Angus MacKay’s blog #7

Lets talk about games (for teenagers). This blog post will be reasonably long, but bare with me until the end and you will save yourself 6 weeks of trial and error!

Before we do talk about games, I’m going to start this blog post by turning the tables and putting you in the mind of a shy Vietnamese teenager. 16 years old and too old for school but too young for adult life. Schools dumb and this western English speaking guy keeps saying words I don’t understand and making me repeat them. I’ve just come from double maths, I have physics next and it’s 34 degrees with high humidity, give me a break.

I think everyone, from all backgrounds can relate to this in some way, and of course you can. Culture and nationality doesn’t change the fact your latter years in school seem to drag. The last thing you want to do is 90 minutes of barely understanding someone while they prance across the classroom.

Now lets switch back to teachers perspective. You walk in a classroom to see dreary eyed teenagers, many of which are too concentrated on their rubix cube to notice you’ve entered. It’s hot and believe me the teacher feels this a lot more, with all the shouting and movement they do. I have a relatively interesting lesson about inventions of the modding era I need to teach but at the moment the students are definitely not in the right state of mind for that. This is where we introduce warmers.

Warmers are short lasting games/activities used to get the students into the correct frame of mind. There are 2 things you need to consider when deciding a warner: 1, is there anything I can do relative to the lesson content, and 2: what energy level do I want the class to have in 5 minutes when this is over? If you have a practise exam, games like ‘ticking time bomb’ may not be appropriate (where the students are split into 4 teams and throw a soft toy around while naming [insert nouns, verbs, categories(animals etc), words beginning with…] and after 45 seconds the team in possession of the bomb get ‘blown up’ and are out, 3x45s rounds leaves a winner). However if you have a worksheet with plenty of scope for high energy games, by all means start with this. A quick breakdown of other warmers with high energy are:

Target practice- where students answer questions about last weeks topic and if correct can throw a soft toy at a roughly drawn archery target (wait until a student misses to hear the laughter and applause).

Board race- where a category is written at the top of the board (e.g jobs) and 4-6 students from each team take turns in listing all they can think of (although 90% of the class will be shouting any their team have missed).

Stop the bus- where one student from each team stands in front of the board, the teacher writes a letter of the alphabet and students must write down one word beginning with that, across 3 categories (my go-to is: food, place and famous person).

Warmers to produce low energy but get students thinking (and in English!!):

Divide students into small groups and write A-Z on a piece of paper then have students write a 3 syllable words for each letter (what they write for each word can depend on their level).

Write the word ‘Rearrangement’ on the board and ask how many words they can make from these letters. Points go for number of words produced and longest word found. Halfway through add an ‘s’ to the end to increase the length of activity if needed.

And finally my favourite passive activity of them all:

Draw 4 columns on the board, at the top of the first draw and label a rotten apple. Pose the question ‘what can you do with this?’ Give your example as ‘throw it at someone you don’t like’, to get the students to think outside the box. 2nd and 3rd columns put a tree and a badminton racket, respectively. In the final column, write an S and turn to look at the students. (0 reaction). Make this into a $ sign (pause and enjoy the excited energy in the room). Write 1, then keep adding 0s until you get to 1 billion. Even with your back turned you will feel the excitement. Give them 5 uninterrupted minutes and then hear some amazing answers.

Games with lesson content.

This section is difficult, as the lesson content can be vastly different, and it is the mark of a good teacher to be able to read a work sheet and in their mind turn it into a fun/exciting lesson.

‘Go to’ games.

Hot seat- have 1 student from each team sit facing the class. Write a word, phrase, adjective, job title etc behind them(whatever the lesson content is focused on). The rest of the class must describe the word in English for the 2 students at the front. Make your life easier by having students stand up when answering, otherwise you could be in a heated discussion as to who won the point!

Broken telephone- arrange 6-10 students from each team in a line from the back of the classroom to the front. One student from each team (the back most 2) read a word/phrase/ short sentence from your book. This must then be whispered down the line, person to person, and the last student write it down on the board. Points awarded to first team with it correctly written. Rotate students until everyone have had a go at each position in the line. (Notice aspects of reading, listening, speaking and writing all involved in 1 game)

Repetition game- if you have new vocabulary, write it on the board as you drill the correct pronunciation with the class. (Also number them as you write- you’ll understand why later). Offer each team to play for 1, 2 or 3 points. Tap the words in an order you remember. Students must then repeat the words in the correct order, difficulty of the pattern depends on points they chose to play for (add excitement by awarding points to opposite team if they fail). Eventually they ‘outsmart you’ and write down the numbers at their desk so they can remember the order easier. Little do they know that you’ve just made them drill each word 15+ times.

Reward-based games- this is how I describe games that students qualify to play by answering questions correctly. For example, during a lesson where students had been discussing the ‘7 wonders of Vietnam’, I asked students what makes people want to go to these places. The game can be literally anything- my personal favourite is bottle flips (if you’ve not seen this go on YouTube). The students go wild for that one. Other good ones include target practise (from the warmer section), basketball(soft toy into a shallow bucket), 6 pin bowing (I used empty bottles of water). This game can be anything, but get to know your class first as the choice in game can make a big difference to how the students react to it.

These games may seem like they’re pointless and nothing to do with learning English, however they often last a small portion of the whole class and aid the building of a culture in the class where students enjoy and look forward to English classes- and that can be invaluable.

Finally talking about fillers. I’ll keep this brief- anagrams, speed-hangman (5 seconds per answer to keep the pace up), odd one out (etc. Angry, happy, sad, telephone.) Speed-Simon says.

This is just a brief outline of a small sample of games I have used. These are ones you can generally use in most situations, however there is nothing better then a brief amount of panic when something goes wrong, but rescuing the lesson with an inspirational idea that turns it into an enjoyable game for all!

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