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How to Effectively use Games in the Preschool and Elementary ESL Classroom

Organization. The first thing you should do when start
teaching a preschool or elementary school ESL class is to
figure out how to organize your class. For the younger
students you'll want to change your activities every five
to ten minutes because they have shorter attention spans.
If you don't change your activities, they'll soon start
losing interest. As you get towards the higher elementary
grades, you can expand the time you spend per activity.
The best way to gauge this is to pay attention to your
class for the first few days to see what length of time
works the best for them. Additionally, try to have
everything ready to go before the students enter the
classroom. That way you can go from activity to activity
with minimal downtime.

Expectations. If you notice that your class is getting
noisy or rambunctious, it's time to change activities.
Kids of this age are active and like to be active; in order
to balance out the energy levels in the classroom, alternate
between active activities and quiet activities. If you have
a large class you will need games that do not degenerate
into chaos. This will leave you exhausted and the children
ignorant! Also important is that the language in the game
should be well within the grasp of the children. Start
simply and increase the difficulty of the language, or
increase the amount of vocabulary in a given game
gradually. If you see that the children are hesitating too
much in a game switch to an easier game immediately.

Be careful how you use activities that require fine motor
skills - or more importantly pay attention to your
expectations for activities that require fine motor skills.
Children in preschool and early elementary are just
learning to write in their own languages. This is not the
best time to bog them down with writing in English as well.
It is better to spend the bulk of the lesson time on
listening and speaking skills for the younger children. As
they progress through elementary school, however, you can
begin using games and activities that require them to write
small amounts.

Variation. You want to make sure your activities appeal to
all sorts learning styles, so even when you are using games
to teach grammar you'll want to vary the types of things
you expect your students to do. For preschool and early
elementary grades, stick to games that use talking,
listening, looking and moving. For middle and high
elementary, you can continue to use games that use talking,
listening, looking and moving and add in some games that use
writing and reading.

Going along with this same idea, think about what children
learn from the easiest. Television commercials are short
and catchy and the most memorable are the ones that are
repeated often. Keep these characteristics in mind when
you are teaching grammar to your students - incorporate
these characteristics into your daily activities.

Respect. To make games work for you and your class, be
sure to operate your class with the utmost respect - both
to and from students. This includes teaching your students
from the very start that you expect respect at all times.
This includes giving encouragement and following the

That said, you'll need to make sure the rules for all of
the games are clear and manageable. When possible, explain
the rules in the students' native tongue so that they all
know what is expected of them. When there is an
environment of respect in the classroom, the students will
feel safe enough to participate in the games so that they
can get the most educational value out of them.

Towards the end of elementary school, you can start
introducing competitive games, but only if the class is
respectful and it shouldn't be the main focus of the game.

Routine. Even if you only have your students for a short
time every week, establishing a routine will help the class
go smoothly. Children of this age (preschool through
elementary school) thrive on routine and if they know what
to expect next, they will be more able to participate in
what's going on now. Set up a schedule for the type of
activities you'll be doing at any given time throughout the
class whether it is a game, story or song or whatever you
want to do. Then, when you are planning your class, plug
in the appropriate activities to each section of time. You
should also leave a little time at the end of the class
period to allow the students to clean up and gather their
things as well as time for you to recap the class, praise
the students and tell them good-bye.

You can also designate a "sign" to use to signal
to the students when it is time to change activities such
as clapping or signing a specific song so that they know
it's time to return to the circle, table or desks.

Nurture. Perhaps the most important thing you can do with
your students is to nurture them everyday. For each child
in your class, find something you like about him or her and
be sure to tell him or her. Be encouraging, patient and
kind while playing games and participating in activities
and they'll like you as a teacher and a person which will
in turn help them get excited about your class and what you
have for them to do everyday.

Just by keeping these tips in mind, you'll be able to teach
children grammar with ease. You'll be having fun and
they'll be having fun - so much fun, in fact, that they
might not even realize they are learning in the process!

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%.
Receive free English language games now on

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