Sunday, September 17, 2017

Games in ESL classrooms

Hugo Mendonça Lima (Final project for the course Writing for Teachers)

          Having been a P.E teacher for almost five years, I have come to realize something. If you want to make people practice physical activities, without suffering, make it interesting. And what better way to do that than by playing games? Is the attention span of the children in your kids’ swimming class short? Turn the pool into the sea and the kids into mermaids and play make believe. Are your teenagers getting bored too fast in their volleyball practice? Tell them the faster they finish it the more time they will have to play the actual game. Are some of the adults in the gym starting to miss classes? Tell them they will have a bench press competition at the end of the month and the winner gets a month free of tuition.

          For this reason, when I started teaching English as a Second Language, it was no surprise to see that the students from these classes also responded well to games. However, what I was surprised with were the reasons why teachers would use games in an ESL classroom. Most of my peers used this tool as a way to kill time or break the ice. They would hardly ever use it as a means to learn new content. So I challenged them. I proposed we increase the number of times we use games in our classes, but only if we had a specific learning purpose in mind. That way, not only would we have to think outside the box, but also the students would be more engaged during the lessons. The teachers accepted the challenge, and we agreed to bring to class at least one new game every week. Needless to say, we had remarkable results. The students loved the change, and were learning much more every week. And because of that, the teachers started feeling compelled to bring more and more interesting things for classes.

          Thus, I now challenge you, reader. How about changing things up in your classroom? Instead of a PPT explaining how to say sentences in the future, why not play a game with that goal in mind? Maybe have your students work in pairs and play a game of predicting each other’s future (bring a deck of cards or snow globes for fun). One student will be the clairvoyant and will “read” the cards or globes for their classmate, using sentences in the future. It might seem silly, but they will be engaged and will use their creativity trying to impress their peers. Or you can come up with a new game for this topic yourself.

          For that, you will have to understand the definition of game, and its purpose in an ESL classroom. Talak-Kiryk (2010) says that games are fun activities which promote interaction, thinking, learning and problem solving, whereas Deesri (2002) says they are also activities that must have rules, goals, and an element of fun. And according to Chen (2005) and Talak-Kirkyk (2010), games in an ESL classroom provide students with the opportunity for real communication and give them purpose to use the target language.

          If this reason is not enough for you, Chen (2005) mentions in her article that games allow students to explore the language without the fear of failure. She also says that learning should be interesting, fun, and even challenging. After all, we are used to having any kind of information at hand, at any time we want. All we have to do is pick up our phones and look it up. So, having students work hard for something and engage in an activity might be difficult. And games will be helpful when facing this resistance.

          Now, if I was able to convince you to increase the number of games you use in your classes, when planning your lessons remember this: your game should always have a clear learning objective and purpose (Deesri. 2002). A game of Charades might be fun, but it is also pointless if it does not add to the learning process. Furthermore, you should always keep in mind your students’ language level, their age, and personality traits.

          It might seem difficult, at first, to make games a fixed part of your syllabus. However, once your students start participating more and learning more, you will see you are doing something right. The most challenging part will be having to create games for each situation. That is why I will put some links bellow with some websites that might help you. After a while, you will have a database of games you can use, and your classes will be easier to plan, but still effective.

Links for games:


CHEN, I. Using Games to Promote Communicative Skills in Language Learning. 2005. Accessed in:
TALAK-KIRYK, A. Using Games In A Foreign Language Classroom. 2010. Accessed in:

DEESRI, A. Games in the ESL and EFL Class. 2002. Accessed in:

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Teaching one-to-one classes

Benjamin Correa  (Final project for the course Writing for Teachers)

Teaching English in a one-to-one situation differs significantly from the traditional classroom modus operandi. There is only one student with the teacher’s undivided attention and no opportunities to have students experiment with peers with a similar English knowledge level. Therefore, a different approach must be sought to better mould the class to this kind of situation. In fact, this is a particularly challenging teaching practice that frequently gets overlooked in TEFL courses (WILBERG, 2014, I).
          Commonly, the one-to one arrangements deal with a student’s needs instead of a pre-arranged, set-hours course. The need for individualization and to meet the students’ needs is important when teaching groups, but when teaching one to one, it becomes more evident. With these parameters in mind, it is important to adapt the class structure so to both favour the end user’s purposes and offer a good foundation to use the language in any given situation. However, to mould the class to these situations, some aspects must be taken into consideration.
          First, the student-teacher dynamic is changed in a way that, although it is not shaped as a peer-to-peer relationship, there is more of a partnership between them than would be felt in a group class. Also, the decision-making process regarding the class is shared differently from a standard class. In a multiple-student situation, the relationship among the students is that of camaraderie that, necessarily, shifts the class from a teacher to a student-centred dynamic. In a one to one class, this is shifted toward a sort of equilibrium between the teacher and the student.
          Moving along the lines of the teacher-student relationship is the classroom management dynamics, or rather, the pressure both teacher and student have upon themselves (British Council). The student might feel pressured, since there are no peers to share the teacher’s attention, nor is there a time for the “spotlight to be off him”. The teacher, on the other hand, might feel pressured to keep the class interesting and realistic regarding the student’s expectations (WILBERG, 2014, p. 7).
          However, those aspects are not necessarily bad. If the teacher can manage to deal with them, they can be turned in their favour. If the student has the teacher’s undivided attention, that also means he or she has larger opportunities for practice and receive feedback. And if there is a development in the relationship into trustworthiness and lightness, the student might be compelled to engage more using the language he or she’s learning. This means more real-life situations and flourishing development.
          Jeremy Harmer (2014, p. 123) states that confidence building is one of the key aspects of language learning. Therefore, one could assume that without the pressure from peers and with the easiness of an acquainted teacher, the student benefits from this kind of class. Developing at the student’s pace and pushing faster or slower is something that helps confidence building and the language-learning process.
          All things considered, a one to one class brings different challenges and distinct rewards for those involved. The teacher being able to manage the pace and the demands of the student helps him or her to develop confidence and fulfill expectations and personal objectives with the new language. Therefore, the one to one class might be a unique opportunity for personal growth for both teacher and student.


British Council Teaching One to One. Available in:

Harmer, Jeremy (2014) How to Teach English. Essex: Pearson.

Wilberg, Peter (1994) One to One: A Teacher’s Handbook. London: Language Teaching Publications