I am an Australian living in Japan and I just started teaching two parents in their home (they have a three-year old whom I don't teach). In their first lesson, I taught them how to play Scrabble - they had never seen it before, they enjoyed playing it but it did cause long periods of silence as they considered what word to strategically play. I don't want them to think "I enjoy playing this scrabble game with the teacher but I don't think it has any conversational English practice."

How could I encourage more conversational English (and written)? I thought that they could make words with their tiles and create a sentence using each word to prove that they understand or make a possible word and guess how to pronounce it and I will tell them if it exists.

  • I think Scrabble is a terrible game for non-native speakers to use in this way. It's true I learned the complete list of acceptable 2-letter words decades ago purely in order to increase my chances of winning a game, but the truth is most of the valid words (of whatever length) are completely unknown to the vast majority of native speakers. And most of those the average player does recognise are probably little more than text strings (he won't know exactly what they mean). Stick to realistic use of language. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 20 '15 at 14:32

I think Scrabble can be used effectively, but you do want to avoid the "just playing a game" thing. What I tried a few times was to limit the words to those related to a topic we had been studying. I also didn't use a proper Scrabble set, as the point was not to accrue points based on letter limitations, placement benefits, or luck. I did an image search for "Scrabble tiles" and printed out a complete set for each player. Players took turns as usual and we played without a board.

If your focus is on conversational English, you could limit them to "words you'd use in a restaurant" or "polite words" or whatever. Make sure there is a discussion about each word that is played - what does it mean, when would you use it, how is it pronounced, etc. You might like to try having a stack of cards with a mixture of "pronunciation", "part of speech", "usage example", "definition" or the like: award one point for the person who plays the word, then each player draws a card and gets a point for a correct answer, or the person who plays the word must answer a question to get a point at all.


I have known several people use Scrabble as a way of helping to learn English. It is a useful tool for language and also the alphabet where the student's native language uses another script.

The tricks I have used are:

  • Don't be too strict about the rules. At least in the early days.
  • Encourage discussion around the words played. "You could have played those letters over here and got more points with a different word". As long as there is no hint of admonition in the discussion, it is for suggestions for improvement.
  • If they play a word that you think is outside their English vocabulary, comment on it. You may find they have they spelt a different word wrongly but it gives a chance to enhance vocabulary.

The main thing is keep it fun. If your students enter into it in a spirit of learning rather than competition then good will come.

Above all, adapt your game as you go along to try to keep the interest going.

I don't doubt other people will have other ideas.

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