Barrier Games: consolidating and enhancing language skills

Barrier games provide a motivating, fun experience for practising newly acquired vocabulary or sentence structures, or honing more developed language skills. They can be created to target specific language structures or skills such as asking questions, explaining, clarifying, giving instructions etc. Why do they work? Because they tap into the human desires for fun and enjoyment of problem solving experiences. They are social - you have to work together to solve the problem. They involve talk - what students don't love to talk? And generally they end with a few giggles as pupils discover what they got wrong, so information gap activities allow for a relaxed, non-threatening way of looking at errors and learning the correct way of doing things. So have a go - once you've tried one or two I'm sure you'll integrate this long-standing strategy into your day-to day teaching.

What barrier games are available?

Explore these examples and get inspired to create your own.

Three Billy Goats Gruff


Let's Go Shopping

Dr Suess pictures


Summer fun


There was an old lady who swallowed a clover

How to use barrier games across the curriculum

One way information-gap games -this is where one person (could be a child, teacher or TA) holds all of the information and they need to impart it to the other person. The receiver can ask questions to clarify information.

To make the task more challenging you can get the pair to sit back to back which takes away non-verbal communication or to make it easier to can allow gestures (this can assist with differentiation). You can also have the whole class as the 'other person' allowing for paired/group discussion on the responses which can be good for initial discussions on new topics or revising existing knowledge.

Two way information-gap games - this is where each of the two people holds part of the total information and they each share their part to solve the problem or complete the task. you can impose rules such as take turns or you can allow free-flow dialogue and allow the participants to work it out themselves.

Use across subject areas - Your imagination is the limit here! Information gap activities can be used across all subject areas and are great for allowing new skills and vocabulary ot be deeply embedded. They can also be good for pre-unit assessment where you can see what pupils know on a certain topic or particular vocabulary or post-unit assessment where you can quietly observe how pupils communicate and master the vocabulary or sentence structures.

Barrier games can include activities such as:

  • Maths - completing a shopping list with amounts of items and total, describing and drawing shapes/angles, create a clix shape and describe it, thread beads and describe pattern
  • Literacy - filling in gaps in a text such as characters biographies, describing a picture (setting/character) and the other person drawing it, spot the difference between two pictures, listen and colour correctly activity, guess the character from desription
  • Science - ordering a life cycle, describe the bug

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