Fun Classroom Games that Every ESL Teacher can Use

Getting English learners to speak up in classes can be really tough. Learners can however be made to participate actively if the learning is fun. This is particularly true of young men and women in their teens taking ESL lessons, teachers have discovered. Learning is fun when they are coaxed with games. Keep the games as simple as possible and in no time you will get them involved and talking. Fun games can really break up the silence that pervades language classes. Games will make your classroom reverberate and lively.

Here are 3 games for ESL teachers who have tough time in making their students speak up. As a teacher of ESL, make the games an integral part of your students’ experience. They have been tried and tested and there is no reason why it should not work in your classes as well. Depending upon the age group you are handling, you can vary the games.

Game # 1: Dice Game

This is one of the simplest of games, and all that you need for this game is a dice. You can buy a poker dice in a sports goods shop; they cost very little. The next thing that you need to do is prepare 6 questions that are simple to answer, but need eloquence to answer. Make the questions relevant to the learner – it should relate to the learners’ family, the college where the learner studied, places they have visited or would like to visit, foods they like most, dresses they would like to wear, what their parents do, about their siblings, or any question you guess will make them think.

You can either write a list of question for each individual (though that will take time) or make a common list of 40 or more questions and let the learners choose 6 questions each. The learner will choose and write down the selected questions on a piece of paper and number them from 1 thru 6. The game begins by each leaner rolling the dice. The number in the dice is the question that a learner will have to answer. Give students enough time to rehearse their answers and then speak to the classroom.

Game # 2: Bingo Game

Most students are familiar with the rules of Bingo so you will not much of instructions to give. The purpose of this game is to get each learner know about the other. Prepare a chart with 5 numbers on it. In this game every learner will prepare a list of experiences they have had – a trek in the forest gone bad, first-time exciting scuba dive, a day in a deserted island or the first cake the learner made in her lifetime are all typical examples to write. After the learners have written down their lists, learners must sit together and pick out at least 40 great experiences to talk about. Of course the teacher can write her own experiences to talk about, but a better way is to let the learners do it.

Next, on the bingo board ask each learner to write down the experience he or she would like to talk about. Match the experience with each other learners and form groups of 2 or 3 and ask them to talk about their common experiences. Each learner should be given a minimum of 2 minutes to talk on their topic of interest. The game comes to end when a particular learner has talked on 5 experiences. He or she is the winner of the game.

Game # 3: Hidden Speaking

Hidden speaking is a fast and energetic game. You can begin the game by writing down several questions on an index card each. Every question should relate to questions that tests the learners abilities at comprehension. The purpose of the game is to improve your learner’s vocabulary. Questions should be as objective as possible. Typically questions that rest on grammar are fine. Even before the learners have arrived for the class, each of the index cards must be kept hidden within the classroom.

Now break your students into two teams (to make them compete) and make them aware that somewhere in the classroom you have hid index cards and it is for them to search and pick one card each and no more. When a student is able to find a card, he or she will have to answer the question they see on the index card. If the answer is correct, then the team to which the student belongs wins a point by retaining the card for the team. A student who finds a card and is unable to answer the question on it also has the option to find someone within the team to find answer for it and then answer it.

Once a card has been answered correctly, the student can search for another and another. Every card answered correctly will add points to his or her team. At the end of a certain time, or when all the cards have been found the game comes to an end, and the team with the most number of cards answered wins the game.

The key to teaching an alien language is in making it fun, and this is especially true of ESL classes, teachers have discovered. The three games here can be adapted to your particular needs.


Teaching English to the Japanese When You Don’t Know Japanese

geishaYou’ve made a terrible decision. To successfully avoid the drudgery of a “real” job, you’ve gone off on the adventure of a lifetime, teaching English to students overseas in Japan. How hard can it be? You’ve been speaking English since birth! You can speak it quickly, in the dark, in a car, on a train, while eating green eggs and ham, and even in your sleep. There’s only one problem, really – you didn’t learn a single word of Japanese.

Before you resign yourself to eight weeks of playing Dora the Explorer videos and doing terrible mime in front of a group of bewildered Japanese students, take some time to familiarize yourself with some techniques for getting past the language barrier.

Start with introductions. Introducing yourself is a universal piece of language that your students will quickly pick up on, as there are no known cultures on earth that enjoy floundering around without knowing each other’s names. The Japanese word for “Nice to meet you” is “hajimemashite” (pronounced Ha-gee-may-maw-she-te), and saying that once will indicate to your students that you’re about to introduce yourself. Keep things simple. Start with “My name is _______”. Point to yourself, for good measure. When doing so, don’t point to your chest like your cultureless Western upbringing has conditioned you to do. When indicating themselves, the Japanese point to their noses; jabbing your finger into your chest repeatedly is only going to make your students think that they should perhaps be calling you a cardiologist. Point to your students expectantly, and ask “What is your name?” Continue to do this until your students pick up on what you’re trying to do, and fire their eighteen-syllable names at you in response.

