ESL Grammar Games for Children – How to Teach Grammar With Games in the EFL Classroom

1. Beneficial effects of games in ESL / EFL teaching

One of the most important teaching tools the teacher has in the EFL-classroom is the teaching of a foreign language through games. Playing games is not only the most natural way children learn a language, but authors like Hadfield and Rixon point out that games should have a central place in language teaching because of their several beneficial effects: they create a friendly atmosphere in the classroom, they are fun and relaxing. Penny Ur thinks that it is necessary to play games in EFL lessons because games provide a meaningful context for the learner. Rinvolucri is of the opinion that games help enhance students´ activity and involvement in language learning.

Despite all the described advantages of playing games in the EFL-classroom, teaching grammar through games is often frowned upon, as most people are of the opinion that grammar is the most important and difficult part of the foreign language. It follows that grammar should be taught in a ´serious, academic´ way and playing games in grammar lessons is a waste of time or games should only be used at the end of a lesson or as so-called time-fillers. Nevertheless, research in this field has shown that acquiring grammar well means to put emphasis on fluency and speaking activities whereby grammar structures are repeated and practised abundantly. Games are a great help for students to practise and to revise any kind of grammar structure and for teachers to complete the usual textbook with meaningful and efficient grammar exercises.

2. How to use grammar games in the EFL-classroom

I would like to describe here how children can be taught three important and difficult grammar structures by games:

Game 1. Teaching grammar in the EFL-classroom: Preposition Challenge (practise of vocabulary: in, on, under, behind, between, in front of)

When learning prepositions, learners are mostly in their second year of learning English at elementary school. The children have already acquired some vocabulary from the topics such as: colours, numbers, talking about yourself, house and living, furniture, places, animals and so on.

Introduce 3 to 6 new prepositions to the class using objects that you have to hand such as pens, books and classroom furniture. Show the class different prepositions and have children copy you. Tell the class to hold up a pen and a book. Put the pen inside the book. Put the pen under the book. Put the book on the pen. Put the pen on your elbow. Put the pen in between your fingers. And for laughs, if suitable, put the pen up your nose but gently!

Gradually, continue giving instructions but stop showing the children, who must do it now from understanding alone, rather than copying. Show again where necessary and continue until most of the class remember five or six of the prepositions. Do not continue until every single child knows every single preposition – it will be laborious.

Then ask children to move about the classroom. Pietro stand behind Anna.Play a guessing game where you hide an object and others guess where it is.

Game 2. Teaching grammar in the EFL-classroom: countability: a/some/any

The usage of a/some/any is often difficult for children, especially for those whose native languages have no article and/or different concepts of countability.

Shop-A-Holics

Preparation: Ask children to collect all kinds of pictures and packages of goods they have bought in a shop: e.g. milk boxes, chocolate wrapping paper. They can either label them at home with the English words: e.g. put a label on a juice bottle and write: orange juice or they can bring the packages to the classroom and the teacher helps to label them. By doing so you can revise the usage of a/and/some by repeating: This is an apple, this is some milk. Bring in or make some fake money, or simply use slips of paper with numbers on them. As children are asked to perform a short dialogue in this game, drill some useful sentences e.g: ‘I would like some bananas’ with a sentence-race game. Then let children create their shops using the classroom desks as stalls and arranging their goods on it. When playing with a whole class, let one third of the class be shop-keepers and the others shoppers.

Procedure: Ask children to go around from stall to stall and buy as many goods as they like and to spend as much money as they like. To get the goods from the shop keeper the shoppers must use the phrases correctly. After some time the teacher calls out an item, that is off – poison found in the chocolate. The shoppers must hand over any chocolate purchased to the teacher and shop keepers withdraw it from the shop. The teacher writes the item on the board for everyone to see that this item can not be bought. Play the game in a quick pace and set a time limit. After let´s say 10 minutes the game is stopped and all children who managed to acquire at least 10 items are the winners. The game can be repeated several times and the children should swap roles, being either shopper, shop-keeper or the person who calls out the items. This game was played very intensely by my class and got a very high rating by all children.

Game 3. Teaching grammar in the EFL-classroom: Asking questions

Asking questions is a central point in grammar teaching, nevertheless children usually take a long time to get used to the word order, interrogative pronouns and the usage of to do.

An excellent game to practise questions is: Grandmother´s (or Grandfather’s) footsteps. Make one child come up front and be grandmother. With his or her back to the class the child asks questions such as: Do you like pears? The class repeat the question while moving up to the front of the classroom.

Grandmother turns around suddenly and all students freeze. If grandmother sees a child moving that child has to answer the question, earning a point if correct. Grandmother can also say. ‘Left. Do you like dogs?’ All children have to go to the left side of the classroom so that grandmother has a bigger chance of catching a child moving. This game is one of the beloved games in the EFL-classroom, it creates great tension because the children are eager to avoid being caught and when caught they can at last gain a point by answering the question correctly. Moreover they like the movement and the quick pace of the game.

About the author: Shelley Ann Vernon, conscious of the vital role teachers can play in the lives of their pupils, promotes learning through encouragement and games.

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