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Monday, December 8, 2014

Why We Love BINGO (And How We Play It)


I must confess that the first time I saw an instructor playing BINGO with a class, I thought the teacher was just being lazy. But since trialling the activity with a literacy class, I have to say that I'm completely sold on its value to learners.

The first difference between many BINGO games supplied in ESL books and the one I use is that you are following what I call Martine's* Rule Number One: "Whenever possible, have the students do the work." Instead of passing out ten or more different BINGO cards to ensure everyone doesn't BINGO at once, pass out a blank grid with the bank of 24 words at the bottom and let the students place the words randomly (key word: RANDOMLY) in the BINGO grid. I print an extra copy for the caller and cut up the word bank so I can place one word per strip of paper in a bag or bowl to draw during the game. We use dots pressed out from coloured card stock as markers.

If there are true beginners in the group who need extra support, two things happen: 1) a stronger student will almost always move unbidden to the seat beside the weak student, and 2) I will project the word bank onto the board and point to each word as I call it. I love the fact that strong students don't look up / cheat while those whose skills are still developing get extra help in a discreet way.

Why do I feel this game has value to the learner?
  • It is giving learners' brains one more exposure to the week's words.
  • Students get practice copying / printing 
  • Students get practice listening and recognizing the word as it's pronounced, which is much harder than it has been throughout the week since the word is not in context.
  • Learners get practice reading.
  • Having to quickly find the correct word in the grid, students come to realize that good spelling and legible printing work in their favour.
  • Winners must call out five words and pronounce them well before they can come claim a prize.
After a few rounds, I usually ask one of the stronger students if s/he would like to come up to the front while I play his/her BINGO card. Often more than one student will volunteer, so they take turns. This is when the energy in the classroom really picks up. Students relax more, laugh, tease, correct the caller on his/her pronunciation, razz the caller if s/he goes too fast or slow, and in general have a lot of fun.

Colleagues tell me they play this game with higher levels by giving the definition of the word rather than the word itself. I'll bet there are lots of ways to play.


The BINGO template in Word is in my Free Resources - Blank Templates section. I have used Word's "columns" feature to align the word bank at the bottom, which can be found in the LAYOUT menu. To get this to behave for me, I type the 24 words in a single column, allowing them to flow onto the next page, and add a blank line at the end. I then highlight the words, making sure I don't highlight that last blank line. Then I click LAYOUT - Columns - three columns. If this fights you, just use the tab key to arrange your words in three columns at the bottom of the BINGO grid. Depending on which font you choose, you may have to adjust the font size. I use Comic Sans 18 point.


Happy teaching! Oh, and DO let me know if you use this resource. Or share your ideas on this topic. It would make my day.

*I feel so fortunate to have had Martine Johnson as my main TESL educator at CCLCS in Toronto. She has since retired.

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