Innovative practice - Ahead of the game

A competition to design the best language-themed board game helped to increase uptake of GCSE German

Jana Christoffel

The background

Warwick School is believed to be the oldest boys' school in England, with some records suggesting that a version of it was operating in the 10th century. So it has had more time than other institutions to consider how to get pupils excited about learning foreign languages.

However, as in many schools, the number of its pupils opting to learn German at GCSE has been dwindling. So Warwick's modern languages department has been looking for a fun way to raise the profile of the subject, and keep pupils studying it after Year 9. They also wanted to help pupils get to grips with German's potentially tricky grammar, especially its tenses.

The approach

The idea was to set all Year 9 German classes at the school the challenge of creating a board game that would test their knowledge of the perfect tense.

In the weeks preceding the challenge the boys learned the perfect tense within the normal curriculum. They were then given a broad briefing on their options for creating their game, which could either be completely new or based on a game they were familiar with. They had one week to produce the game, including the board, counters, questions on the perfect tense, an explanation of how to form the perfect tense and a set of rules in English on how to play it.

The teacher provided a guide list of verbs that could be used, which mirrored those the pupils were expected to know by the end of the year. The boys incorporated different challenges into their games, including questions in English on grammar, mini translation tasks, multiple-choice quizzes and spot-the-mistake tasks.

After the Easter holiday, the games were submitted and checked to see if they worked. A play-off was held a week later during lunch hour, with the director of languages at London's Goethe-Institut attending as a judge. The main prize was a silver trophy engraved with a German flag, plus certificates and vouchers for members of the winning team.

The boys played their own game first as staff circulated asking questions. Then they played other teams' games so their true playability could be established.

The winning prize went to a game called "Race to Space", in which players start with a rocket and collect fuel points to launch it into space.

Warwick School is now keen to expand the project to other schools, and is even considering holding regional and national heats. They would like to hear from other modern foreign language teachers who might want to be involved.

Tips from the scheme

Lindsay Slack, head of MFL and German at Warwick School, says:

"Pupils learning a foreign language need some time in the lessons to put things together, so do let them ask many questions."

Reward them with something meaningful. "I bought this beautiful silver trophy and the boys just wanted to have it."

Bring in a guest. "It was great that the director for languages at the Goethe-Institut came all the way from London - it made the pupils feel very proud."

Evidence that it works?

The board game challenge intensified pupils' interest in the language, Slack says. The number of pupils opting to take German at GCSE increased slightly compared with the previous year. However, the school believes the competition is just a starting point for reinvigorating its curriculum in the subject, and hopes to build on it with further activities.

The project

Approach: Board game challenge, a scheme to excite pupils about continuing with German

Number of pupils taking part: 50

Set up by Lindsay Slack and the German team

The school

Name: Warwick School

Location: Warwickshire

Type: Independent

Pupils: Around 900, all boys

Age range: 7-18 Inspectors' overall rating Outstanding (ISI, 2008).

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Jana Christoffel

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