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
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
3. They also enable learners to acquire new
experience within the foreign language that are not always possible during a
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
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
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
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’
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
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
The teachers who use games, particularly
grammar games, in the process of teaching should remember the folk wisdom that
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
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