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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

Авторы: Курмангалиева Д.М., Нурбаева Ж.

In the last twenty years many ESL/EFL books have been devoted to teaching grammar. We believe teaching grammar is the most difficult aspect in teaching English as a foreign language, because people should acquire what many call “a language feeling” or linguistic intuition. English constructions are simpler than in Russian; however, there are twelve tense forms for the active voice only. Besides, students should be knowledgeable about their native language to understand the structure of the target language. So we can say that the issue of improving grammar lessons is relevant nowadays. Using games in teaching grammar always remains an arguable question. Some teachers consider games to be just entertaining or as activities which can be used only as some warm-up. Other teachers do not believe grammar can be taught interactively at all and put a lot of weight on drills and substitution exercises as the main means to achieving formal linguistic competence. These teachers believe games have a legitimate place in a children’s classroom only, but adults would better respond to formal instruction.

Most teachers of English agree that games are excellent learning activities for children; some believe that adult students are not receptive because they require something more than “fun and games” from their classes. Practice shows that well-planned games can teach and reinforce grammar points very successfully if the activities are geared to students’ proficiency, age, and experience and not presented condescendingly. Surprises may still occur when a supposedly “childish” game is a real hit in an adult class and vice versa a problem-solving task which requires critical and conceptual thinking might be of a genuine interest to younger students.

We also firmly believe that games can and should be used at all levels of foreign language proficiency and across all ages because when students are engaged in games or problem-solving activities, their use of language is task-oriented and has a purpose beyond the production of correct speech. This makes these activities ideal for communicative practice of grammar if, in fact, the activities can be structured to focus learners’ attention on a few specific forms before the communicative practice. When this is successfully achieved, problems and games help reinforce the connection between the form (grammar structure) and real life situations where it may be applied, since the forms targeted for attention occur naturally within the larger context created by the game or the problem.

Games have a goal, are organized according to rules, and are meant to be enjoyable. Problem-solving activities also have a goal (i.e., the solution of the problem), and although they rarely have elaborate game-type rules, the problems themselves may be structured so as to require creative solutions.

When using games or problem-solving activities, the teacher must be sure that students are familiar with the words and structures needed to carry out the task. Quick drills or exercises should usually be done before students play the game or solve the problem. This will encourage them to practice the appropriate forms rather than the forms that may result when learners are forced to engage in a communicative task before they have sufficient command of the words and structures needed to accomplish it.

“The Treasure Hunt” can be used successfully with high-beginning or low-intermediate students. For this game, which elicits communicative practice of imperatives and potentially all types of questions (yes/no, wh-, alternative), the teacher first divides the class into groups of three (in a large class students could form groups of four or five). Each group is given a small picture of a pot of gold- or some other appropriate “treasure”- with the group’s number written on it in large script. The group is also given a thumbtack or a strip of scotch tape and asked to select one of its members for a very important task.

The group members who have been selected for the important task step outside the room with the teacher and are told to hide the pot of gold in some secluded but accessible location at least fifty paces away from the classroom door. At this stage they should be instructed only to find a very good hiding place for the treasure as quickly as possible and return to the classroom.

Once all class members in charge of hiding the treasure have returned, they are told to rejoin their groups but to say nothing until further instructed. They are then told to give careful oral instructions to the other group members as to exactly where they must go to find their group’s treasure. These instructions should be verbal only. No maps, gestures, or written notes are allowed. The other group members may ask as many questions as they wish. The one who hides the treasure must tell the others how to get from the classroom to the hiding place, not simply where it is.

The next game is “Where’s what’s it?” It can be used with all levels. This non-threatening guessing game is good way to wrap up a lesson on prepositions. The aims of this game are to practice the use of prepositions in a task-based situation. The procedure of this game is the following:

1. Before class begins place one of the objects on top of something, underneath something, or between two other things.

2. Divide the class into two teams or into groups.

3. Tell the class that they have to identify an object you have chosen in the classroom, using only yes/no questions about position (e.g., “Is it on the wall? Is it behind you”?).

4. Teams take turns asking position questions; no points are lost if the answer is incorrect.

5. Either team may try to guess the object at any time if they guess wrong, the point goes to the other side.

6. The first team to identify the object wins the point.

This game also works best as a short activity at the end of a class.

The next game is easy to conduct, as it does not require any materials. It is used at the intermediate level and requires 10-15 minutes. It practices “the first conditional.” You should do the following:

1. Ask a student to draw on the board a girl looking puzzled by the side of a lake.

2. In a speech bubble, coming from her mouth, write:

“I wonder what I’ll do if he doesn’t come to see me by this strange lake tonight.”

