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by Erica Fischer on Nov 2, 2012

Language Learning Games that Students LOVE!

Learning Games that Kids Love

“348/365 – The 365 Toy Project” (CC BY 2.0) by puuikibeach

Last week, #LangChat participants were asked, “What language learning games do you recommend or require in your classroom?” Everyone had lots of great ideas for how to adapt familiar games for the world language classroom setting, as well as completely new and innovative games specifically designed for language learning!

What purpose do language learning games serve?

Participants discussed the role of language learning games in the world language classroom. Some participants use games as part of teaching and practice, while others view games as just a “brain break” for both teachers and students.

  • @CoLeeSensei rightfully pointed out that native speakers play language learning games in their own language; thus playing games can be a form of “authentic” practice in the target language.
  • @dwphotoski said games help break up classroom routines while still offering students plenty of comprehensible input and opportunity for active engagement.
  • @placido believes that language learning games can be a great “brain break” for teachers and students; however, they can also waste class time. Teachers must be careful. @spsmith45 argued with careful planning, games can become a meaningful part of the lesson sequence.
  • @espanolbartlett pointed out that language learning games can be a good way to practice vocabulary and review material.
  • @CoLeeSensei likes games because they provide an opportunity for students to learn from each other, not just the teacher.
  • @espanolbartlett has her students play language learning games towards the end of her 80 minute class periods when students are starting to get tired (usually around the 50 minute mark).
  • @KGallsEduSvcs uses the promise of game “fiestas” every 6 weeks to help motivate students. They look forward to playing Spanish bingo with pictures, UNO, Twister, Go Fish, and food.
  • @katchiringa reminded us that language learning games can and should focus on different types of learning, like kinesthetic, auditory, etc.
  • @placido sees games as a great way to engage students in her class who are at a variety of different levels. Sometimes an easy game allows the slower students to “catch up” without boring the more advanced students.

Adaptations of Familiar Games for the WL Classroom

Many traditional games already popular with students can easily turned into language learning games. Participants shared how they’ve used popular board games and children’s activities to provide their students with comprehensible input and encourage authentic TL communication.

  • @espanolbartlett, @katherinedelima, and @LucyWHand have used Battleship in the classroom as a good in-seat partner game for practicing verb conjugation.
  • @yya2 and @darcypippins like classroom Jeopardy for review. @yya2’s students have created their own Jeopary game questions to play with others using the site Jeopardy Labs: https://t.co/rEQvcGWy
  • @yya2 also recommends Pictionary and charades for vocabulary practice.
  • @katherinedelima and @SraHoopes like playing “Guess Who?” with their students as good description practice.
  • @placido shared a link to Martina Bex’s blog, where she describes how to adapt the game of “Spoons” for the Spanish classroom: http://t.co/NG9iMadN
  • @placido has played an adapted version of “Apples to Apples” in Spanish with her students.
  • @CoLeeSensei helps her students learn colors with the game “I spy!” For practice stating opinions and using the word “probably,” she recommends the game “Two truths and a lie.”
  • @katchiringa’s students have enjoyed Spanish-language Monopoly, Scrabble, and Bananagrams.
  • @espanolbartlett created a version of the game dominos for her Spanish class. She made a set of index cards with TL words on each end, then had students use them to create comprehensible sentences.
  • @alenord recommends the game “Taboo” for practicing circumlocution, and has even adapted it for her students at lower levels. “Go Fish” is another popular game that can be adapted for any vocabulary lesson. A game of “Would You Rather…?” helps students practice asking questions in the TL.
  • @c_macd adapted the game of “Hot Potato” for verb conjugation practice. He writes verbs on the ball (“potato”) and has students conjugate the verb where their thumb lands as they catch it.
  • @sonrisadelcampo and @lee_bruner have both used the game of “Twenty Questions” to help students practice talking about different jobs.
  • @js_pasaporte adapted the popular schoolyard game of Foursquare for the classroom. Four students form a square at the front of the room; the teacher explains a word, and the first student to give the word in the target language gets to move forward in the square.
  • @spsmith45 reminded us that a game of “Simon Says” can be great practice for body vocabulary.

