Scratch My Back ESL Card Game

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Teaching English with games:

One of the main goals of Scratch My Back from an educational perspective is to provide an enjoyable way for students to improve their conversational ability and fluency.

Of course, there are many roads that one can take on the path to fluency - some easier than others. However, almost anyone that has mastered a foreign language will agree that there is a certain point where the training wheels come off and the student starts to 'feel' the culture of a language and learns to think in their second language.

Our perspective comes from Japan, where great effort and diligent study is focused towards acquiring English, yet the vast majority of the population are nothing more than 'paper drivers' - capable of cramming and passing difficult English exams, but often lacking in even basic conversational English skills.

We believe that communication ability, fluency and speaking confidence are more important than being able to mechanically translate difficult passages of technical English, and believe that this is where Scratch My Back can help: it gets players talking and actively using English.

This page contains a few links and articles that we think are useful and insightful to both teacher and student, on the quest for fluency and work well with the philosophy behind Scratch My Back.

Why use ESL games in the classroom?

Encouraging students to 'think and feel in English'

If a native speaker comes across an unfamiliar phrase or expression, they are usually able to guess its meaning by understanding the context, and the symbolic metaphorical associations behind why words mean what they do.

Though part of the ability to do this comes with experience, a lot of it comes down to having the right mindset, and unfortunately it's a skill that isn't encouraged nearly enough (certainly not in Japanese high school courses at least). 

An important early step towards thinking in English is developing the habit of understanding English words as they exist in English, rather than trying to mechanically match words and phrases to their native language equivalent.

For beginner students, this can be as simple as taking an interest in how English works: for example taking a concept that can be visualised such as 'something being full' and noting how this concept of fullness is used as a suffix in many English adjectives and adverbs such as 'beautiful', 'graceful', 'helpful', or 'useful', and that these words essentially mean full of beauty, full of grace etc. 

Once a student realises this, they have an insight into the English mindset, and are a step closer to really understanding English than the student that is mechanicall adding 'ful' to words without realising why it makes sense to do so, even though both may be understand what 'useful' means.

A logical extension of this concept is for students to pay attention to the metaphorical meanings behind expressions and phrases, as these more than anything provide direct access to the culture of a language. All languages use metaphors (for example 'light' generally indicates positive things, whereas 'dark' usually indicates negative things), but the metaphors don't always match up between languages. Many phrases or expressions that are too often learned manually or by rote, can be understood intrinsically through understanding the metaphors involved.

Here are some good websites (with lesson plans) related to encouraging students to understand the Metaphorical meanings behind words:

The importance of getting students to ask questions to further their understanding, to get them 'thinking', and processing thoughts in English': 

Using English outside the classroom:

Obviously a student is not going to become fluent if they only use English inside the classroom just as one can never become a great football player without testing themself against quality opposition in a match situation. It's important that they develop an interest and curiosity in English which extends beyond the classroom. Here is a great article by Dr Robert W. F. Taylor with a few good ideas on plant the desire in students to do this:

 Sites relating to Japanese Students in particular:

Maybe Japanese don't really need English, maybe it's too different. But in our opinion, you don't need to look any further than the school education system itself to find reason why many Japanese lack the confidence to have even a basic English conversation. The focus is on grammar rules and mechanical translation, with the end goal being passing an exam - as opposed to being able to communicate. It encourages students to cram, and 'game' exam papers, ultimately alienating people from what a language is really used for - the communication of ideas.

For many Japanese students, understanding English never gets past the process of applying a complex, almost mathematical algorithm to a Japanese sentence, before spitting out an answer in English.

This requires the brain to do twice as much work, isn't satisfying, and doesn't allow one to enter the 'English speaker's world'. Also, when languages are different culturally and gramatically, a lot of the subtleties  can be 'lost in translation'.

Here are a few articles that give insight into the Japanese English education system, it's strengths and weaknesses, the environment and upcoming changes:

A well written, and insightful article discussing the characteristics and challenges facing Japanese English learners.

A Japan times article addressing the same problem:

More to come soon!

P.S. If you know of any articles that you feel should be included here, please let us know!

Other Sites we recommend for ESL and ELT materials:

AGO card game: This is a great ESL card game for beginners, children, and those in need of brushing up on their question asking and answering skills.  Webmaster Rong Chang Li has a PhD in the subject, and this very thorough website has lots of great information. Rong's indepth understanding and love of all things ESL clearly shine through.

A good site with ESL friendly news and current events:

ESL Teachers Board: Free teaching materials, ESL jobs and resumes.

English Zone ESL Website

Tes All ESL website.