Teaching English to Young Learners Using Games

syamsul ma'arif Kamis, Maret 17, 2011 | ,

By Khoirotun Nisak

It is the fact that children like games so much, elementary school teachers who teach young learners, ought to consider using game in teaching English. By using games, the young learners can practice their skills in using English as a means of communication (listening, reading speaking and writing) that is supported by mastering the language components (vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation). Furthermore, in order to get good results, the teachers should carefully plan teaching and learning activities based on the games that they want to use.

The teaching of English in elementary schools in Indonesia have developed  very rapidly in the last few years. Many elementary schools in Indonesia start teaching English to their students even from the first grade. Some teachers  have  decided to use course books available in the bookstores, or take some course books, or even make their own materials. So from the chosen materials, the teachers will plan some language activities to be applied in the classrooms.

To get good result in teaching English to young learners, the teacher must be creative. He/she should create many kinds of teaching media and technique, such as songs, stories, games, pictures and cards. They are needed because young learners have their own characteristics-biological, cognitive, affective, personality, and social characteristics that are different from teaching high school students and  adults.
(Halliwell, 1992, 2) stated that language lessons at elementary schools are expected to give high priority to promoting positive attitudes toward learning the target language. In this case, the writer of this paper offers elementary school English teachers the idea of planning language activities using games.

The reason for using games
It is worth considering that an English program for young learners has various kinds of materials, such as stories, songs, reading text and games. It is essential that an EFL teacher to be able to select materials or textbooks. Teaching words to young learners is not enough. Let them play with language. The teacher can make full use of short phrases or sentences. These pieces of language should be accompanied by other parts of language non-verbal or body language. In this case, Scott and Ytreberg (1992) explained that to use other clues to get meaning is important. They mention that facial expressions and movements are often used to accompany spoken words.
Young learners like doing things, so playing game is one of the way in teaching them. In applying games, for example, the teacher can use many kinds of  games that are suitable for the learners. 
The most important factor to be considered in teaching English to children need to use it through hands-on experiences and many  manipulations of objects in the environment, they like to be in a class which involves them involves them in physical activities; such playing games and acting out.

The important things should be considered (using games)
-         Games have several functions; they are used to introduce new materials, repetition, and strengthening.
-         Games should be selected based on the age and ability of the students.
-         Try to use target language in playing games.
-         Not to long (10 –15 minutes)
-         Involve all the students
-         The rules and instructions must be clear and followed by example.
-         Games should train the function of the language and vocabulary that become the instructional goal.
-         Games are to be found at the fluency-accuracy spectrum
-         Games should be regarded as an integral part of the language syllabus, not as amusing activity for Saturday afternoon or for the end of the term.
-         Games make use a variety of techniques, variety is important in language teaching, and succession of games based on the same principles through exiting and novel at first, would soon pall.
In this case, there are many kinds of games that can be applied. The teachers can choose the games freely. But they must consider the above requirements. Here is a list of classroom techniques and games that can be used for pre-reading/telling or follow up activities. (Description and/or examples are provided for less popular ones).
1.      Sentence Building Game
E.g. Student A: My mother went to the market and bought an apple.
Student B: My mother went to the market and bought some apples and  bananas.
Student C: My mother went to the market and bought some apples,  bananas and  coconuts.

2.      Guessing game: Twenty questions
E.g. one student hides an object found in the story/ reading text; the rest of the class asks question to make a guess.
3.      Talking about pictures (pre reading/ telling activity)
4.      Word Bingo
5.      Memory games – picture
E.g. Students are given  pictures to look at for about a minute. Later they are asked to tell what they remember without looking at the pictures.
6.      Memory games – story
7.      Finding your partner
E.g. there are two sets of cards. One set consists of pictures and the other consists of descriptions of each of the pictures. Students move around to look for their partners.
8.      Simon says
9.      Vocabulary/phrase/ sentences snap (a card game).
A set cards with one word on each card are put face down. There are four cards for each word. When two cards are opened and they happen to contain the same words, the groups of the students playing the game say “Snap”. He group who says it first keeps the cards. The group who gets the most cards is the winner.
Note: The teacher can decide to use words or phrases or sentences depending on the students’ language level.
10.  Pelmanism
E.g. matching picture-picture, word-word, word-sentence
11.  Writing descriptions of pictures
12.  Letter/note writing
13.  Role play
14.  Finding differences and similarities
15.  Singing songs
16.  Strip story
17.  Word maze/word search
18.  Word chain
19.  Cross-word puzzles
20.  Dictation
21.  Cloze-dictation
22.  Dictocomp
23.  Writing booklets
24.  Writing notices
25.  Writing dialogs
26.  Writing a short drama
27.  Writing descriptions of characters
28.  Writing utterances in bubbles
29.  Origami (paper-folding)
30.  Drawing pictures
31.  Last letter (“Shiritori” in Japanese)
The last letter of the word must be the first letter of the next word.
You will need a ball, but a screwed up piece of paper is fine.
The teacher throws the ball to one student and says a word, such as “dog”.
The student must reply with a word starting with “G”, such as “girl”.
When answered, the ball is thrown back to the teacher and it is then thrown to the next student, who continues.
The consequence may then be (for example): girls, look, king, go … and so on.
You can have the students throwing to each other.
I.e., student A= “Cat,” throw to student B: today etc.
Please be warned, you may have some fastball pitchers in the class!
32.  Chinese whispers
Divide the class into even rows.
The last member of each row (at the back of the class) is taken out of the classroom. A “key” letter, word or sentence (depending on level) is given.

