Learning through Play

First, a disclaimer: this post is not designed in any way to be an academic discussion of learning through play, its benefits and drawbacks, or an analysis on its place in the classroom. Rather it is a round up of some ideas and things I’ve done in my own lessons, where my students and I have enjoyed exploring this topic.

One of the huge advantages of teaching at a state elementary school is that I am working with younger children than I have taught in previous jobs. At times this can be downright infuriating, and there are a lot of games/activities that are no longer at my disposal (owing to my students being too low level, or simply too young, to enjoy them). However, a change is always a good excuse to experiment… and I do love a good experiment.

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My first foray into the idea of learning through play was whilst working for IH Moscow. My students had been learning food vocabulary and polite requests, and the coursebook suggested that they practise this through roleplay. All well and good, but wouldn’t it be much more fun to have an ‘actual’ restaurant? So we set up the IH Cafe, seen above. My students made their own menus and then took turns to be customers and waiters/waitresses – the waiters/waitresses had to write down the order on a little notepad, and polite language had to be used throughout. I’ve since repeated this with pre-teen students – the idea of having a ‘real’ restaurant seems to make the linguistic element much more memorable.

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As any teacher knows (except for those working in nice hot, sunny climates) trying to teach children when it’s snowing outside is roughly akin to training cats. This was my compromise: a snowman building competition – and a review of body parts!


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Grade 2 this time – playing ‘shops’, again practising language for polite requests and using toy ‘money’.

And finally, Grade 3. We’d been learning vocabulary for ‘places in a town’ and so their ‘Fun Friday’ lesson was to build and label their own town.

Obviously I can see this kind of idea working best with young learners as opposed to adults, but I think there’s a lot of options with it!

  • Teaching body parts (making a ‘person’, snowman or other figure)
  • Teaching animals/animal body parts (a vet roleplay with cuddly animals, or using toy animals to create a zoo for example)
  • Sorting colours
  • Teaching items of clothing
  • Teaching rooms in a house (and making a ‘house’)

Do you like teaching through play? What’s your favourite lesson you’ve taught?


4 thoughts on “Learning through Play

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