Barrier Games

Barrier Games are a great language-learning activity as they provide opportunities to develop both listening and speaking skills. Players are required to give and receive directions while being separated by a barrier. Battleship, a hit and miss game using coordinates, is a common barrier game. Depending on the complexity of the game, learners can develop a wide range of language skills. In particular, speakers learn the importance of providing explicit and comprehensive information to listeners and, reciprocally, listeners learn the importance of monitoring information and clarifying understanding through questioning. Specifically, barrier games foster and extend descriptive language (precise use of noun, attribute, and location vocabulary).

– some kind of barrier (three sides of a cardboard box, a desk-top easel, or an open, upright book) per pair
– an identical set of materials for each player
– two copies of the game board (depending on materials used) per pair
Grouping: partners

Note: Barrier games can be created with a variety of common classroom materials and can connect to specific curriculum areas, depending on the type of vocabulary you are trying to develop (e.g., pattern blocks for math figures, Lego blocks for constructing a building). Create a game board that connects contextually to the materials. See the two game variations: Puppet Paradise and Eco-Friendly Schoolyard.

Introducing the Game

  1. Explain the concept of a barrier game.
  2. Share the materials being used in the game and review appropriate vocabulary.
  3. Choose a capable student to assist with playing the game.
  4. Demonstrate how to sit facing your partner with the barrier set up between you. Explain that an important rule when playing barrier games is that you cannot peek on the other side of the barrier.
  5. Explain that the game begins by deciding who will be the instructor and who will be the listener.
  6. Show students how the instructor arranges the materials on his/her side of the barrier and how the listener lays out the pieces so that they are accessible.
  7. Discuss the importance of following and checking instructions so that the game objects are in identical positions at the end of the game. Reinforce that the listener has to wait for the full instruction before acting.
  8. Demonstrate how to provide instructions for the listener. Use specific naming, attribute, and location words (e.g., “Place the zebra with black and white stripes on the right-hand side of the bottom shelf.”).
  9. Explain how the listener scans the pieces, locates the appropriate object, and sets the piece in the proper location. After the instruction has been carried out, the listener indicates readiness to the instructor.
  10. Ensure that some of the directions are incomplete so the listener has to ask clarifying questions before acting. Discuss how the instructor must modify instructions at the listener’s request.
  11. Demonstrate how to complete the game by removing the barrier and comparing arrangements. Model how to discuss discrepancies using positive comments and appropriate vocabulary. Be aware that it is often the listener who is blamed if the two game boards are not identical but the fault may lie in an inadequate description.

Playing the Game

  1. Sit facing your partner with the barrier between you.
  2. Lay out all of your game pieces.
  3. Decide who will be the instructor and who will be the listener.
  4. Remember not to peek over the barrier at your partner’s side.
  5. Think about your direction before saying it.
  6. Speak clearly and give one instruction at a time.
  7. Listen carefully before acting.
  8. Ask questions if you don’t understand the direction.
  9. Tell your partner when you are ready for the next step.
  10. Remove the barrier and check your results at the end of the game.
  11. Give feedback to your partner and switch roles to play again.

Puppet Paradise Barrier Game

  • To play this game, students require two sets of the Puppet Photo Cards and the Puppet Paradise Toy Store game board. Ensure that you photocopy the cards on a colour copier so that students can use the attribute of colour when describing the puppets. For a simple version of the game, have students choose either the 10 animal puppet cards or the 10 people puppet cards. A more complex version could include all twenty puppet cards. The ‘instructor’ arranges the puppets on the toy store shelves and then describes the location of each puppet so that the listener can duplicate the placement.

Eco-Friendly Schoolyard Barrier Game

  • For this game, partners require a set of Eco-Friendly Cards and a Schoolyard game board. The aim of the game is to create a picture of an eco-friendly schoolyard. The instructor selects a card and describes the card to the listener (e.g., “Find the blue bird with the long tail.”). The listener selects the card matching this description from the identical collection. The instructor then places this card onto the schoolyard, describing the location to his/her partner (e.g., “Place this bird in the tree on the schoolyard.”). The listener then places this card on his or her board in the position which has been described. Play continues until the instructor is satisfied with the schoolyard picture. Students check their arrangements and discuss how each item would be beneficial to the schoolyard environment (e.g., trees provide shade, blue bins encourage recycling).