Motivational soccer

Bogdan Pavliy, Toyama University of International Studies; R. Gregg McNabb, Shizuoka Institute of Science and Technology

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Game, laughter, motivation
  • Learner English level: All
  • Learner maturity: Elementary school and above
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes when format is well thought-out
  • Activity time: Depends on class
  • Materials: Textbooks, handouts, workbooks

In many Japanese universities, non-English major students are often not interested in learning English, preferring to take a neutral or inactive stance; therefore, it can be rather difficult to convert them into active classroom participants. The game we introduce here has helped us to involve reticent or unmotivated students in classroom work. It is called “Soccer” but could be any other game with opposing teams. Soccer may be preferable as most students know the rules and have played or watched it. It is essential to maintain the game’s fast pace, or it will lose its allure.

Step 1: Divide the class into two teams and have students choose their team’s name and colour. This is optional if you will only do this activity infrequently. You can also recommend actual teams or national teams.
Step 2: Appoint two goalkeepers (preferably the best students) and two captains (class leaders). Sometimes the captain will decide which is the right answer, when teammates have differing opinions.
Step 3: Briefly and carefully explain the rules of your “Soccer” including any local—or special—rules. Have students begin their assigned review work, such as offering an opinion, matching synonyms, answering short questions, scanning for specific information, voicing the key ideas of a passage, or any exercise that has been assigned.

Step 1: Start the game with fanfare. For each correct answer, the student kicks the ball. If an answer is incorrect, the student loses the ball. You act as referee and either draw the progression of the ball or move a magnet, if you are using a magnetic whiteboard.
Step 2: As you advance the ball along the whiteboard, one team will near the goal area and a member of that team then shoots. The only hope for the opposing team is a save by their goalkeeper. If the goalkeeper can answer the next question correctly, there is no goal. At this juncture, be sure to use techniques to heighten tension and encourage team support. For instance, you might say, “No, sorry, it’s not correct! It’s still 1:0!” It is important to record the name of the student who scored and the time (e.g., Yamada 10:22). Play then resumes from center field, with the captains starting.
Step 3: Try to engage all students in the game. You might sometimes award free kicks, corners, or even penalty kicks. These “wild card” surprises must be clearly stipulated in your local rules. In these cases, you can appoint who will shoot, usually a very inactive student or someone who needs a boost. Give this student an easy task to provide an opportunity to score and be motivated.
Step 4: It could be very exciting to finish about 10 minutes before the final whistle (i.e., the class chime) when the game is a draw—but, please, no game fixing! The winning team is then decided by a series of sudden-death penalty kicks. You can appoint five students per team to do them. You can give a chance to the keeper to save the team, or, with little time remaining, just let them shoot the ball. Usually the atmosphere is very tense before the final shot, and students are very serious because they want to win. Although students communicate with their teammates primarily in Japanese, they do the work together.
Step 5: Congratulate the winners and everyone who scored or assisted.

Students will enjoy the activity if you are creative, entertaining, and have adequately thought the process through beforehand. They should feel you are genuinely involved in the game and unwaveringly fair; otherwise they will not be willing to play again, especially elementary school students. “Soccer” is one of the best ways to engage almost all students in class activities and make them feel alive during mandatory English class.