Improve Your English
ESL And TEFL: Teaching Children Grammar Through Games
by Shelley Vernon
One of the questions ESL and TEFL teachers are asking on forums the world over is: how can you teach grammar through games?
If you don’t want your class to glaze over with dictation, writing exercises and “Jimmy, would you please read paragraph 1,” then take heart! You’ll find you can teach everything you want with games, and the children remember it better to boot.
Here is a disarmingly simple game, which can be used for many purposes. Please note this particular game is for small groups of up to 20 children or so, and you need floor space. If you have more than 20 in your classes and no floor space, please see the 'About the author' section for free games for all class sizes.
The players stand round in a circle with one player standing in the middle. Each player has a picture of an item, or a word flash card, except for the player in the middle. Call out two of the picture card items or words. The two players holding these cards have to change places without the person in the middle grabbing one of their spots. If the person in the middle manages to slip into the spot in the circle then the one left standing goes in the middle. The new person in the middle hands their flash card to the child taking their place in the circle.
If someone is stuck in the middle for two turns say, "All Change!” When the players hear this they must all change places, which gives the person in the middle a very good chance of joining the circle. Once everyone has had one go ask your class to pass their picture to the right, and take the one handed to them from the left. You can give them another go with the new picture.
Notice that only 2 children move at any one time (aside from when you say “All Change), which makes it easy to keep control.
How could you use this game in your language teaching? Firstly, you can use it to reinforce new vocabulary, secondly, for revision, thirdly to help spelling by playing the game with word flashcards instead of pictures, and fourthly, to practise a grammatical structure.
Let us say you want to teach the conditional tense and you start with “I would like”. Hand out pictures of food that your pupils already know. Call out “I would like bananas and pie”. The pupil with the bananas tries to change places with the pupil holding the pie without the person in the middle taking one of the spots in the circle. Continue until everyone has had a go, repeating the target structure each time. With a class that learns quickly you can also introduce the rest of the declension (he and she would like, etc.). You are now ready to proceed to a speaking game where your pupils use the target structure, as they will have heard it repeatedly by now. You can follow the speaking game up with a writing game, and hey presto your children can understand, say, read and write the new target structure.
Now what better way is there to teach grammar than that? You are teaching grammar by absorption and repetition, which is the way we learn our native tongue, and for children it is by far the best way to go.