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Games vs activities

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In the previous articles we talked about two approaches to motivating millennial teens. When you apply gamification to your lesson it is a good idea to start with extrinsic motivation and introduce PBL (points-badges-leaderboard) first.

To keep a long-term interest in our lessons we employ intrinsic motivation. According to D.Pink intrinsic motivation consists of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, which we discussed in the second article as well as ways of applying them to our lessons.

So, gamification helps us to reconsider the traditional lesson plan and it demands a lot of energy and dedication from the teacher. Can we find a less stressful and time-consuming way of motivation?

Educational games and gamification

Very often when teachers hear the word gamification they think that we will talk about playing educational games at the lessons. Which is not correct. Gamification is the use of game elements and game principles in the classroom. It is a long-lasting process, which takes a series of lessons.

On the contrary, educational games are used normally to practice target language at some point at the lesson. Educational games are easy to find and they don’t need lots of preparation.

Gamification has become a buzz word for the last six years or so, while educational games are a mainstream. The first researches on the association between games and learning date back to the mid twentieth century. The benefits of games are obvious: they enhance motivation, provide authentic output for the language, improve students’ social skills. Still many teachers try to minimize the use of games at their lessons.

I conducted a survey among my colleagues how often they use games at their lessons. The results showed that on average English teachers spend about 10% of their lesson time playing games, mostly as warming up activities, or as a rewarding activity in the end of the class.

Answering the question why they don’t play in the classroom, teachers say that their students are too adult to play. But if you ask the same students how they spend their past time, you’ll definitely receive an answer — playing video games and board games with their friends. An average young adult in the UK spends 22 hours a week playing computer games. So, I strongly believe that it’s our preconceived ideas that stop us from playing games at the lessons.

Games vs activities

There is another category of teachers, who after a few attempts have come to the conclusion that their students don’t like games. The problem here lies in the common misconception that any interactive activity is called a game. One of the best definitions of the game states that the game is a series of meaningful decisions, which influence the outcome of the game. If a player doesn’t feel that his actions affect the flow of the game he loses interest and motivation.

When I analysed the games, which I found in the Internet on the request ELT games, most of them turned out to be different activities, not real games. Let’s have a look at some really popular games and activities which are used at English lessons.

Role-play In a café. This is an activity where one student performs a role of a waiter and another is a guest. They act out a conversation in a café. Unfortunately, these type of simulation activities can not engage anyone older than 4 years old unless you add elements of strategy to this simulation.

Adding some extra rules and players’ goals, you turn a simple simulation into a game, which is interesting to play for teens and adults. For example, a student has a certain amount of money and he needs 2000 calories to be fed; go to a café and try to get a more nourishing meal for less money.

Various crosswords are very popular. Is crosswords a game? In fact, it is not a game, it is just a puzzle as you have only one correct answer and can not make any meaningful decisions which influence the outcome. You either know the correct answer or not. That’s why crosswords are not very engaging for teens and adults as well as wordsearches and other puzzles unless you add some game elements to them.

The most obvious thing is to add a competitive element when you divide the group into two teams and the group who completes the task first is the winner. Or you can set a time limit and the person who could come up with the greatest number of correct answers within, let’s say, two minutes is the winner.

The truth is that competitions as well as puzzles are not real games. Actually they just measure intellectual abilities of our students. The good thing is that they are anyway much more enjoyable than boring exercises from coursebooks.

How to gamify your coursebook

If you are not ready to go into gamification or, on the opposite, want to enhance your gamification framework try to turn the most common exercises from your coursebook into games and competitions.

Let’s have a look at the most popular exercises and how we can transform them. Video illustrations to these activities can be viewed on Youtube channel.

Match a word and a picture exercise is often found in the beginning of the vocabulary section in the coursebook. Here are some activities to be used instead of matching exercises.

1) Print the words on separate stripes of paper and put them on the table face up. Ask your students to walk round the table. You show them a flashcard and they have to slap the corresponding word card on the table.

2) Put worcards and flashcards into two separate piles on the table face down. A student opens the first worcard and flashcard and if they match, he can keep them. The winner is the person with the biggest number of wordcard/flashcard sets.

3) Bingo. Ask your students to write down any 5 words from your target vocabulary. When your students are ready, start showing them the flashcards one after another. When a student sees the flashcard, which matches one of the words he has got in his list, he crosses it out. The first person to cross out all the words and to cry out Bingo, is the winner.

Although the activities above refer to competitions, students like playing them.

Pelmanism is an example of a real game, made on memory mechanics, which we can use to replace a matching exercise.

Put wordcards and flashcards on the table face down. Students take turns to play. At their turn they open two cards, one flashcard and one wordcard, of their choice from the layout. If they match, a student keeps these two cards. If they do not match, a student turns them face down, without changing their position in the layout, and it is the next students’s turn. The winner is the person with the biggest number of matching pairs.

Repeat the words is another boring exercise from the coursebook. How can we spice it up?

1) Line up the students in two teams. Give the two students at the front each a flash card. When you say go, the first in line says the word and passes the flash card over their head, the next student says the word and passes the card under between their legs, etc. The last student in line races to the front to hand the flashcard to the teacher and says the word. The first team gets a point. (submitted by Sarah Litwin-Schmid).

2) Clever parrots. The teacher shows a flashcard and names what is on it (teacher may say a different word deliberately). Students should repeat the word if it matches the flashcard and keep quiet if it doesn’t. Eliminate the students who have made a mistake. The last student who is left is the winner.

3) Fast Train Bomb. Put students in a circle and start a bomb timer, show a flashcard, name it and send it round the circle. While the bomb is ticking, students pass round a flashcard and repeat the word on it. Students as a team get a point for each flashcard which returns to the teacher before the bomb explodes.

Unscramble the words as stated above is a puzzle. How can we turn it into a game?

Print out the words from your Unscramble the words exercise on separate stripes of paper and put them on the walls around your classroom. Divide your students in pairs where one student is a writer and another is a runner. The runner looks for the words, comes back to the writer and spells the words. The first pair to spell 5 correct words is the winner.

Make true sentences about yourself.

Basketball. Place a line of flashcards on the floor and a basket far away. To shoot the basket from far away is hard, so students need to say a sentence with the word from the card and make their way closer and closer to the basket. When they feel comfortable throwing and hitting the basket, they make their attempt. If they make a mistake, they throw the ball standing next to the last flashcard where they produced a correct sentence. Give one point for each successful hit.

Comprehension check questions after the text.

The teacher cuts a worksheet with questions to the text into stripes (one stripe- one question) and puts them on the blackboard/desk. Students in turns pick up a question and answer it. If they answer it correctly, they get a point. If they make a mistake a point is taken from them. The question they couldn’t answer is put back.

After each round let students go back to the texts and read them once again. Set a time limit. With each round give less time for reading the texts.

As you see, any coursebook exercise can be turned into an exciting game or activity. After some practice you’ll be able to come up with dozens of games at the click of a finger and become the teacher over 9000 level!

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