Finding the game-like challenge!*

*With minimal preparation involved… Following a recent Friday workshop on teaching teenagers, in which, amongst other things, we discussed the difference between playing games for the sake of playing games and adding a game-like challenge into the activities we do in class, I have been thinking about different ways we can do this, without spending heaps of extra time on preparation. Here are some of the ideas I’ve come up with:

1. Board it and collaborate

Instead of (or as well as/before) having learners complete a table in their books, individually, why not put them in teams, put the table on the board and get them to race to complete the table accurately:

Linking words with teenagers

Linking words with teenagers

Here is an example from a teenager class of mine, looking at linking words in a writing lesson. The words were highlighted in a model text and the activity in the book was to divide them between a: words for contrasting two pieces of information, b: words to give reasons for something and c:words used to list arguments. Doing the activity this way got them out of their seats, changed the pace of the lesson and generated some useful energy. Of course, they also got to benefit from working together to solve the task. And all I had to do was draw a table on the board while they were reading the text.

2. Bingo it!

The age-old game of bingo can be used to liven up writing activities, as Sandy explains here or speaking activities, as I describe here. Bringing bingo into a speaking or a writing activity in this way gives students something extra to aim for, rather than just completion of a writing or speaking activity. It doesn’t hurt that the something extra is a) fun and b) encourages extra production and/or better use of the target language! Here is an example bingo board I used to model the activity for my Level 9 Upper Intermediate adult students:

Bingo with L9

Bingo with L9

All students need is a page in their notebooks on which to draw their table. No preparation is required beforehand, unless you want to make a model, in which case I think that one took me about 60 seconds to mock up! You could also play Reading Bingo, where students make a bingo grid of ideas or vocabulary that they expect to find in a given text, having looked at associated pictures or headings, and then read the text quickly to see if what they predicted is present, ticking off anything that is. First student to tick everything off in their grid wins! This is a good way to challenge students to read faster and resist reading every word.

3. Speed it up!

Adding a time constraint to an activity can up the level of challenge and bring in some competition. This is enhanced if the activity can be done in pairs or groups. Whether you set a time limit or do the old ‘whoever finishes first gets a point’ thing, heart rates will probably speed up. Beware though: a) make sure stronger and weaker students are mixed up. b) enforce an accuracy rule (i.e. being really fast but really inaccurate doesn’t win any points!)

60 seconds...starting now! Image taken from, licensed for commercial re-use with modification

60 seconds…starting now! Image taken from, licensed for commercial re-use with modification

4. Make it kinaesthetic!

If you can get students moving (for good reason rather than at random!), chances are you can make the language more memorable. For example, going back to the language my teenagers were looking at in 1, to test their recall of which words do what, you could ask them to put their hands up when you say a word used for giving reasons, stand up for any words used to list arguments and stamp their feet for any words used to make a contrast. Other variations on this include ‘river crossing’ or ‘traffic lights’ where students move to different parts of the room or move from side to side, according to where a given piece of language is allocated. This is a good way to change the pace of a lesson and generate some energy when teenagers – or adults! – are getting tired. Or, with younger kids, perhaps you’ll use it to get rid of some excess energy!

Kinaesthetic to the max! Image taken from, licensed for commercial reuse with modification

Kinaesthetic to the max! Image taken from, licensed for commercial reuse with modification

5. Bring out the banana boards (a.k.a mini-whiteboards!)

Mini-whiteboards are a fantastic way to spice up a lesson and add some game-like challenge. From something as simple as the teacher saying a verb and the students writing the past participle on their mini-whiteboard and then holding it up, and awarding points to the fastest and to those who got it correct but more slowly (so that everybody has a chance to win some points and nobody gets too far ahead or behind) to as complex as working on introductions in an IELTS class, mini-whiteboards come up trumps for their flexibility and students always love them!  Common uses include banana dictating sentences (i.e. dictating a sentence with a gap for students to complete) or sentence transformations. For lots of great ideas, here is a brilliant post from Chia Suan Chong, describing how she uses mini-whiteboards in her lessons. I particularly like the idea of having students summarise a portion of a text using pictures and then using the pictures to jog their memory when they tell a partner about their portion of text. A jigsaw reading with a difference! “But my school doesn’t have any mini-whiteboards!” I hear you say. Not to worry, all you need is a piece of card and a plastic folder like this (our YLC taught me this one!):

Home-made mini-whiteboard!

Home-made mini-whiteboard!

6. Drill it differently

Instead of just doing the same tired old choral drill, add some challenge to your drilling and make it more appealing to learners. Here is a post from Chris Ożóg over at ELT Reflections, which highlights the benefits of drilling together with lots of good ideas for how to spice it up. Another way to bring drilling to life, and make it more game-like, in the YL classroom, is to use a pronunciation wheel:

Pron wheel made by our YLC

Example pron wheel (made by our YLC)

Students take it in turns to spin the wheel and say whatever sounds, words or chunks it is that you are drilling in the way that the wheel stipulates. You can do this as a whole class, and then you can put learners in pairs or groups and they can continue the activity and drill themselves while you go round monitoring and working with individuals/groups to upgrade their production.

7. Make it a memory game

If learners have just done a crossword or a vocabulary activity in their course books, rather than check/feedback and move on, why not re-use the activity to challenge their memory? Get them to cover up the crossword clues and try to remember what the clue for each word in the grid was. Or get them to cover up the grid and test each other using the clues. Get them to close their course books and see how much language they can remember from the page (in pairs or groups, make it a competition) or call out prompts, so that you encourage active recall. Give students a time-limit in which to read a text, then have them close their books and see how much of it they can recount in pairs.

Testing your memory? (Image taken from Google image search licensed for commercial reuse with modification.)

Can you remember? (Image taken from Google image search licensed for commercial reuse with modification.)

8. Hand it over!

Sometimes the game-like challenge may also be a case of making a game more challenging, so that students are pushed more. A good way of doing this is finding ways to make games as student-centred as possible. For example, getting students to make up some quiz questions rather than only answering teacher-prepared questions. Here is a post describing how I upped the challenge in the review team game, Kaboom!



This picture is taken during a recent Kaboom! review with my teenaged upper intermediate students.

What do you like doing to bring a game-like challenge into your lessons? 


6 thoughts on “Finding the game-like challenge!*

  1. Pingback: Finding the game-like challenge!* | TeachingEng...

  2. Yet another fantastic post, Lizzie – thanks very much! I’m about to start a CELTA (in Berlin in April) and I look forward to trying to incorporate some of these fun ideas into my TPs 🙂

  3. Pingback: Finding the game-like challenge!* | Language Le...

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