Board games evoke memories of camping trips, power outages spent by candlelight at the kitchen table, and weekends with the grandparents. In short, they’re synonymous with good times with family and friends. However, despite all the happy memories they elicit, most of us forget to play board games in our daily lives—not to mention in class. Let’s change that! These little guys are an extremely valuable tool in your teacher toolkit. Besides being innately fun, board games:
- Reduce teacher talking time by putting the focus on student interactions
- Encourage healthy competition between classmates, which helps build solid relationships
- Hone vocabulary and spelling skills through structured activities
- Reinforce material through structured practice
- Encourage students to work through challenges
- Provide ample speaking opportunities as students work together to solve the game
- Provide a break from traditional lesson structure
- Encourage students to have fun – which in turn reduces stress
- Encourage creative and strategic thinking
Here are eight of our favorite board games for the EFL class.
A classic game for language learners, use Scrabble to practice spelling and challenge students’ vocabulary. Don’t be afraid to play along with them: as the teacher, you can inject interest and surprise by introducing your class to more advanced or obscure words. While playing, do remember to keep a dictionary handy to clear up any disagreements, ensure students understand parts of speech and encourage them to make other word forms (e.g., create verbs from nouns).
Upwords uses the same crossword pattern as Scrabble, though allows players to build words upwards by placing tiles on top of one another. (For example, you can change “cat” to “bat” by placing the ‘b’ tile on top.) (You can play Upwords with a Scrabble board as well, though it’s a good idea to place a height limit on tiles, as Scrabble tiles are not designed to hold multiple tiles steady.)
A challenging game at any level, in Boggle, players shake 16 lettered dice and use them to find words in “adjacent” dice (these may be dice that are diagonal, horizontal or vertical neighbors). Players work individually to find as many hidden words as they can in three minutes, recording these on a piece of paper.
Give traditional Jenga a twist by having students answer a question each time the blocks fall. Alternatively, for even more speaking practice, tape a question to each block for students to answer before placing it on the top of the tower.
Tip: There are any number of board games you can adapt with questions in this way. Think Uno, Chess, Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, and Connect 4.
A much-loved game all around! In Scattergories, players work to think of words or items that fit the catergories on their game card—but that start with a particular letter. In the official boardgame you’ll use a 20-sided lettered die, however, if you don’t have access to one you can use an app to select a letter at random. This is a great way for students to practice thinking under pressure and within the constraints of catergories.
Usually guaranteed to provoke chatter, Taboo asks players to make their team mates say a given word—without using related words. For example, if Student A receives a game card with CLOWN, followed by red nose, circus, It and Krusty, then their challenge is to communicate the concept “Clown” to their team without using the associated words or concepts given on their card.
7. Apples to Apples
Perfect for teaching parts of speech, in Apples to Apples players must associate one of their five assigned noun/verb cards with an adjective/adverb laid down by the leader. The fun is that these associations are personal and therefore often subjective. For example, the leader may lay down “colorless,” and players must decide which of their noun cards could best be described this way. The matches are then shuffled and read aloud by the leader, who chooses the best association.
Sometimes called Dictionary, in Balderdash (usually advanced level) students are given a little-used or obscure English word, and asked to create a definition for it. After being read aloud players vote for the definition they think is correct. Points are awarded for guessing correctly and also given to students whose false definitions receive votes.
Tip: The teacher should monitor students’ writing and correct grammatical errors before they are read out—this way incorrect definitions won’t be revealed due to errors in grammar.
A way to relax students, encourage healthy competition, and use language? Win-win-win, we say. Long live board games!