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Blair, R. W. (1982). (Ed.). Innovative Approaches to Language Teaching. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Brown, D. (1987). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ;

Dansei, M. (1985) A Guide to Puzzles and Games in Second Language Pedagogy. Toronto: Ontario
Institute for Studies in Education.

Dycus, D. (1996, February). Jigsaw Activities using Newspaper Articles. In The Internet TESL

Journal, II (2). Available at www.aitech.ac.jp/~iteslj/

Harvey, J. (1982). Communicational Approach: Games II. In R.W. Blair (Ed.), Innovative
Approaches to Language Teaching. Boston: Heinle & Heinle

Latorre, G. (1975, October). The construction and use of EFL crossword puzzles. English Language
Teaching Journal, 30 (1).

Lewis, M. (1977). Crashing. TLT Online Editor. Available at
<langue.hyper, chubu.ac.jp/jalt/pub/tlt/97/mar/crashing>

Maculaitis, J. (1988). The Complete ESL/EFL Resources Book: Strategies, Activities and Units for the
Classroom. Lincolnwood, IL: National.

Nation, P. (1994). (Ed.). New Ways in Teaching Vocabulary. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Omaggio, A. (1978). Games and Simulations in the Foreign Language Classroom. Washington DC:
Center for Applied Linguistics.

Palmer, A., & Rogers. T.S. (1982), Fall/Winter,). Communicative and Instructional Considerations in
Language Teaching. Language Learning and Communication, 1 (3).

Woolard, George. (1996). Lessons with Laughter. Photocopiable Lessons for Different Levels. Hove,
UK: Language Teaching Publication.

Person A

Person B

You’re a record store clerk and a customer wants to return a CD or get his/her money back. He/she broke or scratched the CD at home. You must not return the money or give a new CD. It’s the customer’s fault. You have a strict store policy.
You’re a customer and you want to return a scratched or broken CD. You bought it broken from the record shop. You must exchange it or get your money back. It’s not your fault.
You’re a travel agent and your customer wants to go to a far away country at a low price.  Tell him/her times, dates, places & prices. He/she must transfer in another country.   What is best for your customer?  There are several different routes.  Which airline company? First class? Economy?
You want to travel to a far away country at   a good price.  Choose your destination.  But you must transfer planes in another country.  Ask the agent time, dates, places & prices.   How long does it take?   Which airline company? First class? Economy?
You like the other person very much.  You want to invite him/her out on a date.   You must make a date with him/her!
You’re not interested in the other person.  He/she is very shy. Don’t take "no" for an answer!  You don’t want to go on a date, but you have to be polite. Think of a good, polite excuse.  You are worried about his/her feelings and reaction.
You really need to borrow $50 from your friend. He/she thinks you already owe him/her $20, but he/she is wrong.  You really need $50 for an emergency.  You have to  borrow this money.  Your friend is your only chance. He/she is you best friend!
He/she used to be your friend, but isn’t anymore because he/she never paid back the $20 borrowed last year.  Now he/she wants to borrow $50 but you don’t want to loan $50.  You don’t trust him/he anymore.  How can you help?
You’re a customer with a broken car. The mechanic shop worked on your car last week and you paid $700.  Your car is still broken and you want the mechanic to fix your car for free! It’s the shop’s obligation!
You’re a mechanic at a shop and the customer wants you to work for free.  You never work for free! The customer’s car is broken but it’s not your fault. You previously worked on the car for $700.



"I’m sorry. I don’t want to go because I don’t like Karaoke," Kayoko replied to Hiromi’s "invitation." Several conversations such as this occur in Nova Intercultural Institute’s Activity Voice classroom. (Nova is a nationwide ESL school in Japan). Kayoko responded appropriately for this particular activity. Hiromi and Kayoko participated in a functional discourse chain (Appendix A) which requires students to practice invitations and excuses. The students are to stand up and circulate around the classroom inviting each other out to dinner, movies, dances, parties, karaoke etc. Other students in turn ask interrogative "information questions" about the details surrounding the invitation such as "Who’s going?" "When is it?" and "How much will it cost?" After gathering sufficient information about the event, the students then decline the invitation with any creative, funny, or imaginative excuse they can think of. They are not to repeat any of the invitations or excuses. They have to continually think of new invitations and excuses as they move from one "available" student to the next.

