The collection of word games is a valuable resource for the teacher of young through adult learners of English as a second or foreign language. Focusing primarily on language development through the use of high frequency vocabulary and structures, they reinforce classroom lessons and provide additional spelling, conversation, listening and speaking practice.
The most instructive language learning games are those that emphasize specific structures. They do not only practice the basic pattern but also do so in a pleasant, easy way that allows the students to forget they are drilling grammar and concentrate on having fun. The following games are concerned with Yes/No questions, Wh-questions, tag questions, comparative and superlative, adverbs, modals, demonstratives, etc.
Most learners somehow accept that the sounds of a foreign language are going to be different from those of their mother tongue. What is more difficult to accept is that the grammar of the new language is also spectacularly different from the way the mother tongue works. At a subconscious, semiconscious and conscious level it is very hard to want to switch to “to be” (‘I’m 23’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘and I’m cold’) if it is “have” in Italian.
Grammar is perhaps so serious and central in learning another language that all ways should be searched for which will focus student energy on the task of mastering and internalizing it. One way of focusing this energy is through the release offered by games. Teenagers are delighted to be asked to do something that feels like an out-class activity and in which they control what is going on in the classroom – they become the subjects, while for a lot of the 15,000 hours they spend in schools they are the objects of teaching. The point is that fun generates energy for the achievement of the serious goal.
Where exactly do such games fit into a teaching programme? Grammar games can be used in three ways:
· diagnostically before presenting a given structure area to find out how much knowledge of the area is already disjointedly present in the group;
· after a grammar presentation to see how much the group have grasped;
· as revision of a grammar area.
One should not use grammar games as a Friday afternoon ‘reward’ activity. Using them as a central part of the students’ learning process would be a better idea. Thus, each game is proposed for a given level ranging from beginner to advanced. This refers simply to the grammar content of that particular game. But, as it has been already mentioned above, a lot of activities can be adapted to different classes with different grammar components. By changing the grammar content a teacher can, in many cases, use the game frame offered at a higher or lower level. Generally, any frame can be filled with any structures you want to work on with your students. The students have to take individual responsibility for what they think the grammar is about. The teacher is free to find out what the students actually know, without being the focus of their attention. Serious work is taking place in the context of a game. The dice throwing and arguing lightens and enlivens the classroom atmosphere in a way that most people do not associate with the grammar part of a course. The ‘game’ locomotive pulls the grammar train along. Everybody is working at once- the 15-30 minutes the average game lasts is a period of intense involvement.
Other reasons for including games in a language class are:
1. They focus student attention on specific structures, grammatical patterns.
2. They can function as reinforcement, review and enrichment.
3. They involve equal participation from both slow and fast learners.
4. They can be adjusted to suit the individual ages and language levels of the students
5. They contribute to an atmosphere of healthy competition, providing an outlet for the creative use of natural language in a non-stressful situation.
6. They can be used in any language-teaching situation and with any skill area whether reading, writing, speaking or listening.
7. They provide the immediate feedback for the teacher.
8. They ensure maximum student participation for a minimum of teacher preparation.
A game should be planned into the day’s lesson right along with exercises, dialogues and reading practice. It should not be an afterthought.
Games are a lively way of maintaining students’ interest in the language, they are fun but also part of the learning process, and students should be encouraged to take them seriously. They should also know how much time they have to play a game. It’s not useful to start a game five minutes before the end of the lesson. Students are usually given a ‘five-minute warning’ before the time is over so they can work towards the end.
The older the students are, the more selective a teacher should be in choosing a game activity. Little kids love movements, while older ones get excited with puddles, crosswords, word wheels, and poster competitions whatever.
Modern language teaching requires a lot of work to make a lesson interesting for modern students who are on familiar terms with computers, Internet and electronic entertainment of any kind. Sympathetic relations must exist not only among students but between students and a teacher. It’s of special importance for junior students because very often they consider their teachers to be the subject itself, i.e. interesting and attractive or terrible and disgusting, necessary to know or useless and thus better to avoid.
A teacher should bear in mind that it is the content, not the form, which is of interest to the child. A toddler does not learn to say,”Cookie, please”, in her native language because she is practicing the request form. “Cookie, please” is learned because the child wants a cookie.
So children learn with their whole beings. Whole-child involvement means that one should arrange for the child’s participation in the lesson with as many senses as possible. Seeing pictures of children performing actions and repeating, “The boy is running”, “The girl is hopping” is not at all as effective as when students do the actions themselves in response to commands and demonstrations from the teacher.
All said above is fairly true to adult learners not only children, because of our common human nature to possess habits through experience. We all learned to understand and speak our first language by hearing and using it in natural situations, with people who cared for and about us. This is the most effective and interesting way to learn a second language as well. The experts now advise language teachers to spend most of the classroom time an activities that foster natural acquisition, rather than on formal vocabulary and structure explanations and drills. They insist that “once you have become accustomed to the rewards and pleasures gained from teaching through activities, you will wonder how second-language teaching ever got to be anything else. Your own ideas for activities and their management will flow, and your students’ learning rates will soar!” “Activities’ mean action games, finger and hand-clapping games, jump rope and ball-bouncing games, seat and card games, speaking and guessing games and even handicraft activities. Judging the results we have nothing but believe them.