EFL Activities: Battleship

Bird's eye view of a sunken battleship in clear blue water.
Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

It seems a bit silly to post my one and only worthwhile contribution to EFL classroom activities after I’ve officially made the transition into full-time translation work, but here we are!

A thing that hung me up in my initial teaching days and throughout my training was drilling. (My old CELTA lesson plans have “DRILL BABY DRILL” sprinkled throughout, a testament to my natural inclination to go light on this part.) No one wants to bore students or waste their time with something they already know. Isn’t it more fun to get to the open-ended, communicative activities?

Well, sure, but those activities are a lot more fun once you’re confident in the target form or pattern, and building that confidence the raison d’etre of drilling. While I think the fear teachers have of boring students through drilling (no pun intended but I’m proud of myself) are largely overblown, there’s no denying it can get repetitive.

My own solution to this is simple: Battleship.

Battleship sample board (.doc) download.

I’m genuinely surprised I haven’t played more Battleship in my language studies. Out of easily a dozen language instructors I’ve had, only one teacher has ever bothered to use it. Hat tip to Herr Fuelling, then, I guess, for planting the seeds of this idea over half a lifetime ago!

You can adapt Battleship for any number of topics and use it in classes of any size, even one-on-one tutoring sessions. The original version is a great way to practice simple letters and numbers with beginners, while the sample above is what I use to practice regular verb conjugations (in particular, the present simple). With more complicated X- and Y-axis values you can tackle more advanced aspects like irregular verbs, prepositions, and conditional statements.

I find that Battleship is a helpful bridge between simple cloze exercises and totally open-ended student-produced speaking or writing, especially in students who need more work on their productive skills (or who simply need some training wheels to develop their confidence). It’s a little more demanding and creative than a simple worksheet, but by relieving students of the cognitive burden of “making stuff up” it helps them focus on how to use the language correctly. The game itself is also straightforward and easy to grasp; if a student hasn’t ever played Battleship before, they’ll get the hang of it after just a few rounds. There is a natural analogue in Bingo, but Battleship doesn’t require lots of fussy little pieces to bother with: just some printed board sheets and you’re good to go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *