They just sit there, uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact with each other and practically pulsating with the desire to take out their phones and check for messages. Oh, they’ll listen and repeat, and they’ll answer direct questions from you, but they’re not about to open themselves up to a stranger just because he/she is sitting next to them. Try playing adult ESL games.
Using Games in the Adult ESL Classroom
When teaching adult ESL, building a classroom community or family sometimes has to take precedence over curriculum, or you’re just not going to get much of a response when you ask them to share their present perfect sentences with a partner or to debate the pros and cons of watching movies at home vs. the movie theater. Something that speaks to all students regardless of age is a game. Of course, you will have students who insist that they are there to study and not to play games, so ensure that there is some type of educational aspect to it and that they know what it is and why they are learning/practicing it.
One of my favorite games due to its versatility is Jenga. I’ve seen classroom pictures with questions painstakingly printed by hand on each game piece. Don’t do that because it limits you to those questions only. Instead, number the pieces. I like to number them in the middle of each piece, on the wider side, so that students can’t simply remember what question goes with what piece and go for the easiest question. Now you are all set to create questions for any level, any topic, any grammar concept, anything at all!
Adult ESL Games: Example Questions for Jenga
Grammar: Present Perfect
- Make a negative present perfect sentence about the person to your right.
- What’s the past participle of “write”?
- How do you know when to use “has” and when to use “have” when creating a sentence in the present perfect?
- Have you ever tasted your own blood?
- What’s the difference between the present perfect and the simple past?
Theme/Topic: Going to the Movies
- What’s your favorite genre of movies? Why?
- How popular is going to the movies on a date in your country?
- How can you ask someone to see a movie with you (and you’re paying)?
- When it comes to movies, does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?
- What movie did you see most recently?
Vocabulary: Body Parts
- Point to your shoulder.
- What’s a difference between fingers and toes?
- What body part lets you bend your arm?
- You can see these when some people smile. What are they?
- What is the body’s largest organ?
Grammar Questions: Yes/No
- Create a question that can be answered with “Yes, she did.”
- Make a question that can be answered with “No, I won’t.”
- Devise a question that can be answered with “Yes, they are.”
- Say a question that can be answered with “No, we haven’t.”
- Create a question that can be answered with, “Yes, he can.”
As you can see, the possibilities are limitless! Just have students take turns to pull a game piece out, answer the corresponding question, put the game piece on top, and so on.
Adult ESL Games Serve Another Purpose
Making friends is sometimes harder when you’re no longer a kid. Adult ESL games can make it easier. Jenga is also a fun ice-breaker. I recently had my students play Jenga, and with each piece they pulled out, they had to ask someone an information question. I played as well, so they had fun asking me questions that they thought would make me squirm! They poked fun at each other, hooted and hollered every time the Jenga tower wobbled, and tried their best to distract each other during their turns. I could feel them getting more comfortable with each other as the game went on.
This also gave me a chance to see if they understood what an information question was. I could check to see what kind of grammar mistakes they consistently made. This was a low-stress assessment opportunity for me to pay close attention to any common pronunciation errors. I also took the opportunity to ask questions that let me get to know them better and find out information I could use later in class exercises to personalize what they would be learning. The next day, the students who had played Jenga continued to be more familiar with each other than those who had been absent. Just a short game of “conversation” Jenga had loosened them up and changed how they viewed each other.
Games Help Nurture Relationships
Adult ESL games are not and should not be a one-time thing. We must nurture relationships for them to thrive, so be sure to take the time to work on them with your students whenever possible. Eventually, they’ll probably take over and start meeting up after classes and hanging out together. Still, until that happens, it’s definitely in your best interest to guide them in that direction. Taking a little time away from instruction time now will pay off in a big way further down the road.
What’s one of your favorite community-building activities?
I think you’ll get inspired by Three Vocabulary Games Your Adult ESL Students Will Love.
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