Thursday, May 14, 2009

Games for TOEFL...(Eko Purwanti & Maryam Sorohiti)


Eko Purwanti

Maryam Sorohiti

University of Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta


A colleague of mine complained that he felt frustrated in teaching TOEFL® Preparation class. He said that almost all his students were less motivated and less enthusiastic when attending the class. Moreover, they seemed difficult to understand the material taught and do the exercises in the class. He told me that he tried his best in teaching the materials by following the textbook and gave great examples to illustrate his points and had plenty of practice some exercises. However, no matter what he did, there were always students who just didn't get it.

Seeing the case in the previous paragraph, some questions are raised. What is going wrong? Why isn’t he getting through? Why are his students not interested in the subject? Why do the students find difficulties in understanding the course? The answer may be various, depending on different approaches; however, one of the answers probably lies on the lack of fun activities in the classroom. Fun activities are necessary in language learning and the use of games can be an effective solution in creating fun class. This paper aims to present and overview the TOEFL® Preparation class in UMY, propose the use of games in the TOEFL® Preparation class, and give a few games in TOEFL® Preparation class.

TOEFL® Preparation class in University of Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta

TOEFL® Preparation class is offered to all students of UMY in the last semester of their learning English at the Language Training Center. Nevertheless, there are only three faculties such as Medical faculty, Political Sciences faculty, and Economic faculty which are already served with the TOEFL® Preparation class. In this class, the students will learn the skills needed to complete the test.

The TOEFL® preparation class aims to make students able to obtain a minimum standard of Paper-based TOEFL score, that is 450, and to make students able to increase their TOEFL score between 30-50 points. The idea of setting up the minimum standard of the TOEFL® score is based on the fact that many institutions such as offices and graduate study program require their applicants to have a minimum TOEFL® score of 450. In addition to the previous aim, in case the students have already passed the standard, or even exceed the standard, they are still required to improve their TOEFL® score up to 50 points.

Although the type of the TOEFL® test has currently changed into IBT TOEFL® test, the Language Training Center of UMY still uses the old type of TOEFL® test, that is PBT TOEFL® test, due to its lack of preparation and human resources. However, the LTC UMY is enthusiastic to face the IBT TOEFL®. To support this, the LTC UMY is currently preparing its instructors to have a Training of Trainers of IBT TOEFL® facilitated by Ben Floaman, an English Language Fellow, from RELO. Also, a multimedia laboratory consisting of 30 computers is now available in the LTC UMY.

In order to be able to achieve the minimum standard of TOEFL® score, the students should already be familiar with spoken English, Basic English grammar and various types of vocabularies. Therefore, students should be at least at upper intermediate level of their English. Equally important, the students will have 30 meetings, consisting of 90 minutes, of the course during the semester, plus a pre-test at the beginning of the semester and a post-test at the end of the semester.

Since the TOEFL® preparation class has been offered to the students of UMY in 2000, some problems are faced by both students and instructors. Many instructors in the LTC are in agreement that teaching TOEFL® Preparation class is not only challenging but also frustrating. Indeed, this opinion is in line with Ersoz (The Internet TESL Journal, 2000) who states that 'Language learning is a hard task which can sometimes be frustrating’. The instructors have to deal with the students, who often possess a low level of English, as well as with the teaching materials. Of the three sections of PBT TOEFL® Test, Section 2 or Structure and Written Expression is regarded as the most difficult one by the students. The students say that they have to memorize and consider many things in choosing the right answer in the Structure and Written Expression. This statement is supported by their results in the Structure and Written Expression, which are always the lowest of other scores (LTC, 2004). The condition is exacerbated by the way the teachers present their teaching material. Often, it is dominated by conventional methods, focusing on lecturing rather than involving the students in the teaching activity. Therefore, this paper promotes the use of games as an attempt to arouse students’ attention as well as improve students’ score on the Structure and Written Expression section. The use of games in language teaching has undoubtedly been accepted by many people, yet only a few people use them for teaching TOEFL® preparation, especially in section 2.

The Importance of Games in language Learning

The fact that men are homo ludens have been recognized by many people. That is to say that human beings like to play, including playing games, in their life. Games are very essential for a good health and people who play games regularly can maintain a good health. Just like the benefit of games in everyday life, so are those in education, including in learning language.

The use of games is undoubtedly acceptable and proved to be effective in language skills class. Vijayalakshmi in her lecture of Train the Trainer – IX, on Friday, April 10, 2009 in Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi stated that games provided language practice in various skills-listening, speaking, reading and writing. Thus, are games only appropriate for language skills class? What about in other language class such as TOEFL® preparation class as it deals with English knowledge rather than skills? This question is quite reasonable as there is a perception that learning TOEFL® should be serious as the course is regarded as difficult. One may be afraid that if games are applied in TOEFL® preparation class, the class will be full of hilarity and laughter, and the situation is not regarded as serious learning. As a matter of fact, that is a misconception (Lee, Forum, Volume 33, ed. January). Lee added that it is possible to learn a language as well as enjoy oneself at the same time. One of the best ways of doing this is through games.