"Bingo," Mohammed called out after completing Vocabulary Bingo. Mohammed, a student from Qatar, studied English at PELI in San Luis Obispo, CA. Mohammed’s prize for winning Vocabulary Bingo was a pack of sugarless chewing gum. Vocabulary Bingo can effectively introduce and reinforce selected vocabulary. To play, students need a list of at least twenty-five vocabulary words and their corresponding definitions. They also need a Bingo grid (Appendix B). (Another alternative is to play I WON, which requires only sixteen words and their definitions. Bingo and I WON are played exactly the same way.) Students write a different vocabulary word in each box of the Bingo grid. They are to create their own "winning combination." They then put their vocabulary/definition sheets away. The teacher starts calling off definitions only. If the definition matches the vocabulary word on the student’s Bingo card, the student puts a check in the appropriate box. The first student to accumulate five checks in a row yells out "Bingo."

What are the effects of games in the ESL classroom? Which games should teachers present and to which level? Should activities substitute a class text or compliment it? How often should games be incorporated into the classroom and how long should each activity last? The answers to these questions provide insight into the appropriateness, effectiveness, practicality, and purpose of games in the ESL classroom. John H.T. Harvey (1982) addresses the significance of his games in A Communicational Approach: Games II.

    We have some misgivings about the term, despite its inevitability. The word "games"
    has the drawback of suggesting a lack of seriousness, except perhaps in competitiveness.
    But our communication games are not intended as diversions from the hard work of language
    learning, or as rewards for it, but rather as the hard work itself. (210)

Harvey makes a fundamental point. In contrast to the old misconceptions about "games," increasing research and development of some of the more current games have helped popularize the notion that these activities can serve as the "hard word" itself. Games can help facilitate the natural progression of any chapter or lesson plan. Games and puzzles introduce new material and act as "warm-ups." Activities can also serve as the "hard work" and contain substantial target material. Of course the complexity of "hard work" activities, however, requires more lesson planning than simpler "warm-up" exercises. In addition to "warm-up" exercises and "hard work" activities, games also complete the natural progression of a textbook chapter by providing a variety of shorter, simpler games that lend themselves perfectly to "wrap-ups," reviews, and recall exercises. Games not only add fun and laughter to the ESL classroom, but also provide essential learning material and create fundamental language acquisition opportunities.


Although "games" are not yet mainstream enough to be called a movement or organized enough to be a tidy body of doctrine, they are gaining enough momentum to be recognized as a trend (Harvey 204). The word "games" often refers to an assortment of activities, puzzles, tasks, and exercises. For the clarity of this paper the definitions Marcel Danesi (1985) employs in A Guide to Puzzles and Games in Second Language Pedagogy will be adopted. Puzzles and games operate in terms of three general instructional objectives: knowledge of specifics, knowledge of entire messages, and development of communication skills. Knowledge of specifics are reinforced through discrete-point puzzles. Global puzzles emphasize knowledge of entire passages and Interactional games develop communication skills (Danesi 8). Not only is understanding the instructional objectives of games and puzzles important, but the appropriateness of how and when they are incorporated in the classroom also requires attention. This paper will present several different types of games and puzzles and do so in the order which parallels the natural progression of chapters in commonly used textbooks: introduction, target material, and review.

1.) Warm-Up Puzzles & Introductory Games

Several different puzzles and games lend themselves perfectly for introducing new material. But before discussing the activities available, we should ask ourselves the purpose for using them at this stage. Although puzzles and games inevitably vary from classroom to classroom, the purpose remains the same: creativity, enjoyment, and induction. The introductory stage of a lesson offers crucial opportunities for the teacher to create a learning-conducive atmosphere. One effective way to create such an atmosphere is to lower the affective filter. Through laughter, competition, and enjoyment, games and puzzles often successfully lower the affective filter. Mark Lewis (1997), a language professor at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, writes, "[Activities] lower the inhibition level while speaking a second language in front of others." Palmer and Rodgers (1983) go on the claim that "[Games] generally promote more positive attitudes towards learning than do those alternative strategies against which games have been compared." In addition to lowering the affective filter, various games and puzzles can introduce the target material inductively. Brown (1987) argues in Principles of Language Learning and Teaching a student learns less "by being told" and more by discovering for him/herself the various facts and principles (142). Classroom learning tends to rely more than it should on deductive reasoning (83). Therefore, introductory activities can offer a creative, fun, inductive alternative to the usual teacher-centered, deductive approach.

Discrete-point puzzles are popular with both teachers and students because they cast the practice of vocabulary and isolated grammatical structures into a challenging and recreational problem-solving form. Discrete-point puzzles genres include scrambled letters and words, crosswords, word-searches, tic-tac-toe, word mazes, match-ups, cryptograms, associations, word-wheels, and miscellaneous visual puzzle types (Danesi 11). Although some textbooks have match-up exercises at the end of the chapter used for recall and review purposes, extensive vocabulary match-ups (Appendix C) can be used at the introductory stage. The advantage of introducing an extensive vocabulary list at the beginning of a chapter lies in the opportunity to later play other games from the same list. Vocabulary Tic-Tac-Toe, Concentration, and "Interactional Match-up" are just a few possibilities.

