Games in the Primary EFL Classroom. Teaching English as a Foreign Language Playfully to Primary School Students

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2022

12 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Games in the primary EFL classroom

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Fun and playfulness should surround everything that is done in foreign language education for young learners. Both the teacher and the activities they choose to do should have a fun and playful nature” (Lawrence 2017: 23).

Although the pedagogical value of games in the teaching of English as a foreign language (EFL) is generally acknowledged (cf. Lewis & Bedson 2010: 3), the usage of games in primary EFL education is “less documented and even less practiced [...] [since] [r]esearch on foreign language teaching and learning often focuses on older learners” (Lawrence 2017: 5). The inclusion of games in children's education has been studied but rarely with the focus on foreign language learning (cf. Lawrence 2017: 5). Thus, there is still a lot of research to do when it comes to teaching English as a foreign language playfully to primary school students.

The approach to foreign language teaching has shifted in the sense that it is now not only a possibility but rather a requirement that foreign language teaching and learning should be enjoyable (cf. Ben El Moudden 2021: 208). A “teaching technique that is characterized by the elements of fun and play is the use of games” (Ben El Moudden 2021: 208). Hence, this paper argues for the implementation of games as a teaching technique in the primary EFL classroom and emphasizes the benefits of doing so regarding the positive impact it has on the language learning process. The aim of this paper is to raise awareness of the importance of integrating games in the primary EFL classroom.

2. Games in the primary EFL classroom

Games have been defined differently in distinct areas of research. For the purpose of this paper, a definition of games is provided within the framework of language learning:

[G]ames are fun. [...] Games are also task-based: English is a tool for the children to reach a goal which is not directly language related. What differentiates language games from other activities in the EFL classroom is the presence of a visible set of rules which guide the children's actions, and an element of strategy—children must successfully apply their language (and other) skills. [...] The key to a successful language game is that these rules are clear and the ultimate goal is well defined. Of course, the game must be fun [...]. (Lewis & Bedson 2010: 5-6)

Games are characterized by specific rules that must be followed. It is usually possible to adapt the rules of an already established game according to the level of competence of the children or to creatively create a new game according to the individual language level of the class (cf. Bloom, Blaich & Löffler 1991: 12). Referring to this definition, it becomes clear that games are more than just fun activities since the foreign language learners have to engage with the target language and apply their language skills. Lee -1- illustrates how a foreign language is learned by communicatively using it and that foreign language learning is not as effective if the target language is treated as a disembodied thing with rules (cf. 1979: 1-2). He, therefore, argues that activities like games link the foreign language with action and engagement and that “[i]t is through experience of communication in the language they are learning that language learners best learn how to communicate in it” (Lee 1979: 2). Implementing games in the EFL classroom promotes participation and the actual use of the foreign language since games create contexts in which the target language is embedded and has to be used (cf. Lewis & Bedson 2010: 3). “This context is ‘authentic' in the sense that the game creates its own world: for the duration of the game, it replaces external reality” (Bedson & Lewis 2010: 3). Ideally, these contexts are meaningful—albeit they are artificial (cf. Böttger 2020: 128). Furthermore, “[g]ames encourage creative and spontaneous use of language” (Ben El Moudden 2021: 214). Thus, games can be used to develop the communicative skills of foreign language learners. Wright, Betteridge, and Buckby argue that “[g]ames provide one way of helping the learners to experience language rather than merely study it. [...] The meaning of the language is thus more vividly experienced. It is, for this reason, probably better absorbed than learning based on mechanical drills” (2011: 2). Although repetition is essential to foreign language learning, mechanical drills are not as effective as the repetition of meaningful and interesting communication as it is often found in language games (cf. Lee 1979: 3). Regarding this, the integration of games as a teaching technique in foreign language education can be regarded as holistic learning (cf. Böttger 2020: 129).

