ESL Games In Your Korean Classroom

Playing ESL games in your Korean classroom is important, it helps to deliver the material in a really engaging way and also helps to connect more with your students whilst also teaching them. 

IMG_5951Teaching English for the first time in South Korea is an amazing experience, but it can be more of a challenge at times than most new expats realize.

Not only do you have the normal classroom issues you have to deal with (behavior management, schedules, motivation, etc), you also have to deal with them while working through a language barrier.

Depending on the energy of class and level of English, teaching might be a breeze for you.

Other teachers might not be so lucky. Whether you need to use games in the classroom for motivation or just as a way to mix things up every now and then, you need to keep a few things in mind before busting out the fun.

1. Games Should Be An Aid, Not The Lesson

A game in the classroom should be educational. Playing Minecraft or phone games with your students isn’t going to allow them to practice English. Choose or create games that focus on things the class is currently learning. Make sure it fits into your lesson plan and isn’t just a random time killer.

It’s not a great idea to use the whole class hour as game hour. Games should be an aid and not a lesson. Teach your lesson first, and then use a game as a way to check for understanding. My personal rule in class was 15 minutes maximum for games.

2. Have A Strategy For Team Name Choosing

I learned this one the hard way. I’d allow my groups to choose their own team name without realizing that some words or phrases in English are actually bad words in Korean. So, yeah after a million giggles from the chatty kids and guilty downcast eyes from the timid ones, I decided to come up with a strategy for team names.

Each time I made sure that they had rules for choosing a team name.

  • You have 5 seconds to pick a color for your team name or you’ll be Team Orange!
  • You have 5 seconds to pick a superhero for your team name or you’ll be Team Wonder Woman!
  • You have 5 seconds to pick a fruit for your team name or you’ll be Team Cherry!

This actually helped a lot because it cut down on wasted time, and I knew there weren’t going to be any inappropriate jokes being made secretly.

3. Explain The Rules Clearly And Check For Understanding

When explaining the rules, check after each one for understanding.

Checking for understanding is more than just asking Do you understand? or Any questions? Because chances are they’re going to just nod their head if they don’t get it.

Instead, check for understanding by asking the right questions. For example, if I were teaching a lesson on body parts and I decided to play Simon Says with my class, I would check for understanding like this.

“Suzie, if I say, “Simon says pat your head, what are you supposed to do?”

Suzie pats her head.

“That’s right! Tom, if I say, “Close your eyes, what should you do?”

Tom shakes his head no, and says, “Do nothing.”

Questions like this are real indicators of understanding.

4. Use Korean Pop Culture Minimally

Using slide show games is a great way to get the kids involved and excited, but using too much pop culture  is also a great way to distract your students.

I once had a slide show game that featured a K-Pop star asking the games questions.

Terrible idea.

Through the girls’ squealing, the boys laughing, and the millions of questions about what I (the foreign teacher) knew about K-Pop, not a lot of actual learning was done through the game that day.

You’ve been warned.

5. Check For Participation

Be aware that some students don’t enjoy speaking aloud in class. It might be nerves or just disinterest. Either way, it’s important that everyone participates in the game in some way.

I used to hold a clipboard and check off each student that gave an answer, and I told my students it was a participation grade. Those that got an “A” in participation – which was just a checkmark for speaking aloud – got a treat at the end of the week/month. Those that got no grade had an extra homework handout.

Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t because the students were too stubborn. If you find yourself in a position where it’s not working for a few quiet/shy/rambunctious students, you might have to just adjust the lesson or game for them so that you can accommodate their learning style.


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