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TEACHING

VOCABULARY
THROUGH GAMES

Teacher Pinti Adriana – Codruta


“Ana Ipatescu” Theoretical High school
Gherla, Cluj County
November 2010
Teachers of English as a Secondary Language know how important vocabulary is;
they know students must learn thousand of words that speakers and writers of English use
in order to communicate. Fortunately, the need for vocabulary is one point on which
teachers and students agree.
Furthermore, it is known that teaching vocabulary and the techniques implied
have been neglected in the past or just commonly known as bilingual lists of words. In a
traditional classroom situation, the vocabulary which is important for each student will
vary according to their own interests, personality and previous knowledge. This means a
LEARNER-CENTERED approach to learning words or “chunks” of words is needed,
rather than one in which the teacher dictates important words and functions to be learnt.
In addition, students need help in processing and remembering language and increasing
their personal lexicon. Often they go about this learning in a disorganised way. For
example, many students write down new words but have no system for storing them.
Moreover, a key element in learning vocabulary is the way in which it is
reinforced in the classroom until it gets into the long-term memory and the students can
use it to communicate. Communicative Language Teaching today focuses on teaching
and reinforcing vocabulary not only in order to be practical for the students, but in a
practical way. And the practical way we will discuss here is nearest to the students’
environment: GAMES.

Why games?
In teaching vocabulary, games represent short activities that are vital for an English
classroom. They can be used:
• as a quick warm-up for the beginning to get our students into the right mood for
learning
• to review or reinforce material (vocabulary, grammar, etc.)
• as a light filler to provide relief after a period of intense effort and concentration
• as a brief orientation activity to change the mood or topic
• to round off the lesson with a smile
Target learners
In an English lesson, as in everyday life, games exist in a variety of forms and with a
variety of difficulty levels, suitable for different age levels. Therefore, the target learners
are our students of all ages and levels. However, we must consider the fact that certain
vocabulary games are to be applied to certain age levels.

Points to consider when using games:


• Learning value: games are used in an English lesson because they have a
learning value. The learning value is flexible and can be chosen or built by the
teacher, taking into consideration the target students. The most common learning
values are closely related to reviewing or reinforcing vocabulary, listening to and
using thematic vocabulary;
• Careful preparation: every game must be well prepared in order for the student to
understand each rule and each step to follow until the end of the game;
• Level: as shown before, each game must be adapted to the English level of the
class and the age of the students;
• Clear instructions: provide a quick and total comprehension of what students
have to do, avoiding confusion. The teacher must be prepared to offer an example
if necessary.
• Timing: must be set at the beginning of the activity and it shouldn’t be very long
(especially for young learners, which tend to get bored quickly);
• Size of class: this is very important when we need teams/groups;
• Physical space: must be taken into consideration when the activity implies
moving around or performing;
• Materials/Equipment: if a game requires any materials, the teacher must be
prepared with everything he/she needs in order for the game not to be interrupted;
Games and fun activities that can be used as warmers or fillers

1. Fortunately / Unfortunately: - students have to say a sentence beginning with


fortunately/unfortunately referring to what they did / what they will do, etc. This activity
is a good way of reviewing tenses.
2. The rain game - the rain game will appeal to those students who learn from
movement and get restless when obliged to keep still.
The class stands in a circle, facing the middle and the teacher. By copying the
movements made by the teacher, which are listed below, the effects of a storm can be
created to set the scene for a role play or perhaps a story. It takes the form of a ‘Mexican
wave’ in that the participants only perform the actions when the teacher turns to face
them and the teacher is constantly turning on the spot:
1. rub hands together (the wind)
2. snap fingers (the rain)
3. slap hands on thighs
4. stomp feet (full-blown storm) then order is reversed as the storm blows
past, then silence.
3. Concentration game - students have to relax and start counting with their eyes
closed. They are supposed to count in turns without overlapping. Once they make a
mistake they have to start it again. This game is extremely useful when the students are
noisy (for example after a group-work activity) and it is hard for the teacher to calm them
down or as a pleasant way to pass from a (noisy) activity to another one.
4. Doctors and Nurses - the class is divided into groups – (doctors, nurses, and
patients) - have a word and listen to a story. The teacher or a student reads the story. The
students have to stand up when they hear their word. This is a fun game to use when
studying a Health unit, when the students seam without energy or just as a listening for
specific information (word) activity.
Games that can be used thematically:

1. Chain story – Teacher says the first sentence of a story and then students continue
it by adding one sentence each. (in parallel a group of students may perform/mime what
they hear). The chain story is excellent for reinforcing grammar structures such as Past
Simple Tense or Second Conditional, or for practicing vocabulary in general.
2. Collaborative drawing - Draw a head. Fold the paper and give it to your partner.
Draw a body and arms. Draw legs. Draw feet. Write a name. Open the paper.
3. Jeopardy – the game of Questions and answers. The teacher gets the students into
groups and presents them four categories (Literature, English language, Geography,
Music). Each category has four questions, rated according to its difficulty, from 100 to
400 points. In turns, each group has to choose a category and a question. If they know the
answer, they receive the points. If they don’t, the other group can answer and they receive
half of the points the question had. This game is preferred to be used at the end of the
semester, as a vocabulary reinforcement of all the lessons. It can, of course, be adapted to
students’ age, level of English and interests.
4. Bingo - several vocabulary sets are chosen and each pupil covers the card with 6-8
words from the sets in front of him. The teacher reads out the words at random and the
first child who covers all the words on his card calls Bingo!
This is one of the best ways to review a vocabulary theme such as parts of the body,
animals, vegetables, furniture and rooms of the house, etc. It is a game recommended for
the primary and secondary school students.
5. Neither Yes nor No – one student must answer the questions asked by peers but it
is not permitted to use yes or no. (e.g. Do you live in Romania? I live in Gherla.)The
game clearly states its learning value: asking questions.
6. Word guessing game - The class is divided into two teams. One representative of
each team comes in front of the class facing it. The teacher behind his back writes a word
on the blackboard. The 2 students guess the word with the help of the 2 teams. The team
members describe, in turn, the word, but they are not allowed to name it. The first to
guess the word scores the point for his/her team. This activity can also be used
thematically, phonetically (if the teacher chooses to focus on specific phonemes) or to
built the students’ capacity to give an English definition to a word.
7. Word chain - or biting your tail - the teacher writes a word on the board and
children take turns to add a word beginning with the last letter of each word. The game’s
learning value is that of revising vocabulary.

All the games presented above can give us further ideas regarding vocabulary activities.
One first point teachers should remember is the fact that students need to have fun when
learning a foreign language. Second of all, if you like what you do, you do it better.
Thematic and fun activities can be made with all items to be learnt. For example, I
observed that eight graders encounter difficulties with tenses referring to the past and
with the sequence of tenses. But if the exercises that they solve are thematic (about
football players, singers or actors they love) their results increase visibly. Even if the
work is double for the teacher, the results will worth the effort. English teachers, don’t be
afraid to explore!
BIBLIOGRAPHY:
• Mihaela Lazar, Making Learning Enjoyable and Memorable, Steps to Success
handout, British Council Cluj-Napoca, 2010
• Virginia French Allen, Techniques in Teaching Vocabulary, Oxford University
Press, 2003
• Michael Harris, Helping Students Learn Vocabulary, PearsonLongman.com,
2010
• Audrey McIlvain, Teaching English to Very Young Learners,
PearsonLongman.com, 2010