 The students run back inside, and whisper the Key” to the next student in their row. It is whispered down trough the row until the last member writes it on the board.

The first student to write it on the board correctly wins the point for their team/row
33. Fast words

The class is arranged in rows. The first person in each row is given a piece of chalk. The board is divided into sections. No more than six teams.

The teacher calls a letter and the students must write as many words as they can begin with that letter, in the allocated time. Their team-mates can call out hints, but he warned, this is very noisy.

Next, the second member gets the chalk and goes to the board and the teacher calls out a new letter.

The team with the most correct words is the winner.

33.  Word Association

 The teacher starts the game by saying a word, such as “Hotel”.

For example:
Teacher: Hotel
Student A: Bed
Student B: Room
Student C: Service
Student D: Food
Student E: Restaurant
Student F: Chinese

As you can see, any association is ok.
If the student cannot answer in 5 seconds,  he or she must stand up. The last student seated is the winner.
If the association is not obvious, the student is asked to explain the association.
Songs/Music Cloze
Songs are a good way to teach in an “Edutainment" way because they incorporate all the language skills
1.      Listening (to the song)
2.      Reading (following the lyrics to determine the words)
3.      Writing (filling in the blanks)
4.      Speaking (singing the song)
Lower Level:
1.      The song sheet is handed out to the students.
2.      The teacher reads each word (at the bottom of the page) and the students repeat. This is done twice.
3.      The tape is played twice in a row, with the students trying to fill in the blanks.
4.      The students are invited to discuss it with their classmates for one minute.
5.      The song is played again and students complete the missing words.
6.      The teacher calls out the correct words. The students mark their papers themselves with a red pen, and record their scores.
7.      The students with a perfect score receive a round of applause.
8.      The song is played, one last time, with everybody singing.
Medium Level:
The same system is used.
However, for the first playing the words are folded under, as shown on the song sheets.
Only at the second listening, are the words revealed.
Note: You can have a lot of fun seeing what the students come up with, before they are allowed to see the correct words.
Higher Level.
Complete sentences are deleted (liquid paper?), so more words must be recognized.

The words are folded under for the entire listening while the tape is played.

Only after all the listening are the correct words revealed.
With a little experience, the teacher will easily be able to adjust to the level of difficulty required.

The songs have been chosen for their pronunciation and because they are familiar to most students.

Variety in the types of songs, for instance, rock, ballad and so forth, is supplied.
The song sheets (lyrics) have been made for the lower levels, and need to be modified for higher levels.
Sample Song:
"Bus Stop" (1)
(The Hollis) Bus Stop, wet day, she's there,
I say, please share my _________________________ (1)
Bus stop, bus goes, she stays,

Love grows, under my umbrella

All that summer we enjoyed _________________________ (2)
Wind and rain and shine
That umbrella, we employed it
By ____________________ (3) she was mine
Every morning I would see her waiting at the __________________(4)
Sometimes she'd shop
And she would show me what she _______________________ (5)
All the people stared
As if we were both quite insane

Someday my name and hers are going

To be the ______________ (6)
That's the way the whole thing ______________(7)
Silly, but it's ____________________________ (8)
A thinking of a sweet romance
Begin and end with you.
Came the sun the ice was melting
No more sheltering ______________(9)
_______________________ (10) to think that that umbrella led me to a vow.
Your score ______________ /10
‑‑‑‑‑‑‑ Fold here, for the first listening at higher levels ‑‑‑‑‑‑­
now, stop, nice, August, true, bought, it, same, umbrella, started
Let It Be (Lennon, McCartney)
When I ____________ (1) myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary _______________(2) to me
Speaking ___________(3) of wisdom, let it be.

And in my ____________ (4) of darkness

She _______ (5) ___________ (6) right in front of me

________________ (7) words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be.
_____________ (8) words of wisdom, let it be

Then, the next thing for the teacher to do is choose the best activities that match the students age and level, that are not time-consuming, and that do not need expensive instructional media.

There are a number of children’s  games that can be used by elementary-school teachers of English. What the teacher should do is finding  appropriate games, making some preparation, and later coming to the classroom well-prepared to use the games. It is hoped that the students will benefit from what the teacher does: they will enjoy the games, have some fun  with the follow-up activities and at the same time, learn the language.


Hadfield, Jill. 1984. Elementary communication games. Thomas nelson (Hongkong) Ltd

Halliwell, Susan. 1992. Teaching English in the Primary Classroom. London: Longman.

Free Sample Edutainment games. December 11th, 2002 from: http:// html

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