The importance of language learning games for teaching English simply cannot be overlooked. Their popularity, in recent times, has increased manifold as they have proven to be an effective tool to keep students engaged and interested.
In this time and age whenever I talk about games I mean both conventional and digital games (commonly known as language learning apps). Both these forms of games follow the same principle and help achieve the same teaching and learning objectives.
Let me explain how these both work;
These are the more conventional type of games that teachers have been using for decades now. They include different activities, visuals and sounds which instead of using gadgets and technology use old-school devices such as blackboards, board markers, charts, papers, chalks, and other similar items.
With the dawn of the digital era, everything including English language teaching turned to the internet. With so many possibilities, both the learning and teaching styles evolved from their basic form to more creative and innovative methods.
One such concept in teaching and learning is known as MALL – Mobile Assisted Language Learning. As the name suggests, MALL refers to the learning process that is done using mobile devices, which allows the learner to gain knowledge and learn without having to sit in a classroom. Digital language games are a direct product of the MALL and it has now become an important teaching tool for online English teachers.
Both conventional and online teachers use these games to create more unique and interactive lessons for their students.
For the purpose of this article, I have classified both conventional and digital games as one category, Classroom English Language games.
Why use games for teaching English as a second language?
As the popularity of apps and games started to increase, developers, designers, and modern educators soon realized the potential these could have in English language learning. The app and brick and mortar stores soon started to flood with different types of learning games that catered to different learning styles and age groups.
Here are a few reasons why I believe, English language games are a great tool for teaching;
- Games can help with different elements of language learning – English is a complex language to teach; it has different elements that include;
- Within these elements, there are many parts such as syntax, vocabulary, pronunciation, punctuation, sentence structure and grammar etc. These concepts can be quite challenging for a foreigner whose primary language is not English. I believe this is where language learning games can prove to be a valuable tool as they are designed to address each element.
- I cannot count the number of times they helped me explain a concept (related to any of the four basic elements) to my students that they could not understand when presented in the form of text.
- Helps bridge the communication gap – When it comes to teaching English as a second or foreign language, the language barrier between the teacher and the student is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome for a teacher. There are many times when you will meet students who cannot understand even a single word of English. This creates a huge communication gap between the teacher and the student. Games, with the help of pictures and other similar tools, can help you bridge this gap. Once your student starts to understand the basic words and sentences you can move on to more complex parts of the language.
- The younger generation understands technology better and responds to it more – Gone are the days when you and I had to spend hours trying to figure out how our new smartphones worked. The younger generation was born into an era driven by technology; for them, technology is life; there was never any other way. Therefore, they respond better to technology and learn more from it than we ever could and that is why, I believe, an English teacher must make language learning games an integral and mandatory part of their teaching process.
- It allows the students to implement whatever they learn from the teacher – English language games are a great way to implement the knowledge a student gains in both a conventional or a virtual classroom. I always try to find games that are related to my lessons and add them to their homework. This allows my students to test their knowledge and use it in a practical way.
- The instant feedback and the fun element can motivate students to learn better – Almost all the English language games offer different levels of difficulty. Unlike a conventional test or an exam where you have to wait for your results, these apps and games provide instant feedback that makes the learning process fun and allow you to see how well your students are achieving the learning objectives. Moreover, both the teacher and the student can know which part of the language needs more work and where the student performs well.
Benefits of using language games for teaching English as a second language
When it comes to using games, it comes down to how well you integrate these games with your teaching methods. The key is to figure out how not to let them dominate your lesson. The goal is to use them effectively to reinforce your message.
Here are a few benefits I have enjoyed by incorporating English language games into my lessons;
- Teachers can use games to make the lectures more interesting – One of the toughest things you will face as a teacher is to keep your lessons interesting. I spend hours on researching for ways to make sure that each of my class has that “hook” which keeps my students interested. And usually English language games give me that hook. They keep the lesson interesting and the students engaged.
- Makes it easier for students to learn and retain information – With so much technology surrounding us, people, as I said before, respond better to it. I have always seen a clear difference in performance when I use apps and games during my lessons and when I do not. Most of my students retain information, presented to them through visuals and games, better as compared to plain text.
- They allow you to teach more content in a short period of time – One of the things I have always liked about games is how quickly they can cover learning material which otherwise would take more than one lessons.
What types of games are best for teaching the English language?
There are different types of games that teachers can use; however, there are a few elements that all these games must have. These include the following;
- Games that are not too complicated – Remember, a game will only be interesting and effective if it is not too complicated. If you add too many activities or too much information, then your students may find it hard to understand the game and retain the information.
- Games that are not too distracting – An English language teaching game should meet its objective; it should teach English. Whether you are using more conventional games or digital apps make sure they focus on your lesson and do not have too many distractions, such as complicated rules, irrelevant visuals and a long setup process that includes options such as choose your theme, font size and background etc. Keep the games to the point.
- Games that are interactive and provide instant feedback – An English language game can only be effective if it allows the students to interact. It should encourage the students to participate and give them feedback on how they are doing. The instant feedback not only shows how well the student is learning but also motivates them to keep going.
- Games that are relevant to the material you teach – Online language schools such as VIPKid provide the teacher with its own learning material. The teachers then use this material to plan their lessons. Therefore, if you are a teacher on VIPKid you must make sure that the language games you choose should be relevant to the material provided and must be used to reinforce the information given.
Effective language learning games that you can help you become a better teacher VIPKid
VIPKid is one of the biggest online language schools on the internet. It has more than 60,000 teachers and over 500,000 students in 35 different countries. The reason behind their success is the learning material provided by the platform itself and the teachers who use effective tools and methods to plan lessons based on the provided material.
In order to join this league and become a better teacher on VIPKid here are a couple of games that can help;
- Taboo Words – This is a great game for building a good vocabulary and improving speaking skills. The teacher can select a word, which becomes the taboo word and the student gets to ask questions that could lead to clues regarding the word. This game allows the students to be more comfortable and interact with the teacher better. Moreover, it encourages the students to speak more and practice their speaking English. You can either play it without any gadgets or download its app.
- The Mime – The rules of this game are simple; you act out a situation and your student has to guess what it is. You can choose activities such as dancing, celebrating or doing dishes etc. This can be used at a basic level for younger students.
These are just a couple of the games that I have found to be extremely effective for teaching students on VIPKid. You can also create your own games that encourage maximum student participation.
How can using teaching games help you get more students?
A friend of mine recently became interested in becoming a teacher on VIPKid; she asked me about ways to get more students through this platform. I gave her a simple answer, play games!
Here is how it can help;
On VIPKid students book different lessons with different teachers hired by the platform. VIPKid allows these students to rate you as a teacher after the teaching job ends. If your lessons are interesting and effective, then students will leave you good feedback, which gives you a higher rating; the higher the rating, the more students you will get.
One of the easiest ways to make your lesson interesting and get a higher rating is to use games. It adds an element of fun and allows your students to gain more information in a shorter period of time.
Games are a great way to keep your students interested in your lessons. When students are having fun they pay more attention and therefore, can gain and retain more knowledge. However, it is very important that the games you use are relevant and easy for your students to understand. When you make things too complicated, your students lose interest and you lose your students and hence the job.