The advantages of using games 6
Integrating games into the syllabus 7
The preparation of the game 8
Organisation of the game 9
Teacher’s language 10
Scoring 14

Group 1 Competitive games 16
Group 2 Cognitive games (Silent Way) 17
Group 3 Feelings and grammar 18
Group 4 Listening to people (Grammar in a councelling fame) 18
Group 5 Movement and grammar 19
Group 6 Problem solving 19




After several years in the wilderness grammar has been the subject of a renewal of interest in the last decade (Woods 1995:1).
In order to understand a language and to express oneself correctly one must assimilate the grammar mechanism of the language studied. Consequently, if a learner has acquired such a mechanism, he/she can produce correct sentences in a foreign language. Therefore, a command of English as is envisaged by the school syllabus cannot be ensured without the study of grammar, as pupils need it to be able to aud, speak, read, and write in the target language (Rogova 1975:134-135).
The term ‘grammar’ can be defined in a number of different ways, because different people mark different parameters. Looking at what some of the language teachers and grammarians say we can still find problems in setting the parameters in linguistic terms. At times it can be included into any aspect of language analysis, including morphology, phonology, discourse analysis, pragmatics. All of these have come under the umbrella of ‘grammar’ at one time or another (Woods 1995:2).
Leech sees grammar as a central component ‘which relates phonology and semantics, or sound and meaning. Another grammarian Huddleston says ‘the two most basic units of grammar are the word and the sentence, one subcomponent of grammar, called morphology, deals with the forms of words, while the other, called syntax, deals with the way words combine to form sentences.’ (ibid:3). Ur (1997,87) says that grammar is a set of rules that define how words (or bits of words) are combined or changed to form acceptable units of meaning within a language. Harmer’s view is that ‘the grammar of a language is what happens to words when they become plural or negative, or what order is used when we make questions or join two clauses to make one sentence.’ (Woods 1995:4).
What we, teachers, need is the simplest and shortest grammar that meets the requirements of the school syllabus in foreign languages. This grammar must be simple enough to be grasped and held by any pupil (Rogova 1975:135).
So, from the learner’s perspective, the ability both to recognise and to produce well-formed sentences is an essential part of learning a second language (Thornbury 2000:3).
However, there is more to language learning than the ability to produce well-formed sentences because grammar does not only affect how units of language are combined to make correct sentences but also affects their meaning (Ur 1997:76). Grammar communicates meanings of a very precise kind as it is a process for making a speaker’s or writer’s meaning clear when contextual information is lacking (Thornbury 2000:3).
There are at least two kinds of meaning and these reflect the two main purposes of language. The first is to represent the world as we experience it, and the second is to influence how things happen in the world, specifically in our relations with other people. These purposes are called, respectively, language’s representational and its interpersonal functions (ibid:5).
These grammatical categories – subjects, objects, verbs, adverbials, tense aspect and modality – are just some of the ways in which grammar is used to fine-tune the meanings we wish to express, and for which words on their own are barely adequate. It follows then that in learning a new language learners need to see how the forms of the language match the range of meanings – both representational and interpersonal – that they need to express and understand (ibid:6).
The place of grammar in the teaching of foreign languages is controversial. Most people agree that knowledge of a language means, among other things, knowing its grammar; but this knowledge may be intuitive (as it is in our native language), and it is not necessarily that grammatical structures need to be taught as such, or that formal rules need to be learned (Ur 1997:76). Some people felt that instead of teaching grammar, teachers should teach functions (Harmer 1991:4).
However, in order to perform those functions students have to know grammar. That is why modern courses often teach a grammatical structure and then get students to use it as part of a functional conversation.
So, teaching grammar should enable students to assimilate the ways of fitting words together to form sentences while hearing and reading, to reproduce phrases and sentences stored up in their memory and say or write sentences of their own, using grammar items appropriate to the situation (Rogova 1975:138).
To achieve this teachers have to help students make the ‘leap’ from form-focussed accuracy work to fluent, but acceptable production, by providing a variety of practice activities that familiarize them with the structures in context, giving practice both in form and communicative meaning (Ur 1997:83). That is why teachers use different kinds of methodology and technique. One of the methods used in teaching is communicative approach, as the main effects of it has been the realisation that just getting students to perform drills or engage in controlled practise may be not enough to help them to stand on their own feet as users of English (Hammer 1991:5). Other types of activity are needed where students can talk (or write) freely and use all or any of the language that they know. One kind of such activities is a game.
The aim of this paper is to show the importance of using games in language teaching with a special emphasis on presenting groups of grammar games with examples.


