Using Board Games 

in foreign language training

Read the article written by Valeria Fusco and Teresa Voce, language teachers and educators, represented EduVita at the international Erasmus training for language teachers, organised by GAME Language Center in Tallinn, Estonia.

“If somebody* proposed you to spend a week in Estonia to discuss Board Games and foreign languages, would you say yes?

Teresa and I did it, and we can tell those seven days have been of constant discovery: discovery of games (who ever thought about using Memes for education?), discovery of places (who knew that Tallinn was hiding so many hidden gems throughout the town?), discovery of cultures (who could suspect that Estonian people were going to host us so warmly?)

We have wondered many times how to settle an article which could contain, in a few lines, the value of our Erasmus+ experience in Estonia.

Although the part relative to our emotions results to be quite difficult to write down (but stays so vivid in our hearts), we aimed to make this a pragmatic, practical report.

The whole week, we have been literally drowned in inputs, games and activities, so much that it was hard to remember on top of our heads all the wonderful games presented by our international colleagues. Once we came back home, we asked ourselves a question: what games are really stuck in our minds? Which one hit us and why? 

We gathered our thoughts and, despite far away from one another, we drafted some sort of decalogue, more or less improvised, based on our personal opinions about functionality, ease and appeal.


If they didn’t exist we would have to invent them. How many activities can you propose starting from a simple dice?

In this case, the dice were several and thrown in groups of 3, which helps students working on the storytelling. But this is not about merely inventing a story: with storycube every team gets to participate to the building of a narrative, connecting to what was just told by the previous team. As a consequence, the pieces have to be coherent amongst themselves, in order to stimulate the cooperation between teams.


This is all about bluffing, just like a poker match without the illegit.

Estonian team patented some brand new cards, the OK Cards, on which you could find scenarios of any sort; Einstein at a doctor waiting room, a man sitting on a fresh painted bench, a girl caught while eating a cake in the middle of the night...those are, without a doubt, scenes that aim to be described down to the slightest detail.

Along with these story cards, the deck composes of blank cards too.

If you mix the two types of cards, you will get this result: each student is going to hold a random card in their hand. Will it be a scene to describe or a blank card? If it is blank, then the student will have to call on their widest fantasy to tell a story to the group. The group will then have to guess: is it true o is it a bluff? Once again, I picked a game that sharpens the storytelling skill of the students and whose creativity (and weirdness) raises a smile for its made up stories.


Our Turkish colleague proposed a thousand children's games, absolutely suitable to the kids who kids are no more (if you take a look at the picture and spot the genuine smile on our victim faces, you’ll agree with me).

Thanks to one of the easiest and most immediate games, our colleague Nes managed to involve us all and keep us with bated breath as we played all sorts of games: wheel of fortune, dartboard, puzzle. Absolutely ordinary activities, made compelling by the competition in it and by the language practice goal. Among the thousands of games, the one I picked is Word Hunt because of one simple object that made the difference in terms of involvement: the bell.

Nes put 6 cards on the table, on which numerous random objects were displayed. 

And it was there in the middle, among the 6 cards, the king itself: the bell. Nes’ job was to say a random word while we, the players, had the mission to find the word among that chaos full of inputs. The first player to find the word needed to be ready to ring the bell right away and indicate the exact location of the object.

I still remember our lively eyes targeting the cards, eager to gain the point. That’s some excellent way of practicing vocabulary, don’t you think?


Thanks to Lilia, we had the opportunity to watch (without taking part) a real Estonian class in its element. We have seen many of her games during the two hours class with a group of teenagers in Tallinn.

For this article’s sake, nonetheless, I picked one of her simplest games to realize: a box full of objects in various colors, shapes, dimensions. Her proposal was to fish a few objects to strengthen the vocabulary, thanks to a description more or less detailed of the object ending up in our hands.

But the game also brought a further difficulty level, which is probably the most enthusiastic part for kids too: every object described ends up in a tower in progress. Who wins? The team that manages to keep the tower made with multi-shape objects standing as long as they can. A game which is not elaborated at all. It is actually easy to realize, although I would ass a further appealing element: the box might be covered and the students might fish an object without knowing in advance what it is. That would make it a mystery box very useful to improve vocabulary.


