Six Olympic-style language games

The Irregular Verb Ski Jump and 5 other language games!

With the winter Olympics being 1) over half finished and 2) held in my homeland of Canada I thought it would be a good excuse to do an Olympic related six. Although I stopped my last class just before Christmas the following six activities are all fun sports-like games I’ve done with my students in the past, although perhaps not precisely on the winter Olympic theme. Anyway, see what you think. Many are suitable for adults and children!

1 Lexical Luge or Bobsled – For this activity you need a series of lexical categories (e.g. animals, food, clothing, crime) suitable for your students’ level. On the board draw an image of a steep hill and a luge track on it (it doesn’t have to be exact, a windy route down a big mountain side will do). Draw five different X’s at various points on the track. It should look a bit like this, but as a slide.

Start: _________X______X__________X___X_______________X – Finish

Now the game works like this. A student comes up. You give them the lexical category. He/she has to say 5 words (one for each X) in as quick as time as possible. Do this with a stopwatch. If they make a mistake, add 5 seconds to their final time. If they make three mistakes they have “flown off” the side of the track and are disqualified. Students could do this in teams of four, making it a bobsled race. The student/team with the fastest time gets the gold medal. Add more Xs to make it a more challenging track.

2 Irregular verbs Ski Jump – For this activity you need the ubiquitous list of irregular verbs. Draw an image of a ski jump on the board. A student comes up in front of the course. Give them three irregular verbs (e.g. make, go, eat). They have to say the past tense forms. If they make a mistake they sit down again. If they get them right they have made a successful jump. They then have 30 seconds to say as many pairs of infinitive and past forms of irregular verbs as they can, e.g fly-flew, teach-taught, buy-bought etc. Count how many correct they get in the 30 seconds (another student can time this). They score one point per correct pair. Their total points is the total distance jumped. At the end the student who has jumped the furthest gets gold medal.

3 The Olympic Rings Alphabet Game – Students play this in teams. They have to work together and make an alphabet of sports words. E.g. A Athletics, B basketball etc. Set a reasonable time limit (ten to fifteen minutes). At the end, check answers. For every five correct words in their alphabet each group gets an “Olympic ring”. Can any group get five rings?

4 Figure skating Recital – individual programme – This one takes a little more setting up, and you need students who are willing to “go for it”. Each student has to choose a short text, either from the coursebook or another source (a poem, an extract from a speech they find on the net, a paragraph from a novel). They need to memorise the text at home. The next class nominate a series of students as judges. Students get up and recite their memorised text aloud. The judges award points on choice of text, difficulty and pronunciation and award a final score out of ten points.

5 Figure skating Recital – pairs programme – Very similar to above, but this time students work in pairs and choose a dialogue to memorise. Other students act as judges and award points in the same way.

6 Spelling Halfpipe – The halfpipe, I learned this Olympics, is the acrobatic jumping you do on a snowboard. For this activity in class you need a long list of words that are difficult to spell (e.g. Wednesday, separate, writing…) It’s better if you have this list in different categories: hard, very hard and fiendishly hard. You can probably find lists of difficult to spell words on the net if you search around, or if you have Penny Ur’s Five Minute Activities there is a list in there. Run this like a typical spelling bee (spelling competition). Students choose the category and you give them a word to spell out loud. The more difficult the word, the more points it’s worth (you decide on points). Each student spells five words total. Calculate the points and decide how you want to award medals.

So there you have it. Now I know that some will say these are competitive, and maybe some of this activities will not work with a class of 175 (or insert your own “large number” here) students. But the ideas are surely flexible enough that with a bit of creativity you could make some of them work in some of your classes. What do you think? Do you have another favourite sports-related vocabulary or grammar game? Post a comment.

Published in: on February 20, 2010 at 4:41 pm  Comments (11)  
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Six computer games to use in an English language classroom


halo-2-front-page2Another guest list that I’ve picked up during conference season, this time from language teaching games expert Kyle Mawer. Kyle doesn’t make computer games for language learners (often these aren’t very good), he finds existing games and exploits them with his classes. The result is some serious fun and language learning combined. Here he shows six ways that this is not just child’s play…

1 Reading

You’ve heard of TPR (total physical response), well now comes the new improved TVR (total virtual response) and you can find no better place to see this in action than with the tutorial for the online game Runescape.  Learn how to fish, bake bread, mine for valuable metals, kill mutant rats and give your learners valuable reading skills practice.  Your TVR instructions are provided by written text from an in-world guide who talks you through the wheres, whats and hows of this massively multi-player online role playing game. 

2 Writing

“OK class, today we’re going to do a writing”, not only grammatically incorrect but something that won’t win you a popularity competition with your language learners.  Let’s try again.  “Ok class, we’re going to play a game – (in a quieter and quicker voice) and write about it”.  “Oooh. Yes, teacher. We love you!”  That’s better!  So, why not follow up a narrative tenses presentation and practice with a little production from a game called Grow Cube and be loved and admired by all?  And look, someone’s kindly written down a lesson plan for you here

3 Speaking

Try dictating naturally some of these chunked questions and get your students to discuss them:  What games/ have you got/ on your mobile?  How do you/ play them? How often do you/ play them?  Where do you/ play them?  Are they/ any good?  Do you ever play/ any online games?  What kind of/ games do you play?  How do you think/ you play this one?  What problems about the real world does this game raise?

4 Listening

A half hour language learning class in a computer room can be a walk over with a walkthrough and it’s one of the few tasks my adolescent language learners do where they shut up and listen to me.  They play a fiendishly difficult game and I dictate to them how to beat or solve it.  The classic ‘escape the room game’ called MOTAS is great for prepositions and vocabulary items which, in the game, are nicely annotated when you place your cursor over them.  Find the walkthrough easily via an online search engine typing in “mystery of time and space” + walkthrough.

5 Grammar

If you click on objects in an online computer game, you will see some strange things happen.  If you play the award winning, visually engrossing and engaging Samorost2 with a class, they’ll love it.  If you have a data projector/ IWB in your class, you can use these to show a class the game.  If they call out suggestions on how to play the game, you can all see if the suggestion works.  If the suggestion moves the game forward, they can write it down.  If they finish a few screens they can go to the computer room and they’ll play the game themselves.  If they have forgotten where to click in the game they can look at what they wrote down earlier.  If they race ahead in the game you can interrupt them and get them to help another group.  If you can identify the grammar point here, you’ll be able to get your language learners to produce it too!  If you want to see the game, go here.  If you click on the dog’s house (kennel), the game will start.

6 Vocabulary

Would you believe it but I actually encourage my learners to use foul words?  Damn!  This pun doesn’t work written down!  What does work is the game Fowl Words and for some strange reason any learner at upper intermediate level and above loves it.  I challenge them in pairs to be the highest scoring group and I go round, scan the board and define a word they may not have found.  Great warmer and, er, I think I’ll just go and have a game myself – for lesson planning purposes of course!

kyle-mawerKyle Mawer is a Young Learner Teacher and has been giving presentations and in-house teacher training on adapting online computer games for the TEFL classroom for several years now.  He has his own wikispace dedicated to this.  He also works on the British Council’s ‘Learn English Second Life for Teens’ project.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 12:36 am  Comments (5)  
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