Since you were heinously unprepared for this job by neglecting to learn the language, try to make up for that by at least having the foresight to bring some flashcards. Don’t bother with nouns like “tiger” and “rhinoceros” – the odds of an escaped African herbivore barreling down the streets of Tokyo are very slim at best. Instead, focus on the basics – colors, letters, numbers, common foods and body parts are all very good places to start. As punishment for not bothering with the effortless Japanese verb system, you will be acting out verbs for your student’s amusement. Japanese speakers frequently rely on the all-purpose “shimasu” (she-muss) verb that means “to do”, and the even more generic “desu” (dess) verb that translates to several variations of “is” and “am”, so the sooner you impart on your students that English likes to have lots and lots of different verbs for everything, the better off everyone will be.

A lot of time in your early lessons can be spent on proper pronunciation alone. Japanese does not have the letters “V” or “L” or many of the other consonant sounds we enjoy, so getting students to even recognize, let alone say, those sounds is a challenge. Japanese is a very flat, toneless language – by comparison, English is the mouth-breathing, nasally nerd of the language world, and teaching students to speak through their noses and place stress on their words is another skill that needs to be worked on. If your students are failing in their Fran Drescher impressions, start by getting them to hum and work the sound up into their noses. If they’re not finding it immensely uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right.

Sentence structure will be something to be worked on gradually. While we English speakers like our sentences to go “subject-verb-object”, the Japanese are very much insistent upon having it go “subject-object-verb”. Start with simple sentences, and use the flash cards and ridiculous actions to illustrate your point. The dog is brown. The cat is running. Be patient, and correct mistakes as you hear them; soon enough, your students will be much more bilingual than you are.

A system to help write in English for a local or global business audience

Wherever we are and whatever we do, we need to communicate. Communicate well and it can make you, communicate poorly and it can break you.  Even in the common language of English, one size is never going to fit all, so below are a few steps to follow when using business English in writing, for both home and global markets.

Step 1

Be correct for purpose

  • Know what you want to achieve each time you write
  • Align this with your personal and organizational values – and reader expectations
  • Check quality and remove mistakes before you send

Written messages can be judged when we’re not there to explain them!   Business readers largely expect written communication to appear professional.  If spelling, punctuation and grammar are wrong and if messages are muddled, this often leads to reader complaints.

Getting business messages across can be tricky enough without entering linguistic debates, interesting and worthwhile as they are.  In my workplace emails I definitely avoid starting a sentence with “but” or “and” – knowing it will irritate some readers’ sensitivities.

Step 2

Be clear

  • Use accessible English and express facts simply, wherever possible
  • Edit well so that your key messages are both seen and easy to understand
  • Use a good layout so your writing looks good

Step 3

Be smart and make the right impact

  • Use the right words, content and style to get “brand you” and organizational brand noticed for the right reasons
  • Understand which variety of English to use – and when to “use a splash of local color” or “colour”! (either your own or your target audience’s, if different)
  • If you want to use idiom or slang, think carefully first. What might work for a local market might be misunderstood globally.  It might even cause offense. Should you run that risk?

Sometimes we feel we have mastered a language when we know how to use its idiom.  It might, however, be a really unhelpful barrier to understanding for others for whom that language is their second or third one.

Step 4

Focus on your readers

  • Be valuable to your valued readers and use words that are relevant to them
  • Be aware of differing personalities’ and cultural expectations
  • Write from your readers’ perspectives as well as your own

When we talk about understanding cultures, we are often referring to a set of customs, traditions, values and conventions that are specific to a particular group. Naturally, where there are humans, there are differences in the way any one culture is practiced, expressed and reflected. It’s the same with business organizations.

So, for example, you might seriously embarrass someone from China or Japan by putting them in a position where you ask them to answer yes or no on behalf of their organization.  The concept of empowerment is not global.  It sits well with many cultures but not all.

The common usage of English doesn’t mean automatic understanding or tolerance of individual foibles! In fact, whether you speak English as a first, second or even third language, the new global and digital economy means “getting it right” for your readers, has never been more important for you – “brand you,” we could say – and your organizational brand.  Native English speakers can no longer think the language “belongs to them.”  Alongside ESL speakers, they actually face challenges too when using global business English. In the digital age, nobody “owns” English outright. It belongs to us all!

Fiona Talbot runs TQI Word Power Skills, a Business Writing Skills consulting company. She delivers training/remote coaching at all levels in all sizes of business. She is the co-author of Improve Your Global Business English as well as the Better Business English series, both published by Kogan Page.

Difference Between Learning and Acquisition in ESL

Stephen Krashen draws a big distinction between learnt and acquired language, a distinction that has caused controversy in itself, quite apart from his ideas for promoting this acquisition. According to Krashen, students who are taught in a formal, form-focussed way will “learn” the language but never fully acquire it. Acquisition, which is the basis for all L1 knowledge, consists of rules and principles that are not available to conscious attention. By contrast, learnt language can only be used as a “monitor” (a check, as it were) to what we say in L2. Krashen argues this is the only use of learnt language and further goes on to say that learnt knowledge can never become acquired knowledge. Krashen’s model has thus been termed a “dual competence” model.

We now we move onto ways in which Krashen states that this acquisition can be promoted in the un-naturalistic setting of the classroom. The crux of Krashen’s theories is that students acquire (as opposed to learn) when they are able to understand something (primarily through context) that is a little above their current level of understanding. Continue reading