Apart from the fact that the integration of games can encourage young foreign language learners to participate, they promote language learning unconsciously (cf. Ben El Moudden 2021: 212). As already stated in the definition above, children want to reach a goal that is not directly a language goal. When playing games in foreign language education or education in general, the line between work and play blurs since children view these kinds of activities as voluntary and fun (cf. Lawrence 2017: 10). “Most language games distract the learners' attention from the study of linguistic forms. They stop thinking about the language and instead use it, receptively or productively [...]” (Lee 1979: 2-3). The young students use the target language unconsciously and creatively in written or spoken form when playing games because they want to play the game and they want to win rather than they want to learn the foreign language and train their language skills (cf. Böttger 2020: 129). Therefore, by playing games, students learn unconsciously and without the pressure to perform (cf. Elsner 2018: 57). Contrary to other language exercises, in games, language exercises appear to be merely a means to an end and are not regarded as a form of exercise by children (cf. Elsner 2018: 138). This is the reason why playing games are motivating for young students; they play them because they are enjoyable and not because they want to learn a foreign language—as this might be the case with older students (cf. Böttger 2020: 129). Especially primary EFL teachers should be aware of the facts that games are motivating for young foreign language learners since they are fun and provide “a plausible incentive to use the target language [...] [and that] language learning [for its own sake] will not be the key motivational factor” (Lewis & Bedson 2010: 5). Moreover, the teaching aim is usually different than the goal of the game (cf. Elsner 2018: 138). Due to this, the same game can be used for different teaching aims: e.g., the game memory can be played in order to learn the names of animals, body parts, etc. (cf. Elsner 2018: 138).

“Play is a crucial part of children's development” (Lawence 2017: 10) since children discover, experiment, and interact with their environment through playing games (cf. Lewis & Bedson 2010: 5). “Not to include games in the classroom would be to withhold from the children an essential tool for understanding their world; a world which the language teacher seeks to enlarge through the experience of a foreign language” (Lewis & Bedson 2010: 5). Because playing games is a natural means for children to learn, games should be incorporated in the primary EFL classroom. Playful teaching and learning take advantage of children's natural instinct to play (cf. Lawrence 2017: 10). Games do not only have great appeal for children (cf. Lewis & Bedson 2010: 3), playful and enjoyable activities are proven to be intrinsically motivated for primary school students (cf. Elsner 2018: 56). Considering the fact that motivation is one of the key factors regarding the learning process (cf. Elsner 2018: 56), using games as a motivational teaching technique in primary school education is reasonable. Research attributes playing not only in educational contexts but in general several positive effects on children's development (cf. Büning 2014: 163). Games improve the problem-solving and critical thinking skills of students (cf. Ben El Moudden 2021: 228). By playing games, children learn to cooperate and interact with each other, develop strategies to deal with frustration and failure, and learn to be open and to engage with new things (cf. Büning 2014: 163). Additionally, games foster children's creativity (cf. Büning 2014: 163). Thus, games stimulate learning in general. For this reason and the above-mentioned positive effects on students, games should be implemented as a regular classroom activity and teaching technique for the sake of improving these “crucial skills required in the academic carrier of students [...] and their daily lives in general” (Ben El Moudden 2021: 228).

Total Physical Response games take advantage of children's natural urge to move (cf. Bloom, Blaich & Löffler 1991: 10) while simultaneously training receptive skills—as, e.g., in the game Simon says in which the students have to follow the instructions of the teacher: e.g., Simon says clap your hands (cf. Elsner 2018: 137). Since “play is considered an essential aspect of young children's development and has value in promoting and fostering attitudes conducive to good learning [,] [...] it can be argued that play should be incorporated into foreign language learning for young children” (Lawrence 2017: 12-13). Using games in the primary EFL classroom is therefore appropriate for children. In fact, it is a requirement that foreign language education for young students is not only appropriate (and of course interesting) for children but also creative, action-oriented, and playful (cf. Elsner 2018: 135). The playful approach to foreign language teaching and learning corresponds to the emotional, psychological, and cognitive development and needs of a primary school student (cf. Böttger 2020: 128). Similarly, games should not merely be enjoyable but rather a means to learn something in or about the target language and something on a pedagogical and socio-psychological level (cf. Böttger 2020: 129). Furthermore, it can be argued that games create a stress-free and positive environment “that is the driving force of effective teaching and foreign language learning” (Ben El Moudden 2021: 212). An environment like this helps students to develop their cooperative skills and prepares “them psychologically for the learning process” (Ben El Moudden 2021: 212). Another advantage of using games as a classroom activity is the fact that games lower the anxiety and stress level of students since the overall atmosphere while playing games is typically relaxed, playful, and joyful (cf. Ben El Moudden 2021: 212). This is especially beneficial for the language learning process since learning a foreign language requires confidence and a positive attitude towards the target language, the teacher, and the other classmates (cf. Ben El Moudden 2021: 212). Additionally, playing games creates a less formal and intimidating and more intimate learning situation which decreases students' anxiety to speak in front of the class or other students (cf. Ben El Moudden 2021: 214). Using games as a teaching technique in the EFL classroom promotes participation without having to be afraid of making mistakes (cf. Ben El Moudden 2021: 228). Research in the field of EFL education suggests that teachers should not interrupt a game in order to correct a mistake because this would, e.g., in a role­playing game, disturb the conversation and might be more hindering than helpful (cf. Bloom, Blaich & Löffler 1991: 16). Nonetheless, it is important to draw attention to mistakes, but it is suggested that this happens after the game. The teacher might take notes of the mistakes during a game and discuss them with the class afterward or the teacher could let the class discuss if they have noticed any mistakes (cf. Bloom, Blaich & Löffler 1991: 16). This approach is relevant since playful teaching and learning are meant to involve classroom situations and activities without the pressure of performance—and drawing attention to mistakes afterward contributes to that (Büning 2014: 163).

