Games and puzzles with young learners

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It is generally accepted that language teaching not merely can be, but should be enjoyable. This is not to assume that it is easy, but only that there is no need, by excluding enjoyment, to make it more difficult.

Games are enjoyable. The essence of many games lies in out- stripping, in a friendly fashion, someone else’s performance, or (and adult learners often prefer this) in bettering one’s own, as in the world of sport. The goal is visible and stimulating: outdoing others, and improving on oneself, are by and largely enjoyable pursuits. Enjoyable also is the active cooperation with one’s fellows. In a group or team activity, rivalry and cooperation go hand in hand. There are other groups or teams to surpass, and friends to help surpass them. One’s own activity takes on importance in the latter’s eyes.

But in spite of all the effort -and sometimes, when attention is sharply focused and the learner’s energies stretched to the full in a game, it is hard to see any difference between ‘work’ and ‘play’ -there is a pleasant, informal, and often relaxed atmosphere, favourable to language learning.

Nevertheless, the case for language games is not identical with the case for enjoyment in the language lesson. An agreeable although busy atmosphere can be attained by other means, even if games are absent, and games have other and equally important virtues. They banish boredom and so make for willing learners, who look forward to language lessons. But after all, any kind of interesting activity would make them do that. We should ask, therefore, what other advantage language learning games offer than the creation of an enjoyable atmosphere in which to learn.

A language is learnt by using it -and this means using it in situations and communicatively. Disembodied sounds, words, phrases, and sentences, however, wrapped about with rules, do not carry language learning far; although it is helpful up to a point to remove such elements and look at them closely, much as one examines components of a machine, before returning them to the intermingling streams of discourse.

The situations which bring a foreign language to life in the classroom are provided by gestures, by handling and touching things, by incidents and activities, by pictures, by dramatization, by interesting stories spoken or in print -and not least by certain contests and games. In these, the language is linked with action and is no longer a disembodied thing.

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Teaching Young Learners – Games and Puzzles

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Choose a language item from the list below and design a simple lesson plan using one of the games to teach/practice the item.

Student Vocabulary Game

Number of players: 2-6

Age: 6+

Materials: A score/category sheet per group, a deck of alphabet cards and a pencil

Object of the game: To name objects beginning with the chosen alphabet card and to be the first person to get rid of his/her alphabet cards.

Player name:
1, Toys:  
2. Fruits and Vegetables:
3. The Classroom:  
4. Things in the home:
5. The Body:
6. Boy’s and Girl’s Names:
7. Sports and Hobbies
8. Animals/Pets  

1) A Student shuffles the cards and deals 5 alphabet cards. The cards are laid face down in front of each player.

2) The remaining alphabet cards are laid face down on the table in front of the group.

3) Alternate people start but the first player to the dealer’s left starts play by turning over their alphabet card, and then naming something from the first category on the sheet beginning with his letter.  Once the learner has said a word they must write it on their sheet. Their go is over.

4) They have 10 seconds to think of an answer, if they do not have an answer in the allotted time they must pick up an extra card from the middle of the table and place it face down in front of them. Their go is over.

5) Each student takes turns to turn an alphabet card from their pile and naming an item in the first category.  Examples are not allowed to be repeated.

6) The round ends when someone has picked up all their cards and named something from the category each time.

7) The other students must add up how many remaining cards they have, and write that number on their score sheet,  e.g. 3 cards remaining = 3 points

8) The process is repeated with the person to the left of the dealer being the new dealer and the person to their left starting the new game. The game continues with objects from the second category.

9) The games continue until all the 8 categories have been completed

10) The person with the lowest score is the winner.