Interactional Match-Up is played using an extensive vocabulary/definition sheet. Students randomly receive several small slips of paper on which either a vocabulary word or its definition are written. The students then stand up and interact among themselves. The purpose is for students to match each of their vocabulary words with another student’s corresponding definition. Although the teacher should make him/herself available for prompting and guidance, the class becomes uniquely, yet effectively student-centered. Students must negotiate the meaning of the vocabulary words by themselves. Nation (1994) asserts in New Ways in Teaching Vocabulary that communication activities can be a major source of planned, indirect vocabulary learning (v). Interactional Match-Up has always proven to be an educational and entertaining tool.

Several other puzzles and games also lend themselves perfectly for the introductory stage of any textbook chapter or classroom lesson. It must be emphasized, however, that the teacher plays the biggest role in providing the appropriate material at the appropriate time. Often teachers must create their own activity based on the material previously covered in class and the students’ level. A good teacher can design his/her own activity based on the fundamental principles of discrete-point puzzles and interactional games. For additional activities see Danesi (1985), Maculatis (1988), and Nation (1994).

2.) The Hard Work Itself (Target Material)

Not only do puzzles and games enhance the introductory stage of any chapter in just about any textbook, but games can also be the "hard work" itself, the target material. As Harvey (1982) points out in Communication Approach: Games II, games can also successfully provide sufficient language learning material. Creating such games, however, often requires advanced planning and creative manipulation of other materials and resources. Many of these games rely on a "spontaneous, unrehearsed free exchange of information" between student and student. Harvey claims his "science-type" games require students to try to make out significant regularities in data and base predictions on them (211). Role-plays also lend themselves to the "hard work" material, but can also be employed during the introductory and review stages of any lesson or chapter. Other "hard work" games such as Cloze exercises and jigsaw activities also offer target material, but do not instruct the students to acquire all of it through a communicational approach.

Harvey’s "science-type" interactional games require students to communicate with one another. The three key features necessary for true communication to exist are reference, intention, and uncertainty (208). Harvey designs his games to utilize these three key features and arranges his games so that different people know different information. The total information about the situation is divided up among different students, which results in sheltering one student from the information another student possesses. At the same time, a requirement is built to widely distribute the information. Everyone’s task is to acquire everyone else’s information (210). Students either form groups or work independently. They then circulate around the classroom seeking and exchanging information. Although the subject matter of these games varies from class to class, the principles behind them remain the same. The advantage to Harvey’s interactional games exist in student-centered lessons, opportunities to seek information and negotiate its meaning, a lower affective filter, and a spontaneous use of the target material.

Role plays are other "hard work" interactional games. Teachers can design role-plays to fit almost any lesson plan. Nova Intercultural Institute’s standard format for a forty-minute lesson consists of a five-eight minute introduction, ten-fifteen minute practice, fifteen-twenty minute role-play, and a five-minute wrap-up. Nova, whose lessons primarily focus on role-plays, instructs its teachers to design their role-plays to appropriately suit all levels and lesson material. Several role-plays also lend themselves to conversation classes (Appendix D). Role-plays can practice functional English such as returning items to a store, problems with travel agents or hotel reservations, and borrowing money and/or other items. The purpose of role-plays is to develop fluency, spontaneity, and situational awareness. Role-plays are interactional games, which offer an effective alternative to the standard teacher-centered textbook lesson.

Cloze exercises also allow opportunities to introduce and practice "hard work" material. Listening, speaking, and/or pronunciation classes can use song/music exercises (Appendix E). An Edutainment approach claims these songs are a good way to teach target material in an Edutainment way because songs incorporate all the language skills. Students engage to listening to the song, reading, the lyrics, writing words in the blanks, and speaking and/or singing he song (Edutainment 1997). The same song can be used for different levels by adding or deleting key words, limiting the replays, and extending the discussions on the song’s meaning and emotions evoked. With a little preparation, newspaper articles can also offer Cloze exercises and jigsaw activities. David Dycus (1996), a professor at Aichi University in Aichi, Japan, claims in Jigsaw Activities Using Newspaper Articles that the traditional method of reading a newspaper article, answering comprehension questions, and then discussing the article can become boring. An alternative approach is turning newspaper articles into jigsaw activities and Cloze exercises. For the Cloze exercise approach, one student is the "taskmaster" who possesses all the information. The other students have the same article, but with omitted vocabulary words. The taskmaster reads the article, practicing clear pronunciation, and the other students insert the correct vocabulary words (Appendix F). Teachers will want to vary the degree of difficulty according to level, material, and purpose. The jigsaw activity, similar to Harvey’s "science type" interactional games, requires students to possess only a portion of the article, but a portion with enough key information to arouse interest. Each portion should also contain information not found in the other sections. The students are then to complete the article by seeking out the information others possess. Dividing up he article according to these criteria presents information in a way that forces students to develop and share hypotheses and to depend on others for information. Thus, the task of reading and asking questions becomes an interactive problem solving activity (Dycus). Cloze exercises and jigsaw activities can turn any reading passage into a fun game while still creating "hard work" and focusing on target material. These games have consistently proven conducive to language acquisition.

