Some of my most favorite memories from teaching in Mongolia revolve around playing board games and card games. We played games in the classroom almost daily as a way to cool down after a information-heavy lesson or fill time when my students progressed more quickly than I had anticipated. However, I never viewed it as a “time filler” or as a break from language learning. The games we played varied often, but even the ones that wouldn’t necessarily be considered language games helped my students grow in their use of the English language.
While I wasn’t in Mongolia long enough to develop a good understanding of the language, I connected with a lot of Mongolians and learned a lot about their culture through playing card games that they taught me. After all, when language fails, laughter can fill in the gaps.
One of my favorite activities to do with my students was to create and then play board games. Not only did my students enjoy coming up with the questions, actions, and tasks associate with each space on the board, but they also enjoyed playing on another’s games. After awhile, it became a sort of reusable routine. Every board game had the same instructions, but all of the spaces on each game required something different from my students.
Below I want to walk you through why board games are the perfect tool for your language classroom, how to instruct your students on making their own board games, and how you can use the board games in creative ways. Plus, if you sign up for the Everyday ESL newsletter and gain access to our Free Resource Library, there is a free DIY board game template available to download!
Why Board Games?
There are so many benefits to playing games in the language classroom. Not only do games build relationships, increase confidence, and improve language skills, but they’re just plain old fun. Teachers and educators have been “hiding” learning in fun for decades, which is why there are countless educational toys, computer games, and even TV shows.
In my experience, having fun in the language classroom is one of the best ways to empower your students to learn and grow. Many times second language acquisition can be anxiety-inducing for students. Learning and using a second language is really vulnerable, but anxiety and stress are some of the biggest roadblocks to actually learning. When you give your students an opportunity to relax, have fun, and laugh, you’re actually giving them an opportunity to grow.
Not only are board games great for language learning, but they’re easy to plan, simple to explain, and a great activity to keep on hand for when students seem disengaged, everyone needs a little break, or you need to fill some time. On top of all of that, board games can be super quick, so if you’re short on time, your students can play a board game and be finished easily within 5-10 minutes if you want.
DIY Board Games 101
In order to make sure that your activity goes smoothly (or as smoothly as can be planned for), you’re going to want to spend some time upfront thinking through the requirements, formatting, and topic for your DIY board games.
Set a specific number of “spaces” that your students must fill according to your instruction. The path that the spaces follows can be left up to their own creativity, or you can print out a handy little board game template from our Free Resource Library today!
There are so many different topics and skills that you can focus on for this activity. Students can write down questions in each space to help them get to know their peers, perform certain action words, conjugate verbs, define vocabulary, and more. This is the area where you, as the teacher, can use your creativity!
More Topic Ideas
>> Play a few traditional board games with your students and have them recreate their own version of the game with spaces such as, “go back 2 spaces,” “roll again,” etc.
>> Make it a “scavenger hunt” and have your students write down different descriptors on each block. When students land on a block they have to find an object in the classroom that matches that descriptor.
>> Random language tasks! Each block asks the player to complete a random language task such as mimicking a certain accent, saying the alphabet backwards, listing off words that start with a certain level, etc.
As always, you may want to bring in some board games to familiarize your students with and/or create the first board game together as a class. However, I’ve really enjoyed having students create board games just with a partner. Not only does it ensure that every student has a voice in this activity, but it also provides you with plenty of board games that students can cycle through when playing!
Ready, Set, Go!
Once the board games are made, you’re ready for the fun part! You can, of course, use the board games immediately or save them for a future class. I recommend laminating the games or, if you have students create them on standard-sized paper, slipping them into page protectors in order to preserve them.
Students can work in groups of 2-3 to play a board game that either they or their peers have made. While rolling a die is definitely the traditional way to determine how many spaces to progress, a die may be too big for a smaller board game. For example, if the game only has 10 blocks, they may not even get through 2 rolls of the die before finishing the board. For a cheap and easy alternative, use coins to flip heads-or-tails and determine how many spaces students should go.
Make sure your students have something to mark their position with as well. You can collect old board game pawns, use colored paper clips, or just ask your students to grab something from their backpack to use. If you want to get really creative, have students make or find a pawn to bring back to class and keep with the board games.
After you’ve figured out the logistics of the game, the rest is pretty simple. Have students roll a die or flip a coin to find out how many spaces to go forward. Once they land on a space, they must read and answer or complete the prompt. If they do so correctly, their turn is over and the other student begins their turn. Continue until one of the students makes it to ‘finish.’
Games don’t just have to be time-fillers in your language classroom! They can be great opportunities for your students to learn about and practice language while having fun! Try out these DIY board games and let your students express themselves creatively, create their own language learning resources, and spend time building relationships with you and with their peers.
I Want to Hear From You!
What are your favorite and/or go-to games for the language classroom?
What topics would you use for DIY board games?