September 13th, 2016
[This piece was originally written for Adventures in Games Analysis: Volume I back in 2013. I now feel that it would be too indulgent to dedicate some 6,000 words on myself to paid copy. Plus, these activities—whilst good in their own right—are not an accurate reflection of my current teaching practice. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.]
Slip Matching Game
Aim: To test the students’ understanding of vocabulary and grammar.
Slip matching games are common in ESL teaching. You write a few words on some pieces of paper and have the students match them up. Such activities may include:
- matching the picture with the word;
- matching a question with an answer;
- sorting the words into categories (for example, types of food);
- arranging lines of speech to make a dialogue.
There are various different dynamics going on in these games: the physical moving of slips, the team work and social dynamics, and the sharing of collective knowledge among students. Here are some of my own special variants:
When teaching months I create two sets of words: one with the months spelt correctly and one with the months spelt incorrectly. I then mix them together and have the students find the months with the correct spelling and arrange them from the start of the year to the end. For the first step, the students recall the spelling of each month and compare it with the spelling on the paper. For the second, they recall the order of the months and arrange the slips of paper accordingly. Most students do both at the same time. I like this game because two sets of knowledge are tested for the price of one. By adding an extra layer of complexity (misspelt words), I was able to achieve much more depth out of this game (depth being the higher-order task of managing two distinct processes simultaneously; spelling and month order).
The Never-ending Listening Task
I take a dialogue from the text book, remove a couple of words per sentence, and print each line out on a slip of paper. In class I set the dialogue’s audio track to repeat on a loop and have the students arrange the slips of paper in sequence and fill in the word gaps. As the students can’t complete the task on their first listen, their progress is suspended across multiple runnings of the dialogue. Therefore each time they listen they have to listen for different pieces of information—whether that be to identify the next part of the conversation, check an answer from the previous rotation, or listen for the missing word. Groups of students work together to complete the task and they all hear the dialogue at the same time, and so there’s a lot of potential for interplay between them (such as when one student hears an answer that another student was listening for). By making a few alterations to the formula, I was able to transform a simple slip sorting task into a “listening for specific information” task which shifts dynamically with the students’ progress.
I put together a group of words that can be sorted into multiple categories and have the students–you know–sort them into the those categories. For example, the students could sort food words by flavour, size, colour, food type, healthy/unhealthy, and the meal at which they’re eaten. Switching up the parameters forces the students to filter the content and tests adaptation skills.
Have/Don’t Have Game
Aim: To get young learners engaging in natural dialogues using “have” and “don’t have”.
I have the students sit in a circle and close their eyes. One by one each student opens their eyes, takes a picture card, and places it face side down on their lap. Once everyone has a card, they can open their eyes. I then ask each student, “Do you have a …?” and they answer, “Yes/no, I have/don’t have a …?”. For the second round (the main game), I have the students ask each other. The student who answers one question must then ask the next. When a student guesses correctly, the other student must forfeit from the game. The last remaining student wins.
It’s best to choose a group of words that the students know well, this way you can focus all your attention on the grammar.
From a teaching standpoint, what I like about this game is that it gives young students the opportunity to construct their own dialogue independently. From a game design standpoint, I love the deductive reasoning and decay dynamic (the more students sit out, the fewer answers remain) and how the two feed into each other. For the kids the social interaction is engaging in and of itself, but the option to scale the difficulty by listening carefully and thinking deductively adds a layer of higher-level play. From personal experience, the difficulty level is optimal for 6-year-old students as they’re just old enough that they can engage on a higher level, but doing so is still a challenge. The game also has a card-game-like quality where the students must hide their cards from their classmates.
In Part 5, we’ll explore a series of activities related to debating.