Games are not the same as other communicative activities in the EFL classroom. The main difference between games and other activities is that games have a visible set of rules which guide the children’s actions, and an element of strategy – children must successfully apply their language (and other) skills (Lewis and Bedson 2002:5).
Gibbs gives the definition of a game saying that it is ‘an activity carried out by cooperating or competing decision-makers, seeking to achieve, within a set of rules, their objectives’, and divides games into two groups:
1) competitive games, in which players or teams race to be the first to reach the goal;
2) co-operative games, in which players or teams work together towards a common goal (Rixon 1981:3).
A few more grammarians and language teachers divide games the same way as Gibbs dose. However, others divide them applying different criteria and thus make different classifications.
Whatever the classification the aim of all games is to get students talking to one another rather than always addressing their remarks to the teacher or having him mediate what they say to one another. (Rixon 1981:5)

The advantages of using games

The pedagogical value of games at all levels has been well documented (Lewis and Bedson 2002: 5).
First of all, a language in games is learnt by using it – and this means using it in situations and communicatively because games provide a context in which the language is embedded. This context is ‘authentic’ in the sense that the game creates its own world: for the duration of the game, it replaces external reality (ibid:1). Thus, it is the context in which the language is useful and meaningful.
‘Meaningfulness’ is that the learners respond to the content in a definite way If they are amused, angered, challenged, intriqued or surprised the content is clearly meaningful to them. This way the meaning of the language they listen to, read, speak and write will be more vividly expressed and, therefore, better remembered (Wright et al 1991:1).
Then, language games are a healthy challenge to a child’s analytical thought, because children are required to make decisions and individual choices, based on specific language criteria which form part of rules of the game (Lewis and Bedson 2002:6).
Further more, language learning is hard work which requires one to make an effort to understand, to repeat accurately, to manipulate newly understood language and to use the whole range of known language in conversation or written composition. Effort is required at every moment and must be maintained over a long period of time, and games help and encourage many learners to sustain their interest and work (Wright et al 1991:1).
Moreover, learners want to take part for the fun and challenge provided by games, and in order to do so they must understand what others are saying or have written, and they must speak or write in order to express their own point of view or give information. Thus their motivation for learning is increased (ibid.).
What is more, by making the language convey information and opinion, games provide the key feature of ‘drill’ – the concentration on a language form and its frequent use during a limited period of time – with the opportunity to sense the working of language as living communication (Wright et al 1991:1).
Finally, 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(e.g. encouraging, criticizing, agreeing, explaining etc.) (Lewis and Bedson 2002:1).

Integrating games into the syllabus

If it is accepted that games can provide intense and meaningful learning of language, then they must be regarded as central to a teacher’s repertoire (Wright et al 1991:1). Therefore, they should not be regarded as a marginal activity, filling in odd moments when the teacher and class have nothing better to do, though there are such games (Lee 1991:3). So, games should be regarded as an integral part of the language syllabus.
Although it would be conceivable to teach an English course solely based on games, most teachers have an accompanying textbook which they are required to work through over the course of the year. That is why games can either supplement the core material or (depending on the flexibility of the programme) replace activities which they dislike or feel uncomfortable with. This way, after reading coursebooks or syllabus, a teacher may find that perhaps there are aspects of the language which are not covered in the core curriculum, and the game can fill the gap (Lewis and Bedson 2002:6).
Language games can be used to introduce new material, to practice recently learnt language items, to introduce or practice certain themes, or to relax or energize a class. Besides, the same game can be used several times and serve as a valuable backup if teacher goes through the material too quickly or if something unexpected happens(ibid.).

