One for all, all for one – collaborative games in ELT

How much have my students learned?

Have they learned at all?
Have they learned what I wanted them to learn?
Have I included meaningful activities?
Have I done enough to keep the students motivated and interested?
Has everybody been involved adequately and equally?
Have my students collaborated to achieve their goals?

These are some of the burning questions I ask myself every day after the lesson. Of course, I feel happiest when all my students are interested, motivated and engaged. I like to see that they have learned and collaborated. I’d like to share two activities that have proved useful, especially in regard to the last four questions above; they are motivatingmeaningful, they help to keep all the students engaged, and they promote collaboration. I should stress that their magic lies more in perfect classroom management than in the content itself.

1) One of my most favourite activities that I have piloted with students of all levels of proficiency is the ‘describe and guess’ type activity. It is very popular in its spoken form, but I sometimes include its written alternative too.

  • Each student thinks of a word to describe (you can use any vocabulary set you want to focus on). S/he writes the description/definition at the top of an A4 piece of paper. You can decide how long the description should be. I suggest that it be a longer stretch of text (5-10 sentences, depending on the level) so that Ss get more practice in writing cohesive texts.
  • Each description is passed on to the next student, who tries to guess the word and writes the guess at the very bottom of the paper.
  • After having written the guess down, the student folds the bottom of the paper back so that the next student can’t see his or her guess. The description with the guess is sent on again.
  • This chain activity goes on until all the descriptions get to their original authors, who can look at the guesses (it’s good to consider the system of passing the descriptions in advance to avoid chaos; my Ss usually sit in a horseshoe or in a circle, which makes the game go smoothly).
  • The original authors then give the correct answers (if it is necessary or if there is some disagreement).
  • Time for feedback. Those descriptions with a set of identical guesses were probably clear and elaborate.

2) This game is very popular with my students. It’s useful for practising or revising vocabulary, but it’s also a very effective speaking activity.

  • Each student writes 10 English words on a piece of paper (depending on what your Ss need to practise)
  • Each student gets another blank piece of paper where they are going to take down their points = scores.
  • Two Ss (‘blue’ and ‘red’) sit opposite each other in a circle or horseshoe seating arrangement. See the picture below.
  • Start the game. A ‘red’ student (RS) describes one of the words on the list. When his or her partner, the ‘blue’ student (BS), guesses the word, RS gets a point, which s/he records on the blank piece of paper. Then it’s the BS’s turn. They take turns until the teacher gives a signal to stop.
  • Time to migrate. Before all the RSs sitting in the inner circle move to the next seat (as described in the picture below), the RS and BS swap their vocabulary lists. So all Ss repeat the activity with a new set of words and a new partner (this is the meaningful aspect of the game).
  • The game can go for as long as you wish, preferably till any red student has talked to all blue students. The student with the best score in the class is the ultimate winner (this is the motivating aspect of the game).

In both activities, each student is doing something meaningful at each point (this is the engaging aspect of the game). Everybody must work efficiently not to hinder somebody’s success or waste somebody’s time during the activity. All the students play as individuals, but they are also dependent on their peers. This adds a new, collaborative, dimension to the games … one for all, all for one.

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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2 Responses to One for all, all for one – collaborative games in ELT

  1. Pingback: #200 | How I see it now

  2. Pingback: The Scissors Effect | How I see it now

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