercise 13 appeared on the backs of cards in a stack—well, you would be surprised at how happily students drill themselves with those items again and again!

I cannot quite get away from the issue of usefulness, however! And I would like to stress again that the use of any game must not only be clear to you, but clear to your students. You should always let a class know why they are doing what they are doing, and when the game is concluded, point out to them what language they practiced and how they practiced it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Playing Games, Part 1

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

The Place of Games in the Language Classroom

In my last post, I argued that the practical goal of learning English ought to come before (if a choice must be made between the two) the goal of having fun. In this post, I’m writing about games. A contradiction? Not at all—I hold that games are enormously practical.

This post will give my reasons for including games in the language classroom, and then in my next three posts, I will describe some games that anyone can make and adapt to a variety of different classes.

What makes an activity a “game”? Often it’s just how we dress it up. A game may be nothing more than extended pairwork asking and answering questions, but if it’s done sitting around a game board, rolling dice and moving markers, it’s a game. A time limit can make something a game: “How many vocabulary words from Unit 3 do you remember?” is just a question; “Work in groups of three. How many vocabulary words from Unit 3 can you list in two minutes before the bell rings?” feels like a game.

When selecting or designing a game, I look for these factors:

• It is useful. That is, it is clearly practicing a language point or a communication skill. Not only must I be able to articulate that to myself, but I need to be able to explain it to my students as well.

• It lasts longer than the instructions. Some games might take a while to explain or learn or set up; in that case, the amount of practice students get needs to justify that.

• It gives all students an equal amount of practice. Games purely of skill can result in the stronger students getting more practice, and that of course is not fair. Be especially wary of games that have unsuccessful students sit down or stop play early, or that reward success with extra turns.

• It does not cause hurt feelings. Many games involve “winning” and “losing”—and losing is not usually such a great feeling for anyone. Therefore, the playing of the game itself must hold the appeal, and not the winning. When I have students of mixed abilities playing together, I don’t mind at all altering the rules or outright “cheating” to level the playing field. A student cannot cheat without angering his/her classmates—but the teacher, now, she can do whatever she pleases! I’ll give a specific example of this in the context of a game in a future post.

I feel strongly that your language goal should be what drives you to select your game, and not the other way around. That is, if your language goal is “I want students to get to know each other better, feel comfortable in class, get some experience working in groups, and have some time for free conversation practice that isn’t graded,” then the conversation game I’ll describe in my next post would be a good fit for that class. However, it doesn’t work nearly so well to say, “I have this great conversation board game, so… I guess ‘conversation practice’ will be my goal for my next class.”

The games that I will describe in my next posts I made myself, with cardboard and paint and markers and cards and scissors. If you are making something that can be used more than once, I’d advise making the effort to do it well the first time, so it will last for years. If possible, laminate worksheets and flashcards. At the same time, keep your eye open for store sales and yard sales where you can pick up inexpensive game boards, dice, markers (I find little novelty erasers and coins from different countries work well), timers, and so on, so you can have them on hand when you suddenly have an inspiration for creating a game.