The preparation of the game

Teachers must be very clear about what they expect from the children (Lewis and Bedson 2002:6). 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, because if the learners are unclear about what they have to do, chaos and disillusionment may result (Wright et al 1991:6).
How a teacher uses a language game will ultimately depend on the ‘personality’ of the group of children. A teacher should consider such questions: Do the children have a long attention span? Are they very active? What is the boy/girl ratio? (Sometimes girls and boys will refuse to play on the same team.) (Lewis and Bedson 2002:6).
Also, a teacher has to consider external factors, such as the time of the day the English lesson is held, and what happens before and after it (is the lesson a part of the regular school day, or is it held in the afternoon after a long day of school, homework, and other activities.) (ibid.).
Before choosing a game, a teacher should consider the safety as well (Is the space big enough for a lively game? Can the children fall and injure themselves? Is the floor dirty and not fit for sitting on?), which is the matter of control, because the children must know their boundaries and respect a teacher’s authority (ibid.).
Of course, all language games should be fun, but a teacher should try and keep the focus on some clearly recognizable objectives rather than jumping from theme to theme in order to introduce popular games. Besides, games should vary from lesson to lesson as well as the order in which they are played (Lewis and Bedson 2002:9).
It is very important not to play a game for too long, because children will begin to lose interest. However, finding the right moment to switch activities is not easy, as each child has a different attention span. Therefore, it is important to have extra material for children who finish an activity or who do not seem interested in continuing to play (ibid.).
What is more, a teacher must be fully sure about all aspects of the game, because children are relentlessly honest critics who expect a teacher to know everything.
After considering and answering all these questions, a teacher will be able to move between activities without having to interrupt the flow of the lesson (Lewis and Bedson 2002:6).

Organisation of the game

Many games depend on their success on good class organization (Lee 1991,4).
Some games require four to six players; in these cases group work is essential. If there is to be challenge between groups, they should be of mixed ability. If there is to be no such challenge, the teacher might choose groups according to ability: this is very much a personal choice (Wright et al 1991:5).
Many teachers consider it advisable to have a group leader, who would normally be one of the more able learners. However, there is much to be said for encouraging a reticent learner by giving the responsibility to him/her. The leader’s role is to ensure that the game is properly organised and to act as an intermediary between learners and teacher, while the teacher’s role, once the groups are in action, is to go from group to group listening in, contributing, and if necessary, correcting (ibid.).
Division into teams or groups should not have to be done afresh on every occasion: this is a waste of time. On the whole it is best for a learner, especially for a child, to be in the same team throughout the year, and it disturbs a child’s sense of ‘belonging’ to be switched arbitrarily from one team to another (ibid.).
If the teams or groups are to be named, much depends on the country and the learners’ ages. The groups of young children would be pleased to be named after birds. Colours and cardinal numbers would be more acceptable by older children. As it is impossible to find team names which are universally suitable, ‘A’, ‘B’, etc. can be used, and it is up to teacher and class to breath life into their own way (Lee 1991:4).
Teams are larger than groups. In a class of average size (say, 30) with two teams, there could easily be three groups in each team. Organization into groups, all of which can be active at the same time, is one way of multiplying language practice. Four or five in a group are enough, because the teacher should be able to get from group to group quickly (Lee 1991:4).
Pair work is easy and fast to organise. It provides opportunities for intensive listening and speaking, and this way gives a greater amount of communicative practice, though less opportunity for consultation and mutual correction (ibid:5).
Useful though pair activity and group activity are, however, we have to be content with teams where the classroom is very crowded and there is nowhere else to go. There may be two teams – the left-hand and right hand halves of the class. For pair activity, members of the class face their opposite member by turning sideways, and desks can be pushed towards or against each other if necessary (ibid.).
Once students are grouped, new games are normally introduced in the following way:
1) explanation by the teacher to the class;
2) demonstration of parts of the game by the teacher and one or two learners;
3) trial by a group in front of the class;
4) any key language and/or instructions written on the board;
5) key language, etc. removed from the board.

Teacher’s language

It may be necessary sometimes to use the mother tongue to explain the game, especially if a teacher wants to play a more complicated game with younger children, or if a teacher wants to use a game which includes concepts and procedures the children have not yet learnt. If a teacher starts explaining a game in English and realizes the class simply does not understand what a teacher means, a short prompt in the mother tongue will get it over the hurdle and on to the game in question (Lewis and Bedson 2002:14).
Besides, it is inevitable and logical that pupils may speak in their mother tongue during a lesson. A teacher has to be aware of the distinction between the target English he/she should require in the lesson and the off-task mother-tongue talking that may take place (ibid.).
However, a teacher has to encourage the pupils to use English. If a child addresses him/her in the mother tongue, it is fine to acknowledge the question, but respond in English. A teacher may even want to tease some English out of the children by responding to a mother-tongue question with: ‘Sorry? Could you say that in English? I don’t speak…’ etc., and using gestures (ibid.).
So a teacher has to stick to the target language as much as possible. There are some specific phrases which are essential to playing games. When the teacher first plays games with the class he/she has to demonstrate the meaning of phrases while saying them.

