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VESL Workshop: Games for Language Learning

  • Games for Language Learning

The following blog post was written by Dara MacKay, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement. Dara recently planned and facilitated the VESL workshop Games for Language Learning.

Since 2005, VESL (the Volunteer ESL Tutor Training Project) has supported the professional development of volunteer ELL tutors throughout the city of Calgary. The project is funded by Calgary Learns and is the collaborative effort of three Calgary ELL service providers with long standing volunteer programs: Bow Valley College, the Calgary Public Library, and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. 

On Tuesday, March 28, I had the pleasure of presenting my first VESL workshop, Games for Language Learning. What a fun-filled and energetic evening it was! Following is a summary of what we discussed and some of the takeaways from our time together.

Benefits of playing games

The first question I asked the group was ‘What are some benefits of playing games in ELL?’  While I had my own ideas, which you can see in the workshop PowerPoint, our group came up with many, many more.  Below are some of the ideas they had:

  • interaction/social/friendship/teamwork/connection
  • tactile learners (good for)/movement
  • gives context to words
  • makes them learn without realizing they are learning/ ‘sneaking in vegetables’
  • lowers inhibitions
  • helps shyness
  • helps memory
  • increases creativity, energy, motivation, and enthusiasm
  • universal concepts
  • thinking on the spot
  • confidence building/low pressure to use skills
  • think outside the box
  • game related vocabulary/strategy learning

They came up with so many great ideas! 

We also discussed some games and played some as examples, because, when learning to play games, what better way than to play? I’ve gathered some great online resources, and there are so many other games that can be played with ELL learners. Here are some examples:

  • 10 Best Games: This blog has 10 games that are both easy to play and require little prep.
  • The 13 Best ESL Games: The one I really liked from this site was ‘Word Chain’. 
  • 28 Tongue Twisters: We discussed tongue twisters, and here is a site that has some great ones for pronunciation.
Board games

We also discussed using board games in some of the breakout groups. I received a board game template (see below) from an amazing colleague. You can use this for just about any category: instructions, grammar, spelling practice, pronunciation and vocabulary. You just need to fill in the boxes with some kind of task for the learner to do during their turn. Either supply them with dice or a spinner, or use an online spinner or dice.

PDF icon Board Game Template.pdf

Card games

In some small group discussion, we referenced card games. You can use a regular deck of cards, where you assign a rule to each number pulled, for example playing a game like War, or make your own cards that are related to your topic, theme or language aspect. Some ideas with a regular deck of cards are:

  • Spelling practice – pull a 2, spell 2 new words, pull a 5, spell 5 of them (take out high cards)
  • Speaking practice – pull a 2, say 2 sentences or ask 2 questions, etc.
  • Vocabulary practice – pull a 2, define vocab word #2

There are so many ways to put a little bit of fun into our lessons. The sky is really the limit, so don’t be afraid to get creative. Adapt things to suit your learners. Choose games based on what kinds of learners you have. Use games to get to know your learners. They can be a way to open them up, give them confidence, and allow them to have some fun while learning. 

We often forget how important fun is when we’re learning, and I hope we can all incorporate it a little more into our every day. Adults like to kick back and enjoy just as much as children, so why not give it a try? Happy gaming everyone!