Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Blogs a-plenty

It is probably obvious from the frequency of posting here that I am not a natural-born blogger.  I have 5 post ideas (at least) for every one that ever ends up becoming a finely polished entry, and I am by far my own harshest critic.  So it may come as a surprise that I have in fact blogged every week without fail since mid-September - just not here.

At the beginning of this year I cautiously started an online course with The Consultants-e (highly recommended), which led to a new qualification (woohoo!) and promotion at my workplace (ditto).  This blog began its life as a course assignment, and I've been wondering ever since about striking the right balance between personal and professional content - which is one of the reasons for the sparse entries.

I do have other 'online lives' - my Facebook account, which is as protected as I know how to make it.  My old blog, which hasn't been updated in at least 3 years.  And my Ravelry account, including links to knitting patterns I've made available to download (please do check them out if you knit!).  These are all strictly personal, however.

This blog could maybe be described as personal-professional - it's all real, and it's all me, but it's me being thoughtful about the professional impression that I make, and sometimes stopping myself from ranting when there's a remote possibility that some of my students could see it one day.

So, now I blog on behalf of my workplace every week, which is different again - I think of this as professional-personal blogging.  I'm definitely wearing my teaching hat in these blogs, but still the personal voice is very important - and I've still managed to sneak some references to knitting in there, and a few of my own photos as well!

Anyway, I'd like to introduce the blogs I now write:

Another Great Teaching Blog (couldn't think of a more original name for it!) which is for teachers,


So To Speak English, which is aimed at students.

I write to one of them every week, and this week it's been the turn of the teacher blog, with a short review of 3 interactive sites that I've used and loved.  I hope you'll check them out and let me know what you think!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

3 violin teachers – and what they taught me about teaching

Since becoming a teacher, I’ve started to reflect more on the people who taught me at school, and what I can learn from their teaching techniques.  The difficulty is that I’m not certain I can trust my recollections.  I’ve known for years that certain subjects, including A-Level Maths and GCSE Sciences, are long gone from my memory, and on thinking about it further I’ve realised that some of the strongest memories from my school days may in fact be no more than short excerpts of single lessons.  I may be incorrect in thinking that one particular teacher taught solely by dictating from the textbook that we all had open in front of us, or that another had clear favourites and scapegoats in the class.  I don’t wish to do an injustice to these teachers by blogging incomplete and partial recollections about what I think they did, or failed to do, in class.

So I’ll turn instead to three people who taught me to play the violin between the ages of 8 and 18.  Let’s call them Anna Locksley, Mrs Trent, and Sarah Donovan.  

Anna Locksley – the beginner’s class

Anna was my first violin teacher, and I worshipped her.  Classes took place in a high, airy room, with upwards of a dozen children, aged between 6 and 10, each clasping a tiny violin in sweaty hands.  Various doting parents sat around the walls to observe, comparing notes on each other’s little darlings in a true spirit of competitiveness.

The classes must have involved a lot of repetitive activity, but I principally remember them being a lot of fun.  Anna had a way of telling us important information with an image or metaphor so we would giggle, and then remember it forever.  For example, if someone was holding the neck of their fiddle too tightly with their left hand, she’d tell them to imagine there was a tomato between their hand and the violin – “Don’t squash the tomato!”  Or when we learned how to bow at the end of a piece, we had to keep our necks straight and look towards the ground as we leaned, because if you look forward at the audience, you look like a duck – “No ducks, please!”

More importantly, Anna had the most important skill possible for a teacher of novice violinists: she never winced, no matter how tortured or tuneless the scrapings we managed to produce.  Anyone who has suffered the playing of small children will understand why my sister rechristened my instrument the ‘vile-din.’  Anna was the embodiment of patient encouragement, leading us through baby steps towards the distant goal of an Associated Board Grade 1 examination, and (more importantly for some of us), the audition for the children’s orchestra at the music centre.

Yet the audition was where it all came undone for me.  We had all learned the same simple piece to play, and practised it in lessons and at home past the point of boredom.  All we had to do for the audition was line up outside the lesson room, go in one by one, then play our piece.  I don’t remember the wait, nor whether I was full of nerves, but what I clearly recall is that when it was my turn, I screwed up. 