3. Tell the students the aim of the exercise is to transform the sentence completely. To do this they may take out either one word or two words together, but each time they must replace them with a phrase of three words. When the first student suggests a deletion and addition, rub out the word or two words, and add in the three words proposed. Ask another student to read the new sentence to see whether it works for him or her and the group. You don’t need to speak at all – if the students can’t make up their minds about a substitution, and if it is wrong, all you have to do is rub out the three words and put back the original one or two. When a student proposes something that is wrong, avoid commenting with your face and body – you can be silent and still very un-neutral.

These, by far, are not only games, which can be used in the lesson; we just wanted to show a few that proved quite effective and may be used in English lessons.

Beside games we can also use the role-play as an activity, which is dramatization of a real life situation in which the students assume roles. It presents the students with a problem, but instead of reaching a group consensus in solving it, the students act out their solution. The format of a role-play allows students to use the target structures naturally, without much thinking over which ending to put where. Correctly chosen role-playing scenes expose students to the types of situations they are most likely to encounter inside and outside of the classroom. They are such situations that help to improve students’ self-confidence and ability to communicate effectively. It is an excellent technique for communicative practice of structures sensitive to social factors. The general procedure is first to hand out the problem to the students and answer questions. Next, introduce and explain the vocabulary and structures necessary for the task. In the following session, divide students into groups, in which they discuss and practice how they are going to do the role-play. During this step the teacher allows students to communicate freely and does not interrupt for correction. However, the teacher should take notes on grammatical, cultural, and phonological errors for subsequent treatment.

Next, the role-play is performed before the class. After each enactment, the teacher comments on selected minor language errors. Major errors are saved for formal grammar lessons later. After each group has performed, the entire class discusses the questions raised by the situation, such as different interpretations of the scene and culturally or linguistically appropriate responses. The last step is to assign a writing exercise based on the role-play or related question. Subsequent grammar lessons based on the errors observed during the exercise should be presented.

The entire exercise is spread out over three days: introducing the role-play situation and the initial group work on the first day; more group work, performances, class evaluations, and written work on the second day; the grammar follow-up on the third. A classroom activity like this usually includes work on vocabulary, a culture lesson, written work, and grammar lesson, as well as work on pronunciation and communicative strategies. Thus, the role-play presents a comprehensive approach to language study.

To illustrate the procedure, we will consider the following role-play: “Being Stopped by a Police Officer”. The grammar focus is the social use of modals, such as May I see…, Would you mind…, and the logical use of modals, as in must have left.

1. Setting the Scene - You are driving down a freeway in California and you are stopped by a police officer. He is completely unsympathetic to the fact that you are a foreign student and your nervousness makes it difficult for you to express yourself. You are not sure why he has stopped you, but you know that he is extremely angry. You are to work out a short skit with three characters: the driver, a passenger, and the police officer. The presentation should be approximately five minutes.

2. Vocabulary – driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance valid until, the law.

3. Questions for planning the role-play:

Why has the police officer stopped you?

How should you react to this anger?

Is it possible that he had a good reason to stop you?

What is the best way to deal with the matter?

What kind of language do you use to talk to a police officer?

What are the possible problems you might have?

4. Discussion questions:

Is bribery a good way to deal with a police officer in the United States? Why or not?

What is the role of a police officer in the USA? In our country?

If you are stopped by the police officer, how should you act?

Having studied some of the latest works on the place of games in an English classroom, we should say that there both advantages and disadvantages to using games. The advantages are the following:

- Interaction of all the students in the process of the game;

- Arousing students’ interest to the subject;

- Involving learners into the communication;

- A good practice of all language aspects;

- Appropriate at all levels;

- Ability of using the games in any stage of the lesson.

Among the disadvantages the most wide spread are the following:

- Games may take a lot of time – preparation, set-up, scoring, evaluation, etc.

- Not every student is willing to participate

- Games may cause arguments among the classmates.

Despite the listed drawbacks, most games provide meaningful contexts for integrating writing, reading, pronunciation, listening, and grammar. In this article we tried to focus on how to enliven grammar lessons with interactive games that help reinforce learning. We believe games enable students to operate spontaneously with the language, as well as experience increased empathy, heightened self-esteem and motivation, and lowered sensitivity to rejection, thus facilitating second-language acquisition. Finally, games, if properly conducted, provide teachers and students with delightful lessons.


1. Diane Larsen-Freeman “Techniques and Principles in language teaching” (Oxford university Press, 1986).

2. Donna Inness, James Kealey “Grammar- Focused Interactive Activities and games (Oxford University Press, 2002).

3. Mario Rinvolucry, Paul Davis “More grammar games” (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

4. Mario Rinvolucry “Grammar Games” (New York, 2003)

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

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