I Don’t Like Games in Class

I was asked to run a session for teachers about using games in the ESL/EFL classroom. I can’t say I love the topic, or that I have a lot of ‘expert knowledge’ to share, at the same time I have a couple of ideas and insights on the topic. For these 60 minutes with teachers I don’t want to end up offering and playing a bunch of  classroom games, and my session title (hopefully!) communicates this.

image credit: pixabay

So… games in the classroom. Thinking about the topic, I did the following: 

  1. asked my #PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter and in the Reflective Practice Group what kind of resources and ideas they would suggest focusing on in the session.
  2. attended Dr. Deborah Healey’s webinar for Macmillan Education (highly recommend reading this article by the speaker
  3. looked through my own notes from various courses to pick some of the favorite ideas that often help me in the classroom or training room
  4. had conversations about games in the classroom with my colleagues, face-to-face and online. 
  5. am writing this post 🙂

Who will the audience be?

It is hard to predict the exact type of audience in this event, but I anticipate there will be teachers from private or semi-private sector in Ukraine, who are actively searching for variety and creativity in their classrooms, and using the winter vacation time for CPD and growth.

What will the session be about? 

After looking at/reviewing some definitions (e.g. games, gamification, game-based learning, hard fun, serious games, educational games, etc.), we will reflect on the games that are being used in the teachers’ classrooms. [this may be tricky, as I am not familiar with the audience]. I will then share some possible ways I have tried to ‘gamify’ my lessons and/or training courses, and if time allows, there will be a time to create a new(er) type of game element for the teachers’ contexts. 

What will the session outcomes be like?

Having only 60 minutes for the topic as broad and large as this one, I don’t want to go ‘broad and shallow’, tackling many areas and not coming up with anything specific. I would like each session participant to be confident and inspired that there are resources in his/her ‘arsenal’ to bring game elements into the lessons they plan and teach. Letting them create a list of 2-4 concrete ideas to gamilfy a specific lesson (or a part of a lesson) would be something tangible and observable for me by the end of that hour. 

What kind of reading could be done before the session?

Some questions to continue our conversation:

  • Do you like games in your classroom/training room? (why and why not?)
  • Have you ever taught a game-based lesson (GBL)? Do you see GBL as a separate lesson planning framework? 
  • What aspects of your teaching have you ‘gamified’? Would like to gamilfy?
  • What questions about using games in the classroom do you ask yourself (and/or others?)
  • Do your students like games in class? How do you know?

Update: please take a look at the session slides here. Feedback is appreciated!

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to I Don’t Like Games in Class

  1. Ron Bradley says:

    This is a very important topic. Games are meant to add fun to a lesson. The problem I have observed over the years is that they have been chosen to be included in a lesson ONLY for fun sake, and many times have no relationship to the lesson learning objective. I feel strongly that every activity included needs to have an objective that subserves, supports, and forwards the overall learning objective. So, for example, if you are doing a board game, the language chosen needs to be the target language stated in the learning objective. This is akin to a puzzle piece that needs to fit precisely in the puzzle to support the overall picture (referencing our discussion on the Puzzle activity). What comes to mind when I see Monopoly might be for practicing “go forward/back 3 spaces” etc., or even practicing rejoinders—“What a bummer?” after going to jail.

    Games come in many shapes. Some are activities that can be used to practice a variety of language functions: For example, a ball toss can be used to practice present to past tense transformation or a Q and A. Dice Throw to practice grammar and syntax or vocabulary match, as can also be done with Concentration. Charades is great for practicing the present continuous tense.

    Games or game-like activities need to be placed appropriately in the lesson from controlled to free. The ball toss, for example, that practices a simple transformation from present to past (go -went) would come early in a lesson, whereas the same activity used to do an open ended Q & A in the past tense (What did you do last night?) would come later in the lesson.

    So, in conclusion, games can be great fun and useful if they have a purpose pertinent to the lesson objective! Otherwise, they are a waste of time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Ron

      Thank you for the conversation! If we look at a game as ‘an activity that one engages in for amusement or fun’, we will see the main reason for including it into a lesson. As you might have guessed, I 100% agree with you here: ‘I feel strongly that every activity included needs to have an objective that subserves, supports, and forwards the overall learning objective.’ One idea that comes to mind now is that perhaps sometimes, a small game is needed to help students relax, or ‘wake up’, depending on their mood, time of the day/week, etc. In that case, even though a game is not directly related to the lesson objective, it may help achieving it.

      This brings me to the question about the aspects of teaching where games can be useful. Practicing a language structure or some vocab is one thing. Managing classroom mood/dynamics/atmosphere can be another one. With young(er) learners, classroom management and ‘progress charts’ can be gamified in order to organize the learning process more efficiently. I remember my adult learners saw the ‘Stars’ chart from the kids’ classes, asked about the rules and norms, and requested the same system for their lessons 🙂

      As you said, games do come in many shapes, and the modern world offers many more alternatives (and a part of ‘real life’ for many language learners!). I wonder if seeing a ‘game’ in a broader sense would be, or already is, an interesting ELT experiment.