The examiner (invigilator? auditioner? I’m not sure of the best word) smiled in a friendly way, then asked me to play my favourite piece.   I froze.  My favourite?  That wasn’t the piece I had prepared.  But if that was the one he wanted me to play, then that’s what I’d have to do.  I dutifully played my favourite piece, which as it happened was far simpler than the intended audition piece.  Afterwards, Anna was shocked and told me I should have played the audition piece, no matter what the examiner had said, but I’d been too overawed to do anything other than exactly what he’d asked.  Although I did get into the children’s orchestra, I’d clearly come across as a weaker player, since I was put into the second violins, unlike the rest of my class who were in the first violins.  It took a while to recover from the blow to my confidence.

The relevance of all this to language teaching?  It strikes me now that Anna’s classes were very like a beginner’s language class.  We were learning the building blocks of our instrument, with lots of drilling and repetitive practice.  She encouraged us to produce music even though what we were so far capable of would be unrecognisable except to a trained and patient ear.  We played together most of the time to build our confidence, while the teacher monitored us and corrected our technique.  We were given homework in the form of practice schedules, exercises and scales.

However, my audition problem shows a problem that novice language learners often encounter when they try to use language in a real situation.  This is that they can very quickly become derailed when a native speaker deviates from the expected ‘script’, and that this can be both demoralising and embarrassing for the learner, especially if they feel that their teacher is disappointed in them.  The teacher not only needs to prepare students for what a person may say in a particular situation, and how to respond to it, but should also be ready to encourage students to view social errors as learning experiences, and not be discouraged by them.

Mrs Trent – the scary teacher

I started having individual violin lessons with Mrs Trent around the time I started attending secondary school.  At this time I suffered greatly with shyness, to the extent that I was often unable to speak to a teacher without bursting into tears, and consequently I viewed my violin lessons with the utmost dread.  Mrs Trent (very definitely a Mrs – no first names allowed here!) was undoubtedly a fine violinist, and I believe a skilled teacher, but for me her brisk directness was utterly terrifying.  She had no time for encouragement or humour, and no patience with my shyness and self-doubt.

When she invited me to join a string chamber group which met before school once a week, I arrived on time, but had no courage to enter the room, since all the other members of the group were senior pupils in the school.  When Mrs Trent noticed me lurking by the door, she barked at me to come in, and scolded me for being late, meaning that all eyes were on me as I crept in, which of course made everything worse.  For the whole rehearsal I was too frightened to speak, and stood on tiptoes to read the music on the stand rather than ask the girl I was sharing with if I could lower it.  

Mrs Trent was strict because her standards were high, and she certainly achieved results with many of her students, but in my case my fear of her held me back.  I began to associate my violin with the negative emotions that her lessons and rehearsals inspired, and became reluctant to practise.  The strange thing is that on the one occasion I had a lesson with Mrs Trent in her home rather than at school, she seemed like a completely different person. She relaxed more, and even laughed on occasion.  In her own home, with her belongings around her, her professional mask dropped and I enjoyed the lesson far more than any I’d previously had with her.

The application of Mrs Trent’s teaching style to language teaching is obvious: students learn less if they’re frightened of the teacher, or if they feel the teacher’s expectations are too high and they can’t meet them.  It isn’t wrong to have high expectations, or to keep a professional distance from students.  What is wrong is to withhold praise and encouragement when they are needed, and to fail to take account of students who are nervous, stressed, and may be experiencing culture shock.  Teachers can’t assume that one approach will work for all students or classes.

Sarah Donovan – two steps forward, one step back

The teacher I’m calling Sarah Donovan took over my lessons after Mrs Trent left, and there couldn’t have been a greater contrast between them.  Sarah was approachable, bubbly and welcoming, and what’s more she was the same person whether in her school or in her home.  I loved her lessons, and made a great deal of progress, finally taking the Associated Board Grade 8 exam in my A-Level year.

Sarah was a great teacher, yet she wasn’t perfect.  Particularly during the later years as her pupil, I’d have liked to have had more autonomy in choosing which pieces I learned.  She could have said “I’d like to work on these areas of your technique, here are some pieces that would benefit you; which ones would you like to learn?”  I would have liked to listen to violin repertoire with her and discuss how to interpret particular pieces so that I could develop a better style.  I think she should have taught me how to take care of my violin: how often should it be serviced?  How often should a bow be restrung?  What is the appropriate amount of rosin to use on the bow before playing? 

You can be an adequate violinist without any of these things, but you remain dependent on the teacher to make your choices for you:  you don’t become your own musician.  Similarly, students who rely on spoon-feeding in the language classroom will rarely make as much progress as those who can adapt and become independent learners.

