Make drilling more meaningful and fun. All you need is a sheet of paper.
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This post shows how the use of game mechanics can help a teacher design better drilling activities and turn repeated practice of target grammar or vocabulary into a cognitively engaging exercise.
- Focus on the material to be practised and learning outcomes for your group of students: e.g. irregular verbs
It is essential to clearly see the ‘why’ in terms of language learning and use games and game techniques as a means to an end, rather than for their own sake. Bringing a game from the external world, without adapting it to learners’ needs and expected learning outcomes, may be just a waste of time (and money, if the game requires numerous handouts) in terms of learning. Games most certainly add a fun element to the lesson. However, if the main focus is on the game rather than what needs to be practised, it is only logical to expect improvement in engagement or enjoyability, which may or may not lead to improvement in performance.
- Form of interaction: two or three students alternating between the roles.
Learning irregular verbs requires much memorization, drilling and practice. Ideally, every student should be given an opportunity to see, write, say and hear verb forms again and again. If you teach a large class, the most ideal option would be to have students work in pairs or small teams of 3 students in each.
- Work less: Engage learners in the process of preparation for the game
Teachers typically carry the full load of preparation. Do less to achieve more. The preparation for the game might significantly maximise learning. Hand out a sheet of A4 paper to each student. They have to fold it in half 4 times to get a 4 by 4 grid (16 squares). Choose the form of filling in the squares with verbs: dictate the verbs and have students give their forms and write the verbs in spaces on the grid (offer to choose squares – choice); or give a second form and ask them to write down the verb (challenge); or give a list of verbs and get students to fill in one verb at a time and rotate their grids until all the grids have been filled in with verbs (novelty).
- Think of the game elements to add: points, levels, goals, competition, uncertainty, taking turns, specific rules, time limit, game pieces, etc.
There are different game mechanics you can apply to one and the same worksheet. For example:
This is not an exhaustive list of games we can play. Instead of points, you may use money (e.g. 10 cents per word guessed) and turn the process into a truly enriching exercise for your students.
Every game has certain unique features or basic game elements that may help you create gameplay with a particular worksheet or particular area of language in focus. Again, what you want to achieve will define the rules of the game. If, apart from memorization of the forms, you target fluency and more meaningful production – use of verb forms in speech – in addition to giving forms, have students make sentences with these verbs. For example, instead of calling out words in Bingo, set the following rules:
Bingo: To play the game, pick a certain verb and ask the other student a question. If they answer it with the verb (e.g. in its second form), cross it off the bingo sheet.
– What did you write first in your sheet?
– I wrote “to write”.
With a 4 x 4 grid, this will provide a maximum asking and answering run of 32 questions with the target language.
Change the interaction pattern of the game, e.g. have students move in the classroom and approach and ask other students, and you’ll get a more interesting form of bingo.
You can play any game in the classroom. You don’t need glossy cards and expensive boards. All you need is one worksheet that your students will create themselves.
‘It ain’t what you use, it’s the way that you use it, and that’s what gets results’.
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This post is part of my workshops for busy teachers working in low-resource conditions. If you’re interested in more ideas or games, please check my other posts: