They are mostly used with young learners, but teenagers will play them and so will the right kind of adult class: one that doesn't take itself too seriously.
- What are circle games?
- Why and when?
- Managing circle games with young learners
What are circle games?
Circle games are any games or activity that involve the whole class, sitting in a circle. Many of the games recycle vocabulary and involve an element of fun. I would like to outline a selection of my favourite circle games that can be used in young learner and adult classes. Some of the ideas were given to me by colleagues or they are classic children's party games which have been adapted to the English language classroom. I do not claim to have invented them all myself!
Why and when?
Nowadays, in the world of EFL, pair work and work in small groups is very much in fashion. The communicative approach encourages teachers to use a lot of pair work and therefore increase 'student talking time'. I believe that for a group to gel and for a good group dynamic to prevail there are times when the class should work together as a whole. Circle games are a good opportunity to bring the group together. I tend to use them to start or end of a class. They can be used as warmers at the beginning of a class or as a 'filler' at the end.
Several of the activities, such as Chain drawings and Consequences are great for when you have to do a last minute substitution class for a colleague. Very little material is required, they're suitable for all levels and a lot of language can be generated.
Managing circle games with young learners
Circle games can be incorporated into the regular routine of a young learner class. If students are introduced to the idea of working in a whole group from the beginning of a course it is easier to establish the rules and acceptable behaviour for this type of activity. They should be seen by the students as a normal part of the class and clear parameters should be set as to what is and isn't acceptable behaviour when participating in a circle game.
If you have never used any circle games and want to start, set up the class before the students arrive and begin the class with one of the simple activities. It may make a nice change and it also gives you an opportunity to greet each student on arrival and do the register.
Speak to young learners about the importance of listening to fellow students and respecting each other's talking time and turns. To calm lively students and focus them, try some basic TPR activities which demand their concentration. For example, 'If you're ready to start the activity, touch your nose', 'If you're ready to start the game, point to the door'. When students get to know the routine and the activities you can nominate one of them to start the game and lead it.
- Give each student a piece of paper and some coloured pencils.
- Tell them that you are going to play some music and you want them to draw whatever comes into their heads.
- As the music is playing, all students should be drawing.
- After 20 or 30 seconds, stop the music.
- Students stop drawing and pass their picture to the person to the left of them in the circle.
- Play the music again and they continue with the drawing the person next to them had started.
- Stop the music again, pass pictures on and this continues until the end of the song.
- When you have finished each student will have a picture that several students contributed to.
- Then it's up to you what to do with the pictures.
- They can be used to describe to the group, to write a story about.
- They can pretend they were a dream the student had last night and the rest of the class can try to analyse the meaning of the dream.
- Use different types of music to get different types of pictures. I've found that reggae and samba produce happy beach scenes and dance music gets futuristic city scenes!
- If you want to 'force' the pictures towards a topic you are studying, ask some questions about the topic first and get students into thinking about the theme. Beware - with teenagers this activity can be quite an eye-opener as it tends to reveal what is going on in their minds!
One word stories
For higher-level groups this can be really fun.
- Each student adds a word to create a group story.
- The teacher can begin by saying the first word and in a circle each student adds the next word, without repeating what has come beforehand.
- Good starting words are 'Suddenly' or 'Yesterday' to force the story into the past tense.
- It is great for highlighting word collocations and practising word order. The stories can develop in any number of ways. Some groups may need the teacher to provide punctuation and decide that the sentence should end and a new one should begin.
Change places if...
This is a TPR activity with students in a closed circle, with the teacher in the middle to begin the game.
- There should always be one less chair than participants.
- Depending on what you want to revise the teacher says, 'Change places if... you're wearing trainers.'
- All students who are wearing trainers must stand up, and move to another chair and the teacher should sit on one of the recently vacated seats.
- The person left without a seat stays in the middle and gives the next command, 'Change places if... you like pizza.' and so it goes on.
Young learners can get very excited, so be careful to incorporate this activity in the class at an appropriate time. It is a definitely a 'warmer' as opposed to a 'cooler' and may be better at the end of a class.
- Each student needs a piece of paper and a pencil.
- Make sure students have their paper portrait (not landscape) and ask students to draw a hat at the top in the middle. When they have finished they should draw two short lines to show where the head begins and then fold over the paper leaving only the two short lines showing.
- Students then pass the folded paper to their right and the teacher instructs them to draw a face and neck.
- Students fold, leaving the two lines of the neck peeping out from the fold. Instruct students to draw the body, to the waist. Fold and pass as before.
- Then they draw to the knees, then fold and pass, then to the feet.
- It's important to tell students not to cheat and peep at the folded part of the body. That will spoil the fun!
- Students then unfold the paper and reveal the misfit type character they have created between them.
- Use the pictures to practise describing people, revise clothes vocabulary or to create role plays.
Similar to picture consequences in the way the activity is conducted but this one creates a story.
- At each stage, before folding and passing to the student on the right, give these instructions.
Write the name of a man. It can be a famous man or a man everyone in the class knows. (Depending on the group, allow them to put the names of class mates.)
Write the name of a woman. It can be a famous woman or a woman everyone in the class knows. (Depending on the group, allow them to put the names of class mates.)
Write the name of a place where the two people meet.
When they meet, he says something to her. What does he say? Students write what he says to her.
She replies to the man. What does she say? Students write what she says to him.
What's the consequence of this encounter? What happens?
What's the opinion of the whole story? What does the world say as a comment?
- The end result is a mixed-up story that can often be amusing.
- Read yours as an example of how you want the students to tell the story.
- Then invite students one by one to unfold their stories and read them to the group.
- Depending on the level you can encourage use of connectors, reported speech, etc.
For more circle activities, see: