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ESL Communication Games

by Melissa Harr

One of the scariest parts of learning a new language is having to speak. Students are often afraid that their peers, or worse, their teachers, will laugh at their mistakes or make fun of their accents. This fear can be overcome by incorporating games that require students to speak. Communication games for English as a Second Language students encourage language production in a non-threatening yet competitive atmosphere.

Realistic Role Play

You can encourage students to speak with role playing. Prepare situation cards or dialog prompts in advance that are relevant to the vocabulary and language studies in class. If you’ve studied language related to shopping, for example, place students in pairs and prompt one to be the shopkeeper and one the customer with a specific reason for entering the shop, such as a query about a product. The students then act out the situation, speaking off the top of their heads using the vocabulary and syntax introduced in lessons. For classes with many shy or self-conscious students, let students practice their role plays, then ask for volunteers to perform for the class. If your students, on the other hand, are outgoing, create a contest by having every pair or group perform, then having the students vote on the best, most creative or funniest.

Understanding From Real Life

Although this game has the potential to get rowdy, it allows students to practice target sentence constructions in an active way. Start by arranging the chairs in the classroom into a circle. You should have one less chair than you have students. Prepare your students to play by giving examples of the target language; start each sentence with, "Change chairs if." For example, to practice simple past constructions, the students will say, “Change chairs if you ate pizza yesterday,” or “Change chairs if you did your homework last week.” One students stands in the middle and gives the first sentence -- everyone who fits the criterion then stands up and finds a new chair. The person left without a chair becomes the caller, standing in the middle and calling out a new sentence.

Popular Recognition

Allow students to practice question and answer formats in a simple game. Take squares of paper, each about the size of a playing card, and write down the name of a famous person on each. If you are teaching in a foreign country, choose people that your students will definitely know, like Madonna or Brad Pitt. In class, affix one to each student’s forehead with tape, without letting the student see the name. Everyone then stands up and mingles, asking questions of each other to figure out who they are. Encourage students to use only yes or no questions -- “Am I a woman?” is acceptable, but “Am I a woman or man?” is not.

Printable Board Games

Printable board games work well in the classroom because you can adapt them to encourage speech on most topics. All you need is a blank game template; fill in your desired topics, then have the students speak about them for a set time limit while they play. Also instruct them to ask their peers at least one question when they finish speaking. Try writing topics in a way that encourages more speech; for example, don’t just write "animals." Instead, use words that invite speech, such as "describe," "explain" or "why do you think." Optionally, allow groups of students to fill in their own topics in class. When they’ve finished, they can switch game boards with another group.

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