SIMPLE FUN ENGLISH GAMES AND YOUNG CHILDREN.
Common -educational- sense suggests that taking advantage on children´s nature is always a promising perspective, since teachers take for granted that both motivation and the will to do something shall occur if we really understand children´s nature. Undoubtedly, the use of games in the FL area is one of the best ways to motivate learners and develop a taste for English.
On the other hand, regarding methodological assumptions, the learner must be given opportunities to practise and internalise not only grammatical structures, but also discourse, sociocultural or strategic factors. One of the latest trends connecting both games and linguistic deserves special attention in this topic; we refer to the gamification of the FL class. This concept has to do with the application of gaming mechanisms in different contexts, usually associated to the use of new technologies; in other words, to make a game out of anything. A prime example may be the App Kahoot, through which we can design a digital contest in relation to varied fields (i.e. comprehension of a story or a reading text, concepts and lexis, linguistic structures and so on).
There are many benefits in the use of games in the FL class; amongst others, it is crucial that games usually create willingness to communicate since learners have a purpose for it; they want to take active part in a game. In other words, through the implementation of games in FL, we can take advantage of children´s natural interest towards joyful activities. Besides, the positive experience of a game in the FL promotes positive attitudes and develops children´s confidence and self-esteem, as learning occurs in a stress-free atmosphere. Therefore, far from being occasional resources, games should be considered as an integral part of language learning.
In relation to the practical implementation of games in the ESL class, Lewis and Bedson (1999) define accurately children´s attitude towards games: “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”.
From a psychological viewpoint, Games are by definition a creative activity. When children play a FL game they think and behave imaginatively; and the gaming action is directed towards the achievement of an objective (i.e. win the game or collaborate to solve the challenge of the game). In addition, the processes in the game usually generate original answers. In the FL class, we can encourage students to use their imaginative thinking by engaging them in playful activities that connect to their previous language experiences and knowledge. In fact, games contribute to promote a creative environment.
There are plenty of advantages in the use of games for FLT. Brewster, Ellis and Girard (2002) suggest the following:
- They add variety to the range of learning situations.
- They change the pace of the lesson and help to keep the pupils´ motivation.
- They “lighten” more formal teaching and can help to renew pupils´ energy.
- They provide “hidden” practice of specific language patterns, vocabulary and pronunciation.
- They can help improve attention span, concentration, memory, listening skills and reading skills.
- Pupils are encouraged to participate; shy learners can be motivated to speak.
- They increase pupil-pupil communication which provides fluency practice and reduces the domination of the class by the teacher.
- They help create a fun atmosphere and reduce the distance between teacher and pupils.
- They can help reveal areas of weakness and the need for further language.
- They can help to motivate and improve writing skills by providing a real audience, context and purpose.
However, despite all these benefits, there is no point in playing a game for its own sake. As any other activity, games should have specific outcomes and goals, even though children perceive that they are just playing. This “hidden practice” is actually one of the greatest advantages of using games, as children are engaged naturally in them, whether they deal with any of the four skills and require an effort on the part of the students.
The “hidden practice”, as shown in the video, can be applied to all levels, being especially useful amongst the little ones. In this regard, repetition, which is an essential principle at early stages of FL learning… but also pretty boring, can be turned into a game, as long as create the necessary conditions for young students to perceive the task as such. A paramount example may be “The Flashats”: each student is equipped with a cardboard hat with a flashcard on top of it; and students are challenged to guess the card on their hats by making basic questions to their classmates (i.e. is it an animal? is it big? etc). Once a student has guessed the card, he/she can keep it and the teacher places a new card on the hat. Communicative games require children to make use of their language knowledge and skills to negotiate meaning by making questions, asking for clarification and explaining.
Experienced FL teachers know that games must not be played for too long, because lengthy games are very likely to end up as a boring or mechanical activity. As Lewis and Bedson (1999) point out: always end an activity when the fun is still at its peak. Yes, this is certainly a good tip, but not really the message underneath this article. In our experience, the real challenge for teachers is to exploit the own creativity to arouse children´s potentialities in the natural environment they enjoy the most; and this can be especially taken to very young children. In doing so, FL teachers should first wonder what do we want students to learn as a springboard to find out the way to make that English practice joyful, under the wrap of a simple game.
Of course, the digital means are an invaluable tool for the gamification of the classroom. We should not forget the massive amount of games available through the use on the internet, computers, laptops and interactive white board (IWB) which can be highly motivating for students, since they represent a link between school and their lives and preferences. nevertheless, we should never forget that for our very young students, everything can be an opportunity to “play”. Nevertheless, we all know that there are some formulae that will always be handy, reliable, simple, fun and practical, as the case of the game in the video. In other words, try your hand because the results are worth it.
BREWSTER, J., ELLIS, G. And GIRARD, D. “The Primary English Teacher’s Guide”. 1992. London: Penguin English. New edition 2002.
LEWIS, G. and BEDSON, G. “Games for Children”. Oxford University Press. 1999.
Video by: Easy ESL Games https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJymegqzFRwkE1coP9uEtSg