1 General commands, instructions, etc.

Take your time.
Don’t be in such a hurry.
Turn round.
One at a time.

2 Organization

a) Things required for the lesson

John, could you give out the pencils, please?
Fetch the projector from the storeroom, will you?
Bring me some paper, please.

You’ll all need pencils, rulers, etc.

Have you all got pencils?

Put up your hands if you need anything.

What do you need?
Look. There are some over there.
Here you are. Come and get it.
You’ll have to share.

b) arrangement of the classroom

Move the desk(s) over there, please.

Put your chair(s) back where it came from.
Take your things back where they came from.

c) Grouping of learners

Work with the person sitting next to you.

Work in threes/in your groups.

Split into your groups (now), please.

John, (would you) sit in front of Peter, please(?)

In groups. In your groups.
On your own. By yourself.
You be the group leader.

Who’s next? Whose turn is it?

d) Organization of the game


It’s your turn.
Who hasn’t had a turn yet?
You take it in turns.

If you want any help, put up your hand(s).

Who wants to try?

You must…
You’ve got to…

3 Praise, blame, and evaluation

(I think) this one is better than that one.
I don’t think these are as good as those.

Good. Quite good. Very good. O.K. Fine.
Well done. Right. Correct.

Wrong. Not right. Not very good.
Not quite right.

4 Interpersonal exchanges

What’s wrong? Can I help you?
All right?
( Wright et al 1991,8-13)

When points are scored, it is advisable to vary the method of scoring (Lee 1991:7).
Images of things, which climb or expand are useful as means of visually representing the score. Thus if the number of points likely to be small, they can be marked on ladders as they are won (ibid.).
The scores of four teams might look something like that:

Human or animal shapes (e.g. stick figures) interest children more than mere dots or abstract symbols (Lee 1991:8).

When there is a maximum possible score the ladders can have an appropriate number of rungs leading up to a definite goal, such as the roof of a house or the top of a tower (ibid.).
For some games each team’s score can be shown on a flight of steps, thus:

For each correct answer guessed, the team figure moves one step up, for each incorrect one a step down (Lee 1991:8).

Another way of showing scores as they increase is to sketch one symbol for each point along a horizontal line: simple trees, fish, fruit, ducks, faces (the expression getting more cheerful as the line lengthens) – any symbol that can be drawn very quickly and simply and that has a certain appeal to the learner. The objects may be associated with the names of the teams, especially if these are animal, bird, or flower names (ibid:9). Here are some examples:

There are lots of visual possibilities of this sort: adding wagons to a train, stars to a sky, branches to a tree, etc.

Scores can also be registered non-visually: stones or marbles or peas can be dropped into bags, nuts or beads or beans placed in bowls, sticks laid in bundles. Then, scoring in games can be shown thus: a house or tower can be built up on the board stone by stone, one stone for every point, and the winner has the biggest or tallest building. Boats may cross a lake or sea inch by inch, the winner being the first to reach the other side (Lee 1991:9).


The games are grouped according to the students’ level, their mentality and the grammar components practiced. For example, if a teacher teachers primary school children, he/she might start by going for the ‘Movement and grammar’ group. Or if he/she teaches upper secondary students, then ‘Feelings and grammar’ and ‘Cognitive games’ groups would be to look at first.

Group 1 Competitive games

These are traditional games used to sharpen the students’ knowledge of area of grammar. This group also involves formats taken from radio and TV games, because it makes sense to borrow happy contexts from the students’ world of entertainment (Rinvolucryi and Davis 1995:x).
Competitive activities that pit pairs against pairs and threes against threes are excellent for fostering collaboration and mutual help within each team. In this heightened atmosphere a lot of learning takes place without the students noticing they are ‘studying’ (ibid.).
In many of these activities the students’ language task is to look at a set of sentences and decide which are correct and which are wrong. This is central to students’ building up a strong internal monitor to help them speak and write correctly (ibid.).
Moreover, these activities are frame activities, i.e. a teacher can reuse them many times, slotting in the grammar he/she wants the students to work on (ibid.).