Non-Traditional and Unusual Language Learning Games

Participants have also made use of some newer games in their classrooms, and some have even created their own language learning games!

  • For @espanolbartlett’s favorite game, students form a circle standing on colored paper. A student stands in the center of the circle and makes a statement. The students who agree with the statement (including the student who made the statement) have to run to a new piece of paper. Because there is one less piece of paper than there are students, the student who does not make it to a new piece of paper is out.
  • @placido’s students enjoy musical “slap-n-grab.” She gives her students pictures of some words from song lyrics, and students try to be the first to get the picture as they hear the word in the song.
  • @fravan puts his students in groups of two with a different colored pen for each group. Each group has a sheet of paper with vocabulary words arranged randomly on page. He holds up different objects representing the words, and students have to circle the corresponding word to get points.
  • @placido shared this link to a language learning game called “numbered heads together:” http://t.co/eyKygexd
  • @darcypippins plays a language learning game called “Pancho Carrancho” with her students. The game is described here: http://www.eslcafe.com/idea/index.cgi?display:913597439-4402.txt
  • @KrotzerK plays “Matamoscas” (“Fly swatters”) with her students. A description of how to play can be found here: http://genkienglish.net/swatthefly.htm
  • @JillHSnelgrove has even created some original board games targeting specific content for her class!
  • @spsmith45 provided this link to an explanation of how to use miming games in the classroom: http://t.co/2hU46ri9
  • @fravan provided to a link to a GoogleDoc that his students love, and which can be adatped for students at any level: http://t.co/SRT4CBJj

Digital Games

Technology has provided world language teachers with a wealth of digital games and ideas that encourage TL learning! Participants shared their experiences using such language learning sites and programs in their classrooms:

  • @katchiringa, who uses 1:1 iPads in her class, has found the Space Race app by Socrative to be a fun way to make quizzes competitive.
  • @spsmith45 shared this link to a list of classroom games from FrenchTeacher.net : http://t.co/aJDFw7Lr
  • @rwettlaufer has used the Super Teacher Tools site to make Jeopardy and Millionaire games for his class. He likes that it lets you embed the language learning games on a website so that students can play the games at home, too : http://t.co/hBu7Qn1M
  • @sraoconnor recommended this game by James Stubbs as a good way to begin or end a class: http://t.co/HRHNyf43
  • @msfrenchteach likes providing students with a list of links to language learning games on her website so that students can play on their own when they finish an in-class activity early.

Prizes and Competition in the Classroom

Some teachers offer prizes to their students as incentive for participation, while others are wary of making language learning games so competitive that they are no longer friendly.

Many participants recommended offering small prizes so that there is still incentive, but losses are less disappointing.

  • @katchiringa gives Spanish stickers or pencils as prizes to those who win her language learning games.
  • @CoLeeSensei gives her students large paper clips as prizes. Students enjoy collecting these unusual prizes, but can deal with the disappointment of losing more easily because the prize is not very substantial.
  • @espanolbartlett believes that the “prize” students receive is the fact that they got to play a game in class, which she argues is a privilege. Sometimes she offers winners one Skittle candy as a prize. Because the prize is so small, students make less of a fuss when they lose.
  • @Elisabeth13 rarely gives out prizes because she is wary of students coming to expect them.
  • @yya2 knows of a teacher who gives small cultural items from Spanish-speaking countries as prizes (e.g., coins, postcards, etc.)

To further reduce the chance of unhealthy competitiveness, @CoLeeSensei and @katchiringa recommend putting students into small, carefully-chosen groups.

Thank You!

Thank you for all of our participants for sharing their ideas! A special thanks goes to the evening’s wonderful moderators, @placido and @msfrenchteach.

Have an idea for a future #LangChat topic? Suggest it here on our wiki! Also, don’t forget to vote in each week’s poll to help decide the next topic up for discussion.

Join us this Thursday, November 8th at 8pm EST (5pm PST) for the next #LangChat!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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