Best Ways Use Games in any Classroom

Best Ways Use Games in any Classroom

So you’ve bought all these games because you know learning should be fun. And students love it! The problem is they are still speaking lots of Chinese during the games, and parents don’t want you to “waste time” playing when the kids should be learning. Or adult students want to learn from a book, when you KNOW that the game you’ve chosen will increase not only their vocabulary but cultural knowledge AND give them some common ground when making friends with friends from other countries!

So how to use board/card games more effectively in your class? Check out these 6 simple steps.

Step 1 – Teach “Game Language”

Prepare Students for game curriculum by teaching “Game Language”

What is “Game Language?” I define this as any language that is used during a game that is not related to that specific game.

Some examples are:

  • It’s your turn.
  • Who’s turn is it?
  • I win!
  • Draw a card
  • No cheating!
  • No fair
  • Hurry up!
  • Roll the die.

Try to use the same phrases each time you play any game. To teach these the first time, try simple games they are familiar with: Uno, Airplane Chess, Twister. I like to teach students when passing pieces or cards to others to always say “Here you go” and “Thank you” and to remind the next person “It’s your turn.”

This “extra” language, when pre-taught carefully, will be the key step to making your students be able to speak “only English” during play time or as we call it “class.”

F.A.Q – Should I teach them how to “talk smack?” Ex. You suck! Loser!

Some healthy competition is encouraged during games, 
but be careful not to let kids hurt each other with “trash talking”

Another way to get kids talking fast is to listen to what they say when they play a game in their native language. Ask your assistant or friend to translate if you can’t understand. Have them replace phrases with new English phrases!

Step 2 – Teach Vocabulary from the Game

Prepare students for “specific” game by playing games with related vocabulary or via direct instruction (flashcards, translations, dictionaries, etc)

One example is Cockroach Poker. Before playing the game, we make show each picture, say the English word, and ask them to guess or translate the Chinese meaning. Then we confirm, and move to the next word. You can also write the words up on the whiteboard so they can refer to it during the game. In this particular game, we wrote the word with a marker onto each card!

Rats, Scorpions, spiders, stink bugs, cockroaches, flies, toads and bats! This game is great for Halloween but kids enjoy it any time of the year!

Step 3 – PREPARE

Prepare to teach the game. Read the instructions before class. Watch any videos about how to play. Ask other teachers if they’ve played it and what to look out for.

Are there any ways you need to modify it for your class?

  • Simplify/Expand it.

For example, in Snack Attack for younger players, we just focus on getting the kids to answer the question “What do you have?” and let them answer with one word answers. With older students, we teach various sentences/tenses “What did you eat yesterday?” I ate an apple.”

  •  Add/Subtract more players.

For example, with Guess Who or Guess Where it’s traditionally a game for two players. However, I like to pair students together (strong/weak) so that they can learn with each other. I l ask the students to take turn asking questions, and make sure to agree. For any disagreements we solve by playing “Rock, paper, scissors”

For some other games you may be able to let a group of students make decisions. It might slow down a game. The the point is not to finish, but to practice English. Once, we learned more just setting up Risk and learning how to play, than actually playing! As long as they are communicating in English, everyone is a winner!

  • Adjust the goal/time/points.

Sometimes the amount of class time you have doesn’t allow you to complete a whole game! What can you do? Play less rounds. Use less cards in the starting hand. Count down between turns and skip slow players (but make sure they are not confused/don’t know how to play)

Sometimes the goal of the game is to “get all the cards out of your hand” You can adjust the goal to be “The person with the least amount of cards in hand when time is up”

Perfect time to use one of these! Different time length for each color!

Another way we adjust points is CRUCIAL to achieving an all English environment when playing. If a student speaks Chinese we add a penalty or remove a game point (usually nothing so horrible that would cause them to lose, but as a gentle reminder) Then what happens is they will be quiet. When they are quiet it is YOUR turn to talk. Become the game announcer and they will slowly, but surely pick up on your phrases and copy you in English.

For example, in UNO if they talk, we give them an extra card. (Because the goal is to get rid of all your cards) During the game, we ask them to announce a card before they play it “This is a Red Four” and we say things like “Oh, no! No red cards in your hand?!” or “Hmmm which card to play?” and this type of “talking out loud” gets copied by students. Later they will begin to make comments like this too!

Step 4

Teach students how to play the game (preferably in English if their level is high enough, but in their native language is ok too BECAUSE if they don’t understand they will make mistakes and lose and feel embarrassed and not enjoy the game)

More Tips on How to Teach Games

For younger learners

Step 5

Connect other activities to the game. See if there are any books, worksheets, etc. related to it on,, etc.

For example:

  • Arts & Crafts
  • Outdoor/Active Games
  • Drama
  • Writing
  • Cooking

After the Fruit Stick game, have students use paints and fruits to create beautiful prints!

Take a large space and make a game come to life!

Ok, this is a little tough to make, haha. But it was too pretty not to include!

For example, after playing Once upon a Time you might ask students to retell the story or write it down or illustrate it. Or let them watch a movie with similar vocabulary to practice listening.

After playing Wanted or Clue you might have students take on the roles of each job and make short dialogues and act it out. Or try some forensic science lessons about fingerprinting!

Step 6 – Prove they learned something!

Show parents or other disbelievers what they have learned so that when they complain you are “just playing games” you can prove the students have learned something.


  • Tests based on words from the game
  • Videos of Before and After 
  • Presentations based on the game
  • Demonstrations of the game “teaching” Parents

So there ya go! Ready to get started?

Here are some of the games mentioned in the article.

We recommend Uno H20 with more durable plastic cards!UNO

Has both English and Chinese on the cards, and blank cards so you can write in your own words!ONCE UPON A TIME

Best game for many players, many ages and levels and very low cost!WANTED

Faster than the original game, takes up less space, so we recommend this version for teachers!CLUE

Fast, fun, and VERY adaptable for many different ages and levels!FRUIT STICK

Comes with several interchangeable picture sheets for TONS of vocabulary practiceGUESS WHO

Nothing like poker, don’t let the name fool you!COCKROACH POKER

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