(see appendix, game 1)

Group 2 Cognitive games (Silent Way)

These are ‘thought-provoking’ sentence manipulations, because they are open-ended games, unlike the sentence transformation exercises given in most grammar workbooks and tests, where there is intended to be one right answer (Rinvolucry and Davis 1995,xi)
The games in this group are ideal for mixed-level classes. And though they are mostly open-ended, a teacher can confidently predict that the students will focus on certain areas of grammar (ibid.).
If we ask students to expand the sentence: ‘I am a hotel’, by adding one word or two to the original four, we can predict certain structures:
present continuous: I am managing a hotel.
negative: I am not buying a hotel.
passive: I am called a hotel.
reporting: ‘I am a hotel’ he added.
When doing these open-ended, creative, sentence manipulation exercises with a class a teacher will find out a lot about their grammar thinking, because they may learn as much from wrong transformations as they do from being right first time (ibid.).

All this kind of work is based on Caleb Gattegno’s ‘Silent Way’ approach in which the students discover the regularities of the language by tightly teacher-guided trial and error work (ibid.).

(see appendix, game 2)

Group 3 Feelings and grammar

In these games students concentrate on expressing real things about themselves and people round them. They do this by using prescribed structures and absorb the grammar, as it were, through peripheral vision (Rinvolucry and Davis 1995:xii).

For example, in ‘Choosing the passive’ students think of their early childhood and decide which of these parallel sentences best describes their situation:
I was born.
I was loved by my mother.
I gave my first yawn.
A semantically focused exercise like this makes clear that the choice between active and passive is a motivated one (ibid.).

(see appendix, game 3)

Group 4 Listening to people (Grammar in a counselling frame)

The aim of a counselling game is for the listener to accurately enter the world of assumption, proposition and feeling of the speaker, bringing in as little of his/her own judgement and feelings as possible. The grammar is being practised in a person-centred atmosphere of concentration on meaning. Students are very much in each other’s presence and often the speakers are saying important things about themselves (Rinvolucry and Davis 1995:xiii).
For example, if a teacher wants students to practise the comparatives, he/she puts them in threes where one person is to speak for some time while the other two listen intently. The speaker compares himself/herself to other people he/she knows, e.g. ‘I am more … than my boyfriend, but my sister is more … than me’. At the end the two listeners feed back to the speaker exactly what he/she said. Each of the three people takes a turn at being the ‘comparative’ speaker (ibid.).

(see appendix, game 4)

Group5 Movement and grammar

These are the games that have people up and moving while practising and internalising grammar, so they are moving but not wasting time. It is in movement that some learners absorb language best, as the movement, the intonation and the grammar form a whole for them. This has been well understood by Suggestopaedic teachers (Rinvolucry and Davis 1995:xiii).
(see appendix, game 5)

Group 6 Problem solving

In this group of games students are asked to find multiple solutions to technical, human and cultural problems and to express themselves within a given set of grammar structures. These games are especially liked by technically, scientifically minded children and teenagers (Rinvolucry and Davis 1995:xiv).

(see appendix, game 6)


Grammar teaching occupies an important place in language teaching syllabus, as no speaking is possible without the knowledge of grammar. However, teaching and learning the grammar of English is often very boring for both teachers and students. That is why games have become a widely used technique in teaching grammar.
Games should be integrated into lessons and the teaching syllabus because first of all they provide a teacher with practical ways of inducing his/her students to feel, think and produce the grammar that is specific to English.
Then, games provide contextual information, which plays a key role in our interpretation of what a speaker means. The games are useful also because most of them distract the learners’ attention from the study of linguistic forms. Instead of thinking about the language, students use it. Moreover, games create a pleasant, informal, and often relaxed atmosphere, favourable to language learning.
Besides, games provide the repetition of successful and interesting communication and thus give the most encouraging, ‘language advancing’, and motivating effect.
Furthermore, games bring teacher and learners into a more agreeable and more intimate relationship, and that too helps to ease the process of learning and teaching.
Finally, games not only help students to develop grammar mechanism but also work as a successful way of acquiring language competence.


Game 1 Speed ( Rinvolucri and Davis 1995,28 – 29 )

GRAMMAR: Collocations with wide, narrow and broad
LEVEL: Intermediate to advanced
TIME: 15 – 20 minutes
MATERIALS: Three cards, with wide on one, narrow on the second and broad on the
third .
(A teacher can create his/her own material for lower levels using
different collocations.)

