Encouraging Collaborative Competition in the ESL Classroom

Sarah Chang

The Scanning Game
One technique that I have used in every single reading class that I have ever taught is the scanning game.  The results are always the same. Always. What I typically do is divide students into two separate teams with students counting off so that each team has a ‘one versus a one’, a ‘two versus a two’, etc.  I then put two chairs in front of the classroom. Students walk up to the front of the room with their textbook or any written material that I have chosen for the game.  To mimic a game show, the students slap the desk when they have the answer.  (I have yet to find a good battery operated game show buzzer, but this is on my wish list!) I then ask comprehension questions that focus on details.  The good thing about this game is that it can be played in any level classroom.  If my students are lower-level readers, I will ask the questions in the order that they appear in the text.  For higher-level students, I will ask the questions in random order and also throw in some main idea questions.  The first student to find the correct answer slaps his/her hand on the desk and says the answer out loud. Since the other students on the team are playing along silently, they get practice finding the answers even when it is not their turn.

Now, I know I just said silently, but this is hardly the case. Think about the last game show you watched on television.  You knew all the answers, right?  You mockingly “yelled” at the contestants on television because they couldn’t solve the puzzle or answer the question in time.  It is always easier to find the answer when you are a member of the audience, right?  So back to the hardly silent students…this game has always resulted in loud hooting and hollering and borderline “cheating” as the ’silent’ classmates try to direct their teammates to the location of the correct answer. This is the collaboration part. Even though I tell the student “audience” to be quiet and let the person find the answer on their own, the students still want to help their teammate; and they want to help them very badly! Collaboration! In addition, the student to find the correct answer first has to point it out to his/her competitor. There is almost always a “light bulb” that goes off when the correct answer is highlighted to the other student.  An important thing to note is that since both teams really want to win the most points, every student gets involved and is using English. This game cultivates confidence and collaboration, and allows the students to practice their reading, listening, and speaking skills.  Baam! Just like that, three skill areas are being practiced all at once.  It is even better when the teacher has a good rapport with the students.  I often joke with my students who come up to the front to face off with one another.  I’ll say things like, “It’s Brazil versus China! Who is going to dominate?” or “Oh! Look at that! Saudi girl versus Saudi boy- which will win the ultimate title in the battle of the genders?”

I encourage teachers- both new and seasoned- to give friendly competition a try, particularly with this game. It is always a lot of fun for me but even more fun for my students.  I get requests to play “the scanning game” even in my non-reading classes. As language teachers, we should always look for ways to incorporate fun into learning English.  If students are having fun and they feel comfortable with their teacher and classmates, their affective filter is going to break down, thus increasing the chance of success in their second language acquisition.

Sarah Chang is a Senior Lecturer at the Center for English as a Second Language at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

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