Teaching Children Grammar Through Games

A simple game for ESL and EFL teachers to teach or revise grammar, vocabulary or spelling with groups of children.

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.

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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
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.

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    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 marvellously!

    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 students 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 students 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 definitely lower anxiety… and they’ll find it fun.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 fun way. Thanks for the new games!

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

  7. I would especially recommend this game for a large class! Especially if it is public education!

    What I have learned, in a weekly TEFL lesson, is that many children are not listening to the “I would like”, but just listening for “banana” or “pie”.

    That said, it does move most children into the category of “I like English”.

    Smaller classes….. never!


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