Speaking games: do’s and don’ts in language teaching

Speaking games can be too challenging (even scary) for some students. Many students find it far more reassuring to hide behind grammar exercises, individual writing tasks or big groups tasks. As a language teacher, I don’t blame them. At the same time, though, I see this and I know I need to do something about it! Here is my golden list of Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to speaking games for the language classroom.

Before digging into the Do’s and Don’ts, I think it’s important to pin two things:

  1. Why proposing speaking games is vital for facilitating the language learning process
  2. Why the way you propose speaking games can have a dramatic impact in the learning process.

 

Why speaking games are good for improving the skills of your language students?

I don’t know about you, but I love speaking games in the language classroom. The good thing about speaking games is that they can really turn a challenging task, such as speaking in front of other people, into an enjoyable and fun activity. As a consequence, any mistakes or flaws in the students’ linguistic production becomes part of the game, acceptable and manageable. Games contribute to creating a pleasant atmosphere in the language classroom and, as a consequence, the students feel less under pressure. They feel involved in a process that is enjoyable and fun. Therefore, their learning barriers open up to new insights and their brains allow new input to come in.

Nevertheless, we know speaking games actually work at some conditions. In my experience, there are three conditions to bear in mind and they are about the way we involve the students in the speaking games.

 

How do you teach speaking activities?

Invite to join in

First of all, we shall remember to get the students onboard by inviting them to join in. Nobody likes to take part in a game (especially when it’s a challenging one!) just because someone else decided so, or because it is mandatory. Above all, we all like playing games when we feel free to join in. This is key. This is the reason why we, language teachers, ought to use invitation formulas for getting the students to join in the speaking games. An example of invitation phrase is the question: “Would you like to join in this activity?”.

I give more examples and I dig deeper in the power of the invitation formula in the freebie you can download below:

 

The importance of giving instructions

Secondly, it is really important students know how the game works and what is about to happen. Give them thorough, step-by-step instructions to explain the process flow of a game. Also, show them an example and, finally, pin the exceptions and ask the students’ questions. Remember: if you confuse them, you lose them.

 

Cooperation over competition

Thirdly, choose cooperative games, rather than competitive games. Studies show students achieve better results when they are involved in tasks requiring everyone’s effort for achieving the goal. Competition is often a source of stress for many people and the expectations about the results may put many students off.

 

What are some speaking games?

Try to search for “speaking games” on the internet or on Pinterest and all sorts of games will come up: 20 objects, Taboo, flash-cards games, storytelling games, role-play games, etc. It’s up to you to pick which speaking games better fit in your classes, according to the acquisition goals. As far as the speaking skills are concerned, the key distinction is between accuracy and fluency (find out more about this in my blog post How to choose the best learning games for your students). Do your students need to polish the language when they speak? Or maybe they need to become more confident in speaking? You will need to choose the speaking games bearing in mind the acquisition goals you set for the lesson.

 

Do’s and Don’ts of speaking games

Now that we got clear on the benefits of the speaking games in language teaching, we are ready to go through all the Do’s and Don’t’s. This is my golden list, I mean a filtered selection of tips and recommendations I usually give language teachers during my teachers training courses and coaching programmes.

 

Do’s:

  • Choose easy-to-deliver speaking games (especially if you have just started out with games for teaching languages)
  • Pick the speaking games that better serve the acquisition goals you set for the lesson: accuracy or fluency? Make your choice and stick with it!
  • Look at the lesson plan: how many speaking games are you planning to deliver? One game could be enough, depending on the length of the lesson, on how familiar your students are with games, as well as on how confident you feel about delivering games
  • Take inspiration from the internet and from books, but then try to adapt the content of the games you find out there to the specific content your students have been working on
  • Prepare all the materials (worksheets, print outs, etc.) in advance, ready for the lesson
  • Get them involved with an invite: they need to feel free to join in
  • Explain how the game works by giving step-by-step instructions and one example: this will make the students feel reassured about what is going on
  • Give them laser, positive feedback at the end of a game to highlight the one thing they did well

 

Don’ts:

  • Don’t choose complicated games: it will become complex to deliver those games and this would increase the chances your students get lost in the delivery of the exercise. You don’t want this!
  • Picking a speaking games for linguistic accuracy and expecting the students to develop their fluency. The other way around will be: Picking a speaking games for fluency and expecting the students to develop their linguistic accuracy. Either way, this doesn’t work!
  • Too many games may have a negative impact on the efficacy of your lesson plan. The lesson plan be “a carnival of games”. Instead, remember to plan some time for debriefing each game and for giving feedback, as well.
  • Proposing the speaking games you find on the internet and on books, without adapting them to the specific content your students have been working on
  • Not taking care of the materials (worksheets, print outs, etc.) in advance
  • Launching a speaking game with an authoritarian communication style and expecting everyone would just join in because it is a mandatory activity. Or not introducing a game at all and jumping to the instructions straight away!
  • Rejecting rejections: when you don’t accept a student may not want to join in, you are creating escalation.
  • Not explaining how the game works, avoiding to give step-by-step instructions and examples
  • Not giving the students feedback about how they got on with the game and what they did well.

 

Wrapping up

Read through the list of Do’s and Don’ts: is there anything you can embody in your teaching practice? Is there anything you can do differently or you would like to try?

The list I presented in this post wants to help you to improve your efficacy in using speaking games for teaching languages in the classroom. Make the most of it!

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8th September 2021
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