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Games for language learning

Cambridge University Press

Third Edition, 2006.

(211 games and variations)


Andrew Wright, David Betteridge, Michael Buckby


Copyright not Copy Wright

These notes are copyright not Copy Wright.

If you would like to use them with your own students, please do so without telling me. If you would like to publish them or part of them then email me and tell me about it. I am almost certainly going to say, Yes!

But you must agree to acknowledge my name and website. If you don’t, it is plagiarism, unfair and theft of my intellectual property.

Workshop on Games

Families of game based on challenges and invitations


Our definition of the word ‘game’

‘an activity which is entertaining and engaging, often challenging, and an activity in which the learners play and usually interact with others…..Competition against others is not an essential ingredient of games, but challenge often is…’ (Introduction page 1)


Summary of the potential of games

Some mechanical practice with minimal meaning is OK.

Also a generally motivated language learner can be expected to be interested in learning the language to a certain extent…


Communicative activities can make the learners care about what they are saying.

It is not just the content but how the learner feels, thinks and what he or she is expected to do which makes the activity engaging or not.

The student is a student of English for the traditional teacher but obviously is a whole person.

The ‘communicative approach’ teacher wants activities which engage the learner as a whole person in such a way that he or she can take part with their English. In this way the new language is experienced, not merely studied.

A real litmus test: Would the learner want to do this in his or her mother tongue? Can’t always live up to this but it is worth trying!

Challenges and invitations are two ways of engaging people.

Broadly the concepts expressed can be subjective or objective.

The student can speak or write as him/herself or as someone else.


Why bother with the idea of families of game?!

‘Being aware of the essential character of a type of game and the way in which it engages the learner can be helpful in the adaptation of games or the creation of new games.’ (Introduction page 4) Most strikingly a game generally known for its use with elementary learners can often be adapted for use with advanced learners based on this idea.

Families of games in, ‘Games for Language Learning’



Games in which the learner feels comfortable whilst sharing personal information with other learners.

Ice breakers and warmers

1.1 Learning names (adapted for animals…

Each learner draws an animal on a bit of paper…You supply the name of the animal. ‘Hello I’m Andrew. I’m an armadillo. She’s Julia. She’s a sheep.’ Etc.

1.3 Pass on a sound

Circle. Pass on a word, phrase or non-verbal sound as exactly as possible.

1.7 Variation 1 Something nice which happened

Ask pairs of learners to take it in turns to tell each other about something nice which has happened to them recently.

1.8 All the words you know

The learners brainstorm all the words they can remember in exactly three minutes…and try to beat their own record.

1.11 Visualisation

You or a learner describe a situation while the learners listen with their eyes closed.

1.12 Lost in the Fog

Blindfolded child instructed by other child.


These games relate more to invitation than to challenge.



The learner is expected to do something non-verbally in response to a read or a heard text.

Care and share 1.11 Visualisation

You or a learner describe a situation while the learners listen with their eyes closed.

Care and share 1.12 Lost in the Fog

Blindfolded child instructed by other child

Speaking 2.3 Describe and draw

2.4 Describe and identify

Listening 3.1 Listen and draw. A describes and B draws an amazing looking person.

Reading 5.1 Whats my mime? A text list of actions. A mimes one. B identifies it.

Grammar 7.3 Miming Var 1 to 10 Miming all the tenses. Others identify.


Clearly this is a rich family for early learners…but it IS also relevant for those wanting to develop their listening skills at later stages. Listening and responding appropriately is pretty crucial in daily life! Responses may be verbal or non-verbal.



The learner is challenged and or invited to identify something which is difficult to identify or to hypothesise about something which is then compared with the facts.

Speaking 2.1 Slowly reveal a picture

Vocabulary 6.1 Feely game Listening. Smelling. Tasting. Feeling. Looking.

Grammar 7.13 Flashing a picture

Grammar 7.14 How long is it? How wide…How big…?


Something means anything…any information through the five senses. Language is used to communicate hypotheses and to receive and consider other peoples ideas.



