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:

TEFL Tip Tuesday: The Power of Pictionary

Pictionary; the Christmas day family games sesh is never complete without it but in the classroom it becomes more than a party game, this is where Pictionary becomes a powerful tool for learning. Pictionary is great for teaching English because it requires the whole class to participate. It is the perfect game to get students thinking and talking in English, especially if they are new to the language.

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At the start of term the Chinese teachers always decorate the blackboard beautifully.

I tend to use Pictionary as a cooler or filler, but it can work as a warmer just as well. You can use it to recap last week’s lesson and see how much of the language they remember or you can use it to round up your lesson as a fun way to make the new vocabulary stick in their minds.  The way I usually play is I split the class into two teams and select a student from each team to come up to the board. I then ask the student to pick one of the new vocabulary words for that day (this usually takes a minute as whatever I suggest they complain it is too difficult to draw, but after a bit of encouragement I usually convince them it’s not so hard). Then the class has to work out what they are drawing and the first team to shout the correct answer gets a point. Using the point system really gets the students engaged in the game. When my students play they play to win and it can get quite competitive! You can make it so that the winning team gets a prize, but I have found that just the thrill of winning is enough to motivate the class to participate.

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I’ve played Pictionary in my large classes and with my one on one tutoring.

I have found Pictionary works for all ages; I have played it with kindergarten, I have played it with grade one and I have played it with grade eight. No matter what the age the competitive energy has been present and everyone gets involved. Even the moody teenagers who thought they were too cool in the beginning couldn’t help but shout out the answer when the rest of their teams were struggling to figure it out!

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Drawing is the perfect filler for young learners.

Pictionary has been my secret weapon from day one of my TEFL journey. I think my love for this game a kid really helped me to sell it to my students as a fun game. I was excited about the game and this enthusiasm was infectiously passed on to my students. The power of this activity to engage students in English makes it without a doubt my favourite classroom game. When other games have caused my students to groan in protest Pictionary has never failed to energise them. The best part is that you can play this game with minimal materials; as long as you have a pencil and paper, a blackboard and chalk or a whiteboard and pens then this game is possible.

For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?

TEFL Tip Tuesday: Back it Up!

Computers are unreliable. Computers in Chinese schools are extra unreliable! There will be times when you arrive in class only to be told by a student that the computer is not working today. What are you going to do?! You spent a whole hour on your lesson plan, you have funny videos to show them and word games that require the code you stored ever so safely on your powerpoint presentation but didn’t think to write down in your notebook!

One of my first ever lessons the computer didn’t work so I had to do my whole lesson using the blackboard.

 

This all sounds very dramatic and worst-case scenario, but it can happen. Unless you want to sit in silence with your kids for an hour or, even worse, sing that lovely song you had downloaded and planned your lesson around out loud yourself… Having a backup plan for days when technology fails you is vital to your TEFL experience.

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My lesson planning notebook.

The first thing I advise you to do is write your entire lesson plan in a notebook, I have a specific notebook for planning my lessons and while it might seem like a waste of time to write it all down when you have created a perfectly good powerpoint, let me tell you it is an important tool to have. (If you aren’t a fan of handwriting your lesson then you can always use that handy lesson plan template they told you about back when you were learning the ropes. Type it up on your computer, print it out and carry it with you. Personally, I am a fan of the hand-written lesson plan but that is just me!) The reason I encourage you to have your lesson plan to hand at all times is because, when you think about it, your original lesson can most likely be adapted to work without using a computer. Some schools don’t even have computers in the classrooms! So apart from missing out an interesting video or funny gif you can present each class with the same lesson, computer or no computer.

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School in Thailand don’t usually have computers…

Say for example you are doing a lesson on personality traits, this could rely heavily on a computer for video examples of different personalities. Maybe you have a word game for a warmer, write this word game down in your notebook as well as all the possible answers you can think of (or that the internet told you about, but where’s the fun in that?) It might seem like common sense but honestly sometimes I create the warmer on my laptop and completely forget to write down the actual game in my book, I’ll open my notebook to see that all I have under the warmer heading is “word grid game”. GREAT, AILEEN!! What word did you decide on? What order did you put the letters in so that it isn’t obvious what word you they are trying to find? And what are some answers to the game so that when the students tell you it is too difficult you can rapid fire off some words to show them how easy it actually is?! The game can be easily transcribed from your notebook onto the board and actually I usually write the game on the board anyway to make sure everyone in the class can see it.

Crisis averted, you make it through the warmer and now you move on to presentation, this is where those videos would come in handy. The first thing I recommend is to have flashcards printed out, this was not possible at my school as we did not have access to a printer but if you can print flash cards then do print flash cards!! The second tip I have for this situation is to break out your inner artist and get drawing. Every school will have one of three things; a whiteboard, a blackboard or paper. Write the words alongside little illustrations showing what the word means, you may not be the best at drawing, but this is just an opportunity to have a laugh with your students about your artistic talents or lack thereof…

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All the emotions that grade one know… I know some of them aren’t emotions but they are six so I let them off with it!