Again, I don’t believe my lessons with Sarah included enough advice or focus on how I should be practising at home if I really wanted to make progress.  Left to my own devices, I did practise, but had a tendency just to play through the pieces from beginning to end two or three times, play my scales once, then stop.  I didn’t focus on intonation, timing or technique; I had just one way of practising. 

I’ve now taught many language students who do something similar when they study at home.  They know one way of reading (slowly, with a dictionary for every unfamiliar word), one way of listening (the TV, with subtitles), and many of them don’t practise writing at all.  If they’re going to become more effective learners, their teacher needs to suggest a range of techniques they can try, to help them improve across a range of skills associated with their language needs.

Finally, there were two occasions in Sarah’s lessons when something she said had a quite different effect on me than she intended.  Both occurred in my final weeks at school, when the dreaded Grade 8 exam was a recent memory, and A-Levels themselves were soon to draw to a close.  The first thing she said:

“You’ve got your Grade 8, that’s basically a licence to play the violin.  Now you can do a diploma in performance, or maybe get a teaching qualification.”

The second:

“You’re left-handed?  Why didn’t you tell me you were left-handed!  This will really have affected your technique.  I could have given you some corrective exercises if I’d known!”

OK, where to start.  Grade 8 was a major milestone for me, the culmination of 10 years of lessons and practice.  Yet no sooner did I finally have it under my belt, than Sarah (in my view) belittled my accomplishment and said it was just the beginning.  Now this may have been true, but she hadn’t ever asked me if I wanted to be a professional musician, whether a performer or a teacher.  (I didn’t).  Grade 8 was enough for me.  And the left-handedness?  Sarah had been my teacher for 5 years, during which time I’d had one-to-one lessons every week during term-time, and also played in several chamber groups that she’d taught.  She’d seen me writing notes on music numerous times, and also taking my watch off my right wrist every single time before I played, yet somehow she’d never noticed which hand I write with.  And if it made such a big difference to my playing technique, wouldn’t she have realised it even without seeing me write? 

These two things together left me with a bad taste in my mouth as I came to the end of school, and the end of my lessons with Sarah.  They were a big part of the reason that I chose not to find a violin teacher at university, or join any musical groups there, sad to say.  I was all the more disappointed in Sarah because I admired and respected her, both as a teacher and a friend.

Now, more than a decade later, I can see how easy it is for a teacher to assume they understand a student’s goals and priorities.  I know how it’s possible to miss something that is holding a student back, and beat yourself up over it later because it should have been obvious.  I’ve made both mistakes myself, and will probably do so again.  But I’m also aware how a good teacher can have an impact on far more than your understanding of the subject they teach.  So even though neither Sarah nor I lived up to our expectations of each other, I’m very grateful to her, and Mrs Trent, and Anna, for what they taught me about teaching. 

And that reminds me, I should dig my violin out.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

ELTpics and Art

ELTpics has to be my favourite discovery this month, and like so much else that is influencing my teaching now, I heard about it through Twitter.  It couldn't be simpler - you can contribute photos by tweeting them using the hashtag #eltpics, and they will be added to the ELTpics Flickr page by one of the curators: @fionamau (Fiona Mauchline), @sandymillin (Sandy Millin) and @cgoodey (Carol Goodey).  Then the photos are available for anyone to use as a teaching resource.  At the time of writing, there are 7,689 photos and videos available, arranged in 66 sets.

It's not only the quantity which is amazing, but also the skill displayed by so many of the contributors.  Quite simply there are gorgeous photos there on almost any ELT-friendly topic you can name - and if what you need isn't there, someone in the ELTpics community may be able to help if you tweet a request.  The tattoo picture in the presentation below was generously contributed by @mrsdkrebs (Diane Krebs).

So, today I used in class an old resource of mine, tweaked, improved, updated, and now using 100% ELTpics for the images.  It's a discussion-starter slideshow, which aims to get students discussing and defining what they understand, or will accept, as 'Art'.  It can be used with students at different levels with very little pre-teaching of vocabulary, and usually provokes a range of opinions.  If you want to download it, just go to my Slideshare page.  Enjoy:

Sunday, 15 April 2012

My First Lessons - Learning Curve

Long after memory of the actual lesson contents has faded, I can still vividly recollect the circumstances of my first lessons after qualifying as an English teacher.  Namely, I was in the middle of planning for my wedding, which was then only 3 months away.  I had actually been looking forward to a little bit of unemployment after finishing my CELTA, hoping that I would be able to devote myself to such pressing matters as the cake, the decorations and the entertainment at the reception.  Some chance, as it proved.