I believe the students spend too much time sitting and that is such a shame. Teresa has revisited a game that I have been using for years with my teeny tiny students to teach Italian.

Simon Says is the TPR (Total Physical Response) game at its finest, a must for teachers who believe in movement as main ingredient for learning.

Simon Says only requires some simple cards on which some instruction are printed: point to the window, close the book, jump, and so on.

The student reads the instruction out loud and invites their classmates to follow the instruction while doing the action themselves.

This game is about bluffing, penalties for not following the group, topic variation.

But the thing I love the most about this game is the possibility of using the language to get out of the linear scheme of traditional learning that sees the students on their chairs.

This game requires action, welcomes chaos and mess and gives students the feeling of being free among the classroom walls.

One note: for its extreme dynamism, I must agree with my colleague Teresa when she said you should play this game only at the end of the lesson!

“Taking part in such a project has meant a lot to me, Teresa. I would dare to say that it changed my way of seeing the teacher job that used to seem complicated and boring. Thanks to this experience, I found out that you can have fun in class without neglecting the learning process, and that you can give vent to your fantasy without feeling embarrassed because, at the end of the day, everybody likes games!”

Teresa Voce, educator


My colleague and friend Valeria presented this games: Guess who. Valeria and I come from the same organization, the Associazione Culturale EduVita, and live in the same Italian region, Apulia. Nevertheless, we had never met before participating in this project. Along with her cleverness, Valeria has a lot of creativity which she used to adapt such a popular game to educational purposes.

“Guess who” is a very famous game in Italy indeed: every child has one at home or has played with it at least once in their life. My cousins and I used to play with this game as well. For this reason I had never taken it into consideration as an educational game to play in class with my students. Its mechanics is so simple, despite how complicated it might seem while explaining it. There are two charts with many characters: those are mirror-like, so the characters are the same. Two teams are created, or two persons are picked to play, and each one takes a chart and picks a character. The two teams begin to exchange questions on the chosen character’s appearance, for instance: “Is it a man or a woman? Do they wear glasses? Are they blond? Do they wear a hat?” so they find out, step by step, the characteristics of the character in question and, as a consequence, get rid of the characters which do not correspond to the description. 

At the end of the game, each team will have to guess the character picked by the opponents. Most of the times, who understand first wins. Now try to picture all of this in a foreign language. 

Difficult, right? But still fun. This game doesn’t only represent an excellent way to have fun in class and build a playful environment, but it also allows to practice the language, mostly body parts, colors and grammar, and to get used to competition and team work. I am definitely going to use this game in my class.


Nelly is an English teacher from Riga, Latvia. I was impressed by her language abilities and by her unconventional approach to teaching. The game that impressed me the most is “What do you meme?”

this is a boardgame that you can buy online or in shops in different languages and versions. This game is genius because, as you play it, you don’t only practice the language, but you also implement creativity and develop your comic vein. The game is composed of two deck of cards: one displaying the images and the other one with some sentences written on, but these are not simple phrases, they are real comic strips which are easy to be found on web or social media. Participants must associate a sentence to an image or vice versa or, even create their own comic strip suitable for the chosen image. I find this activity genius, mostly because it might represent an excellent way to introduce senior students to the modern world. 


The Russian teacher from Latvia, Katia, has certainly been able to create a mini-world that can be brought down and built up again every time using a simple carpet.