      • Ron Bradley says:

        Hi Zhenya,

        Ah, yes, children! My first experience teaching out of SIT was to children in an elementary school. It was a Title Seven program and I had two or three, sometimes one come to my “cage” in the basement of the school. It was October, and we know what holiday comes in October. I had a “wonderful” lesson planned on teaching prepositions of place. I had just one student, a cute redheaded, freckle-faced 8 year old in class that day. You might guess what happened when I launched into my lesson, having her place things in, under, and on my bag. Her response right off the bat was to say to me, “I want to draw a pumpkin.” Guess what she was doing in her 1st grade class. And guess who won? Of course, we both did, because I used her drawing of her pumpkin to add things tot–under, on, in, behind, next to…. That was my induction to how to teach children–through play. It wasn’t necessarily a game–to me–but to her it was a fun activity, maybe even a “game” to her. She wasn’t thinking about “learning English”. But I was!

        I guess the question could be asked, “Do adults also learn better through play? I think this is where the inductive approach can be seen almost game-like. Another discussion?

        I agree, Zhenya, sometimes the class needs a break from the “drudgery”, needs a moment to just “relax”. Of course, if they are truly engaged in the learning process, the lesson should never degenerate into drudgery. I feel that learning should always be a positive and engaging learning experience, one where the students are able to see their learning, thus, hopefully becoming a self-motivator.


        Liked by 1 person

        • Zhenya says:

          Hi Ron

          Happy 2020!
          Thank you for the elementary school student story! So true, kids are living in the process of play/games, and learning/teaching needs to ‘fit’ that style of life in this or that manner. She was leading you the way she felt would work for her, and I would have also followed the lead with an 8-eight year old. In my experience, kids at this age are much more comfortable to share how they would prefer to be learning than adults (who may respond with something like ‘you are the teacher and so know better’ etc.)

          Somewhere in the comment thread below I realized that we put ‘boredom’ as an opposite to ‘games’ far too often. I think there are a lot of activities that are not ‘games’ but can engage a learner fully. Maybe, just maybe, it is us teachers who need games in class?

          Hope we get to talk in the new year! 🙂


  2. Andriy Ruzhynskiy says:

    I totally agree with Ron (hi, Ron, and Merry Christmas!:)).

    I have also observed a lot of lessons where games were used only for the sake of fun. The worst thing is that students normally love these lessons, and in this way, they ‘deceive’ the teacher saying that the lesson was great and they loved it. All teacher trainers know that this is the case when giving feedback on the lesson brings an extra challenge.

    In your seminar, Zhenya, I would also bring up a question Why. Why do we need games? To make learning fun? Ok, but why do we need fun? There is a clear psychological answer: any learning becomes much more effective if it is supported by some emotional background. Moreover, I suspect that even punishing and beating kids in olden days had the same aim: causing some emotions that supported learning. Thank God we now understand that positive emotions support learning much better 🙂 How do you like this curve? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Andriy

      Thank you for sharing this trainer perspective! In fact, I just realized that perhaps on training courses, where teachers are offering ‘single lessons’ (sometimes even not very connected to each other) to the students who came to ‘practice English’ and are not paying for a course, for example, we face a different kind of reality. I may be wrong, but the fact that ‘students normally love these lessons’ can be a result of this (unusual?) objective for them being in the classroom? Or perhaps in comparison with the lessons where they have no chance to participate at all, the ‘games’ may feel more fun/meaningful/engaging/interesting?

      I love the idea of ‘Why?’ question: about the purpose of adding a game to the lesson plan, about ‘gamifying’ a seemingly boring practice task, as Ron described in his comment. And perhaps about asking the students what they think about the games, and how/why they were useful for their learning. Or were not. The hard part is to actually listen to what the students say. What if they really do not like games in class?

      Love this conversation!


  3. bsmartr says:

    I can tell from my own experience that games increase SS’s engagement levels. When I was taking my CELTA course, I would often burn the candle at both ends and come to our training sessions super sleep deprived, barely able to concentrate on something for more than a minute, but the interactive nature of our sessions didn’t let me get bored or zone out. That was when I realized how useful games are and how much they help the students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for the comment bsmartr! I am definitely with you about the intensity of the 4-week training programs, and how participants/trainees want to do their best in their lessons, often meaning having very little sleep (and attention span). Now, when you say ‘student engagement level’, do you mean yourself as a teacher-learner on the course, or the language students?
      Finally, and most importantly, I don’t think ‘the interactive nature of the sessions’ was/is/can be just about games. The opposition of games and boring activities makes the spectrum very narrow. I think there is much more than that in the game.

      Thank you for helping me get ready for the session!


      • bsmartr says:

        I mean, of course, “the interactive nature” wasn’t just about games. But it’s hard to define what games are. Is a role play activity a game? I would say it is, but it’s great for freer practice and in that regard it‘s also a form of “productive mental engagement”. So these don’t have to be polar opposites. Are games supposed to be easy and not require a lot of thinking? I think you can have the best of both worlds! If the students understand the purpose of an activity, they won’t mind. It’s just one of the tools, which I see no reason not to have in your arsenal.


        • Zhenya says:

          Well, you basically summarized my main idea 🙂 True about ‘having the best of both worlds’. I think defining what a game is (and is not) is important, and how a role play is not a ‘game’ (although our L1 has it under the same word, which is perhaps one of the reasons for confusion).
          Thank you for the conversation, and Happy 2020, full of fun and meaning!


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