ESL Barrier Games

Written by karen frances
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ESL Barrier Games
Barrier games give students the opportunity to talk to each other. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

A barrier game is essentially an information gap game, in which students work in pairs to complete an activity. One student has some of the information and the other has the rest. Students must communicate to complete the task. In a barrier game, there is a type of barrier between the two students. The barrier could be a piece of paper or a book, or the students can sit back-to-back. The barrier forces students to communicate with each other rather than simply looking at the pieces of paper.

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Reasons for Using Barrier Games in ESL

Barrier games are very good for developing oral fluency. Students are compelled to speak and listen to each other in order to complete the task. Games can be adapted for different levels, language areas and students' interest so both adults and young learners can benefit from barrier games. There are additional benefits, such as the need for cooperation and for practicing useful expressions for clarification and repetition: "Sorry, can you repeat that," is an example of this kind of practical language.

Barrier Games Using Pictures and Diagrams

In these barrier games, Student A has a picture, either given by the teacher or drawn by the student. Student A should describe the picture to Student B, who then draws another version. At the end, the students compare to see if they are the same and where they have made mistakes. Pictures can be anything from simple shapes to complex scenes and maps. Another version has the students with two incomplete pictures, where they have to exchange information in order to complete their pictures.

Barrier Games Following Instructions

These are very similar to the picture games, but the students must follow directions to complete a specific task. For example, one student has a map with places marked on it and the other has to mark the missing points on a different map. For practicing directions, one student directs the other to an unknown place on the map. Students can also give and follow instructions for simple crafts, such as folding paper to make an origami boat.

Find the Difference Barrier Games

These games can be played using pictures, stories or other texts. Students have two slightly different versions of the same text, one of which has certain mistakes in it. They must listen carefully to each other to find the differences and decide which version is correct.

Labelling Games

Each student has a picture which is partially labelled. Student A will have the information that Student B needs to complete her picture and vice versa. In order to complete the task, students have to ask questions. Labelling games can help students use specific vocabulary in conversation. For example, Student A might ask, "Who is Mary's Aunt?" in a unit on family vocabulary, or Student B might ask, "What is next to the train station?" in a unit on cities.

Missing Information Games

One student has some facts about a person or event and the other must ask questions to find the information. These activities can be adapted to practice a wide range of target language areas. For example, students might have different pieces of information about a crime that has recently been committed. They would have to ask each other questions and discuss the situation in order to solve the mystery of the crime.

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