Learning to Play and Playing to Learn: the Use of Games as Effective ESL Tools Classrooms are places for seriousness,


Classrooms are places for seriousness, but they are also places for serious enjoyment. Indeed, fun and entertainment are effective tools of instruction, and games are excellent ways of bringing fruitful fun into the classroom. I would contend, moreover, that games of varied sorts can be introduced at every stage of a lesson as integral parts of the Engage, Study and Activate phases.

Rik Ruiter and Pinky Y. Dang, authors of Highway to E.S.L: A User-Friendly Guide to Teaching English as a Second Language (2005), note the significance of games in a chapter entitled 'Fun E.S.L.' Heading for the Sunset'. They explain that it is essential to take breaks from using only the textbook as students 'will become bored as anyone would from being forced to do the mundane' (2005: 281). Indeed, Ruiter and Dang consider games to be a valuable method of mixing up the monotony that often characterizes schooling. Fun lesson plans, they argue, 'make the classroom environment more conducive to effective language learning' (2005: 282). I very much agree with authors like Ruiter and Dang, and in the following few paragraphs, I will briefly outline examples of various instances in which games can be used for each of the phases as well as some games that would be appropriate for those instances.

The Engage phase is meant to grab the students' attention and excite them about learning. Is not a game a superb way to accomplish this goal and spark their interest in the day's lesson' For example, if the lesson of the day focused on food, a corresponding game might be the memory game of 'I went to the store and bought'.' Students could go around the room and tack on as many foods as they already know with each person having to remember one more food than the person before him or her. The final person left (he or she who has not forgotten any part of the list of food) is the winner. Other Engage phase games might include Charades or tongue twisters. Let's examine a possible use of Charades. If the lesson of the day dealt with verbs relating to sports, each student could act out a specific verb (e.g. to kick, to jump, to run, etc.) and the class would have to guess it. Therefore, games are a valuable activity with which to begin a lesson.

Games may also be utilized to enliven the Study phase of a lesson, the phase that might be typically though of as more of a 'textbook-only zone'. Games are just as suitable for the Study phase as they are for the Engage and Activate phases. Crosswords, wordsearches, and jumbled words and sentences are just a minute sampling of all the games available for use in the Study stage. Ruiter and Dang even site a version of Bingo involving the formation of tenses (2005: 284)! One particularly interesting game for the Study phase can be derived from Kama Einhorn's book, ESL Activities and Mini-Books for Every Classroom. Einhorn terms it 'Silly Sentences' and explains that, on different colors of index cards, the teacher should 'write three articles...,10 adjectives',10 nouns', 10 verbs', and several prepositional phrases' (Einhorn 2001: 17). The students then arrange the articles, adjectives, nouns, verbs and prepositional phrases into sentences. Thus, a game inspired by this activity might be a contest to see who can make the silliest sentence or who can form the most sentences within a given amount of time. In sum, a place for games can most definitely be found within the Study phase. Finally, games may be employed in the Activate phase in an effort to improve fluency and conversational skills. Simple games to aid in pronunciation are tongue twisters such as those provided by Silberg and Schiller in their The Complete Book of Rhymes, Songs, Poems, Fingerplays, and Chants. For example, a popular tongue twister is as follows: 'She sells seashells by the seashore / By the seashore she sells seashells' (2002: 358). With tongue twisters, students get to enjoy themselves while honing their pronunciation skills. The most common Activate phase game, however, might be role- play. Ruiter and Dang state 'without role-plays, students would not have a chance to put their knowledge to practical oral use' (2005: 286). The best part is that role-plays are both academically beneficial and stimulating. They can be used as creative outlets as well as practice for conversations that might occur in everyday situations (e.g. job interviews, ordering at a restaurant, etc.). Games in the Activate stage do just that'they activate the students while bettering their fluency and comprehension.

Thus, fun and learning are not mutually exclusive. Truly, games should be part of any good instructor's repertoire of teaching tools and used in combination with course books, authentic materials, worksheets, tapes, visual aids, and the like.

Dang, Pinky Y. and Rik Ruiter 2005 Highway to ESL: A User-Friendly Guide to Teaching English as a Second Language. New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Einhorn, Kama 2001 ESL Activities and Mini-Books for Every Classroom. New York: Scholastic Professional Books

Schiller, Pam and Jackie Silberg 2002 The Complete Book of Rhymes, Songs, Poems, Fingerplays, and Chants. Beltsville: Gryphon House, Inc.