The learner is challenged and or invited to describe something, objectively or subjectively to another learner, by speaking or writing, so well that the other learner can do something eg identify, draw, make, choose, go to a place, imagine.

Speaking 2.4 Variation 4 A describes thoughts in a picture and B identifies whose thoughts they are.

Writing 4.2 Draw the bank robbers plus 3 variations


The description might be a single word.



The learner is challenged to connect, compare, match or group various items of information, perhaps pictures or texts, objectively or subjectively. He or she uses language to describe or comment on the pairs or groups of information.


Speaking 2.5 Two pictures Reasonable or crazy connections.

Speaking 2.6 Whats the difference? Classic info game based on two similar pictures

Listening 3.6 Bingo

Reading 5.5 Pelmanism Matching related info on cards… Pic/Pic, Pic/Text, Text/Text, Audio/Visual, Text/Life, etc.

Grammar 7.17 Bingo grammar



Vocabulary 6.8 Odd-one-out

How many groups can you be said to belong to?

List four countries…dictate words/phrases…write under appropriate country.

Page of scattered words or singular or plural forms…identify and group


This is the biggest family…it is a fundamental characteristic of thinking!



The learner is challenged or invited to put various bits of information into an order of value, quality or importance, subjectively or objectively,’

Listening 3.7 Most important-least important Dictation…decide where to write each statement. See: brainstorm and then order of importance of mistakes


A smaller family but a very useful one which is rich as a basis for discussion.



The learner is challenged or invited to put texts, pictures, objects, into a developmental sequence, also subjectively or objectively.

Listening 3.8 Put the story in order Dictate a story out of sequence

Reading 5.6 variation 1 Stand in order holding word cards

Grammar 7.18 Delete a word from a text but keep it grammatical

Grammar 7.19 Word by word add a word but keep it grammatical


The subjective and objective difference extends this family dramatically.



The learner is challenged or invited to remember something and then to communicate what he or she has remembered.

Speaking 2.8 What can you remember?

Trying to remember eg Pictures on the wall behind you. Eg Exact detail of what you did this morning…or how you brush your teeth. Eg Erasing and remembering a text word by word.

Eg Whispering game.

Vocabulary 6.9 pelmansism cards face down remember the position

Vocabulary 6.11 A long and growing list eg things you bought…things you did…

Vocabulary 6.13 Would you make a good witness?


Remembering is central to learning…different people remember different things in different ways…this family is worth exploring…some people can remember stories but not grammatical rules…or vice versa.



The learner is challenged or invited to make a story, write a poem or produce some other kind of material using their imagination. ‘Challenged’ might include those story-making starters in which you stipulate certain features: for example, you stipulate that a certain tense form must occur very often, or that the story must be exactly 50 words long. ‘Invited’, because sometimes the best way to stir the creative forces is to ‘invite’, ‘encourage’, ‘show interest’, and so on.

Speaking 2.10 Question stories

The teacher asks questions and the answers create a story.

Speaking 2.13 A sound poem

Playing with the sounds of words.

Grammar 7.24 Interrupting a story

Grammar 7.25 Pattern poems


Remembering is central to learning…different people remember things in different ways…this family worth exploring in order to help the learners recognise their own learning and remembering styles.

Games for Language Learning Third Edition 2006

Cambridge University Press

There are 211 games and variations in the new edition grouped in the following sections: 1 Icebreakers and warmers 2 Mainly speaking 3 Mainly listening 4 Mainly writing 5 Mainly reading 6 Mainly vocabulary and spelling 7 Mainly grammar 8 Solo games

This is the most comprehensive handbook of established and innovatory language learning games available.

With this book you are ready for anything!


50 Responses to “Games for Language Learning”

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      There are two good books to go with it! How about buying them both and living happily ever afterwards?
      Five Minute Activities publlshed by CUP
      Games for Language Learning published by CUP
      A book like these costs two hours of a teachers pay but lasts a lifetime.
      If you buy a book of mine I will get enough money to buy half a hamburger in two years time and as I have two daughters that is not a happy prospect… this is not a serious commercial plug!
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