In an elementary EFL/ESL class in South Korea, you may begin teaching a class and at the start and you are welcomed with the exclamation from a student “Game teacher!” This could even turn into a chant of “Game, Game, Game” with other students joining in. While the interest in games by children can’t be denied in general, are games an effective and useful in the ESL classroom?

Games can be enjoyed by students of all ages in the ESL classroom, including adults. Students tend to welcome a break from the traditional lecture and study methods they may be used to. Games are a way to make learning fun in the classroom. This can be important for students who are children and may be working hard in school day and night and for adults who are busy working themselves. Games can “mix it up” (in a good way), keep it interesting, keeping things lively and energized. Students can use the language they are learning throughout the games. Games involve a lot of repetition, and repetition is the “mother of skill”. While repetition can become tedious, games can make it fun. (1)

While every game that works in elementary school does not always work the same in middle school or for other ages, adjusting or varying to the appropriate level is typically a possibility. Whenever a game is to be conducted, the number of students, proficiency level, cultural context, timing, learning topic, and the classroom settings are factors that should be taken into account. (2)

Research reveals that games contribute to vocabulary learning if they give students a chance to learn, practice and to review the English language in a good atmosphere. (2) Games bring in relaxation and fun for students, thus helping them to learn and retain new words more easily. Games usually involve friendly competition and they keep learners interested. This creates the motivation for learners of English to get involved and participate actively in the learning activities. Also, vocabulary games can bring real world context into the classroom, and enhance students´ use of English in a flexible, communicative way. Games use meaningful and useful language in real contexts. They also encourage and increase cooperation. (2) Playing a game has a purpose to it, an outcome, and in order to play, students have to say things. Students have a reason to communicate rather than just repeating things back without much thought. (1)

Games are highly motivating because they are amusing and interesting. They can be used to give practice in all language skills and be used to practice many types of communication. (3) With games students pay more attention because they are enjoying themselves, so they can do better, feel better about themselves, and possibly do even better. (1) Learning vocabulary through games is one effective and interesting way that can be applied in any classroom. Research suggests that games are used not only for fun, but more importantly, for the useful practice and review of language lessons, ultimately improving the learners’ communicative abilities. (2)


(1) Shelly Vernon -



Author: Joseph Hegel

Date of post: 2007-02-06