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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.


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"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

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The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

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When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

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You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

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