Tech-Break: Battleship

Back by popular demand is a tech-break! Chris Redmond commented on Tech-Break: Running Dictations that he was looking for more communicative activities that would work in monolingual classrooms, and I’ve got another good one for all of you. It’s called Battleship, and it’s based off the game of the same name which looks like this. I picked it up as an ESOL activity in Japan from one of my coworkers.

First of all, you need to know how Battleship is played. You can watch a short video to get the gist of it. The basic premise is that you and your partner both have the same number of boats that you strategically place on the lower section of the board; you each have your own board, so your partner doesn’t know where your boats are and you don’t know where his or hers are. Once the boats are placed, you start taking turns guessing where the boats are on each others’ boards.

In the original game, this is done by saying a letter and a number which correspond to positions on the board (based on a simple grid with numbers along the top, x-axis, and letters along side, y-axis); for example, “A1” which would be the upper leftmost corner. If there is not part of a boat at A1, your partner says “miss” and you place a white peg in that location on the upper portion of the board to indicate that there’s no boat there. But if there is a boat in that location, your partner says “hit!” and you place a red peg. When it’s not your turn, you respond to your partner’s guesses and place pegs in the lower portion of the board to track the guesses that have been made. Boats are of varying length (we’ll get to that in a minute), so when a boat has been hit in every square it occupies on the board, the person whose boat it is must say “You sank my battleship.” The first person to sink all his or her partner’s boats is the winner!

Now, let’s adapt this for the English classroom. The original numbers and letters might be fine for very beginners, but for the English classroom, I tend to use English words for the x- and y- axes instead. You can adapt the board to practice many things. I’ve done I, You, He, She, It, Mary along the y-axis and adjectives along the x-axis so that students have to practice conjugating the be verb. Instead of saying “A1”, students say sentences like “I am happy” or “Mary is happy.” I have also used a similar y-axis with play soccer, sing a song, teach dance, etc. along the x-axis, which is fantastic because then you can ask students to practice the past tense (I played soccer, Mary sang a song), the present perfect tense (You have played soccer, He has sung a song), and other tenses, too. I have also just filled in the squares with vocabulary words or phrases for students to practice. You can easily see how adaptable the board is.

While the directions are a bit complicated, it’s worth explaining the game in detail once so that you can enjoy playing it throughout the semester or the year. Here is a template for you to refer to (Battleship for ESOL; pdf), and I will do my best to explain the directions as I do in the classroom so that it’s easy to understand and reproduce. The first time this is done in the classroom, I recommend pairing students up after instructions have been given so that they can really focus on the board before moving.

Instructions: Take a look at the worksheet. There’s a top and bottom. On the bottom half, we’re going to draw some boats. There are 5 boats. One is five squares long, one is four squares long, two are three squares long, and one is two squares long. (I demo on the board). Boats can only be placed vertically or horizontally but not diagonally, and a boat can neither curve nor bend in any way. Please draw your boats now but keep it a secret. (Wait) You should have five boats. How many boats do you have? Check. (Wait)

From here on out, it’s played just like normal battleship but with more English, and, in lieu of pegs, I have students write an X or O depending on whether it’s a hit or a miss. Before pairing students up, I practice the three game-related phrases (Hit, Miss, You sank my battleship) as well as the sentences or phrases they will be saying when they play.

As you can see, this is best for a free practice activity once students are already fairly comfortable with the material because you cannot possibly hope to catch the mistakes they may make during the game. Students should help one another and you can correct students as you monitor. Now, there are some great things about this game besides how fun it is. It can and should be rather fast-paced, which encourages lots of speaking. It really focuses on listening and speaking and is structured in such a way that speaking another language will not aid students or speed up the game, which means it works exceptionally well in monolingual as well as multilingual classrooms. Because this is a strategy-based game, it appeals to those who have strong logical or mathematical thinking processes who may not do as well with more creative activities.

I hope you try this out with your students. It might take 40 minutes the first time to explain everything and play once or twice. I promise that the long initial explanation is worth it and would recommend printing these worksheets with a game board on each side so that students who finish early can play again. Good luck! If anything is unclear, please let me know in the comments section. Also let me know if you have other versions of this game that have worked for you, or that you think might work for me!

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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4 Responses to Tech-Break: Battleship

  1. Salma Dosi says:

    Thanks Tara. I hope to try this game with pronouns or prepositions for second language learners.
    Swahili uses affixes more than single words.

    Salma TNZ

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Great, Salma! I hope that the directions are clear and thorough enough to follow/understand. My students have always loved this game and I hope yours will too. For pronouns, I would recommend using a sheet similar to the example in the post so that students are creating sentences and for prepositions, maybe you could put the subject/verb along the left side of the board and then five prepositions along the top so students say sentences like, “The dog is in the box. The cup is on the table.” Let me know how it goes!

  2. Aries says:

    It is really an amazing interactive activity for teaching. I think this activity is really good for students learn new vocabularies and new structures of sentences. I really interested in Game-based learning and teaching. Is there any other teaching method you would like to recommend? Will this game also be suitable for other level’s ESOL students? Is there any possibility that can make the speaking training more flexible and dialogues alike through this battleship game?

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      I am glad you think so highly of this activity, Aries! I agree that it is very interactive and perfect for monolingual and multilingual classes. Battleship is definitely an activity for the mastery stage of learning though since it is impossible to monitor everyone at once. If you want another interactive activity for the introductory stage of learning, look at the other tech-break post I wrote on Running Dictations. That’s another good one that gets students out of their chairs and moving. Really, any information gap activity will have similar results though. I think Battleship is good for all levels although very beginners may need the directions explained in their native language since the directions are rather complicated. As for your last question, maybe. You are certainly able to adapt it in whatever way you choose to best suit your students and while I am not sure how exactly you could adapt it to achieve your goals, you can make changes, try it out and then tell us how you did it. Good luck!

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