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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Rong-Chang.com 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
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.