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Classroom Games for Different ESL Learning Styles
Understanding ESL learning styles helps a teacher bring more
variety into the classroom, as well as reaching students
more effectively. It is always a challenge to make the ESL
classroom more interesting. Vocabulary lessons, conversation
practice, worksheets; they don't always hold everyone's
attention. A teacher may agonize over what they are doing
wrong, but the reality is that there is simply more than
one right way to teach. Often adding a few simple twists to
an already cohesive lesson plan can round up those
stragglers by reaching out to their own unique ESL learning
For years it has been proposed that that the differences
among people extend to the way they learn. Models vary, but
there is a general agreement that there are four distinct
learning styles that can be applied to ESL and EFL;
Auditory, Visual, Tactile and Kinesthetic. There will
always be overlap, of course, and most of the games
suggested here will lend themselves to adaptation to appeal
to two or more styles.
AUDITORY ESL LEARNING STYLE are the type who receive and
retain information from listening. They will respond well
to games that involve repetition, dictation, and music.
Simple poems with a strong swing such as limericks are a
good way to start, and you may even introduce some Jazz
Chants for more conservative adults. Younger students may
prefer Karaoke and often become quite enamored of it, so be
prepared for a lot of laughs as students loosen up and get
EFL students often admit that while they may advance
rapidly in a classroom, out in public they have more
trouble following the native speakers. This can be
addressed by using tapes and videos to listen for key words
and pick out the general meaning of a dialogue. Jigsaw
Listening splits up the students to listen to separate
portions of a story, then reunites the teams so they can
try and reconstruct it.
Listening memory games, such as 'My name is Mary, I come
from Milwaukee..' are terrific for the auditory learner.
You can expand on this by keeping a record of the words
used and subsequently asking the students to utilize them
again to form new sentences. Quiz games such as Jeopardy
can also be a fun and instructive way to teach language,
and students can be encouraged to extend their vocabulary
by fostering a mild spirit of competition.
VISUAL ESL LEARNING STYLE are the students that most
traditional teaching methods were developed for. They have
a high capacity for retaining information from written and
illustrated text. Flash cards and videos will also prove
good ESL learning tools for these students.
You can make game-boards after the fashion of popular
titles such as Life - this can become a role playing game,
'A Day in the Life', where students can participate in
role-playing scenarios determined by the rolling of a dice
and drawing of cards. Memory cards matching games can be a
fun activity for pairs - have them use the word in a
sentence when they find a match!
Reading Treasure hunts can work well to teach recognition
of the parts of speech; just hand out colored pencils and
designate a color for each type. This can also teach
students to skim and pick up general meanings of words from
context. Let them rewrite sentences too - try captions for
pictures or comics to add a humorous note!
TACTILE AND KINESTHETIC ESL LEARNING STYLES The remaining
two types of learners are similar enough that most games
can be adapted for either learning style. Tactile and
kinesthetic ESL learners and comprehend faster when
participating in hands-on activities, and take in
information using their whole bodies. Games for these types
can actually benefit the whole class; studies have shown
that ESL students as a whole show a marked preference for
this style of teaching, and games of this sort are a
perfect way to introduce variety into the classroom!
Probably the most familiar 'touch' game involves a bag with
different items inside. The participants have to feel the
items through the cloth and guess what they are. A
variation that is helpful for ESL students is to have them
describe the items so that classmates can guess their
identity - be prepared for some laughs!
Charades is a perfect example of a game that uses the whole
body. Have cards prepared with easy titles such as popular
TV shows, and get everyone involved! Ask students to come
up with titles too - perhaps they can give the English
translation of a favorite childhood book or movie.
Crafts are a wonderful option when it comes to hands-on
learning. Coloring and labeling maps is a good exercise,
and can be done individually or as a group. Introducing
building toys such as Legos can help bridge the gap between
the learning styles as you can use written and or verbal
instructions for the Auditory and Visual ESL learners in
A wide variety of language game ideas can be implemented in
your ESL classroom to embrace all the types of ESL learning
styles. Remember, have fun! Your students will all benefit
from a diversified learning experience.
Shelley Vernon has helped 1000s of teachers be an
inspiration to their pupils and achieve results 2x as fast.
Improve the effectiveness of your lessons by up to 80%.
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