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Using games to teach English - 4 great ways to engage your ESL students

Using games to teach English – 4 great ways to engage your ESL students

What influences in your childhood development allowed you to learn English? Was it all of the hours sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher? I suspect that the answer would be “no”. Looking back on my English development as a kid, there were multitudes of resources that helped in my English skills development. If such techniques allowed for your progression to fluency in English, why not introduce these skills to your ESL students? Here are four great strategies to engage your students with English and break up your classroom routine with a bit of fun.

1. Watching educational TV shows

One of the biggest influences in my English development was children’s programming on television. Sesame Street, the Electric Company, School House Rock, Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers, and Romper Room were just some of the many teaching tools that allowed me to become proficient in English. Although “old school”, they’re still very valuable teaching tools for kids who have never been exposed to them. You can access a lot of these great programs through sites like YouTube. Entire lesson plans can be developed around these individual episodes, or they can be used as supplements to lessons.

2. Using cartoons, TV shows, and YouTube to generate class discussion

Using games to teach English - 4 great ways to engage your ESL students

Incorporating animal videos and other media into your lessons is a great way to create discussion.

Do not limit yourself to just educational TV programming either. Tom and Jerry is very popular with children here in China. Using these cartoons, I can get discussions started in class on a wide range of topics for all ages. You are only limited by your imagination. For example, I have dissected cartoons to explain adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, cause/effect, comparing/contrasting, and idioms. For older students from middle school and up, YouTube videos are great resources for me. The various talent shows, such as X-Factor and America’s Got Talent also have wonderful videos that can be used in lessons. In my school, I have a lot of freedom in how I teach my ESL lessons. Therefore, I like to do more than just teach English. I use commercials that tell a life lesson to generate in-class discussions, as well as animal videos, amazing human talents, and other unique videos to teach vocabulary, grammar, and speaking.

3. Creating your own word puzzles and ESL games

Using games to teach English - 4 great ways to engage your ESL students

Developing your own games and crosswords can help reinforce the skills you teach in your lessons

ESL games and videos are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how children learn. Think back to all the worksheets we had in school. Those games and puzzles were used for more than just giving our teachers a break. Even simple word searches or crosswords helped us learn. On the internet, there are various free programs that allow you to develop crossword puzzles, word searches, fill-in the blank, and other word puzzles. Resources like these, as well as flashcards and educational workbooks are great activities to expand on and reinforce the concepts in your lessons. Games like Scrabble and Boggle can also be very helpful and fun for your students, while card games like Old Maid and Concentration, though not directly related to ESL learning, can help your students further develop cognitive and critical thinking skills.

4. Incorporating other subjects into your ESL lessons

I have also used lessons from other school subjects to further engage my English students. Incorporating other subjects is not only a way to switch up your routine, but a great way to reinforce the English skills your students are learning. Why not teach English vocabulary with simple science projects? Imagine stimulating young minds with art projects based on topics that you are teaching. A cooking class is great for teaching directions and measurements. Playground games (provided you have ample space) and simple children’s songs can be used to enrich vocabulary and speaking skills. Letting the kids play teacher occasionally gets them excited as they become “the boss” for a while. Theatrics, singing, and diary writing were all used in my youth, so I use them for the youth I am teaching.

Incorporating these activities into your lessons helps your kids discover that English can be fun and entertaining, and you get to have some fun too. You will be amazed at how those seemingly unrelated or old-school educational tools have a remarkable effect on your students. Kids are kids, no matter where you are in the world. So, take a time warp trip back into your own childhood and bring back those great teaching tools from the past.

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Written by Bill Gain

Bill Gain
Bill Gain is an Oxford Seminars TESOL/TESL/TEFL Graduate who has been an ESL teacher and blogger  in China for four years. For most of his life, he has worked with young people in recreation and special events. He has a bachelor’s degree in Communication/Public Relations and a master’s degree in Recreation and Special Events Programming.

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