Classifications of Games Used in an ELT Classroom

By virtue of their vast usage in the classroom, games can be classified in a number of ways depending on the criteria followed (such as the function they serve). Because of this, there are games which focus on providing fun and entertainment, enhancing the learners’ knowledge and interaction or tackling a particular element of language. Anther criterion of classification is offered by the manner in which games are organised. In this respect, there are games that require students to work in groups where they get to play different roles during the stages of the lesson.

As can be observed, the classification of games can be viewed as a flexible area of study that demands a detailed analysis of the specific categories with the purpose of revealing the functions they serve in the classroom environment. It often happens that some categories overlap, which makes classifying games a rather challenging task.

Hadfield offers two possible ways to classify games. Firstly, games can be either competitive or cooperative. In the case of competitive games, the players and teams are involved in a competition whose goal is to see who manages to complete the task first. As for the cooperative games, their purpose is to have the students work together for a common goal. Secondly, games can also be categorised as linguistic games and communicative games. In the case of the former, the main focus is on accuracy that is the correct use of grammatical forms. This category of grammar games will be further analysed in the following chapter. In terms of communicative games, their aim is not a linguistic one, the focus being on communication and fluency.

Other classifications of games go into further detail, analysing them according to their purpose in the lesson. From this perspective, we will highlight some of the possible types of games.

  • Sorting/ ordering games –these games require students to sort the various lexical items and place them in the correct category. Sometimes, they are given jumbled words that they have to put in the right order to form meaningful sentences. A relevant example is when students get a set of playing cards with pictures of clothes and they have to sort the clothes according to the season in which they are most likely to be worn.
  • Information gap games – in such games a student or a team of students detains information needed by the other teams in order to complete a task. For example, one of the teams gets a picture and the other team has to draw the same picture on a blank piece of paper, using only the information they get from the team that has the picture. Other information-gap games provide each student with unique information, which can add to the complexity of the task.
  • Guessing games – these types of games are closely related to information gap games. They involve the use of communication and a set of clues given to help students guess the information detained by a certain student or team. In many cases, one student has to think of a celebrity, location or object, while the other participants are allowed to ask a certain number of questions (Yes or No questions) to elicit clues and discover the person/place/object their classmate has chosen.
  • Search games – in this type of collaborative or competitive game, the students are on a quest to discover something hidden. They often have to discover certain aspects about their classmates or a particular issue of great importance. A relevant example in this respect is the game Find Somebody who…., where the students are given a grid where the cells need to be filled with the names of the students who fit that cell, based on the series of questions meant to help in the completion of the grid.
  • Matching games – these games require students to find a match for a certain item, word or picture. A common example is the flip card game, in which a set of cards containing matching pairs (picture and word) are turned face down, while each student has to turn two cards with the purpose of finding the pairs. Remembering the position of the turned cards is essential for finding the matching cards as effectively as possible. This type of game is beneficial in that it trains students’ memory.
  • Board games – these games involve some preparation as they require the actual boards and other equipment to play. However, once this step has been accomplished, these games can prove highly effective for practising a variety of language items. One such game is Sentence Maker, where the plying board contains a path of squares, each containing a main verb. The students roll the dice and move on the squares with the purpose of reaching the destination. Once they land on a square, they have to build a sentence with that verb and an expression of time that they pick from a set of cards. The time expression forces them to use a particular tense. Consequently, this game can render great results when used in the revision of tenses.
  • Role-playing games – these games imply the concept of stage acting, where the student plays a role, outside of real life, with the goal of using certain aspects of spoken language and communicate efficiently. During the role-play, students come up with their own script and generate original ideas.

When analysing the great diversity of games, there are numerous distinctions that can be made. W.R. Lee classifies games in his book Language Teaching. Games and contests into the following types:

  1.  Structure games –which provide practice by means of using specific syntax patterns in communication
  2.  Vocabulary games – where the students mainly focus on the acquisition of new words
  3.  Spelling games- whose purpose is to train students to correctly spell words
  4.  Pronunciation games- in which the phonological aspects of language are practised
  5.  Number games – where students play with numbers and classify things in terms of importance to them.
  6.  Listen-and-do games – where students receive a set of instructions to guide them towards accomplishing various tasks.
  7.  Games and writing – in which the students are required to produce written texts while plying the game
  8.  Miming and role paly- where students use their creativity to explain and convey messages by playing the role of a different person.
  9.  Discussion games- where students enlarge upon certain topics by providing arguments in favour or against the given topics.

A similar classification is offered by George McCallum, in his book 101 Word Games, in which he divided the games into seven categories: structure games, vocabulary games, number games, spelling games, conversation games, writing games and role playing games. These classifications suggest that every type of game is aimed at developing a specific skill that the students practise at different points during the lesson. It is the teacher’s job to carefully select the most appropriate games for every lesson so that students may get the most out of using these games.

Upon close inspection of the diversity of game types, we will discover that there are a number of factors which deeply affect the choice of games in the classroom. Therefore, if we take into consideration the students’ level (elementary to proficiency) this can have a direct impact on the choice of games to be used in the process of learning-teaching. We must first analyse the students’ skills, their aspirations and their needs. Once such data have been collected, the teacher can move on to the exploration of the specific games that can be introduced in the lessons. Besides the specific games to be used in the classroom at a certain level, teachers have to take into account the time restraints of the lesson and ask themselves whether the game they intend to introduce will take up too much time in the lesson. Moreover, games can also be used as introduction to other more complex activities that will be the main focus of the lesson.

In other words, the choice of games for a particular lesson relies on numerous aspects regarding the students, the language focus, the purpose and other technical elements. So, in order to make the right choices, teachers often need to ask themselves a number of questions:

  • Which language skill can be practised by means of a particular game?
  • Is the chosen game adapted to the learners’ age, skills and interests?
  • Will learners benefit from playing the chosen games?
  • Will it be sufficiently engaging and promote interaction among the students?
  • Will the game provide the desired results in terms of new language acquisition?
  • Can the game be used in its original form, or does it need to be slightly altered in order to suit the needs of the lesson? How easy would it be for the teacher to make these changes?

When all these factors are taken into account, teachers can safely implement games in their teaching.  It comes as no surprise that the best results from students come from the proper use of games by teachers during the lessons. The multitude of games shown by the classifications mentioned above gives us a clearer image into the endless possibilities they offer as learning and teaching tools in the English language classroom.


prof. Alexandru-Florin Oprean

Școala Gimnazială Horea, Cloșca și Crișan, Brad (Hunedoara) , România
Profil iTeach:

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