Then comes the practice section of your lesson. What were those question and answer couplets again? If you power point was working, they would be right at the front of you mind but there is no computer today so what can you do? Have no fear the lesson planning notebook saves the day again! Write down your questions and answers in your lesson plan and not just on your presentation. This actually helps whether you have a working computer or not. Trying to remember the questions and answers with your back to the computer is just asking for a clever student to correct you on your sentence structure. A quick look at your notebook lesson plan and you are sorted. Just make sure that any changes you make to your powerpoint you also make to your notes!

Production is easy, the students do all the hard work there. You can close your book and watch the magic (or chaos depending on the class) happen as your students communicate the new language with each other. No technology needed!

Ok so this is all well and good but what if your lesson can’t be translated from digital to analogue quite so easily? Well I admit that is a bit of a dilemma. The best thing to do in this situation is to have a collection of games that you can fall back on if it is indeed a computer free day. (I will be writing a post soon all about my favourite TEFL games and why they work so keep an eye out for that). There are so many good games out there and the kids will love the fact that they “don’t have to do work” for a whole lesson. Of course, these are educational games so they are still learning… just don’t tell them that.

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It is always handy to have a set of pictionary cards on you!

The last thing I have to say on the theme of having a backup would be to literally have a backup. I have two usb sticks, this might seem like overkill, but my school’s computers tend to occasionally corrupt my usb which is less than ideal. There was even one class that I completely avoided plugging my usb into the computer, for pretty much the whole semester because every time I did it would stop working after that class! So my advice is to save it to your computer, save it to your external hard-drive and then save it on two usb sticks. Take it from someone how has lost a whole semester’s worth of lesson plans… BACK IT UP!

For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?

TEFL Tip Tuesday: Thinking Outside Box.

Welcome back to TEFL Tip Tuesday! This week I’ve been experimenting in my classroom and it has completely changed the way I think about teaching. These posts usually come from something I learned last semester and now use in class but if there is one thing I know about life, it’s that you never stop learning new things. So this TEFL tip is almost as new for me as it is for you!

I have this habit of getting stuck in a rut, scared to try new things in case it doesn’t work out and disrupts my safe little bubble that I have created for myself. Now I know what you’re thinking, I moved to a completely new country by myself into a job I had no practical experience in, doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of person who is scared to try new things does it?! Well that’s just it, with me I’m either in my safe little bubble or I’m making a drastic change to my life or the way I do things. Recently I’ve been a bit bored when teaching my classes; besides my one grade two class I’ve used the same format in my lessons for almost a year and, well, it was time for a change! It’s not that the classes themselves are boring, in fact depending on the topic I can get some very entertaining answers, but I wanted to find a way for my students to practice their English that wasn’t just a question and answer session with the person next to them. This is what led me to this week’s lesson plan.

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What is the opposite of a staring contest?

All my classrooms have exactly the same layout; about fifty students at square desks, split into seven rows, squeezed into a medium sized square room. This was the box I needed to think outside of. I was taught the PPP structure of lesson planning in both of my TEFL courses and I really do believe in it but it can be difficult to get such a large class to participate in a communicative production activity that isn’t centred around them sitting at their desks. Add to that the fact that my school has strong focus of textbook led lessons, the thought of doing any kind of activity that involves rearranging the classroom has always slightly worried me. So, naturally, I decided to dive right into the deep end and do a lesson on directions that had the students practically turn their classroom upside down.  I first split the class into two teams. Three people from each team created a maze and five people from each team were blindfolded and directed through the maze by the rest of the class using the new target language. The first team to navigate all five people through the maze were the winners.

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This looks like madness but I was assured they had a plan…

Now, I’m not recommending that you start with something as drastic as turning your classroom into a maze but I am suggesting that you think about how you can use the classroom differently. How can you engage your students in a new and exciting way? I made the game a bit mysterious by sending the five students from each team out of the classroom before I explained what was happening, this made the students who remained in the classroom feel like they were in on a secret and therefore more engaged when I explained to them that they were going to create a maze out of desks and chairs. The students outside of the classroom found the mystery exciting and were eager to impress their classmates and win the race through the maze. This got the whole class working together (with a few exceptions that tried to sabotage their own teammates, but there will always be at least one troublemaker when you teach over one thousand kids) and made them excited to use the English they already knew as well as the new language they learned at the start of the lesson.

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Working together!

