Classroom board games are probably one of the most effective teaching tools available. Here we see how to stimulate and motivate students, and provide a welcome change to more standard classroom teaching approaches, giving students a refreshing new focus to practice their spoken English.
A few important points to bear in mind when using board games, which will increase their effectiveness and get the students speaking in English are:
- The first rule to establish is that the game is to be played in English. Give some input vocabulary such as 'Whose turn is it?', 'Pass the dice please' or for a bit of fun 'Hey, stop cheating!'. Then as the game progresses and you see other linguistic requirements, supply them, drill them briefly, and continue to play. I often have students keep a separate booklet for game playing vocabulary. The students motivation is strong, so take advantage of it!
- Encourage students to speak in only English by establishing the second rule: not speaking in the target language forfeits a turn. This sounds a little dramatic and harsh, but you'll be amazed how well it works. It also creates an enormous amount of spontaneity of language, resulting in increased fluency and a reduction in response times.
- Teachers usually think in terms of one-class time slots, whereby the material to be used is to be finished by the end of the allotted time. This can lead to unnecessarily self-imposed restrictions on the choice of materials. I often let a game run for 3 or 4 lessons in order to let the students become highly familiar with the vocabulary fields as well as letting them build up a sense of momentum to the outcome.
- Students should 'earn' the right to take a turn to generate the motive for speaking. This would mean, for example, asking a team to answer a question before being allowed to take a turn. Depending on the theme of the board game, you may also use relevant video clips, story reconstructions with visuals or maybe role play situations in parallel, which allow students to score points which in turn allow them to throw the dice.
- Don't just limit yourself to the rules in the game. Feel free to 'play God' and adjust the rules as you find convenient to make the game move more slowly or faster. It's amazing how our knee-jerk reaction to a game's set of rules sometimes leaves us feeling powerless over how to play the game! Such changes may include giving new consequences to the value of a throw on the dice eg 'if a player throws a 5, then they get to throw again'. Wham! You've got a new dimension to the game.
- Keep teacher talking time down! Let the students run the game – you just police it from a distance, supplying language as required. Because a board game generates spontaneous situations within a defined linguistic area, this is the perfect opportunity for the teacher to take back stage, and just give 'hot correction' when required. Error feed back and remedial work can be given at intervals as appropriate.