3.) Wrap-Up Games and Recall Puzzles
All puzzles and games incorporated into the introductory and hard work stages can also creatively and successfully conclude any lesson or textbook chapter. The review section of a lesson or chapter is essential for reinforcing the target material before moving on. Vocabulary Bingo, mini role-plays, word searches, surveys (Appendix G), and match-ups can all be taken from the introductory and target material stages and modified, revised, improved, or just play repeated. All these puzzles and games are useful as review or recall activities (Danesi 6). Global puzzles, such as riddles, word tricks, logic problems, and mathematical puzzles, effectively review the target material in a creative, improvisational way. The teacher can use these activities to develop the learner’s overall competence and functional proficiency after the initial learning has occurred (Danesi 33). At this stage, the students themselves can also create some of the activities. The review stage allows for more flexibility for creating unique and personal activities.

Global puzzles offer a number of pedagogical approaches for reviewing the target material and providing opportunities for students to compose them themselves. Danesi continues to argue that, "Global puzzles offer a good opportunity for verbal interaction in the target language" (33). Such puzzles help reinforce the target material. Riddles force students not only to assess what it says specifically, but also make students come up with a non-obvious solution after thinking about several different possibilities. Ex. Q. What becomes larger when turned upside down? A. The number 6 becomes 9. Word tricks set out to deceive the learner; thus, they challenge the student not only to think about the language, but also its implications. Ex. Q. If it takes 3 minutes to boil 1 egg, how long does it take to boil three eggs? A. 3 minutes. Logic problems also challenge students, but through deductive reasoning not with plays on words or deliberate deception. Ex. Q. John is younger than Mike, who is older than Bill, who is older the John. Who’s the oldest? A. Mike (Dansei 34). Through a few examples set by the teacher, ambitious students can also create different global puzzles based on the material covered in class. Such puzzles add a creative, enjoyable alternative to a conventional lesson, challenge the students’ language proficiency, and test their lexical competence.

Pictionary also lends itself to the wrap-up stage by providing an opportunity to review chapter material and recall vocabulary. Pictionary is a competitive game that adds extra excitement and stimulation to the classroom. Teachers should improvise Pictionary to fit into their class’s needs and limitations. However, the basic concept of Pictionary is the same: students draw chapter vocabulary words and concepts, fellow team members attempt to guess what is being drawn. Pictionary fosters learning because it utilizes the Total Physical Response approach, stimulates visual learning processes, and creates an entertaining alternative to traditional recall exercises.


Although games and puzzles are effective and essential for just about any level in any classroom, teachers must still exercise caution when choosing and implementing these activities. Danesi (1985) points out literature suggests quite strongly that game playing should always be structured and used together with more conventional methods (4). Sufficient research has not been conducted to prove that a class can rely solely on a curriculum of games and puzzles. Before using games and puzzles, teachers must assess the activity’s ability to meet the classroom criteria.

To utilize the full effectiveness of games and puzzles teachers must not use them primarily as recreational devices. Omaggio (1982) stresses in Games and Simulations in the Foreign Language Classroom that teachers should use games judiciously and construct them with specific instructional objectives in mind. Therefore, teachers should gear games and puzzles to suit the introductory, target material, or review stages of classroom lessons and textbook chapters. These activities primarily compliment these stages, not entirely substitute them. Although Harvey claims his "hard work" games can be used as the target material, he too acknowledges the limited scope of these games if not conducted properly. Latorre (1975) also argues in The Construction and Use of EFL Crossword Puzzles activities should have "a definite linguistic aim along with their function as a welcome change of activity" (46). The welcome change only comes if the teacher judiciously selects appropriate activities and incorporates them at suitable times.

Although games and puzzles have their limitations, they still nonetheless offer an alternative to the traditional teacher-centered textbook lesson. Activities often lower the affective filter by adding extra laughter, excitement, and competition to the classroom. Danesi goes on to claim that games and puzzles promote a lively and uninhibited learning environment (6). George Woolard (1996) asserts in Lessons with Laughter that laughter encourages learning by making language more memorable. Woolard certainly makes a good point, and by doing so he exposes the momentum of this growing pedagogical trend. Perhaps some day games and puzzles will be more of an accepted approach than a mere trend.

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