Using Games to Reinforce Vocabulary Development in English Language Learners
Practical ways to implement games and activities into whole-class and sheltered English language development time.
When working with English language learners (ELs), the four most important areas of language development are listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Whether children are designated as beginning, early intermediate, intermediate, or advanced English learners, they all need to build a strong vocabulary and develop skills in basic conversation with peers and adults. These skills form the foundation for later reading fluency and writing proficiency. Many districts and school sites have adopted elaborate and expensive English language development curriculums for teachers and other support staff to use during times of sheltered instruction. However, ELs often feel isolated from their peers and dislike the extra work that such curriculums provide. It is important for ELs to remain engaged and excited about learning, as they will have to work harder throughout their educational careers to keep up with their English-only peers. Thus, times of English language development should be fun and motivating for young English learners.
There are many games and activities that promote vocabulary development and conversation skills. These games keep English learners engaged and joyful about learning. Ideally, when using games as a teaching strategy, the students are learning English without even realizing it. Below are some tips and game ideas for classroom incorporation.
Make It A Game!
You don’t have to buy expensive games like Scrabble, Pictionary or Cranium. Make basic classroom routines into a game. For example, put an English learner at every table group and designate them the table group leader. When you are transitioning between activities, look for which EL and table group are the first to follow your verbal directions. If you have advanced ELs, try writing multi-step directions on the whiteboard and wait to see which student’s group can follow first. Similarly, make these EL table group leaders the messengers. When someone at the table is unclear about something, he should send his group leader up to ask you for clarity. While these activities may not be considered sheltered instruction time, it is easy to incorporate games and activities into the time when you meet with just your ELs.
Designate one day a week as game day during times of sheltered instruction with ELs. Many teachers prefer Friday as the fun game day so that pupils have to work hard all week to earn it. During the thirty or so minutes you meet with them on that day, have a selection of games that can be adapted to fit that week’s vocabulary development. Pictionary, Charades, and Scattergories are great vocabulary games that can be adapted for the unit’s vocabulary with little effort on your part. Another great vocabulary development activity that involves conversation is a sort of Round Robin. In this activity, a pupil has a card with a vocabulary word on it and the definition to a different vocabulary word. They must listen for another pupil to read the definition that matches the word on their card. Then they read their word and read the definition to the next word that it written on their card. The classmate that has that word matching that definition, reads the word and the definition of the next word, and so it goes around the whole group. This obviously takes a little bit of preparation and planning, but it is an activity that will provide many opportunities for using academic language in conversation.
As mentioned above, an important area of development for English learners is listening and speaking. In this game, pupils take turns describing the vocabulary word and guessing the words from given clues.
For more advanced ELs, you may want to work on skills like recognizing homophones and homonyms. Learners are given a vocabulary card and they must walk around the classroom to find who has their same word with a different meaning or spelling.
Incorporating technology into English Language Development time is important. Here are some activities that allow ELs to practice writing skills and play word-learning games on the Internet.