Why Using Games in TOEFL® Preparation Class?

Regarding the importance of games in language learning, some reasons on why games are also important in TOEFL® preparation class are summarized as follows:

1. TOEFL® is regarded as the most difficult subject in UMY. Students often worry about their TOEFL® score in the end of the semester as it will determine whether they pass the subject or not. As stated by Vijayalakshmi, the use of games can lower their anxiety, and thus making their acquisition of input more likely (Vijayalakshmi, 2009).

2. The materials of TOEFL® subject are already fixed. They are almost designed in a similar way, lack of fun. The creativity of the instructor to combine the textbook and games can arouse students’ excitement. Besides, games add interest to what students might not find very interesting. Sustaining interest can mean sustaining effort (Thiagarajan, 1999; Wright, Betteridge, & Buckby, 2005). After all, learning a language involves long-term effort.

3. The emotions aroused when playing games add variety to the sometimes dry, serious process of language instruction ((Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000) Ersoz, 2000; Lee, 1995).

4. Games are student-centered in that students are active in playing the games, and when students are involved in the learning process, they will remember the skills in the TOEFL® materials better and longer than when they just receive it from their teacher.

The advantages of games can be achieved only if the instructors are able to have a consideration on when and how to use games. The next discussion will be focussed on those two things.

When and how to use games?

There are no certain rules on when games can be played in the language class. Is it in the beginning of the class, in the middle, or in the end of the class? English teachers or lecturers have long occupied games as the starter to warm-up the class and engage students’ involvement to the material taught. Also, games are often used as ‘filler’ when there is extra time prior to the end of the class. Although this may be true, as Lee observes, a game "should not be regarded as a marginal activity filling in odd moments when the teacher and class have nothing better to do" (1979:3). Games, therefore, should be the main focus of teaching the language, in this case, TOEFL® materials. What’s more, Rixon even suggests that games be used at all stages of the lesson if they are suitable and in line with the topic taught. Some skills in section 2 of TOEFL® material can be presented using games, either at the beginning of the class or at all stages or learning process.

In handling the games in TOEFL® preparation class, the teacher should pay careful attention to some aspects in order that the objectives of the course can be accomplished while the students can feel the joy and the excitement of studying the language. To achieve this, the teacher has to make sure that he/she gives clear instructions or demonstration prior to the game implementation by having ICQ (Instructional Checking Questions). Besides, as the games are played in TOEFL® preparation class, she/he also has to make sure that the students share knowledge on the topic so that no one will find problem with the language content.

What Type of Games?

Referring to Hadfield (1999), there are two classifications of language games; those are linguistic games and communicative games. Linguistic games focus on accuracy, such as subject-verb agreement whereas communicative games focus on successful exchange of information and ideas, such as two people asking and giving directions. In this case, though language usage is not correctly used, the communicative goal can still be obtained. As the games are played in TOEFL® preparation class, the linguistic games seem to dominate the activity though, sometimes, some games contain the combination of both linguistic and communicative types.

Though some games share similar principles, it better to name a game so that the student will remember the game played and therefore get benefit from that. Of many examples of games used in TOEFL® preparation class, four will be proposed in this paper.

Examples of Games appropriate for TOEFL® preparation class:

1. Spouse Hunt.

Principally, this game is similar to matching games. As the name implies, students need to find a match for a word, picture, or card. In this case, students are provided with sentence halves on cards. The goal of the game is to find their pair. Each student will get one card and has to walk around the room until they find their pair. They have to do it without showing their cards to other student, so they have to read them aloud. Once a student can find the pair, he/she is regarded to be successful in finding his/her spouse. To make the game more fun, a song can be played in the room.

Example 1:

Topic : Compound Sentence

How to play the game:

· Give each student a small piece of paper containing a part of a sentence ( e.g. a clause).

· Tell them that you are going to play some music and you want them to find the other part of the sentence owned by other students.

· As the music is playing, all students should be walking in a circle.

· After 20 or 30 seconds, stop the music.

· Students stop walking, and they start looking for their sentence pair by reading their own aloud and listen to the other students’ respond. If they have found / if they think they have found the right pair, they may stop and go back to their seat. It means that they’ve fond their spouse.

· Play the music again and those who haven’t found the spouse are walking again in the circle.

· Stop the music again, and the students continue hunting their spouse and this continues until the end of the song.

· When you have finished, each student will report whether he/she has already found the spouse.

· Seat students who have matched sentences close each other and ask one of them to write the sentence on the whiteboard.

· Then you may start discussing about compound sentence pattern.

2. Skirt Games.

This game shares basic principles with labeling games. This is a form of matching in that students match some sentences and labels.

Example 2:

Topic : Sentences with inverted subjects and verbs

How to play the game:

· Provide some sets of label cards (depending on how many group three will be in the class) containing five variations of inverted subject and verb sentences. Stick those cards on the wall (separate the wall from one group into another).

