TEFL Tip Tuesday: 5 Games to Play with Middle School Students.

When I first got given my grade eight classes I had no idea how I was going to teach them. Coming from six months of grade one, who were happy to sing baby shark and play “Teacher Says” every lesson, trying to entertain teenagers was an entirely foreign concept to me! It turned out it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be, the advantage of teaching older students is how creative you can be with your warmers and coolers as their vocabulary is developed to the point where they can follow instruction much more complicated than younger students. As a result I found myself with a solid rotation of five games (with the occasional extra thrown in that was specifically tailored to a topic) that I knew I could rely on to get my classes engaged in the lesson and thinking about the target language.

 

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Teenagers turned out to be less scary than I thought. China

 

  1. Word Finder

This game is really easy to create and even easier after you’ve done it once. It works really well in middle school because it is a challenge that everyone can take part in, so whether your class has 5 or 50 students you can get everyone involved and working together. Essentially all you need is a nine letter word related to your topic and a grid, mix the letters up and put them into the grid and you are ready to go. If you ever played “Boggle” it’s very similar to that except with Word Finder there is always a nine letter word to be found.

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Students playing Word Finder during a lesson on pollution. China

How to play:

  • Give your students 5 – 10 minutes (adjust depending on the length of your lesson) to find as many words as they can. I always find it useful to write down as many words as I can in my lesson planning notebook so if the students start complaining that it’s too difficult I can tell them “well I’ve found 20 words, so I think it’s easy” and this usually kicks their competitive spirit into action as they want to find more than teacher!
  • You can allow dictionaries if you want but I find that this makes the game drag on a bit as the students essentially just read the dictionary and cross check it with the letters on the board, so I personally don’t let them use dictionaries.
  • When the time is up go through all the two letter, three letter, four letter etc. words that the students have found and write them on the board. The first time I played this game I let the students come and write their words on the board themselves but this takes way too long so unless you have a small class I wouldn’t advise this.
  • I also only accept words that the students can tell me the meaning of, if they can’t tell me what it means I don’t write it on the board because then I know they’ve cheated and used the dictionary!
  • The game can be played in teams or individually it all depends on the vibe you are going for in your classroom but I usually let my students work in teams.
  • You can make it a competition by awarding a prize to the team/student who has found the most words.

 

  1. Pictionary

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Pictionary is the superhero of games. If you need to revise previous vocabulary then use Pictionary, if need to fill time at the end of a class then use Pictionary, if the computer is broken so one of your activities is no longer possible THEN USE PICTIONARY. No matter the age group, proficiency level or class size you can use Pictionary in your classroom. Teenagers love it especially if there is something to win at the end which makes it the perfect game to use with your middle school students.

How to play (in case you don’t already know):

  • First divide your class into two teams. This can be done in whatever way will make your students the most competitive, I usually split the class down the middle.
  • Write down all of the vocabulary words you want to use on individual squares of card. I tried writing them in my notebook but the students all discuss what vocab words are written there and then they cheat. (If you want to keep the game as something you can use again and again, in case of emergencies, then I suggest laminating your cards).
  • Call one student from each team up to the board and get them to pull a card from the deck. They should only pick one card, not one each.
  • Students then draw whatever was on that card on the board for their teammates to guess.
  • Depending on the class size you can get students to raise their hands before making a guess or just have students shout the answer. In classes larger than 20 students I would suggest hand raising, otherwise it gets a bit chaotic!
  • If the student guesses correctly then the team gets a point.
  • You can repeat until you run out of time or cards.
  • With my primary students I usually hand out stickers to the winning team but for middle school this might not cut it…

 

  1. Decode

This game takes a little bit of preparation but it is so much fun and is a great way for students to think creatively in English. If you want this to be a competitive game then it works best in classrooms of fifteen or more because you need to split the class into at least three groups for the race to be really exciting. Decode is a great icebreaker as well if it is your first week with a class or there are new students who need to be included in the game. The best part about the game is that, not only are the students focussing on thinking creatively but they are also communicating with each other in English.