Prepare three large cards with wide on one, narrow on the second and broad on the third.

In class

1. Clear as much space as you can in your classroom so that students have access to all the walls and ask two students to act as secretaries at the board. Stick each of your cards on one of the other three walls of the room. Ask the rest of the students to gather in the middle of the space.
2. Tell the students that you are going to read out sentences with a word missing. If they think that the right word for that sentence is wide they should rush over and touch the wide card. If they think the word should be narrow or broad they touch the respective card instead. Tell them that in some cases there are two right answers (they choose either).
3. Tell the secretaries at the board to write down the correct versions of the sentences in full as the game progresses.
4. Read out the first gapped sentence and have the students rush to what they think is appropriate wall. Give the correct version and make sure it goes up on the board. Continue with the second sentence etc.
5. At the end of the strenuous part ask the students to take down the sentences in their books.
( If the students want a challenge they should get a partner and together write down as many sentences as they can remember with their backs to the board before turning round to complete their notes. Or else have their partner dictate the sentence with a ‘gap’ for them to try to complete.)

Sentences to read out

They used a ………….. angled lens. wide
He looked at her with a …………. smile. broad
The Socialists won by a ………… margin. narrow/broad
She is very ………….. minded. broad/narrow
Everybody was in ……….. agreement. broad
You had a ………… escape. narrow
Of course they are ……….. open to criticism. wide
They went down the canal in a ……….. boat. narrow
She opened her eyes…………… . wide
The news was broadcast nation…………. . wide
The path was three metres …….. . wide
The light was so bright that she ……… her eyes. narrowed


This game can be played with many sets of grammar exponents:
– forms of the article; a,the and zero article
– prepositions

Game 2 Snooping around ( Zaorob and Chin 2001,30 – 34 )

LANGUAGE FOCUS: Present perfect simple with ever
LEVEL: Intermediate to advanced
TOPIC: Life experiences
INTERACTION: Groups of two or six
TIME: 20 – 30 minutes
MATERIAL: board, set of cards, dice(one per group), counters(one per student)

A: Have you ever been to a fortune teller?
B: Yes, I have.
A: Why did you go there?
B: Well, I wanted to know when I would find a girlfriend.

The purpose is to provide plenty of input on the present perfect + ever, to get learners to understand how this tense contrasts with the simple past, and to practise a lot with both. Despite the initial controlled prompt, the activity invites learners to share life experiences and is therefore excellent for generating conversation and building fluency.

1. This game includes three sets of cards, marked 1 to 3, containing questions graded from the least to the most controversial. So, pick the set of the cards that best suit(s) your students’ age culture. Then, cut out one set of 14 or more cards for each group.
2. Model the language by asking your class Have you ever…? Questions and developing conversation from there. The aim is to point out the use of the present perfect versus the simple past.
3. Divide the class into groups and hand out the material.
4. Playing the game:
– Players shuffle the cards, place them face down in the centre of the board, and distribute their counters among the four corners.
– They take turns casting the dice and moving their counters accordingly as indicated by the arrows. Whenever a player lands on a balloon, he or she wins the right to pick a card and ask anyone in the group the ‘nosy’ question on it, plus one other related question to satisfy his or her curiosity.
– The winner is the first player to get back to his or her starting corner. Alternatively, you may let them play for as long as they like or until you think they have had enough practice.

Game 3 Sweet memories(Zaorob and Chin 2001,24 – 25)

LEVEL: intermediate or upper intermediate
TYPE: Board game
TOPIC: Growing up memories
INTERACTION: Groups of two to six
TIME: 20 – 30 minutes
MATERIAL: board and dice (one per group), counters(one per student)
VOCABULARY: verbs: grow up, fall down, break, fight with, fail, go on a trip, have a date; nouns: childhood memory, toy, tree house, pet, (school) subject, complaints, idol, hero, date, school dance.
A: Who did you use to fight with when you were a teenager?
B: I used to fight a lot with my sister.
A: Why?
B: Well, because she used to borrow my clothes without asking me first.
A: And who used to win?
B: She did, because my mother was always on her side.

This game provides a lot of input and intensive practice with a wide range of verbs in the simple past and habitual past with used to. Because the subject of childhood and teenage memories is so close to everyone’s heart, the game promotes a lot of conversation and better student rapport. As such, it should be reserved for the more communicative end of the lesson and used for fluency building.