· Provide some sheets of paper (depending on how many group three will be in the class) containing some examples of inverted subject and verb sentences. Cut the sentences between one sentence into another, but make sure to leave the cut 1 or 2 inches before the end of the paper. Once you are done with cutting, you will have the sheets of paper in the form of a skirt. Stick ‘the skirt’ on the wall.

· Place the students into some groups consisting of 4 up 5 people in each.

· Ask them to sit close to the ‘the skirt’ paper and take the sentence from it one by one. Every time they take a sentence, they read it and discuss about the type of inversion the sentence has. Then, after they decide the type of the inversion, they put the sentence below the label card appropriate to the sentence.

· The students continue their work until all the sentences in ‘the skirt’ paper finishes.

· The first group finishing the work and have all correct answers becomes the winner.

  1. Circle Games

Basically, any games or activities that involve the whole class in which the students are sitting in a circle can be called as circle games (Budden, British Council, Spain). Moreover, she mentions that the idea of having the whole class in the games is great as they will have a good opportunity to bring the group together. Circle games can be used as warmers at the beginning of a class or as a ‘filler’ at the end. Here are a few activities that can be used in circle games adapted from Harmer (2007, p. 223 – 225, 337):

Example 3:

Topic: Complex Sentences

Activity: Chain Story

· Arrange and ask students to sit in a circle.

· Tell them that they are going to practice writing complex sentences. Remind them about the function of connectors in complex sentences.

· Give each student a piece of paper.

· Dictate a sentence such as: When I came back from campus, there was something different in my boarding house.

· Ask the students to write the sentence at the top of their piece of paper.

· The students are then asked to write the next sentence; all they have to do is write one sentence which follows on from this introduction.

· When they finish with their sentence, ask them to pass their pieces of paper to the student on their right.

· That student now has to write the next sentence of the story on the piece of paper in front of them.

· Continue the procedures until the pieces of paper return to their original owners.

· Ask the students to read their story written by their friends, and tell them to circle all the connectors used in the story.

· Then, it’s up to you whether you want to focus on the type of complex sentences or on the function of connectors.

Example 4:

Topic: Past Tense / Regular or irregular Verbs

Activity: One question behind

(The basic idea is that students do not answer the question they are being asked now, but the previous question)

How to play the game:

· Arrange and ask students to sit in a circle.

· Tell them that they will be given a set of questions. To keep the game more challenges, each student will receive a question only and ask them not to show their question to the other. (see the sample questions below).

· Tell them that they will answer a question from their friend. They do not answer the question being asked now but the previous question.

· The first student asks a question to a student on his left, but that student doesn’t answer the question. He can just say Mmmm.

· The next student now asks the second question to his friend on his left (What time did you get up?), and his friend gives the answer on the previous question (In a bed).

· The procedure continues until all the students in the circle have their turn (make sure that you have enough questions for them).

· Take notes on any grammatical mistakes or incorrect past verbs.

· Then, discuss the mistakes the students have in the game and encourage them to correct the mistakes themselves.

Sample of questions:

  1. Where did you sleep last night?
  2. What time did you get up?
  3. What did you have for your breakfast this morning?
  4. How did you go to campus?
  5. Where did you go shopping yesterday?
  6. What did you cook this morning?
  7. Why did you get angry last week?
  8. Whom did you meet just now?
  9. Where did you spend your weekend?
  10. When did you return the book to the library?


* Give ONLY one question for the student.


Teaching TOEFL® Preparation class can be challenging in that it deals with the content of TOEFL® materials which is regarded as difficult and the way the teacher present them in front of the class. However, the challenges often result in teachers’ creativity to create fun activities in the classroom. One way to have fun activities in the TOEFL® Preparation class is using games. Games prove to be effective in preventing students’ boredom as well as engaging students in the language learning. No matter what types of games are, as long as they are suitable with the TOEFL® material, they can be played in the classroom.


Budden, J ( ). Circle games. British Council teaching English/ Methodology, retrieved February 9, 2009.

Ersoz, A. (2000, June). Six games for EFL/ESL classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, 6(6), retrieved February 11, 2005 from

Hadfield, J. (1999). Intermediate vocabulary games. Harlow, Essex: Longman.

Lee, S. K. (1995, January-March). Creative games for the language class. Forum, 33(1), 35. Retrieved February 11, 2006 from

Lee, W. R. (1979). Language teaching games and contests. Oxford: Oxford University Press. LTC, (2004). TOEFL Score Base-line for Mechanical Engineering Students of UMY.

Rixon, S. (1981). How to use games in language teaching. London: Macmillan.

Thiagarajan, S. (1999). Teamwork and teamplay: Games and activities for building and training teams. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wright, A., Betteridge, D., & Buckby, M. (2005). Games for language learning (3rd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Vijayalakshmi in her lecture of Train the Trainer – IX, on Friday, April 10, 2009 in Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi, retrieved April 18, 2009.

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