Games are motivating for primary school students because they involve competition and challenge (cf. Ben El Moudden 2021: 213):

The goal is visible and stimulating: outdoing others, and improving on oneself, are by and large enjoyable pursuits. Enjoyable also is the active co-operation with one's fellows. In group or team activity, rivalry and co-operation go hand in hand. There are other groups or teams to surpass, and friends to help surpass them. (Lee 1979: 1)

This explains why games have a great appeal for young students and why competition is a driving force when it comes to playing games in class since children enjoy competing with each other. Although competition is by nature very motivating, it can—especially when children are involved—lead to envy and jealousy (cf. Bloom, Blaich & Löffler 1991: 15). Considering pedagogical aspects, it is, therefore, reasonable to ensure that the games that are played in the primary EFL classroom are characterized by a balance between luck and skill, i.e., that games that can only be won by skill should not be used as a classroom activity (cf. Elsner 2018: 138). Moreover, groups should be of mixed ability (cf. Wright, Betteridge & Buckby 2011: 3), teams should be evenly matched (cf. Lee 1979: 4), and new games should be explained and rehearsed in front of the class before the students actually play it to ensure that every student has a somewhat equal opportunity to win (cf. Büning 2014: 170). Every game should be introduced in the target language. This approach does not only follow the monolingual principle, but the introduction in the target language can already contribute to the foreign language learning process (cf. Büning 2014: 169). These precautions help to prevent lower-achieving students to feel demotivated. As an effective method, a game needs to be planned and it has to be used at a certain time so that it is benefitting for the current learning process and teaching goal (cf. Büning 2014: 163). For example, in the primary EFL classroom, games can be used as an introduction to a new topic (that, of course, corresponds to the children's interest) or as an exercise in the establishment phase (cf. Büning 2014: 167). Games in foreign language education serve the purpose of language-related learning aims (cf. Böttger 2020: 128). Thus, although games can be used in every phase of a lesson (cf. Elsner 2018: 135), it has to be considered in which phase it is most effective to use the game. Because of the educational potential of games, they should not be regarded as merely fill-ins and marginal activities (cf. Bloom, Blaich & Löffler 1991: 6). The utilization of games during foreign language education should be purposeful. At the same time, it can be even more motivating for children if they regard the game merely as fun and not as work—although it is a purposeful classroom activity (cf. Bloom, Blaich & Löffler 1991: 5).


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Games in the Primary EFL Classroom. Teaching English as a Foreign Language Playfully to Primary School Students
University of Flensburg  (Institut für Sprache, Literatur und Medien)
TEFL in Primary School: Playful English Teaching
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ISBN (Book)
Englischdidaktik, Didaktik, Grundschulunterricht, Englischunterricht, EFL, TEFL, Grundschuldidaktik, Englisch, primary classroom, foreign language education, SLA, Pädagogik, playful English teaching, games, game, efl classroom
Quote paper
Jella Delzer (Author), 2022, Games in the Primary EFL Classroom. Teaching English as a Foreign Language Playfully to Primary School Students, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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