Communicative competence: Task-oriented activities that engage students in creative language use

Craig Gamble, Kansai Gaidai University


Quick guide

  • Keys words: learner-centered, free association, spatial pattern recognition, games
  • Learner English level: All
  • Learner maturity: Junior high, high school, first year university
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 30-40 minutes
  • Materials: Black/white board, chalk, dry erase marker, paper, buzzers, bells (optional)


Getting students to comprehend and then use what they have been learning is a difficult task for any teacher at any level. Getting students to enjoy what they are learning can be an even bigger task. With younger learners, teachers often promote games as a fun way of learning, but it’s important to remember that educational games can be adapted for all age and ability levels across varied learning contexts. One activity that is simple to implement and highly effective in engaging students to learn on their own is a form of the old card game of Concentration.


Depending on classsize and content being covered, make an answer sheet for the game (see Appendix A) that is appropriate for the age and level of the students. Before the activity, draw a table grid on the board with five vertical boxes and four horizontal boxes, giving 20 boxes in total (see Appendix B), and number the boxes. You can use more, but twenty boxes should be the minimum.

The following are content suggestions:

  • Questions and answers
  • Giving suggestions
  • Vocabulary and definitions
  • Problem and solution
  • Animals and their noises/habitats
  • Cause and effects
  • Fill in the blanks
  • Finish the sentence


Step 1: Organize the students into three or four groups and tell them they will have a competition against each other. Depending on the age of the learners, some type of incentive (stickers, participation points) for the students is recommended but not entirely necessary.

Step 2: Explain that the reason for playing is to review material previously learned and to practice their listening and speaking skills. The object of the game is to match related content from two different boxes. Match the most boxes to win.

Step 3: Next, give some guidelines (see Appendix C). Groups will take turns choosing a box. The teacher will read the content from the box and each group will be given one minute to discuss and then choose a second box to match the first. If time runs out or if the group’s boxes don’t match, other groups may try to make the correct matches. The students must say the box number and repeat the correct content from each box. To ensure everyone gets a chance to speak, make sure students rotate the giving of answers. Note that until several boxes have been chosen and the students have heard the content from each box, the first few rounds involve guessing, but students should be trying to anticipate appropriate matches.

Step 4: Give a short demonstration of how the activity works. Have a student from one group say a box number and then read the content from the box, for example:

S1 “Number 2, I’m 14 years old.”

Have another student from the same group select a different box and read the content again:

S2 “Number 19, I live in Osaka.”

Tell the class that the content doesn’t match so that group doesn’t earn any points and any other group may now try to answer (if they know the correct match). Tell the students that “How old are you?” is the correct match for “I’m 14 years old” to make sure everyone understands the activity.


This activity is highly adaptable for a wide range of learners and ability levels and can be used successfully in small or large groups. Creating a competitive atmosphere through game activities can promote communicative ability. Uberman (1998, para. 4) states, “Games encourage, entertain, teach, and promote fluency.” This is evident in learners of all ages.


Uberman, A. (1998). The use of games for vocabulary presentation and revision.

English Teaching Forum, 36(1). Retrieved from <>

Appendices: Available from the link below

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