When it comes to teaching English as a foreign language (EFL), paradoxically, sometimes less is more, as long as we are able to interpret the group´s needs and keep clear idea on the linguistic demands we want to meet. In this sense, putting into motion certain students´ abilities in the enjoyable context of a simple game can be more beneficial than any other option, including technologies.
The power of gamification relies on the ability of the FL teacher to create hooking learning contexts where children engage in a “hidden way”, losing the possible “reservations” towards the formal setting of the classroom.
Lewis and Bedson (1999) accurately define the attractiveness of games for children: “Children are curiously paradoxical. They can be both committed to co-operation and, at the same time, fiercely competitive. They love the security of routine and the predictability of rules, yet they are often amazingly unpredictable and creative. They love to have fun, yet they dedicate themselves with deadly seriousness to the activities they engage in. It is not surprising therefore that games are so popular with children; games too involve both co-operation and competition, rules and unpredictability, enjoyment and serious commitment”.
However, despite the engaging power of games and its contribution to creative thinking, we must not forget that any activity we design for the FL classroom should entail a linguistic “benefit”, including games. Of course, language games must have a “fun component”; nonetheless, the linguistic component of the game should be considered when planning games, being the goals clear for teachers and students (depending on the level).
It is very likely that the great advantage of “short games” comes down to their versatility, enabling FL teachers to use the game in different contexts and with different purposes and at any point of the English lesson. Additionally, these simple games are invaluable to create “teambuilding”, a sense of belonging and collaboration.
In the case of this video by English for Asia, Katie Butler shows an easy-to-implement game within the scope of “running cooperation” ones, permitting a quick review on lexical fields whilst children cooperate to play a healthy competition. Apart from the direct benefits related to improvement of attention span, commitment to the game or creation of a fun atmosphere; the teacher may design multiple variations of the same game. A prime example is a “running dictation”, a more complex version in which children are asked to read a text, remember as many words as possible and run to the board to write all they remember. They take turns and help each other to write the original text in a time limit. Eventually, the teacher and some children decide the most approximate outcome.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the use of games in the FL area is one of the best ways to motivate learners and develop a taste for English due to its intrinsic engaging power that facilitates catching out learners´ attention. Finally, it is worth considering that games provide a relaxed atmosphere which is crucial for children to take the risk and use the FL to communicate, which is the final aim of teaching a FL in Primary Education.
LEWIS, G. and BEDSON, G. “Games for Children”. Oxford University Press. 1999.
Video by: English for Asia. Teacher: Katie Butler