Tricks for Incorporating Games into Language Learning

So you’re interested in incorporating games as a teaching resource?! Good for you!! Whether you are a parents, tutor, teacher or babysitter who is trying to work games into foreign language learning, it makes no difference! Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind as you plan!

1. Competition usually comes with age. Prior to 1st grade, students want to complete a game more than they care to compete against their peers.  I usually save my most competitive games for my eldest students, 3rd through 5th graders, or for a younger class that I believe thrives off of some friendly rivalry. Of course, every class and every student is different, but I find that when students are too young to handle competition, they are more likely to be frustrated than have a learning breakthrough.

2. Up your game with “different levels.” Around age six, students really start to enjoy games that have “different levels” (which feels like a video game to them), and for me, it means that I include varying levels of difficulty.  For instance, when we learn about farm vocabulary, students have to try and cross the room to get “to the farm” by acting like the farm animal that I call out. I can easily add difficulty to this game by adding a time limit, obstacles or a group of students to tag my “animal” students, etc. (You can find our TpT farm lesson here!) Although the game is still the same at its core, each new level offers a fresh twist, while maintaining the repetition necessary for students to process the lesson’s material. Unless I know my students have a strong understanding of my language material, I won’t add levels that require varying language elements on my students’ part, so I can avoid additional and unnecessary pressure. This makes my students feel empowered and focused as they master the game, which is really their way of mastering of my lesson’s material. When the game ends, my students are confident in their language abilities, themselves and they are happy to have been in my class!

3. “Out” but not out! Having students be “out” might sound like a great way to find a winner, but it can hinder the learning process, especially if students feel discouraged. I don’t even come close to talking about students being “out” until grade two. And I am not saying that you can never declare a winner, but see if you can include games where instead of students sitting out on the sidelines, they can take on another job. For instance, when I play freeze dance to incorporate “body” vocabulary, students whom I’ve caught moving after the music stops will help me find students who don’t freeze in time or who dance using the wrong target body part. That way, students that are “out” (which I won’t even say!) don’t feel like a failure but rather more like a teacher’s assistant. And just as importantly, they will still continue to learn the new material and feel confident in themselves.

4. Don’t worry, be happy. We all know that there is a lot of ambiguity for language learners and that students can easily become stressed and lack self-assurance during the learning process. Games can be such a crucial tool for keeping their spirits and confidence soaring. I truly believe that when my students are happy and engaged, they are at their best for learning. So even if you can’t escape to the gymnasium or an outdoor area, see how you can incorporate little hands-on activities and classroom games that allow your students to view language in a positive light. It’s up to you to nurture their minds and hearts, so even if you feel that the students didn’t learn as much as you would have liked, if they smiled and laughed in your class or at home today, you are a step closer in helping them achieve their potential! So go easy on yourself and trust your process!