Everyone loves playing games.
For young learners especially, games are a crucial part of learning a foreign language.
There are many benefits to playing games in the classroom. Students become more engaged, taught content is reinforced and class morale can increase.
Even if you’re teaching in one of China’s large public classrooms with limited equipment, you can still run games that get everyone interacting.
Here are seven basic, fun games to engage your Chinese students and get the whole class involved.
Also known as Chinese Whispers, this basic game is a fun energizer for your class in China. It works with adults as well as it does with kids.
Break the class up into teams of about eight students. Ask them to line up.
Whisper a sentence into the ear of the first student in each team. That student then needs to whisper the same sentence to the next student in their team, and so on.
The last student should say the sentence out loud to the class. If it’s correct, the team wins a point.
Chinese students are happy to play for points.
The sentence should be 100% accurate to get the point.
After each game, get the students to shuffle their order. This mixes things up and ensures that different people are speaking out loud to the class.
2. Parachute People
Split the class into groups of two or more.
Draw some parachutes on the board, one representing each group. Then draw the strings of the parachutes attached to the person using it, usually about five.
Draw the sea below the parachutes, as well as some sharks or similarly threatening sea creatures.
You can either draw this while the students are in the classroom (it will pique their interest) or prepare it prior to them entering the classroom.
Team by team, ask a question about current vocabulary or grammar structures and have the students raise their hands to answer.
For example, if you’ve been teaching countries, you could ask:
- Use the word ‘Australia’ in a sentence
- Tell me something about Brazil
- Spell the word ‘England’.
Parachute People is a fun game to play while teaching in China.
If they get the question right they get to choose another group and remove one of their strings. But if they get it wrong, their group loses a string.
Chinese kids will go nuts over this! It really demonstrates their love of competition.
Continue playing until only one parachute remains, and award a point to their group. The game usually takes about 10 minutes, and often the children will want to play again.
The game is good for revision, and arrests the attention of even the most unruly of classes.
3. Tic Tac Toe
Kids love this game and it’s easy to set up – hardly any prep time is required.
Split the class into two teams. Ask everyone to line up and have them come up to the front when it’s their turn.
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The Tic Tac Toe board will have a sentence that they have to answer, or a picture that they have to identify by saying it out loud.
Tic Tac Toe is a simple yet great game to engage your Chinese students.
If they get it correct they can write an ‘X’ or an ‘O’ on that spot (Chinese kids enjoy writing on the board!).
You then call a student from the other team.
When the team gets a complete line (say, three or four squares long), they win a point. The first team to five points wins.
There are many other variations of Tic Tac Toe - the options are endless!
4. Card Collection
Give each student three cards. Each card has a question on it.
Here are some example questions for an elementary class:
- Where are you from?
- What is your favorite animal?
- How do you spell China?
- Can you swim?
Students walk around the classroom and find a partner to ask a question to. The students should then do ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to either keep or lose the card.
Put a timer on this game, and closely monitor the students as they mill around, especially if they’re young. The student with the most cards wins.
You could also get the students to say "one, two, three" each time they do rock, paper, scissors.
5. Pass the Bomb
Students pass around a ‘bomb’ while the teacher isn’t looking.
When the teacher turns around and abruptly shouts "Stop!" the student holding the bomb must answer a question.
Students freak out and have fun passing on the item, and the game promises isolated student talking time.
This game will work all the way from kindergarten to middle school, no matter which country you’re teaching abroad in.
Don’t choose something too attractive to be the bomb, or a fun item like a ball that you might use in other games. Students should associate the item with something that they don’t want to hold!
Primary school students love this game.
It requires a set of plastic bowling pins and ball, which you can find in Walmart or even on an app like Taobao.
Write 40 words on the board which students have previously learned. There should be a mix of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.
Chinese kids love playing bowling.
Move desks away if you can and set up the bowling pins. Divide the class into teams.
Select one or two students to be in charge of re-setting the pins each time they fall.
Every student bowls, and is rewarded with a point (for the team) if they can correctly say a sentence using a word on the board.
This game can get quite competitive – even for the kids in charge of the pins – so make sure you’re actively managing the game at all times.
7. Sentence Jumble
This game works like magic, and can even last a whole lesson!
Split the class into teams of eight students. Ideally, each of the teams should be facing each other in a large circle.
Give each team a stack of eight sheets of paper with one word written on each piece of paper.
These words form a sentence when put in the correct order. Students must correctly order themselves, facing inwards to the other teams, holding the words to make a correct sentence to win a point.
This game can also work with the days of the week or the months of the year. Have students from each team come up and race to put them in order.
It’s a great way to get the whole class cheering for their team mates.
Want some simple online games?
If you’re after some games for elementary learners on the internet, check out the Games to Learn English site.
From spelling to hangman, this site has some simple but fun games. There’s even interactive whiteboard content you can download.
If you're going to China to teach English you should download a VPN app on your devices (laptop and phone) before you arrive.
This will ensure you can still access blocked websites like Google to find great games while you're in China. Otherwise, it might be tough!
I've reviewed some of the best VPNs that work in China to help you get access quickly and with no fuss.
Let the games begin!
Like any activity you run in your Chinese classroom, student talk time should be maximized. Games are a great way to achieve this.
Just remember to stay in charge and not let a game get out of hand. If it does, you can take points away or stop the game and resume it later.
I hope you have lots of fun in your classroom in China!
What do you think of these basic, fun games to engage your Chinese students? Do you have any great games that have worked in your classroom?