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Hello there,

Not being able to speak the local language can be a blessing in disguise for an ESL teacher because you are forced to use English all the time in class.

On arriving at my local school in Nepal I found that even some of the English teachers had trouble understanding me, never mind the pupils! This was because of their own low level of English and also the fact that my English accent was unfamiliar to them, so used to a “Nepali-English” accent were they. Therefore chatting away to your class is not an option in this type of situation. You will most likely alienate and discourage your pupils if you hit them with a wall of incomprehensible talking.

So if you cannot speak the local lingo, how do explain things to the children, such as a grammatical concept or how to play an English language game?

The answer I found was to limit what I said to single commands and short sentences, which I repeated often combined with gestures and demonstrations. The children soon understood what to do or what was being communicated.

For example a simple and fun game is one I call Hot Potato. Here children pass objects around the class while repeating a set phrase or v. short dialogue for speaking practice. Suddenly the teacher says “stop!” and those holding the objects have to do a forfeit, answer a question or name some vocabulary.

In order to explain this game to the children there was no possibility of using words, which would not be understood. In addition the children were so used to sitting repeating things that any kind of active participation in the class was totally alien to them.

To explain the game I took a pencil case and put it in a child’s hand. I took his arm and pulled it towards another student, repeating “pass” over and over. Simultaneously I took the other student’s arm and pulled it towards the pencil case, until the child took the pencil case. I then repeated that process again with the next child in line so the children physically saw the pencil case being passed along, and they understood.

Next I took the pencil case back to the start point and used the language I needed practising during the passing process. The children understood right away what they were supposed to do because I had SHOWN them, with no English instructions at all.

Next on my command “pass!” they started passing and repeating of the language, which by the way, for the first time I played this game I kept to a single word. Then I said “stop!” and clapped my hands. The children automatically stopped passing because they had understood that I wanted their attention.

I made the one with the pencil case stand up and do a forfeit. THEN they understood the whole game. At that point I was able to add in several pencil cases right away so that more pupils were involved in passing and repeating the given word or phrase.

For forfeits I made them up on the cuff and one that they particularly loved was to come to the front and do five press ups. As I had about 15 children I had three pencil cases and three of them doing forfeits at the same time to keep things moving. How did I get them to do the press ups? Well I had to demonstrate of course! They were so impressed that a woman could do press ups, obviously this is not done often in a Nepali English lesson!

Other forfeit ideas I used were naming a vocabulary item, miming a profession, pretending to be a chicken and demonstrating a Nepali dance.

It was absolutely great fun and it was all done by demonstrating and by introducing the game in stages, through showing it, rather than trying to explain it.

Other more complicated games can be attempted once you have a rapport with the class and have taught some basic commands. The key is demonstrate and do it in stages.

Have fun!
See primary games book or preschool games book for more great ESL game ideas:
Primary games
Preschool games