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YL Games for L2

By Stefan Chiarantano
Practical games and activities for young learners to test target language

With the increasing emphasis on teaching L2 using games in Asia, I remember the challenge I faced as a new teacher on the scene to find appropriate games to use in the classroom that would test the target language. It was a bit of a challenge at first but I did manage to come up with several games and activities that my students would enjoy and that would also test the target language. Here are some of the games and activities that I continue to use in my classrooms.

This is a wonderful activity to practice target language. It’s a passing activity. I have the students sit in a big circle. I hold up an object that is visible to all the students and say the target language, for instance “It’s a cat”, and then pass the object (toy, stuffed cat) to the child that is sitting beside me and encourage the child to say the target language in L2, and then this child is encouraged to pass the object to the next child sitting beside him/her who repeats the target language, and so on until the object goes full circle. As some students are shy, reluctant or afraid to speak, I follow the object as it makes its way around the circle motivating and encouraging the children to say the target language in L2. To add some excitement before the start of the activity, I usually pull the object out of a big, duffle bag and if what I pull out is a cat I say “Hello cat”. When I put the object away, I say “Good-bye cat”. I find with younger children 3-dimensional objects work better than flashcards. However, with older children you can substitute objects with flashcards. As we are in a circle formation, with the younger elementary school students, as a finale to the activity, we usually sing “Ring Around the Rosy” and/or “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”.

I have modified the above activity to practice pair dialogue work with my students, which is especially useful after doing a choral drill. I have an object and a ball going around the circle at the same time. I usually play the tune “The ants go marching” since this song adds a bit of excitement and rhythm to the activity. The children enjoy it. I stop the music suddenly. The two students who are holding the ball and object then practice the dialogue. I have the students stand up and I am standing right there beside them encouraging and helping them along if they get stuck. The student with the ball says “What’s this?” and the student with the object responds “It’s a cat.” Before beginning the activity, I demonstrate the dialogue with several students so that they can get a feel of how it is to be played. It complements choral work wonderfully.

Another game the younger children love to play is a touching game. I stick to the blackboard a number of flashcards to do with the target vocabulary. I divide the class into two teams of equal numbers. I have a scoring system going along to determine the winner. I tape the floor a certain distance from the blackboard to indicate the starting point for the children to start the running race. I call out the target vocabulary “Touch the cat” and the children run to touch cat. The first child to touch the cat flashcard scores a point for their team. They score an additional point if they answer my question correctly, for example: “What’s this?”, “It’s a cat.”

Another game the children love to play is the “What’s this?” game. I divide the class into two teams of equal numbers. I have a point system going on the blackboard. I have one student from each team come up to the front of the class. I have them face away from me. I hold up a flashcard for example, horse. On a count of three, they turn around and the first student to say “It’s a horse”, or “horse” for very young children, scores a point for their team. If the two students both respond at the same time correctly, I award both teams a point. I always play this game twice to give the losing team a chance to make up for losing. The winning team gets a round of applause.

Finally, another fun game to test target language is the chopstick game. This game is a great team teaching game if you teach alongside an L1 teacher who is keen to teach with you. This game requires two pairs of chopsticks, two bowls, approximately 3 dozen walnuts or peanuts, and 2 sets of flashcards (a photocopied set will do fine). I divide the class into two equal teams. I have the two teams line up in separate, straight lines and then have them sit on the floor. I demonstrate how to play the game with several of the children so that they can get a picture of how to play it. Each child must pick up a walnut or peanut using the chopsticks and drop it in a bowl and then answer a question. I show a flashcard of a cat and say “What’s this?” and the child answers “It’s a cat.” If the child has difficulty answering, I help the child along with the answer. If the child has difficulty using chopsticks, I usually show the child how he or she can use the chopsticks to pick up a peanut and drop it in the bowl. Once the child has answered the question, she passes the chopsticks on to the next child and moves to back of her team and so on until all the students on the team have played. The first team to get through the round first wins. I have found my students love playing this game and that after a few attempts they get a real knack for playing it.

I hope you find these games and activities as useful as I have, and as much fun too. Good luck.

Written by Stefan Chiarantano for Tefl.NET June 2009
Stefan has been teaching English as a foreign language in Asia for the past several years. He presently teaches English in Japan. He's a Canadian with an interest in filmmaking and photography.
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