Teacher, do we have to memorize this whole list?” is the question I’m always asked when I teach simple past to my students. I believe it happens to all of us, teachers, regardless of the place we teach or how old our students are (although I do think teenage students are a bit more “tolerant”). Truth be told I don’t know exactly what the best answer would be, but I usually say that they’ll learn these verbs and their corresponding past forms by using the ones they need the most first and the others will come later on.

Bearing this in mind and trying to make this meaningful for students, I decided to play a different type of memory game as a means to revise and to consolidate what my students were exposed to in previous classes. Having done that and analyzed the results, I couldn’t help but wonder: are we making the most of memory games in our classrooms?

The first answer would be yes as memory games seem to be quite straight-forward, right? You play them, you find a match and then you get a point. I might be mistaken, but I think that sometimes we use them as a way of whiling away the time we have in our classes… or, yes, to revise, revisit or introduce new vocabulary or whatever we find suitable for our groups. However, how can we expand these games and make them more meaningful for our learners? Here’s something I did with my pre intermediate students and which was really successful.

01 – I asked my students to open their books and to turn to the page where they could find an endless list of irregular verbs (which seems to be the problem) and their corresponding past forms. In pairs, they had to talk together and tick the verbs they already knew by heart. They ticked verbs like go, see, eat, etc. It was really interesting to see how they negotiated in English and said: “You know this one but I don’t”.

02 – I asked them to select 10 of the verbs they didn’t know, but these verbs needed to be significant for them somehow. I gave an example: “I would choose teach x taught because I’m a teacher and this is a verb I use a lot”.

03 – After having gone through this stage, each pair of students was given a sheet of cardboard paper which they had to cut in order to have 20 smaller pieces. On these pieces they would have to write the verbs they had chosen before and their past form. For instance: on one piece I would have “teach” and on another piece “taught”.

04 – Students played the memory game the way it should be played, but with a different rule. For one to get a point, this student had to find a match and make a correct sentence using it in the past. For example: “I taught a very bad class last month” or “My mother taught me a very important lesson last weekend”. This step was really profitable because my learners were willing to play the game as well as putting a great deal of effort into making correct sentences to get a point.

05 – After they finished playing, I asked what was the most difficult and the easiest verb to come up with a sentence for and why. They explained and then I asked why they had chosen those verbs. What really caught my attention here was the fact they had different reasons for choosing some specific verbs and that had given them a purpose for learning / memorizing them.

In the following week, I asked if they remembered the verbs they used in the previous lesson and all of them were capable of saying not only the verbs but also their past forms. I now felt that my students were much more confident about using “their verbs” in the past.


That’s it. I really hope this post gave you some ideas on how to use memory games. 

3 Responses so far.

  1. Wonderful post Du! Great idea!!!

  2. The "secret" to your sucess Eduardo: making it personal. By allowing students choose verbs that meant something to them, they were able to determine what they wanted to learn. So rather than they having to "learn" off a mega list, they focused on a few, following on the principle of the magic seven in vocabulary learning: seven elements at a time.

  3. An excellent procedure ... for anyone who is interested, there are many more interesting ideas in Nick Bilbrough's 'Memory activities for Language Learning' (CUP)

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