TEFL Games in the classroom

The following contain the results of my reading in to sources pertaining to the use of games in English classes. Most of my references, as cited in the sources list, were taken (and copied) with permission from Jouchi (Sophia) University. I have also drawn upon the teachings of Ray Ormandy, director of my present school (PLS) who has pioneered EFL methods in Japan for over 30 years, specifically in games for children´s classes.

1. Why play games in the classroom

There are many reasons to use games in English classes. Aside from the pure enjoyment of playing games as opposed to drilling or deskwork, games can be used to give spot reviews and reinforcement of specific parts of English (e.g. grammar, vocabulary). Games, especially for young learners, directly influence motivation in the classroom. They can help create an atmosphere of civil competition, while, if administered well, allow students to practice using English with reduced psychological pressure for students who would otherwise have greater fear of making mistakes. [Lewis, McCallum]

2. When and how often to play

Games, in principle, should not dominate the classroom. This is because games are, for the most part, Activate-stage components, and used to create variety in the classroom as well as provide revision practice. However, if a larger, more complex game set is several stages is designed to teach, as well as practice the language, it is possible for such a game to encompass an entire lesson [Lewis]. A teacher should also be careful not to "over-play" any particular game: it is better to leave students hungry for more than tired of playing the same game too often [Ormandy].

3. The problem of spontaneity in Japan

Fear of making mistakes can be a part of any learning environment, but it is most apparent in classrooms in Japan, where students show (by western standards) an almost pathological fear of making errors. In an experiment where academic tasks were given to Japanese, American, and Israeli children, it was noted that while the Japanese children were the slowest to finish, they also made the fewest mistakes. While nothing is inherently wrong with such a reflective approach to academics in general (in contrast to the more impulsive western standard), when specifically applied to language education, problems arise: many a real-life western conversation partner will not have the patience to converse with an EFL speaker who insists on getting it right or remaining silent. Japanese students of English often need to be conditioned to spontaneity, and playing games in the classroom that focus on speed rather than perfection often help to this end. Rapid-fire games that require students to "blurt out" answers, in which students gain points for correct answers but (more importantly) are not penalized for incorrect ones help them to develop a more impulsive and less fearful attitude towards speaking in a language they have little confidence in. [Ormandy, Reid, Swan]

4. Classroom discipline during games

Due to their comparatively fun and informal nature, playing games, more than any other part of a class, is where deportment issues are most likely to arise. Problems will vary depending upon the type of game being played, and it is the teacher´s job to referee the activity giving each student a fair chance to participate. Disruptive behavior during a game should, for the sake of the other participants, be immediately stopped, first by a verbal warning, and then through a loss of turn or point. It is often the stronger student (who consequently has a greater ego to bruise by losing) that needs to be controlled, and by playing games in teams, the teacher can rely on peer pressure to keep a rowdy student in line. In the long term, a teacher should be aware that if a game is too easy, boredom will quickly direct stronger students to misbehavior. In a mixed level class, the teacher may judiciously be more demanding of stronger students to gain points in the same game, which, if done politically, will not be perceived as unfairness or favoritism by the students. [Gebhard, Ormandy, Wordell]


Gebhard, Jerry G. Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language: A Self-development and Methodology Guide. USA: The University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Lewis, Michael and Jimmie Hill. Source Book for Teaching English Overseas: A Practical Guide for Language Assistants. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1986.

McCallum, George P. 101 Word Games: For Students of English as a Second or Foreign Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Ormandy, Ray L. Children´s EFL Basic Training Seminar (Video Log). Tokyo: Spring 2001.

Reid, Joy M., ed. Learning Styles in the ESL/EFL Classroom. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers, 1995.

Swan, Michael and Bernard Smith. Learner English: A teacher´s guide to interference and other problems. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Wordell, Charles B., ed. A Guide to Teaching English in Japan. Japan: The Japan Times, Ltd., July 1985.

Author: Jun Albert

Date of post: 2007-04-18