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Using grammar games in communicative language learning

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009

Автор: Ежитская С. М.

The aim of this work is to make the process of learning and, subsequently, the work of a teacher easier, more interesting and effective. Language learning is hard work. One must make an effort to understand, to repeat accurately, to manipulate newly understood language and to use the whole range of known language in conversation. Effort is required at every step and must be maintained over a long period of time.

The contemporary aim of teaching a foreign language is to develop students’ communicative competence. It can be realized through Communicative Language Teaching.

Communicative Language Teaching is an approach to the teaching of second and foreign languages that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. It is also referred to as “communicative approach to the teaching of foreign languages” or simply the “Communicative Approach”. I think one of the best ways to develop students’ communicative competence is the use of games in the process of learning. Games help and encourage many learners to sustain their interest and motivation. They are good source for developing communicative environment. Games help the teacher to create contexts in which language is useful and meaningful. The learners want to take part and in order to do so must understand what others are saying or have written, and they must speak or write in order to express their own points of view or give information.

Many games offer as much density of practice as more conventional drill exercises; some do not. What matters, however, is the quality of practice.

The contribution of drilling lies in the concentration on a language form and its frequent use during a limited period of time. Games provide this repeated use of a language form. By making the language convey information and opinion, games provide the key feature of “drilling” with the opportunity to sense the working of language as living communication.

The need for meaningfulness in language learning has been accepted for some years. A useful interpretation of “meaningfulness” is that the learners respond to the content in a definite way. If they are amused, angered, challenged, intrigued or surprised by the content, clearly their reading, speaking and writing will be more vividly experienced and, therefore, better remembered.

If it is accepted that games can provide intense and meaningful practice of language, then they must be regarded as central to a teacher’s repertoire. They are thus not for use solely on rainy days or at the end of the term.

Games can be found to give practice in all the skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking), in all the stages of the teaching/learning sequence (presentation, repetition, recombination and free use of language) and for many types of communication functions (e. g. encouraging, criticizing, agreeing, explaining).

Language students must be involved in as many situations as possible where one of them has some information, another doesn’t, but has to get it – in other words, situations situations containing an information gap between the participants. Johnson and Morrow recognized the value of information gap activities in the language classroom more than20 years ago, calling the concept “one of the most fundamental in the whole area of communicative teaching”. Other researches state that information gaps can promote real communication and facilitate language acquisition.

The terms “information gap” and “opinion gap” are now widely used to describe features essential to so much communication in our daily lives. We speak or write because we want to pass on information or convey an opinion which we think the receiver might be interested in. If the receiver is familiar with the information and is of the same opinion, there is no gap and he/she will probably switch off. It may seem terribly obvious! But in much foreign-language learning there is no information gap at all and opinions are rarely asked for. The teacher usually asks a question which the learner knows the teacher can answer! The teacher is more interested in the form than in the content of what the learner says.

An understanding of the principle of information gap and opinion gap, and a belief that they should be intrinsic to most language-learning activities is essential for any teacher using games.

Enjoyment of games is not restricted age. Some individuals, regardless of to age, may be less fond of games than others. But so much depends on the appropriateness of the games and the role of the player.

It is generally accepted that young learners and adults are very willing to play games. (This partially depends on the learners’ socio-cultural background.)

Young teenagers tend to be more self-conscious and one must take into account their reticence when selecting games for them. Games which can be played in pairs or groups may be particularly useful in this case. It is clear to all observers of classroom practice that the teacher’s own belief in the usefulness and appropriateness of a game affects the learner’s response.

Teenage learners might be reluctant to play games. Many people are so anxious to learn English in order to pass examinations or to improve their employment prospects that they look on games as unnecessary. If you have such committed learners you must clearly respect their point of view and be able to justify the use of each game in terms of the density and meaningfulness of practice it provides.

It is important to note that most advanced and dedicated students can enjoy and value games if the content and language used are relevant to them.

It follows that the real questions are not, “What groups are games for?” or “What level?” but are much more specific:

1. Will the game take you a long time to prepare, compared with the amount of useful work you will get from it?

2. Will it be relatively easy for you to organise it in the classroom?

3. Is it likely to interest the particular group of learners you have in mind?

4. Is the language or is the language skill you are concerned to teach intrinsic to the activity? Or are you just forcing it into the game?

5. Is the amount of language and the type of use enough to justify the use of the game? Or do you have another good reason for introducing it?

If your answer is “yes” to each of these questions, then the game you have in mind is a highly efficient means of satisfying your learners’ needs.

A lot of experienced textbook and methodology manuals writers have argued that games are not just time-filling activities but they have a great educational value. We hold that most grammar games make learners use the language instead of thinking about learning the correct forms. The grammar games should be treated as central, not peripherical to the foreign language teaching programme. Games, as Richard Amato thinks, are to be fun, but he warns against overlooking their pedagogical value, particularly in foreign language teaching programmes. There are many advantages of using games in grammar.

1. Games can lower anxiety, thus making the acquisition of input more likely.

2. Games are highly motivating and entertaining, and they can give shy students more opportunities to express their opinions and feelings.

3. They also enable learners to acquire new experience within the foreign language that are not always possible during a typical lesson.

4. Games add diversion to the regular classroom activities, break the ice and introduce the new ideas.

5. In the easy, relaxed atmosphere which is created by using games the students remember things faster and better.

6. Grammar games are a good way of practicing the language, for they provide a model of what learners will use the language for in real life in future.

7. Grammar games encourage, entertain, teach, and promote fluency.

If not for any of these reasons they should be used just because they help students to see beauty in a foreign language and not just problems, and this is the main reason to use games when studying English grammar.

