Board games are one of my favorite ways to practice English with my students. I like board games because they are fun, and you can easily mix any English lesson you are reviewing into them. For example, you can use board games as a to be ESL game or as a vocabulary review game. Also, due to their element of chance, children and adults can play this game together without parents having to “go easy” on the kids. All of this makes board games an ideal way for you and your children to have a fun night of games that includes English learning.
Why Play Board Games While Teaching English?
There are lots of reasons to use board games for teaching, but let’s just look at a few of them.
- Kids love to play them
- You can practice any vocabulary or grammar that you want to
- Lots of repetition for practicing more difficult things
- The competition gets kids involved in the game
- Elements of chance means that everyone has a chance to win
How to Use ESL Board Games Effectively
While thinking about how to use a board game effectively, you should keep two things in mind.
- Is my child going to have fun?
- How can I have my child practice the target language?
Ensuring that your child has fun will be the easy part. A lot of parents and teachers assume that they need to design a brand new game to entice their children to play. The reality is, children are just as happy to play a simple board game
It’s easy to make a game fun, but adding English can be a bit harder. It will require a bit of pre-planning for you, but once you get used to it, planning these games will become second nature.
First, determine what you want your child to practice. Usually, you are going to work on vocabulary or sentence patterns. Your child should already have some familiarity with these words or patterns before the game starts. Board games are better used for review than as a way to learn something new.
Second, you need to think about where in the game you are going to work in the practice of these words or sentence patterns. Is it going to occur before a player’s turn, during, or after? Will players have to ask/answer questions in English or just identify a flashcard? The options are endless, and how you add the English lesson will mostly be determined by what you are trying to teach.
Third, you need to determine what happens if they get the English right or wrong. I find it is best if there are bonuses to getting the English right or punishments if they get it wrong. This system makes the English feel more integral to the game itself, and not just a boring add-on to an otherwise fun game. As well, by making good English a way to do better in the game, your child will be more interested in being able to use the English properly.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
Remember that repetition is super important for learning something new. So use each round of a board game to reinforce whatever you want them to learn. By playing multiple rounds of that game, your child will get lots of opportunities to practice this vocabulary or sentence pattern
Oftentimes, I will either use board games to reinforce vocabulary or new sentence patterns. If you are teaching vocabulary, make sure you have some flashcards ready to use while you are playing. After each round, have the players tell you what object is on the flashcard for a bonus point. By tying the vocabulary to the game, it makes the children want to remember the vocabulary.
The same trick can be used with sentence patterns. Say you want children to practice the sentences: “How are you?” and “I am _____.” To practice this, I would put the students into pairs. I will need one student to ask the question while the other student responds to it. Flawlessly asking and answering the question will get them a +1 on their roll. This is just one way you could incorporate English into a board game, ultimately how you do this is up to you.
Things to Remember When Making Your Game to Practice English
- Don’t make the game too complicated!
- Don’t make kids sit there and do nothing for too long
- Do make sure you have a way to help teams that are losing badly
- Do make it fair
- Do make sure that children can practice the target language
Most of these points are pretty self-explanatory, but they are still very important. More complicated games are not better games. Kids don’t want something too hard or confusing. Another thing to remember is to not let kids sit too long between their turns. Have them do something like retrieve the dice or markdown score, anything to keep them entertained while other players are playing.
Another good idea is to have some kind of rule that allows players that are behind to catch up quickly. When players are losing badly, they will stop playing or trying. That being said, the game needs to be fair, good play should be rewarded with good results. Finally, always make sure that the game comes back to the target language as the goal is for your children to learn. If you can keep all of this in mind, I’m sure you’ll have no problems getting your kids to love playing English board games and learning English.
How to Make Your Own ESL Board Game
I have always felt it is better to make your own game board, rather than buy it from the store. Not only is it cheaper, but it is also a lot easier.
Honestly, it can be as easy as scrawling a rough game path on a piece of paper and rolling to move from the start to the end. You can add some excitement with arrows that shoot you ahead a couple of squares or send you back a couple of squares. I did this often with my class when we needed to practice a new sentence pattern.
Another great idea, if you plan on doing this often, is to invest in a whiteboard. Whiteboards are great ways to quickly make your own board games whenever you want. Get a whiteboard and some colored markers, and you can pretty much draw whatever game you like.
I would even suggest getting your children to help you. You can draw the actual game board, but then let them decorate it however they want. Let them decorate the board with whatever animals, foods, people they like and make it their own. I guarantee they will like this far more than a store-bought board.
Free ESL Board Game Download
To give you some help, we are going to give you a free board game that you can use with your kids. Just download and print. All you will need are some playing pieces and a coin. The blanks spots are perfect for writing in vocabulary or phonics so your children can practice whatever skills they need to.
Lots of people ask me if I have any to be ESL games, and this can be perfect for that purpose. In each blank write is, am, or are, and then players will have to make a basic sentence with that word when they land on that space. This does not just have to be a to be ESL game, it can be used for other sentence patterns as well.
Top 3 Board Games to Play and Modify
A childhood classic that is easy for kids to understand. I play this with vocabulary or phonics sounds. So each square on the board will have a vocab flashcard. To choose that square, you will need to tell me what vocab is on that square. Three in a row and you win!
Another great way to use this game is for verb practice. If you are looking for a to be ESL game, you can put is, am, or are in each of the squares and have children practice making sentences with these verbs.
A game that is much better suited for older students as you will need pretty good spelling skills to play. You can easily play this game by its regular rules if you want to.
If you want to change up the rules, you can make it so you can stack tiles on top of each other to change words. For example, you could change the word “boy” to “toy” by putting a “t” on the “b.”
Hangman is perfect for reviewing old vocabulary that your children may have forgotten. However, this game is for slightly older children who have a good grasp of spelling. I usually continue to allow them to guess and add as many body parts or articles of clothing as possible to extend the guessing time.
If you do not know how to play, you start by thinking of a word and putting blanks down so that the children know how many letters the word has. They will then guess letters that are in the word. If they are right, you put the letter on the blank. If they are wrong, you write down the letter underneath and draw another body part. Once the whole person is drawn, the student loses. If the students can guess the word, then they win.
Board games are a wonderful way for parents to be a part of their child’s English education. By using fun games that children like, we can encourage them to want to use English. As well, board games give you a unique opportunity to practice any vocabulary or sentence patterns you want to.
Board games can transform from a verb practice game to a review of animals or vegetables. I encourage you to think up your own games and involve your children in creating and decorating them. Make this a weekly habit where you can play together and practice English in a fun and engaging way. These kinds of habits will make a marked difference in their English, and will help them become better English speakers over time.
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