When we hear the word ‘play’, we might go back to our childhood and think of the happy hours we spent as a child whittling away countless hours in playing with an assortment of toys. However, if we associate ‘play’ with adults it might appear to be childish. Apart from relieving stress in adults and allowing us to mentally renew ourselves, psychology indicates that play:
may in fact be the highest expression of our humanity, both imitating and advancing the evolutionary process. Play appears to allow our brains to exercise their very flexibility, to maintain and even perhaps renew the neural connections that embody our human potential to adapt, to meet any possible set of environmental conditions.
For language learners of all ages, the very nature of learning a foreign language requires constant adaptation and an array of environmental conditions. This is where play can become extremely powerful in helping learners prepare for those environmental conditions through simulations and other forms of play. Below are some of my favourite lessons that involve the element of play.
1-The newsroom simulation: This one works with all ages. The learners have to produce a news programme that will go live on air. Two editors are chosen to organise the news room. They are responsible for keeping the journalists on schedule and also for presenting the headlines as anchors in the studio. The rest of the group are split into four teams. One will be the reporter from a specific location and the others will be the people from the story to be interviewed. The whole team usually needs about an hour to organise themselves and get a programme ready for the their broadcast. There are two ways that the broadcast can happen. The first is live, where the newsreader starts the broadcast, introduces each story and goes out to the reporter live from the studio. If you have the technology the other way is to get learners to record their segment and then edit it together on a programme such as movie maker. The amount of language that goes on in this simulation is impressive and the seriousness and engagement with this task is high.
2-Fantasy Business Emails: This one works extremely well with Business English Learners. The learner creates a real life scenario. The learners’ aim is then to write a business email to a fictional company with a business transaction or request that they wish to complete. This could be emailed to the teacher in smaller groups or they could be paired with a student in larger groups. The recipient has to reply to the email. This simulation may go on for two to three weeks as the learners develop their business relationship and allows them to practice for future situations that are relevant to their needs. The teacher can be CC’ed into the emails and these then provide excellent material for writing development or for individual writing development, either through learner -instructor tutorials or through peer correction.
3-Interactive Fiction: This is a computer based play where the learners find themselves in a story and they have to choose where to look and where to go to try to complete certain tasks. The beauty of Interactive Fiction is that it is all text based so the amount of reading involved is a great tool to get learners to read in a foreign language without realizing it. Sometimes we play together as a group, sometimes the learners play in teams and share information as they progress and other times they might work on it for homework. For more information on Interactive Fiction and some great lesson plans visit IF only.
In all three activities above play is central but it allows learners to take risks and push themselves to try out various scenarios in a way that is not always possible with non-play.