Games in the English Language Classroom

Using Games in the Classroom is an invaluable method of helping your students to learn English. Although some critics see it negatively and try to suggest that if your students are enjoying themselves they are not really learning, an overwhelming amount of evidence shows that games in the classroom help your students.


  • Students want to take part in the game. Suppose you are teaching animal vocabulary to a younger class. You might just show pictures and have them tell you what animal is being shown; some students will participate actively, others will tune out. However, if you change the activity into animal bingo‏‎, for example, then it is likely that the whole class will become actively involved. This is because the students will see this as a fun game rather than a learning activity.
  • Games can put language into context. Sometimes language teaching can seem remote. Discussing the use of the past simple has little to do with real life language use. However, if the past simple is presented as a role play between a “detective” and a “suspect” then it becomes much more relevant. Games then help students put language into real life rather than treat it as abstract.
  • Teenage students spend hours and hours in the classroom where, most likely, they are confronted with lesson upon lesson of repetition and standard teaching. Especially in more conservative countries rote learning is the norm. Games, therefore, are seen as a break from learning. There is a common misconception that learning needs to be serious and solemn but this is simply not true; students can learn as much (if not more) from a fun game than they can from a dull dictation.
  • Since games are fun they can help reduce anxiety in the class. A student who might be too shy to speak up and answer a question in a traditional class, may well find it easier to offer their opinion in the middle of a game.
  • Games often involve communication and interaction; as long as this is in English, it is useful.
  • Games often involve competition which encourages learning and participation amongst students. Competition unconsciously improves performance!

The Right Game

Games can be used any time in the classroom, however there are a few basic rules which help make them more effective.

  • Don’t use games just as a filler activity or a warmer. They can also be used as the main body of a lesson.
  • Choose your game to fit in with the overall syllabus or lesson plan‏‎, not the other way around. In other words, if you read about a brilliant game to practice the conditional tenses‏‎, use it when you have covered this aspect of grammar with your class rather than just spring it on them because you like the idea of a good game in class.
  • Good games will involve friendly competition.
  • The best games focus on language use; they should be about using language in real-life situations.
  • Make sure the game is of the right level and age for the class. Younger children enjoy running about (e.g. with Distance Dictation‏‎) but older children or adults will probably prefer more sedate games. Likewise think of the content: a game like Blind Date can be used with your class if they are old enough but may well cause problems with a younger class or if you are teaching in an ultra-conservative country.

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Posted in How To Teach English.

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