Although my ears were ringing with Cassandraic predictions that it was near-impossible for newly-qualified CELTA-ites to find employment in a British language college, I managed to do so less than a week after qualifying, after sending out only one CV: sometimes, the timing works out just right.  I was engaged immediately, to do cover work over the summer, with the possibility of being taken on as regular staff at the start of the next term.

Summer being the peak time for holidays, I covered just about every class in the college over the next few months.  It's probably just as well that I don't remember clearly what I taught, because I don't believe that much of it was very good. But here's some of what I learnt:

Lesson Length
On a CELTA course, you spend hours planning a 30- or 60-minute lesson segment, and then get feedback in minute detail.  You teach for 6 hours in total.  This seems like a lot.

That first week of cover, I taught for 6 hours every day.  So after the first day, my teaching experience had doubled.  I had a short feedback conversation during the first day, and also at the end of the week.  Other than that I was on my own.

Lesson Content
Teaching practice on a CELTA is like performing tricks.  It's all about you, and you want to show off all the techniques you've just learned.  You have a short time, so you keep the activities short in order to cram everything in.  Your lesson plans are insanely detailed, with everything timed to the last second.  Your demonstration class never get to sit still as you are constantly moving them to new partners, stand up, sit down, run to the other side of the room, pick things up off the floor...  Boy are they well drilled.  But what they actually take from the lesson after all of that is anyone's guess.

A three-hour lesson is long.  Loooooooong.  You can't approach it in the same way.  Also, 'real' students (sorry) don't want just games: they want, and need, to learn real, solid, meaty language.  It's all about them.

The Dreaded Textbook
We used textbooks in my CELTA classes, kind of.  They were the springboard for our own ideas (see above), which always seemed to involve cutting up paper into tiny tiny pieces.

Having a whole book to teach was a whole other matter.  After realising that my technique would have to change from the CELTA method, I at first swung too far the other way.  I stuck too closely to whichever book that week's class had been inflicted with, teaching without imagination or adaptation to students' needs.  (OK, with little experience and only a few days with them I was unlikely to work out what their needs actually were, so maybe I shouldn't be too hard on myself here.)

I could go on: I had to learn about homework, exam levels and preparation, about what students should be able to do at different levels (but can't always), and about paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.  The learning curve was incredibly steep, but that's the way it should be.  I know I'm a better teacher now than I was a year ago, and a much better one than I was two years ago.  And I know I'm still learning.  A year from now I hope to look back with horror at my present teaching (and blogging?!), because I will be able to see yet again how much I've learned in the interim.

In the early period, I think I learned most from the bad times.  It took 3 months to lose the feeling of dread at the start of every day.  I've been bullied by a member of staff and by a malicious student.  There's been stress, self-doubt and a bereavement that was like a punch in the gut.  There was a staffroom feud that poisoned the atmosphere for weeks.  You keep going.

Now, I get to learn from the good times as well.  How the atmosphere improves when those negative people leave.  How positive people can transform a working culture.  How a college that's willing to take a chance on a newly qualified teacher can be a great place to grow.  How students can be exasperating, contrary, inspiring, hilarious, diverse and marvelous.  How you can make contact with amazing educators through blogging and social media, and continually be inspired and challenged by them.

This is only the beginning - always.

Oh, and one more thing: I've learned that I love being married to my husband!

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Dictionary Question

Should students be allowed to use dictionaries in class?  This age-old question is growing more complex as smartphones proliferate, massively increasing the choice of dictionaries available, as well as the ease of using them.  The teacher who takes a stand against dictionary use faces an uphill struggle when students can simply reach for their phones, not to mention that it can be impossible to tell if the student tapping away on their phone is genuinely using a dictionary, or is instead texting or whiling away the time on Facebook.

Very pretty, but no way to learn English.
Over-dependence on dictionaries frequently leads to problems.  Students learn to distrust their own judgement and are reluctant to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words.  They read at a slow pace, convinced that it is necessary to understand every word of a text in order to understand the text, and in consequence they do not learn whole-text reading skills.

Worst of all, if they are dependent on a bilingual dictionary or translator, their knowledge of English exists in fragments.  Each word they learn connects back to a word in their L1 (whether or not that word is an exact counterpart), rather than connecting to other English words and forming a network.  English for them is a field of individual words, growing out of the bed of their L1.