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Can you crack the code? China

How to play:

  • Before class think of a few instructions that your students should be able to understand easily and communicate to each other. This can be anything but each instruction must include all of the students in the group in some way. For example one instruction could be; “two girls put your hand on your head, one boy put your right hand up, everyone else sleep.”
  • You can make this game as short or as long as you want by adding more or less instructions. I usually think of three or four and it takes around fifteen minutes.
  • Once you have all of your instructions you need to think of a code. This could be anything but some good examples are; 1. Swapping the letters in the alphabet around so A = D, B = E, C = F and so on. Or 2. Each letter of the alphabet is equal to a number so A = 1, B = 2, C = 3 etc. you can make this harder or easier depending on the code you choose.
  • When you have decided your code you should translate your instructions into it. So with my number code the sentence “two girls put your hand on your head, one boy put your right hand up, everyone else sleep.” Becomes “20,23,15 7,9,18,12,19  16,21,20  25,15,21,18  8,1,14,4  15,14  8,3,1,4  15,14,5   2,15,25  16,21,20  25,15,21,18   18,9,7,8,20   8,1,14,4   21,16  5,22,5,18,25,15,14,5   5,12,19,5  19,12,5,5,16”. Looks like a lot but I promise you once they get the hang of the game it takes them no time, if they work together.
  • Once the students crack the code they need to do what the instruction says, the first group to complete the instruction wins a point for that round.
  • Make sure you only show one instruction at time, this could be one a powerpoint presentation or as handouts as long as they are focussing on one at a time it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t advise hand writing the instructions on the board, unless you are only going for one instruction and you have time to set it up before the students arrive in class.
  • The winning group is whoever has the most points at the end of all the instructions.
  • If you want to take this game further into the lesson you could get your students to work in teams to create their own codes and do a whole lesson on James Bond or spies.

 

  1. Word Snake

Word Snake is a fantastic game for reviewing previous vocabulary. You can make it harder by asking the students to use words that are from the same topic or easier by letting them use any words they want. It’s a really fun game that can be played in teams or individually and works both in the classroom and one on one tutoring sessions.

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Word Snake played in a one on one introduction lesson. China

How to play:

  • Optional: Have the students draw a snake in their notebooks or scrap paper, also draw one on the board or have a power-point slide open to demonstrate. Then ask the students to divide their snake up into sections, like the stripes on a snake. Decide in advance how many stripes the snake should have, the more time you want to spend on the game the more stripes your snake should have. For my smaller classes I print worksheets with the snake already printed on them to save time.
  • When the snakes are ready give the students a starting word related to the target language for example for a lesson on sports and hobbies you could give them “hobby” to start them off.
  • The idea is for the students to then think of a word that starts with the last letter of that word and fill in the whole snake in the same way. So, for this example, the next word could be “yoga” or “yo-yo”. After “yoga” could be “acrobatics” and so on.
  • Again for small classes you can make this game competitive by awarding the first to finish with a prize.

 

  1. Stop the Bus/Categories

I first came across this game back in the U.K. but when I played it there were a couple of alcoholic drinks involved… Now I use it as a fun break out activity or cooler in my lessons. Stop the bus can be used with any lesson due to the flexible nature of the game. My teenagers in China and Myanmar have all loved playing it and it’s a nice break from the lesson when attention starts to wane.

How to play:

  • Start by writing five or six categories on the board, for a general game this could be anything but if you want to make it related to your lesson try to think of categories that match. For example to introduce the term project, “Homes Around the World” to my class recently I gave the following topics; Country, Language, Type of Home, National Dish and City.
  • Explain to the students that you are going to give them a letter and they must find something for each category that begins with that letter.
  • When you are planning your lesson be sure to try out different letters to make sure that all of the categories can be filled with the ones you choose.
  • Write the letter on the board next to your categories and tell the students to start writing.
  • They must race to fill all of the categories and when they have done so they should shout “Stop the Bus!”
  • Check the students answers and if they are correct invite them up to the board to write them under each category.
  • When the student has filled in all of their answers on the board ask the other students if they wrote anything different under any of the categories.
  • I find two letters usually takes around 15 – 20 minutes which is perfect for my classes but if you should adjust to your own lesson plan.

 

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We had fun! China

There are more games out there but these are the five that work best for me! Remember the more enthusiastic you are about the game the more likely the students will want to participate and the offer of a reward for the winning team is always a good motivator. I hope this post was helpful, if you use any of these in your lessons please let me know how it goes!

For more TEFL Tips check out these posts:

2 Replies to “TEFL Tip Tuesday: 5 Games to Play with Middle School Students.”

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