There are numerous techniques concerned with grammar presentation. However, there are a few things that have to be remembered irrespective of the way new lexical items are presented. If teachers want students to remember new grammar it needs to be learnt in the context, practiced and then revised to prevent students from forgetting. Teachers must make sure of that students have understood the new words, which will be remembered better if introduced in a “memorable way”. Bearing all this in mind, teachers have to remember to employ a variety of techniques for new grammatical presentation and revision.

We suggest the following types of grammar presentation techniques:

1 Visual techniques. These pertain to visual memory, which is considered especially helpful with the grammar retention. Learners remember better the material that has been presented by means of the visual aids. The visual techniques lend themselves well to presenting concrete items of grammar. They help students to associate the presented material in a meaningful way and incorporate it into their system of the language units.

2.Verbal explanation. This pertains to the use of illustrative situations connected with the grammar material studied.

There are many factors to consider while discussing games, one of which is appropriacy. Teachers should be very careful about choosing games if they want to make them profitable for the learning process. If games are to bring desired results, they must correspond to either the students’ level, or age, or the materials that are to be introduced or practiced. Not all of the games are appropriate for all students irrespective of their age. Different age groups require various topics, materials and modes of games. For example, children benefit most from games which require moving around, imitating a model, competing between groups, and the like. Furthermore, structural games that practice or reinforce a certain grammatical aspects of language have to relate to students’ ability and prior knowledge. Games become difficult when the task or the topic is unsuitable or outside the students’ experience.

Another factor influencing the choice of a game is its length and the time necessary for its completion. Many games have time limits but according to Siek Piscozub, the teacher can either allocate more or less time depending of the students’ levels, the number of people in a group, or the knowledge of the rules of a game, etc.

Before using games in communicative language learning, the teacher should find games which the learners would enjoy playing in their out-of-classroom lives. Of course, the experience of teaching foreign languages shows that many learners are prepared to take part in games and activities which they would consider a little juvenile or rather boring in the mother tongue. However, there is a limit to learners’ goodwill and we should not stray far from the aim of introducing games worth playing in their own right. It is often the activity expected of a learner which makes it into an acceptable game, or, on the other hand, into a mechanical exercise. The essential ingredient of a game is challenge, but challenge is not synonymous with competition. If the teacher is unfamiliar with the use of language-teaching games then it is advisable to introduce them slowly as supplementary activities to whatever course book is used. Once the teacher is familiar with a variety of games, they can be used as a substitute for parts of the course which the teacher judges to be unsuitable.

It is essential to choose games which are appropriate to the class in terms of language and type of participation. Having chosen an appropriate game, its character and the aims and rules must be made clear to the learners. It may be necessary to use the mother tongue to do this. If the learners are unclear about what they have to do, chaos and disillusionment may result.

Many teachers believe that competition should be avoided. It is wrong and counter-productive to match learners of unequal ability even within a single exchange or challenge. The less able learner may “give up” and the more able develop a false sense of his/her own achievement. It is also wrong to compel an individual to participate. Learners reluctant to participate might be asked to act as judge and scorers.

As with all events in the classroom, it is advisable to stop a game and change to something else before the learners become tired of it. In this way their goodwill and concentration are retained.

The teacher should never interrupt a game which is flowing successfully in order to correct a mistake in language use. It would suggest that the teacher is more concerned with form than with the exchange of ideas. In general, it is better for the teacher to note the error and to comment on it later. Games should depend on cooperation in accepting problems and searching for solutions to them. When collecting games it is important to note what language needs only be understood by the players and what language must be used by them. (Indeed, in some games the learners are only expected to listen, understand, and, for example, point to a picture of carry out an action). Thus, the language level is determined by the type of use, not just the structures and vocabulary items themselves.

Games are often used as short warm-up activities or when there is some time left at the end of the lesson. As Mr. Lee observes, a game should not be regarded as a marginal activity filling in odd moments when the teacher and class have nothing better to do. Games ought to be at the heart of teaching foreign languages. Mr. Rixon suggests that games should be used at all stages of the English lesson, provided that they are suitable and carefully chosen. At different stages of the lesson, the teachers’ aims connected with a game may vary:

1. Presentation. It presents and provides a good model making its meaning clear.

2. Controlled practice. It elicits a good imitation of the language and appropriate responses.

3. Communicative practice. It gives to the students a chance to use a foreign language.

Grammar games also lend themselves well to revision exercises helping learners to recall a grammar material in a pleasant, entertaining way. All authors referred to in this paper agree that even the grammar games resulted only in noise and entertained students, they are still worth paying attention to and implementing in the classroom since they motivate learners, promote the communicative competence, and generate the fluency. However, can they be more successful for presentation and revision than other techniques? My teaching practice proves that the answer to this question is absolutely affirmative.

The teachers who use games, particularly grammar games, in the process of teaching should remember the folk wisdom that says:

Tell me and I forget,

Teach me and I remember,

Involve me and I learn.

It means that using games is of great value. It gives students opportunities to use English, and establish a communicative need in the English classroom. From my teaching experience I have noticed how enthusiastic students are about practicing language by means of games. I believe that grammar or vocabulary games are not only fun but they help students learn without a conscious analysis or understanding of the learning process while they acquire communicative competence as second language users.


1. Brown, H. Douglas. Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. - Prentince Hall, 1994

2. Krashen; Stephen D. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. - Prentice-Hall, 1998

3. Xiao Qing Liao. Information gap in communicative classrooms. Forum, 2001

4. Wright, Andrew. Games for Language Learning. – Cambridge university Press, 1993.

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009

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