Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Useful Games: Modified Pictionary

If you are like me and teaching at a school where the students are at a lower level than they are expected to be, you might find yourself in the uncomfortable position of teaching lesson plans the students struggle to understand. Some days the lessons are too hard. And on others, the lessons are so incredibly basic you risk boring everyone.

Creating activities that reinforce the basic skills and vocabulary is a must in these situations because, like it or not, the students will be tested and the tests will be skewed to the standards and not to their level.

I teach at a high school that is losing its better students because of school choice. Many of the students who choose my high school are simply waiting for their parents to permit them to drop out or for the appropriate time to enter vocational schools. The students who are focused on study are middle performers--their grades were not competitive enough to get them into the best schools.

Korean students love games. So, I try to find two weeks before midterms and two weeks before finals to play games. When I first arrived, I shunned games because the games students and Korean teachers like transport them back to late elementary and early middle school. I felt games were being used to make my classroom fun for me. I'm a good teacher and am comfortable in the classroom, so I decided to experiment on more complex games that would insist that learning occur in order for students to participate yet would insist on the students' enjoyment as well.

I like to use games that reinforce the English lessons they receive from their EFL teachers. This is a type of learning that is ignored at my school. The drilling and memorization through repetition that Korean students of English participate in as a matter of daily life in the English language classroom does not serve the average students and completely ignores the struggling students. Moreover, the high-performing students may be so well-accustomed to the practice of recitation or repetition (my phrase) that they, too, may be excellent at responding correctly without really understanding what they are saying.

Modified Pictionary is a game that requires each student, regardless of English proficiency, to exercise skills in speaking, listening, and critical thinking. It requires abstract thinking as well. Yet, it's completely visual and Korean students are very much visual learners. It's also entertaining and has a good pace: two minutes a turn. In a 50 minute class, you can get each group to complete three turns.

I'll explain more about the game in additions to this post. I make my own word cards. I use words they are expected to know; the words are presented on cards in both English and Korean; difficult words present an image that describes the concept. My four, modified categories contain three parts of speech categories and an animal category. I let them make their own game pieces. I use the Pictionary game board, timer, and a 6-sided die. I make my own cards using notecards and laminate. I use groups with no more than 6 members. (The more members in a group, the more likely low-performing students will simply not play.)

I have to run to class. But I think this is a good subject for ESL teachers. What games do you use in the classroom and why? When I arrived students were accustomed to playing bingo, hangman, crossword puzzles, among other games that simply do not do much at all to reinforce English lessons. Well, any learning at all. In my opinion, those types of games permit teachers to opt out from creative solutions to finding entertaining methods to teach difficult students. I know I'm not the only NSET with a fun game or two up my sleeve that actually teaches, yet I'm aware that many teachers struggle to find entertaining but intellectual activities. Even if you think you're not the best teacher, finding a good game to play with your Korean students will help improve your relationship with them and their desire to learn in your presence and work with you. I had to really struggle to change my Korean co-teachers' minds about just how capable my students are, even the low-performers, of performing more complicated and challenging tasks. Honestly, I swore I'd never play another game of Bingo with high school students again.

If you want to, share your games with us. I've got to teach right now and will post more about my game later.

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