1. Prepare questions related to childhood and teenage experiences. Ask one at a time, elicit answers from the class, and continue the conversation from there, as shown in LANGUAGE OUTPUT. Draw students’ attention to the meaning and use of used to, and contrast it with the simple past if necessary.
2. Divide the class into groups and hand out the material.
3. Playing the game:
– Players place their counters at the starting point (symbol of birth: the stork) on the board.
– They take turns casting the dice and moving along the board accordingly.
– Whenever a player lands on a square with a question in it, someone in the group asks him or her that question, and the player answers. The group should then explore the topic with further questions, answers, comments, etc. Encourage the appropriate use of the simple past and used to.
– Whenever a player lands on one of the squares containing happy or unhappy events of life, he or she must follow the instructions in them.
– The first player to get to (but not beyond) the finish point (symbol of graduation: the mortarboard) wins the game.

(If you are teaching teenagers, change the questions so as to suit their young age).

Game 4 No backshift ( Rinvolucry and Davis 1995,90)

GRAMMAR: Reported speech without backshift after past reporting verb
LEVEL: Elementary to lower intermediate
TIME: 15 – 20 minutes

In class

1. Pair the students. Ask one person in each pair to prepare to speak for two minutes about a pleasurable future event. Give them a minute to prerare.
2. Ask the listener in each pair to prepare to give their whole attention to the speaker. They are not to take notes. Ask the speaker in each pair to get going. You time two minutes.
3. Pair the pairs. The two listeners now report on what they heard using this kind of form:

She was telling me she’s going to Thailand for her holiday and she added that she’ll be going by plane.

4. The students go back into their original pairs and repeat the above steps, but this time with the other one as speaker, so everybody has been able to share their future event thoughts.


A starts a conversation with B and before B can say what she wants, she has to report to A on what A has just said. B then says what she wants to say and so on – a radical and very interesting break in normal thought and discourse patterns.

Grammar note

In the spoken and informal written language you frequently find that the clause following a past simple or continuous tense reporting verb does not backshift. Perhaps it is reasonable to get students reporting in English without backshift before introducing them to this succelent area of grammar. It’s worth pointing out when introducing backshift that the form presented above is used in informal situations and for immediacy.

Game 5 Sit down then (Rinvolucry and Davis 1995,102)

GRAMMAR: Who + simple past interrogative/Telling the time
LEVEL: Beginner to elementary
TIME: 10 – 20 minutes

In class
1. Ask everybody to stand up. Tell them you are going to shout out bedtimes. When they hear the time they went to bed yesterday, they shout ‘I did’ and sit down. You start like this:

Who went to bed at two a.m.?
Who went to bed at ten to two?
Who went to bed at quarter to two?
Who went to bed at half past one?

Continue until all the students have sat down.
2. Get people back on their feet. Ask one of the better students to come out and run the same exercise but this time about when people got up, e.g..:

Who woke up at four thirty this morning?
Who woke up at twenty to five?

3. Repeat with a new question master but asking about shopping, e.g..:

Who went shopping yesterday?
Who went shopping on … (day of the week)

Game 6 Fruit and prepositions relay (Lewis and Bedson 2002, 76-77)

LANGUAGE: Prepositions (in, on, under, over)
LEVEL: Beginner
TIME: 15 – 30 minutes
MATERIALS: Two identical sets of familiar fruits, for example, apples, oranges, pears, bananas, peaches; a whistle.


1. Clear a space in the classroom and divide the children into two teams. They stand in lines at one end of the room. At the other end of the room set up two tables facing the two teams. Place the fruit on the tables.
2. Stand between the first two children and say, for example, Put the apple on a chair, or Put the banana under the table. Blow the whistle to start.
3. The children run to the other end of the room, carry out your instructions, and run back to their lines. The first child to get backto the line earns a point for his or her team.
4. If a child chooses the wrong fruit or puts it in the wrong place, the team gets no points.
5. Play one or two rounds and add up the points.

Variation 1
Make the game more difficult by calling out more complicated tasks, for example: Put the apple in the bookshelf and the pear under the teacher’s desk, or Give the teacher a banana and put a peach next to the door.

Variation 2
Instead of putting the fruit on a table, tell the children to get an object from anywhere in the room, for example, Get a book. Find a pencil. You can also use Variation 1 with Put and Give.