Skip to main content

Five simple word games

It's handy to have some simple but effective word games up your sleeve for those times when a lesson is ending early, or if you just fancy altering your lesson plan to suit the mood of the class (and maybe your own). Here are five zero or minimal preparation games you can play. All are tried and tested.

1. Word association

This works very well from near beginner to advanced level. You can play it around the class. This has the advantage of allowing the teacher to keep control and maintain the pace. (Students can always "pass" if they cannot think of a word quickly.) Do stress to them that they must not plan words in advance. It's about quick thinking and having an element of randomness, which can be amusing.

Once done altogether as a class, you could then let small groups or pairs play if they will make the most of the time.

Giving a quick demonstration in English before you start is probably worthwhile so they have got the hang of it.

2. Think of a word starting with the final letter of the previous word.

This is one of those children's games you might play during a car journey. The description above sums it up really. Watch out for the fact that many French words end in "e" so students may run out quickly. You could get round this by using the penultimate letter rather than the last one. This game works best with high intermediate or advanced learners who have a wider vocabulary.

Once again you could do this as a whole group or small group/paired game.

3. One word at a time

I have used this to good effect many times. It works from near beginner to advanced level. Do it first with the whole group, then with small groups or pairs if they can handle it.

You just make up an account one word at a time moving around the class. If the sentence has reached a natural end a student may say "point" (full stop). If you are working in the passé composé, you could suggest that j'ai counts as one word to simplify a bit.

This game does force you into a focus on grammatical form, with  great stress on accuracy. That's fine.

4.  Baccalauréat

This is the written word game where you give students, say, six categories (e.g. items in the classroom, food and drink, clothes, verbs, places in France). You then choose a letter at random for them and they have to come up a word beginning with that letter in each category. I suggest you get students into pairs for this game.

You could allow them to find as many words as possible for each letter, or tell them that an original word (one which no other pair has got) gets double points.

You may allow access to dictionaries if you wish the stress to be on learning new words and improving dictionary skills.

Correcting the answers is the messiest part of this game, but students do practise and widen vocabulary in the process.

5.  Strip bingo

An old favourite. Hand out strips of paper to individual students (e.g. a piece of A4 cut/torn down the middle vertically). On a chosen topic with a fairly fixed set of items (e.g. clothing, classroom objects, sports) ask students so write down 15 words in French from top to bottom, making sure the whole length of the paper is used and with good gaps between each word. Then read out words, one at a time, slowly, at random. If a student has the word at the top or bottom of their list they may tear it off, thus revealing a new word. You have to read out the same words several times to be fair to all students.

The winner is the person to get rid of all their words. You will end up with plenty of litter.


Popular posts from this blog

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

The age factor in language learning

This post draws on a section from Chapter 5 of Jack C. Richards' splendid handbook Key Issues in Language Teaching (2015). I'm going to summarise what Richards writes about how age factors affect language learning, then add my own comments about how this might influence classroom teaching.

It's often said that children seem to learn languages so much more quickly and effectively than adults. Yet adults do have some advantages of their own, as we'll see.

In the 1970s it was theorised that children's success was down to the notion that there is a critical period for language learning (pre-puberty). Once learners pass this period changes in the brain make it harder to learn new languages. Many took this critical period hypothesis to mean that we should get children to start learning other languages at an earlier stage. (The claim is still picked up today by decision-makers arguing for the teaching of languages in primary schools.)

Unfortunately, large amounts of rese…

Dissecting a lesson: teaching an intermediate written text

This post is a beginner’s guide about how you might go about working with a written text with low-intermediate or intermediate students (Y10-11 in England). I must emphasise that this is not what you SHOULD do, just one approach based on my own experience and keeping in mind what we know about learning and language learning in particular. Experienced teachers may find it interesting to compare this sequence with what you do yourself.

You can adapt the sequence below to the class, context and your own preferred style. I’m going to assume that the text is chosen for relevance, interest and comprehensibility. The research suggests that the best texts are at the very least 90% understandable, i.e. you would need to gloss no more than 10% of the words or phrases. The text could be authentic, or more likely adapted authentic from a text book, or teacher written. It would likely be fairly short so you have time to exploit it intensively, recycling as much useful language as possible.

So here w…