2006 Teaching and Learning Symposium

3:00-4:30 p.m., April 25, 2006
Mary Gates Commons


Session Description

It's Not Just Fun and Games: How the Use of Games and Team Activities Can Decrease Anxiety and Increase Fun in a Language Learning Classroom.

Jennifer Evans - English (MATESOL), UW ELP

I'm always looking for ways to infuse my teaching with fun and variety. This is sometimes a difficult task when teaching subjects such as English grammar.  What I wanted to do was create a collection of language learning games that could be easily adapted to different courses and a variety of learning outcomes.  In addition, I wanted to ensure that my use of games was not simply a filler activity, but something students could look forward to and use to reflect on how much English they had already learned. 

I am a student in the English department MATESOL program and teach in the UW Intensive English Language Program.  In this program students take different courses that specifically focus on a certain English skill. I taught an intermediate reading course in the fall and I have just finished teaching a beginning/intermediate writing course. My classroom is a diverse mix of students with a majority of students from Asia and the Middle East.  Though most of our students are between the ages of 18-24, we commonly have a few older adult students each quarter.

The particular challenge of my classroom is to create a comfortable atmosphere in which students learn to communicate and work closely with one another on a daily basis while meeting curricular learning outcomes for the course.  Additionally, students are hoping to not only learn English but form friendships with other American and international students, learn about American culture, and have a rewarding learning experience that they could not have had if they studied in their home country.

What I found through observation and student feedback on questionnaires was that the games transformed their personalities within the classroom.  The element of fun and the excitement of a timed situation where they were battling against other classmates changed usually docile and quiet students into energetic, talkative participants.  Every game called upon them to reflect on what we had learned in class and apply it to the strategy of winning the various games or activities.  As the teacher I was able to see what topics students struggled with and what came easily to them.  Following the game day I could create a minilesson to review the topics that needed more attention.

 Immediately the energy level of the classroom skyrocketed.  Following games, students felt more comfortable talking to the whole class, and particularly in small group and partner situations. My persona as 'gameshow host' created an easy rapport with students who felt akward about talking previously. The simple act of having all of the students moving around and smiling infused our time together with a new life.  I believe that the games I have created and collected can be applied to any language learning classroom and easily adapted to other academic subjects.