Effective learning happens when children and teenagers are fully engaged in what they are doing. Learning is not a passive experience, with knowledge floating through the air from the teacher for the student to absorb. It demands a high level of participation, concentration, and motivation. If students find the lesson dull, their minds will wander, and the act of learning anything becomes an awful lot harder.

There are many ways to engage students in the topic of the lesson, but one of the most effective, though often misunderstood, is the use of games. Many people see the use of games in the classroom as a reward, which have no inherent value as a learning tool and are therefore a waste of time. However, when games are used properly, this could not be further from the truth. Games in the classroom can be highly motivating for the students, and they also provide a valuable opportunity to practise speaking with a partner or in a group.

When students play a game, they have clear goals, and a set of rules to follow to reach those goals, which give students both structure and motivation. It also forces students to interact with each other, which is incredibly important and often difficult for the teacher to achieve, especially with self-conscious teenagers. Games create a friendly and enjoyable learning environment, linking ‘learning’ with ‘fun’ in the students’ minds.

Another benefit of the use of games is the motivation to work on our mistakes. An extremely difficult aspect of learning a new language is the fact that students will make many mistakes at the beginning. It is a normal human reaction to become embarrassed when we make a mistake, and this makes it difficult for the teacher to persuade students to practise something new, or to repeat a task to get it right. With the use of games, this becomes a lot easier, as the teacher can give feedback immediately on any mistakes, and students are motivated to try using language in order to win the game. Games also lend themselves to repetition, as students are always happy to repeat a game to have a second chance of winning, not realising that they are perfecting their language at the same time.

At the British Council, our young learner teachers use games to enhance their lessons, give students the opportunity to practise their English in a group, and engage students in something they are interested in. Games also involve language for important concepts such as rules and turn-taking, teaching students valuable life-skills like sharing, how to lose gracefully, and the importance of fairness.

This year, our December holidays are taking the use of games even further to engage students in creative and challenging uses of English, and improve students’ confidence in both writing and speaking. For 5-6 year olds, students will learn to play games from around the world, practising language for rules and taking turns, as well as gaining life skills like sharing and listening to instructions. 7-10 year olds will create their own board game, gaining confidence through presenting their own creative ideas to their classmates. 11-13 year olds will focus on confident writing through the creation of a ‘choose your own adventure’ story book, using game elements to put their own creative spin on the task. Lastly, the 14-17 year olds will be working on their public speaking and negotiation abilities role-playing as delegates in the UN who are solving a world crisis.