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Reconsidering Running Around Games in EFL

There are all kinds of good reasons for adapting and creating running around games such as “Tag” and “Stations” in EFL classes, including:

  • They are fun
  • They can help restless students calm down
  • They can help sleepy or bored students liven up and pay attention, and are often easier to tie in with the topic of the day than other kinds of warmers
  • They are popular, especially with students who might not usually enjoy English study
  • They give students who don’t often do well in more intellectual games a chance to win
  • They can be used as a reward for good behaviour and/or successful learning

You might have noticed that none of the things above are strictly about learning the language. This is because after years of using running around games as a matter of course I’ve come to the conclusion that students almost always learn better sitting down, or at most standing up – and this includes the so-called “kinaesthetic learners” who most often enjoy and win running around games. Other potential issues with running around games such as “Run and Touch” include:

  • The actual running around is usually just wasted time, and however fast they run it will still take more time to actually practise the language than miming, touching cards in front of them etc would
  • Even more than other games, students are usually focused much more on winning the game than learning the language
  • They often just copy each other rather than thinking about the language
  • It can make the rest of the class seem like a low-energy letdown
  • Unlike genuine TPR activities like following spoken instructions, the actual moving usually has no direct relation to the language they are studying

This doesn’t mean, however, that the positive aspects above don’t have their place, nor that I have the same opinion about non-running around physical games such as miming. My usual approach nowadays when a running around game comes into my mind is:

  • Try to think of a sit down activity that they will learn more from and will also have some of the other positive aspects of running around games listed at the beginning, e.g. sit down miming or slapping cards in front of them.
  • If a running around game still seems more suitable for that class and/ or at that stage, try to adapt it to involve more actual learning and take away the negative aspects of running games, or choose one of the few running around games that by design do lead to learning.
  • If a more traditional running around game still seems best, keep it as short as a warmer would be (usually three to five minutes) then move onto something with more learning.

One running around activity that I do consider inherently good for learning is simply running and touching things that are always in the classroom such as “whiteboard”, because that should help students relate the position of that thing in their classroom with the object and so fix the word in their minds. Other useful language that can be brought into this game includes body parts (“Touch the table with your elbow”) and actions (“Hop to the window”).

For higher level students, running dictations can also be an exception if they are designed carefully, because the fact that students have to keep the chunks of language, grammatical structures etc in their heads should hopefully help them memorise them.

If you do need to do a running around game for classroom management reasons, make sure that:

  • The students can’t copy each other without understanding the language, e.g. by nominating one person from each team to run
  • The distance they have to run is short
  • No additional time is wasted between rounds
  • You have a plan B if students get into a mood that is less conducive to learning (e.g. overexcited), discipline breaks down etc
Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net July 2013
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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TEFL.net : TEFL Articles : Teaching : Reconsidering Running Around Games in EFL