How does it work, you ask. Well, there has been a movement away from the traditional methods of teaching English grammar through writing, rewriting and worksheets to using a more active approach through games. Researchers have also begun to look at how and why these new methods work.
Four sound reasons to teach grammar with games
- Arif Saricoban and Esen Metin, authors of “Songs, Verse and Games for Teaching Grammar” explain how and why games work for teaching grammar in an ESL classroom. They say, “Games and problem-solving activities, which are task-based and have a purpose beyond the production of correct speech, are the examples of the most preferable communicative activities.” They go on to explain that grammar games help children not only gain knowledge but be able to apply and use that learning.
- Additionally, games have the advantage of allowing the students to “practice and internalise vocabulary, grammar and structures extensively.” They can do this because students are often more motivated to play games than they are to do desk work. Plus, during the game, the students are focused on the activity and end up absorbing the language subconsciously. One can also add that fun learning games usually contain repetition, which allows the language to stick.
- While games are motivating for the students, probably the best reason, according to Saricoban and Metin, to use games is that “the use of such activities both increases the cooperation and competition in the classroom.” One can use games to add excitement through competition or games which create bonding among students and teacher.
- Aydan Ersoz, author of “Six Games for the ESL/EFL Classroom” also explains more reasons why games do work for teaching grammar. Learning a language requires constant effort and that can be tiring. Ersoz says games can counter this as because:
* Games that are amusing and challenging are highly motivating.
* Games allow meaningful use of the language in context.
Children are more motivated to learn grammar with games
The theory of intrinsic motivation also gives some insight as to why teaching grammar through games actually works. Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal factors that encourage us to do something. Most young learners will not internally decide that they want to learn grammar. They don’t yet understand the concepts of why it’s important to know proper grammar, so these external factors won’t affect them much either. Instead, intrinsic motivation can lead encourage them to play games. If these games are good then they will be learning while they are playing.
Using some movement is crucial because movement helps activate the students’ mental capacities and stimulate neural networks, thus promoting learning and retention. If you have a large class with no space you still have options. Children can stand up, sit down, move various body parts and pass things around to each other. Movement does not only mean children tearing around the playground.
What kinds of games work best?
When you are looking for games to use in your classroom, don’t just pick something to be a “time filler” which does not have a definite linguistic outcome. These games may entertain the students, but when you don’t have much time with them each day as it is, you want your game to do double duty to get the most out of the time you spend playing games.
Have a clear linguistic outcome for each game. The game can be a listening game to allow the students to repeatedly hear a new grammatical structure in use, or it can be a speaking game to allow practise of the grammar once it has been absorbed through listening beforehand. There are degrees of difficulty with speaking games from basic repetition in a fun context to more creative sentence creation for revision or more advanced practise once the basics have been mastered. The teacher should lead the children through this progression so that the game at hand is always well within the grasp of the students. This makes games fun rather than laborious. It is a mistake to play a speaking game immediately after the new grammar has been presented. Ideally reading, spelling and writing games come after the new grammar has been absorbed and the students can use it orally.
Another thing to watch out for with grammar games is that a maximum of students are involved simultaneously. If you have thirty children you want to avoid a game where only one child is speaking at a time. What are the other twenty-nine children supposed to do in the meantime other than get bored? On the other end of the scale however are games that cause chaos in class and make teachers unpopular with colleagues because of high noise levels. A variety of suitable games are available for you to try free in the resource box below the article.
Now you can stop the eye-rolling and complaining from your students when you even THINK about teaching them a grammar lesson, and have some productive fun.