How to Use the Game Stations in EFL Classes

How to make an incredibly fun running-around game also incredibly useful.

Stations is an incredibly easy to set up and explain game in which students listen and touch a wall that they have been told represents something, e.g. the right hand wall if they see or hear “ch” words and the left hand wall if they think something is a “sh” words. It was presumably based on the similar game North South East West, in which kids compete to run to the walls in (approximately) those directions, with the last person to touch the right wall out each time and the winner being the last person left. Presumably because they were looking for active but totally non-violent games, the original version was a particular favourite of the people who ran the youth club down my local church. The complete lack of preparation might have also been a factor in how often we played it, but even with the amount of time people like me spent waiting on the carpet to see who was left at the end, we certainly never complained! It is popular in EFL for exactly the same reasons, plus it has all the energy of a really good warmer but is likely to be easier to link to language point of the day due to how adaptable it is.

I really took to this game when introduced to it in my second year of teaching, and I later wrote about many variations on the game. However, a more critical examination of it has come much more recently with a realisation that even students who have problems sitting down rarely learn better while running around. Other potential problems with this game include:

  • Students just copying each other rather than listening
  • Lots of wasted time (while actually running, between rounds, and with students who are out sitting around doing nothing while waiting)
  • Students running into objects and each other
  • Very little student speaking (even if a student is given the teacher role)
  • Students who are out probably not paying attention
  • The same students always out first and the same students always last still in the game

The main solution to most of these problems is to simply do something similar sitting down. Rather than running and touching the two walls, students can:

  • Point at or pretend to shoot the two walls
  • Raise one of two cards, objects or parts of their body (e.g. the hand for uncountable and their foot for countable)
  • Slap one of two cards on their table
  • Shout something out

They could also throw things towards or into two places that represent the two things, but this is likely to have the same problem of students concentrating much more on the physical dynamics of the game than on the language. They will also waste time, this time collecting thrown things before they can throw again.

If you do want to stick with the running about part, the simplest variation is to have one nominated person from each team to do the running each time, with their partners shouting out and pointing to help them. A nice way of doing this is to put them in two lines and shout out first the thing that they should react to and then the number of the student in each team who should do so, e.g. “I don’t have _____ cheese, number seven” to make the two students who are number seven race to touch the “any” wall.

A more complicated variation that also gets rid of the problem of students copying each other is the teacher giving flashcards to each student who comes up, with that person rushing to place it in the right place before coming back for another. To score the game after it has finished, you’ll also need a way of knowing which person or team put each card in the right or wrong place, perhaps by having one box for each team by each wall or by students putting Post Its (colour coded or with their names) on the flashcards before they try to put them in the right place.

To get rid of the problem of students sitting around waiting for the game to finish, you need to eliminate the elimination stage. Students are often happy to play the game without winners, but the other possibilities are:

  • Points for the people who are first (or their team), with perhaps the game stopping and starting again when anyone has a fixed number of points (e.g. five)
  • Minus points for the people who are last (or their team)
  • One person being eliminated after they are last three times, then the game starting again
  • Students who are first carrying things like plastic fruit to represent points (and also to slow them down to give others a chance to win)

You can make the time running around less wasted by telling students how they should move, e.g. shouting “hop” and “swim” at random times. You can also add a little bit of speaking by getting them to say the name of that action as they are doing it, e.g. “skip skip skip skip”. Something similar can also be done with the name of the thing that has been shouted out and/ or the place that they are aiming for, e.g. students shouting out “Egg, E, egg, E,..” as they head for and then touch the E wall.

All these variations means that I do still use Stations-like games fairly often, including getting students holding up cards saying “Request” and “Offer” as they listen to phrases like “Please take a seat” with adult classes. Once you get rid of the main problems, it can be useful practice for all kinds of points, for example:

  • Minimal pairs
  • Two different spellings for the same sound
  • Countable/Uncountable
  • A/An
  • The/-, e.g. in names of geographical features)
  • There is/There are
  • Number of syllables, e.g. Two syllables/ Three syllables
  • One word/Two words (for compound noun spelling)
  • Good behaviour/Bad behaviour
  • In this classroom/Not in this classroom
  • Opposites, e.g. Big things/Small things
  • Fruit/Vegetables
  • Past verb/Infinitive
  • Need third person S/Don’t
  • Two different kinds of animal, e.g. Mammal/Reptile
  • Need a capital letter/Don’t need a capital letter
Written by Alex Case for June 2013
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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