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Using Games in the ELL Classroom, Part II

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 25, 2012 3 min read
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In Part I of this article, the authors explained how games can be effective instructional tools for language learners and describe the qualities that make games suitable for the classroom. In this piece, they offer examples of games—some of which are based on old standbys—that can be adapted for all English-ability levels.

Games That Require Students to Make Materials

The classic game of Bingo can be a useful learning tool for English-language learners. Students can create a version of the game by making a board on a piece of paper with four squares down and four squares across (they can draw the squares or be given a pre-printed bingo sheet). They then write 16 words out of perhaps 25 or 30 the class has been studying and write one in each square. Students can use various items as bingo chips—from little pieces of paper to inexpensive tokens to dry beans.

“Sentence Scrambles” is another popular game. Students are given blank index cards, or they can just cut up pieces of paper. Each student picks one sentence from a book they have been reading and writes the words and punctuation marks on the cards (one word or one punctuation mark per card). They mix up the cards and then paper-clip them together. (Depending on the class level, the teacher may want to check each card stack before they are paper-clipped together). They then do the same for another sentence. Each student can create five of these bundles. The teacher collects them all, divides the class into small groups, and gives each group a stack of the sentence scrambles to put into the correct order. The group that has the largest number of correct sentences in 10 or 15 minutes wins. After a group feels they have one correct sentence, the teacher can check it and take the sentence scramble away after giving them a point.

OnlyConnect” is a BBC game show that also has a website. There are 16 squares with words on each one. The players need to use the words to create four categories of four words each. It’s a great game that helps develop the higher-order thinking skill of categorization. The online game is too difficult for all but advanced ELLs, plus you get only three minutes to complete it. However, the idea is a wonderful one for the ELL classroom (and even mainstream classrooms, too). Students first think of four different categories—for example, transportation, animals, fruits, and vegetables. Next, they create their own game sheets with 16 boxes. They think of four words for each of the four categories and write them in the boxes. Finally, they cut out the squares, mix them up, and then exchange their creations with a classmate. Their challenge is to then correctly group the 16 boxes into four categories. Of course, depending on the English level of the class, a teacher might want to start with fewer boxes.

Headline Clues from Michigan State University also fits into the category of online games that might be difficult for less proficient students, but could be adapted for classroom use with paper and pen. In this game, students are shown the lead paragraph of a story, but letters from two words in the headline are missing. Players have to use clues in the first paragraph to identify what the missing words should be. With the online version, players can ask for clues. One of the great things about using this game in the classroom is that students can create their own stories and have classmates try to figure out the answers, as well as give them clues if needed. Students and teachers can also have fun inventing their own imaginary stories.

Online Games

There are countless learning games on the Web that are accessible to ELLs. If you have microphones, in fact, these games can reinforce all the domains: speaking, listening, reading, and writing (though there are few good online writing games). They include building vocabulary development with “I Spy” hidden-object games and practicing grammar through games in which students create private virtual rooms and compete against each other in answering questions. We’ve brought together hundreds of these resources at A Collection of the Best Lists on Games.

“Creating” is at the top of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the Web makes it easy for students to create their own online learning games. After they’re made, they can be posted on a class blog or elsewhere on the Web and other students can play them. A list of free game creation sites is accessible to ELLs at the above link.

The word “game” comes from a Germanic root meaning “giving a sense of people together.” Appropriately designed and implemented games in the ELL classroom (and, in fact, in any classroom) can help create that sense of community and provide countless opportunities for learning.


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