She used her creativity to develop a game with a 1 meter gray cloth as protagonist, on which one can attach anything that has a sticker. During our workshop, Katia showed us some elements of a house (furniture, ornaments) and elements of a town (hospital, supermarket, school), all of them printed on some plastic cardboard with some strap on the back. Onto some of the stickers, there was also a name. As you can imagine, this game can be adapted to any target, language level or environment according to the elements you decide to print out. Participants could build a room, a house, a neighborhood or a whole town. There are several ways to play with Katia’s carpet. One of them occurs in pairs and requires a sheet of paper, a pencil, the carpet and some elements of a house. One student draws a room on a sheet of paper and gives instructions out loud about where he/she is placing each object, without ever showing the paper to the mate; the other student should compose the same room on the carpet and, at the end, the two creations are compared hoping them to coincide as much as possible. Another way, which is easier, is that the teacher tells the students where to place the elements; in such case, the students will have to follow the instructions without making mistakes. On the other hand, the students themselves might want to compose the house, deciding where to place the elements. Not only that.

The students could also build a whole town in order to move inside of it. With some pawns, they can give themselves suggestions and indications on how to reach a given place and, as a consequence, speak about their plans or experiences. For instance “Today I am going to go to the zoo. Do you know how to get there? – Yes, I can lead you there. Where are you now? – Now I am at the restaurant. – Good, then turn right, then go straight, and so on.” There are so many different ways to play with the carpet. All it takes is a little fantasy! 


Among the thousands of games presented by Lyosha from Estonia, Imagine is the one that amused me the most because it’s all about creating.

This is a game you play with its cards, which are peculiar. In fact, they are transparent and have a symbol or a figure displayed in the center which can be of different colors: a triangle, a tree, a heart, a little man, a lightning etc. There are many ways you can play with these cards, and all of them are very interesting. 

The classic way is the one where you follow in the instructions in the box, so you have to represent with cards a town, an object, a monument or whatever the card suggests.  

Another way to play, namely the most creative one, is to represent a famous play, such as a movie or a book. This way, a participant choses what to represent and starts taking out of the deck the cards, putting them together and overlapping them in order to try and let the others figure out what is represented. The peculiarity of these cards is the fact that they are transparent and, so, you can easily overlap them to create figures which are not present in the deck. Basically, it’s like you are drawing, but without pen and paper. Although this game is very famous and simple, is the one that impressed me the most because, as I played it, I really had fun and I could liberate my passion for movies and series. Indeed I wanted to represent one of my favorite TV series, so I put on the table a pane, some little men, the waves which stand for the sea, the woods and the fire. It was not hard at all to figure out that the series I had chosen was Lost!


Neslihan is such a creative person. Her teaching English method to teens in Turkey is based mostly on recreational activity and on games that, usually, she invents and builds herself.

Nes arrived to Tallinn with two luggages: one for her stuff, and one for all the boardgames. There were lots of them and, despite the emotion and the difficulties, she managed to make us all feel passionate and fully involved. The game that I enjoyed the most was also the simplest one: “Who am I”. Since the project was based on boardgames, Nes brought the actual boardgame and showed it to us. But in reality it’s very easy to create and adapt to game to any environment. This is a very popular activity all over the world: you stick a piece of paper on your forehead (without seeing it) with a figure, and the other participants must describe what they see on that paper so that everybody understand what’s on that paper they have on their forehead. For this game’s sake, Nes used some plastic cardboards with animals, fruits and so on, and some rubber headbands to stick the cards onto. Should you not have these instruments, you can just write words on different sheets of paper and attach them with some tape. The reason why this game impressed me is its simplicity. Indeed it is simple to explain, to play, to create, to adapt, to print out and to understand, and allows to practice foreign languages fast. 

As usual, we want to thank all the people who shared this awesome experience with us. We thank the amazing leaders of the project, Oleg and Lyosha, who hosted us in their beautiful Tallinn, and showed us different aspects of their reality, and all the other Estonia participants who shared with us their knowledge so kindly: Lilia, Olena and Karina. The participants from Romania, Letitia, Monica and Victoria, who shared their long experience in the teaching world. We thank the participants from Latvia, Ekaterina and Nelly, always ready to have fun with the most unimaginable and creative boardgames. And Neslihan and Pinar who, with great humbleness, pushed us into a world where we could be kids forever.

Last, but not least, we want to thank the organisation who made this all possible – Associazione Culturale EduVita in Lecce, Italy, a melting pot for young educators.

Article by Valeria Fusco and Teresa Voce