Table of contents
2. The importance of games
3. The importance of a nice atmosphere
4. Criteria for choosing a game
5. The process of the game
6. Different examples of games
6.2 Spot the Differences / Draw my Picture
6.3 Baker Street / Quite a good party
6.5 Tell us about
6.6 Weekend Trip
6.7 The Alibi Game
Games and Speaking Activities
The following paper will show how important games and speaking activities in a foreign language learning class are. Even 200 years ago a school teacher tried to practise speaking with a “description game” and therefore realized that in order to get pupils to be creative instead of merely reproducing given sentences, a game could be rather helpful. Since then, of course, many things have developed. Various types of games are offered and many theories have been written about the nature of games and their effect on foreign language learning. Especially in the last 20 years a considerable collection of games has been published and games have become part of school books and teaching material. Taking this flood of information on games and the variety of games themselves into consideration you could easily assume that games in the meantime are generally accepted and integrated into everyday school life. But this is not true. Games are still the exception. Even primary school pupils or beginners hardly get to play, as games are mostly regarded as a reward or time filler that are more or less offered spontaneously. Playing on a regular basis and integrating games as useful learning situations is still hardly accepted. This will hopefully change over the next few years.
This paper will first concentrate on a theoretical part. Why should games be part of every effective class? What positive outcome is to be expected with playing? What aspects are important in order to play successfully? Here special emphasis will be set on the atmosphere in class.
The following point will include the criteria for choosing a game. Various different factors have to be given deeper thought before you can even start planning the actual game. Often enough the major problems are not caused by the game itself but rather by class or time management. When all the preliminary problems are finally settled the chosen game will then have to be planned carefully always keeping in mind how it will be presented, how it will be carried out and how the topic of feedback will be treated.
The second major part will deal with actual games. A selection of games will be presented and critically evaluated showing problems or weak points, but also giving hints for successful playing. Here I will mainly concentrate on games that were played during our didactics lesson. The participants here were asked to give their own personal view on games or add from their own experience. A brief sum up of the main points that were discussed will also be given.
The main aim is to show that games are not simple time fillers or rewards but should be accepted as useful learning situations.
2. The importance of games
Learning a foreign language takes a lot of effort. You must constantly learn new vocabulary, read texts, understand these, try to work with them and in the end create your own piece of art. You must listen, repeat, and speak, until you are hopefully able to take part in an ordinary every-day conversation and maybe even ready to discuss your thoughts and opinions with others.
To attain these skills it takes a lot of hard work, which is not always fun. Think of translations and drill exercises. You may know you will learn something by doing them, but they are not really fun activities. This is where games come in. Games claim to be fun. Games are natural. Playing games creates situations in which learners are not aware any more that they are still doing hard work, i.e. learning. They are involved in a game and are trying to reach its goal. In order to achieve this goal they have to – and, by the way, normally are very willing to – use the target language. This again is exactly the teaching objective. So in contrast to exercises, games have two types of aims: First the goal of the game and secondly its teaching objective. It can very easily be seen that the two aims are not necessarily the same. As we will see later in the alibi game, the goal here is to find out who committed the crime. The teaching objective on the other hand is practising questions and the correct use of the past tense: two completely different aims.
Another important reason for introducing games in the language learning classroom is that they come very close to natural communication. The only reason for them not being real natural communication situations is because the pupils' native language is after all still German. But apart from that you have created a natural situation with real reasons to speak. Whether it is a guessing game, in which questions have to be answered that nobody knows the answer to beforehand or if rules of a game have to be discussed or the players given different roles, there is always a need to speak. Pupils are not forced by the teacher to answer questions or complete grammar exercises, but have to speak in order to win the game.
But not only speaking is important. Many games involve other skills, like logical thinking or quick reactions. This might be the chance for weaker pupils to realise that language learning can be enjoyable and they can also add something to win a game. Especially if team work is involved, everybody gets to see the necessity of working together and perhaps helping weaker pupils. If you fail to do this you will fail as a team. And to realise that a team is only as strong as its weakest link is another positive effect such a game has. It is an experience that will help most people later on in life. Maybe also the experience of having to work together with somebody you usually do not get on with so well and achieving in creating something together nevertheless will have an enormous effect on the whole class life. Games bring different kinds of social interaction into the classroom and might create new motivating dynamic processes that in the end again help language learning.
The entire meaning of language is more vividly experienced. Pupils’ interest may be aroused again, if they can see a point in learning a foreign language. After many years of learning without ever ‘living’ the language, it could become rather boring and meaningless. Games revive language and are meaningful. Playing a game is living a situation. Pupils will react. This can be through laughter, anger, surprise, concentration or relaxation. Important is not really the reaction that is shown, but that you provoke a reaction. Only through these will a game be meaningful and therefore many learners may become more interested again and will be more willing to work. That is why a game should also stay a real game. The best thing would be to find a game that the pupils would also enjoy playing in their spare time. They probably will be willing to play a game in the foreign language that in their mother tongue might be a little childish or boring, but the teacher should be careful not to take this too far.
3. The importance of a nice atmosphere
This might sound like a superfluous point, but it indeed is one of the most important ones: In order to play successfully you have to create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. This is not only important for games, but also for language acquisition in general. It is a fact that certain variables help language acquisition: A good self-image makes pupils confident to speak up in class, but also encourages them to go towards speakers of the target language more readily and just speak. A low anxiety level also makes them more receptive to the input they get. So instead of having to concentrate hard and memorize everything you hear, you will be able to ‘pick up’ language.
 Klippel, Friederike (1998), p.4
 If not indicated differently, based on Klippel (1998), p. 4-6
 Wright (1981), p. 1, 2
 Wright (1981), p. 5
 Krashen (1995), p. 37, 38