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Playing the "Across the Generations" Game to Learn English

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

We've probably all heard about Gen X and Y, and the soon to become adult Gen Z age groups, But does generational group really make a difference to how people learn in class? "Across the Generations" is one of those fun games to improve listening and speaking in English, in a fun and relaxed way.

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    As teachers, we know that games to improve listening and speaking in English are a fundamental part of the ESL lesson plan sequence. Games allow our students the freedom to:

    • express themselves using natural communication and speech patterns
    • converse across the whole class grouping in a spontaneous way
    • share ideas and thoughts about a topic
    • practice answering open ended questions
    • make a link between their thoughts on a subject and their spoken language
    • seek clarification about English grammar and vocabulary rules as they arise

    “Across the Generations" also draws on the notion of lifelong learning as a principle of adult learning and development. This concept denotes that we are all able to continue our learning experiences throughout life and not just during our formal school days.

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    How to Play

    To play the “Across the Generations Game," begin by dividing a whiteboard or interactive board into sections to create a table with two columns. Divide the table’s left hand column into generational groups, such as:

    • Born pre-1930
    • Born in the 1930s
    • Born in the 1950s
    • Born in the 1970s
    • Born in the 1990s
    • Born post the millennium (2000)

    You can vary the categories according to the group you are teaching and their experiences and ages. This activity works particularly well with a mixed age group of students, as they are able to discuss firsthand the experiences of different generations.

    In the second column, ask students to suggest what some of the key life experiences might have been for people in these various generations, and what we know about them as a group of people. Some hot topics to suggest or discuss include:

    • World Wars
    • Migration to different countries, and waves of migration over time
    • The role of religion and faith
    • Introduction and use of technology
    • Changing views on work and family arrangements
    • The role of women at home and at work and in public life
    • Shopping and food preparation
    • Lifestyle and entertainment
    • Dangers and risks
    • Key world events
    • The experiences of life in different countries

    For example, a child born in the 1990s in Australia will have a very different worldview to a person born in 1930 in England who grew up knowing firsthand about people who fought during World War 1, and lived the World War 2 experience themselves as part of their childhood.

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    What Happens as You Play

    Providing your students have the English conversational skills to handle the content, the game will generally run very well. Be sure to start things off with a few comments of your own, and remember that for some students it will be difficult to see you as a facilitator of a conversation in which they should be an active participant. Reinforce that this is not a game where there are right and wrong answers, and that what you are aiming for is a stimulating and interesting conversation. As a group activity, games involving listening and speaking in English are a wonderful springboard into a greater awareness of how people communicate verbally and non-verbally in English.

    You could conclude this lesson with a written summary of what has been discussed, or a few pointers about developing focused and appropriate questions in English to help a conversation continue. You could also ask students to create their own more detailed version of “Across the Generations" games to improve listening and speaking in English by expanding on a specific generation in greater detail during partner or small group work, and then presenting what they have written to the class.