Teaching Children Grammar Through Games

- - Teaching children grammar through games

Shelley Vernon shows how to make grammar teaching to children fun with a simple game.

One of the questions ESL and TEFL teachers are asking on forums the world over is: how can you teach grammar through games?

If you don't want your class to glaze over with dictation, writing exercises and "Jimmy, would you please read paragraph 1," then take heart! You'll find you can teach everything you want with games, and the children remember it better to boot.

Here is a disarmingly simple game, which can be used for many purposes. Please note this particular game is for small groups of up to 20 children or so, and you need floor space. If you have more than 20 children, or no floor space then please see the bottom of the article for games suited to your needs.

The players stand round in a circle with one player standing in the middle. Each player has a picture of an item, or a word flash card, except for the player in the middle. Call out two of the picture card items or words. The two players holding these cards have to change places without the person in the middle grabbing one of their spots. If the person in the middle manages to slip into the spot in the circle then the one left standing goes in the middle. The new person in the middle hands their flash card to the child taking their place in the circle.

If someone is stuck in the middle for two turns say, "All Change!" When the players hear this they must all change places, which gives the person in the middle a very good chance of joining the circle. Once everyone has had one go ask your class to pass their picture to the right, and take the one handed to them from the left. You can give them another go with the new picture.

Notice that only 2 children move at any one time (aside from when you say "All Change"), which makes it easy to keep control.

How could you use this game in your language teaching? Firstly, you can use it to reinforce new vocabulary, secondly, for revision, thirdly to help spelling by playing the game with word flashcards instead of pictures, and fourthly, to practise a grammatical structure.

Let us say you want to teach the conditional tense and you start with "I would like". Hand out pictures of food that your pupils already know. Call out "I would like bananas and pie". The pupil with the bananas tries to change places with the pupil holding the pie without the person in the middle taking one of the spots in the circle. Continue until everyone has had a go, repeating the target structure each time. With a class that learns quickly you can also introduce the rest of the declension (he and she would like, etc.). You are now ready to proceed to a speaking game where your pupils use the target structure, as they will have heard it repeatedly by now. You can follow the speaking game up with a writing game, and hey presto your children can understand, say, read and write the new target structure.

Now what better way is there to teach grammar than that? You are teaching grammar by absorption and repetition, which is the way we learn our native tongue, and for children it is by far the best way to go.

Shelley Vernon, conscious of the vital role teachers can play in the lives of their pupils, promotes learning through encouragement and games. Sign up for free games and ideas on www.teachingenglishgames.com. Make your job easy and fun teaching English to children through games.


What do you think of this article? Add a comment »

Ela on 23 November 2006

Games is the best way to teach children grammar because all the other ways are too difficult or simply boring. Please send more."

Danielle on 23 November 2006

Thanks for the tip. I think grammar games are so important with children, they allow them to learn and have fun! It can be adapted to all ages and learners..

Luca on 23 November 2006

Thanks for the tips. I will try to use it to review the words and vocabulary next week.

Jess on 23 November 2006

This game is great and can also be used to teach phonemes. Call out the phoneme and if your word has that phoneme in it, swap with another person.

Oriana on 24 November 2006

I was working with little children for four years, and I know how important and useful games are, when you want children learn in an easy and funny way. Thanks for the new games.

Basher on 24 November 2006

Thanks a lot. I've tried this in my classrooms. It's really difficult to work on grammar. This kind of game really works inside the classroom. Thank you Shelley.

Pamela on 25 November 2006

I'll be teaching a group of children ages 7-12 and will definitely try this game out. What I've noticed with kids who come to an English lesson straight from school is that they're too tired to concentrate, but nevertheless have a lot of energy. I think this might be a good way to have some fun and learn new vocabulary or grammar. Thanks and please send more ideas.

Limor on 26 November 2006

Thank you for the tip. I will try it out next week!.

Faye on 26 November 2006

Thanks for you tip! I may use it sometime.

Sara on 26 November 2006

Its a very interesting idea to teach grammar and my prior experience with the kids in class tells me that it will actually work wonders.

William on 27 November 2006

Very useful, can easily be adapted to any language and different grammar situations. Thanks for the tip.

Hania on 27 November 2006

Teaching children the skills of language needs good and qualified teachers. Only proficient teachers know that motivating children and understanding their needs are the only way to teach them effectively. However, games as mentioned above are tools used to teach children and help them in understanding the requested message. I guess as teachers for English language we should always update our skills of teaching to help our students in enjoying the time while learning. Thank you.

Antoinette on 13 December 2006

I tried it once with a group of seven-eight years; it was great fun for them; I'm not sure though it's enough to say they have learned something. I'll have an opinion after several times of the game.

Belen on 15 December 2006


For those teachers who are having trouble teaching prepositions to kids, I have a great and motivating game one of my colleagues shared with me, and it worked marvelously!

It consists of putting the lights off in the classroom and having a torch, first switch on the torch and reflect it on the board, and ask your sts to give the light a name. ex: peter, then say Peter is ON the board... and keep demonstrating on, under, in, in front of, behind, etc. then give your sts the torch and ask them to ask their classmates where peter is?

It´s really fun and kids love it! it's something new and refreshing... But, if you're daring to try it with adults, I surely will, I think it'll definetly lower anxiety... and they'll find it fun.

Hope it helps you!

Mohammed on 5 January 2007

Thank you Shelley. It sounds quite interesting. I always love tricks and ideas that make grammar more accepted by students in our Arabic society. We should always update our skills of teaching to help students enjoy learning. Thank you.

Mausoodha on 15 April 2008

I haven't tried this game yet, but I am going to today because I think this is really a great game to play in the classroom with students. And I think they will get highly motivated and have fun playing this game. Hope to see more games coming up!

Edith on 15 October 2008

Games are the best way to teach a foreign language, through them students develop their skills without any stress.

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