Sometimes the Simplest Ones are the Best

May 2012

I love language games but one game in particular couldn’t be easier to enact and brings great benefits for learners.

Chariots of Fire
An exciting contest


The essential race-to-the-board game works as follows: divide the class into four or five teams and get a team name from each one. Then write this on the board: “Write a sentence using ‘_____’.” and put a noun in the space. Let the captains begin. Award one point for each correct sentence. Repeat as required.

30 reasons why I love it

  1. They love it.
  2. You can do it in big classes.
  3. They do all the effort.
  4. They have most of the talk time.
  5. They are active — it both gets them out of their chairs and it’s generative.
  6. The times flies over — it’s dynamic.
  7. They teach each other — correcting, self correcting, and explaining language.
  8. They notice and remember the language.
  9. Everyone reads the sentences, not just the author of them.
  10. There are always a lot of mistakes, which need to be elicited and explained. This also gives a nice closure to each round.
  11. It’s great for reinforcing the very basic slips like articles, prepositions, and plurals.
  12. It’s great for ‘ing’ words — which can be confusing (nouns vs verbs vs adjectives).
  13. It practices grammar, vocab, spelling, punctuation, speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
  14. It demonstrates contexts in the language — usually a fair bit of language transfer crops up.
  15. It’s intuitive and creative — some guesswork and imagination is needed.
  16. It’s team based and competitve — it’s both fair and tough. It lends a peer-based factor to the learning, giving it a self-regulating meritocractic and democratic dynamic.
  17. It couldn’t be more fun — it gets them feeling good about English.
  18. It’s idiomatic — they try to translate idioms into English, which is humanistic.
  19. It’s interesting and surprising for everyone, not least for the teacher.
  20. It can be played with really low levels.
  21. It allows you to accurately gauge the collective and individual levels of the class.
  22. You have to make it just a bit too hard, rather than too easy.
  23. It gets them using dictionaries and translators approriately — for the purpose of performance.
  24. It gives them plenty of leeway to come back and make changes, add new sentences, to copy others. In other words to ‘cheat’ in a way that actually improves their learning.
  25. It brings the weakest up to the level of the strongest — it tests anyone with the guts to write something. This works because there’s a wonderful unwitting self-handicapping factor where higher level students usually prefer to write something a bit more complex, thus the potential for error is about the same as it is for the others.
  26. It makes surprise heroes out of laggards — i.e. it’s fun and accessible for the typically unmotivated ones.
  27. It encourages individuals to stand up for themselves and take risks.
  28. It makes people see English as something worth proving themsleves at, rather than a meaningless extrinsic subject / waste of time.
  29. It’s not serious, but they quickly start taking it seriously.
  30. They don’t realise they’re expressing themslves and learning.