The most important thing that I learned this week is that although thinking outside the box can be scary and the results can be uncertain, it is so worth the risk! I’ve always found that using games and fun activities works best in my classrooms but now I know that I can take it to the next level and I encourage you to do the same!

For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?

Organised Chaos: the First Few Weeks of Teaching

Teaching English: just when you think you’ve got it, you lose it and just when you think you’ve lost it, you crack it again.

 

Class hard at work drawing Nessie
One class hard at work drawing Nessie.

 

My first day of teaching I realized I had lost my USB stick somewhere between getting on the plane in London and arriving at my placement school. As a result I gave my first three lessons by placing my laptop screen under a projector which was set up by a six-year-old! Good start…  A quick trip to the computer shop at lunch time for a brand new USB stick and the problem was sorted, until the computer in the next class room didn’t work and this time we had no projector! Time for a bit of blackboard improvisation and a few games (there maybe about forty Chinese children who now think that Scotland’s flag is pink).

 

When the computer doesnt work and you have to present your class with just a black board and chalk
Improvising a lesson about Scotland.

 

The first week I focused on introducing myself, explaining where Scotland is and showing the kids some Scottish wildlife. Being placed in a southern province meant that my pictures of the snow back home left each class gasping in amazement. I also decided to teach them about the Loch Ness Monster which meant I got to enjoy their take on the Scottish myth in the medium of crayon and felt tip pen (I was even lucky enough to have been gifted some to decorate my bedroom wall with). I have to say though some of the kids are extremely talented at drawing, especially considering they are all between the ages of six to eight years old!

 

Some very talented children in the class
Drawing Nessie

 

In the first week of teaching I was introduced as “The New Beautiful Foreign Teacher” in at least two of my classes, which made me want to turn around and run out of the room. Especially when it is followed by 40 small children giving me a round of applause (if you are anywhere near as socially awkward as I am then you will understand why)!

One of my favourite parts of the job so far is how every day I am greeted with consistently enthusiastic “hello”s, hugs and high-fives. Some of the children have also figured out that my favourite animal is a Panda. This means that “Panda” is shouted almost instantly every time we play Pictionary, every circle is a Panda in their eyes! My name has proved a struggle for some of the kids and so to about half of my 800 students I am known as “LeeLee”, which I have decided is close enough…

 

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Some of the students outside class during break.

 

We were lucky at our school, we got to pick what grade we wanted to teach. As a result, I am teaching 1st grade, which is nothing but endless fun, games and colouring. The good thing about 1st grade is, because they are so young, as long as you are animated and lively enough they won’t notice it you suddenly have to improvise for the last ten minutes of the class because you got through your lesson plan in record time! So far I have played “Who Stole My Pencil”, “Heads Down, Thumbs Up” and a new version of “I Spy” that I have recently invented; it involves a class room full of small children running at me with various objects of a whatever colour “I Spy” in order to high-five me first and win a point for their team (because you try explaining how to play “I Spy” to 40 children who speak almost no English).

 

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Me with one of my classes.

 

So far, I am absolutely loving teaching English! The kids are incredible, the school is beautiful and I have already been for lunch with my Grade One Contact and Mandarin Teacher at her home here in Sanxiang, cooked by her lovely mother who looks after the children in their dorms at night. I’m not even a month in yet but I know this is going to be a hard place to leave when it comes to July! As they say, find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Morocco – 17th of June

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A lot of sand chaining happened today (pretty much we lined up and passed buckets of sand down the chain and then the empty buckets back up the chain). Some people were also continuing with cement mixing and wall building. I have to say that chains really are the most efficient way of moving heavy things about that I have ever seen. I think this method should be used a lot more than it is being used now. It definitely taught me about team work and how important communication with in it (I’ll be using that lines in future interview *winky face*).
Between Lunch and tea we got to meet some of the children from the village, we took the parachute out that Imogen had brought with her and taught them some games. We also taught them the “Hokey Kokey” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. They sang us the National Anthem of Morocco, a song about a cat who had his piece of fat stolen by a dog and then they started singing Shakira’s 2010 world cup song “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) much to our surprise, off course we joined in and they seemed equally surprised. It was a great moment

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We really wanted them to do some dancing but they were to shy because some of the older boys were watching, so we decided to do the Macarena and Abdul got them all to join in which was so much fun, even though we didn’t know the words at all! After a long discussion with the group one of the yonder boys ran off , when we asked why he had run away they told us he had gone to get a drum. The boys then started singing with a beat from the drum and also a squashed, empty Pringles can that was rhythmically being hit on a stone by one of the children. It was amazing to listen to and very hard not to dance to.

It was great to finally meet the children who were going to be using the education centre once it was complete. I think it definitely showed me that all the stress from fundraising and saving and organising transport down to London was worth every single minute of the time I had put into it…

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TO BE CONTINUED