When I started teaching in Thailand the only instruction I received from the Thai teachers was to “have fun” and “do whatever I want.” So we played a lot of games.
My class was to focus on conversational English and work on the students’ speaking and listening skills. Without much specificity in my curriculum, however, I wasn’t sure what kind of conversations I was supposed to work on. I settled for some basics and tried to create an environment where the students would feel comfortable using English. It more or less worked out. My classes were relatively laid back. After the first two weeks or so, I noticed some younger students still had problems with numbers. Or maybe they just forgot, since they rarely had the chance to practice English. So, in order to practice counting and numbers – something I found very useful to know myself – I decided we should play bingo!
Upon planning this idea, I realized I might not have planned well enough. I found myself with a class revolved around reviewing numbers with the reward or playing bingo, but without enough bingo cards. I had some 250 students, and the copier was out of paper. I went to the store and bought some beans to use as bingo markers, so I could hopefully re-use many of the cards. That quickly proved to be a bit of a mistake, as the boys immediately started throwing the beans all over the room. Damn. Thus I ended up spending the week making dozens and dozens of Bingo cards…by hand. And not just number bingo cards. I had decided to play vocabulary review bingo in my other classes as well. So every night, I went home, got out my cheap wine bought from the little Tesco Lotus down the road, my marker and my papers. I fired up the internet TV and played seasons one and two of “Supernatural” while outlining bingo cards and drinking wine straight out of the bottle (why dirty a glass?).
Bingo turned out to be a rather successful activity. The kids got really into it, and asked about it frequently the rest of the semester. Maybe it was just for the candy I gave away as prizes or to those who volunteered to be the number callers. Or maybe they just really liked playing. I got over the game I think more quickly than the kids. There were a lot of ‘Bingos!’ being shouted regardless of whether or not they actually had the numbers called. Lovely.
Other games we played throughout the semester included Pictionary, charades, the ‘flyswatter’ game, tongue twisters, re-arrange the sentence, and Telephone. Some worked out better than others. Telephone, sometimes known as Chinese Whispers did not go nearly the way it should. For one, I did not excel at explaining the rules (probably because I couldn’t speak Thai and they couldn’t understand me). When I managed finally to get a bit of the idea across they completely ignored the rules and just shouted the sentence to their friend at the end of the line who ran up to the whiteboard to write it down. I had to sort of go with the flow on that one. I could not get them to do the game properly.
This was a recurring issue: cheating. Not just on papers or quizzes but games. They were typically very determined to win. There was a lot of competitive spirit. And a lot of screeching. When these kids got into a game, they got really into it.
Tongue Twisters were probably my favorite. I played this one with my seniors to help with certain sounds, r and l, sh, s, and others. I demonstrated a few English tongue twisters first myself. Like the children’s rhyme about Fuzzy Wuzzy the hairless bear. I wrote it out on the board and then read it out to the class. After that, I said the whole thing at regular speed. Then I said it as fast as I could. I got a few ‘ooo’ and ‘aaaahhs,’ some nervous laughing. Then I wrote out my favorite tongue twister about the woodchuck (how much wood would a woodchuck chuck…). I demonstrated that one by saying it as fast as I could, three times in a row. That drew a lot of laughs, nervous laughs, and a bit of awe. The game then consisted of the class breaking off into teams (yay teams!) of equal numbers. I would give them a short tongue twister, a minute or two to practice, then each member of the team would have to say the tongue twister twice. The fastest team (without completely butchering the words) would win a point. We would have several rounds and the team with the most points won. Yeah, bragging rights! I think I enjoyed it more than they did, being too cool for such games, after all.
I got really fond of another activity that didn’t really have a name. I would have a topic to work on during a class, such as: likes and dislikes, shopping, holidays or vacations. We made a list of things they liked and wrote them on the board. After that I picked a student at random to come up to the front of the room. I told them to bring a friend (they loved picking on each other to have to do something). Their task was to ask each other about three things on the board, which ones they liked and didn’t like. With the other topics we’d come up with a situation or dialogue together as a class and then they would have to come up to the front in pairs and perform the dialogue or one similar to it. These activities also served as impromptu speaking assessments. I got a kick out of bringing them to the front, instead of me talking at them or doing worksheets. It could be quite entertaining.
While I was there I noticed that Angry Bird was really popular. Kids had Angry Birds on their shirts and backpacks, there were little angry bird toys and stuffed animals. It was huge over there, so I tried to figure out a way to involve Angry Bird in a game. The best I came up with was a game for prepositions. I got a little yellow Angry Bird plushie and brought him to class one week. I placed a couple of desks in the front of the room, and we played ‘Where is Angry Bird?’ Angry Bird was ON the desk, or IN the desk, or UNDER the desk. We practiced a bunch of these, then we played Angry Bird says (instead of Simon Says). For example, Angry Bird says ON the chair! The whole class would have to stand on their chairs. When Angry Bird said OUTSIDE everyone had to run outside of the classroom.
There are a load of other games I wanted to play but didn’t find a good way to integrate them. One was James Bond. It had to do with directions. One person would be James Bond. He or She would step out of the room and we would pick someone inside to be The Spy. James would come back inside and the class would have to direct him to the Spy. I thought it sounded fun. For other games, Dave’s ESL Café is a great resource. A lot of ESL teachers post their ideas and their games on there. Having little verbal communication skills is no reason not to have fun while learning! So go play some games!