What students need is for their L1 and L2 to be like two floors of a building.  There may be several staircases going between the floors, but if you are on the L2 floor, and want to move to somewhere else on that floor, you don't go downstairs to L1, walk across that floor and up another staircase to L2 again.  Instead, you walk across the L2 floor, following the network of connections that you have made between words in that language.  Careful use of a monolingual dictionary, whether paper-based, online, or available as a smartphone app, can encourage this, as long as students learn to use all the information in the dictionary entry, not just the spelling and the basic definition.

In my experience, very few students take the time to work out for themselves the meanings of dictionary abbreviations such as U or C for nouns, or T or I for verbs, let alone figure out the phonetic transcriptions or study the usages in example sentences.  So, most students will need dictionary training in class, comprising advice on how to choose and use a good dictionary, and 'dictionary drills' to rehearse and reinforce good dictionary skills.  For lower level students, a student dictionary at their level will be useful for basic vocabulary.  On the whole however, my belief is that dictionary use is best kept for self-study, and that classroom work should focus on developing the students' own vocabulary strategies and judgement.

Let's try extending the building metaphor to see how far it will go: the L2 floor has to be built from scratch.  In the beginning there will be loads of scaffolding and ladders, with rickety planks between them.  There will be areas of the floor that can't be reached, and the routes between the safe areas will be far from comfortable.  Metaphor still working?  I think so.  There will need to be extra routes between the two floors - ladders, poles and ropes.  Gradually you extend the scaffolding, and use it to put the floor down, removing the extra ropes and so on as you go.

And then you party.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Receptive Skills - Going Beyond the Textbook

Part 2 of my teacher development session moves on from Communication Games (see previous post) to Receptive Skills, in particular the sub-skills that students may miss out on developing if you just 'teach the book.'  Again, for experienced teachers this will not be earth-shattering material, but for newer teachers I hope it will be a useful recap, and maybe even give some new ideas.

First of all, Listening

Most textbooks include listening activities where students listen to a recording repeatedly, answer questions, then check the correct answers.  What they do not teach is listening skills.  And how often in real life do you get the chance to hear every word of something 2 or 3 times over, with exactly the same pace, intonation and emphasis, until you capture every nuance of it?  Book listening activities, however useful they may be in preparing for an exam (where you also typically hear everything twice) are a very poor imitation of real-world listening.

So how can students be helped to bridge the gap between graded recordings made by actors, and real-life speech with all its variety, not to mention messiness?  What skills do they need to practise?

Active Listening is one important area.  Imagine the difference between a classroom of students listening to a recording because they have to in order to complete a worksheet, and a group of people listening to something that interests, enrages, entertains, enthralls, or provokes them.  Which group is listening better?  Imagine also two conversations between friends: one in which A talks while B is silent and has a blank expression, and one where B responds to A constantly, with words, facial expressions, non-verbal expressions, but above all with their clear attention.  Which friendship is likely to grow stronger?

In this video from Ted.com, Julian Treasure discusses why we all fail to listen, and recommends tactics to improve listening skills.

This video works well with high level classes to get them to think about how they listen, but even Elementary students can be taught the acronym RASA (Receive Appreciate Summarise Ask), and learn to apply these steps both when they listen to recordings, and in conversation.

Receive - Take it in
Appreciate - Think about it, absorb it, what does it mean to me? do I agree? / Hmm, Really? - ways that we show we are listening
Summarise - So you mean...
Ask - Find a question to ask about what you've heard.  (When teaching this method to students, there is no such thing as a stupid question.  A tiny step in developing Active Listening skills is still a step.)

I've touched on Social and Emotional Cues above, which is another key area where students need practice if they are to be able to talk with native speakers without causing unintentional amusement or offence.  Authentic resources are much better for this than textbook recordings made by actors, which typically have exaggerated intonation, and very few interjections or hesitations.  Try using video of real conversations, such as this excerpt from the BBC documentary The British Family.

I showed this to a Pre-Intermediate class, without any preparation other than telling them that they would see two people being interviewed.  After watching it, I asked them how the man and woman felt during the interview.  The students were unanimous that in the first section of the interview, the man disagreed or was angry with what the woman was saying, because he was completely silent, and stood with his arms folded and a frown on his face, not looking at her.  In the second section, he was still silent, but you could tell that now he agreed with her, because he smiles and makes eye contact with her, and at the end of the section he laughs.  In the final section, they both speak, overlapping and interrupting each other, and both are smiling, so you know that these are positive interruptions, not rudeness.  In other words, they understood a great deal from the recording, without even looking at the language.

Another area where textbook listening exercises fall down, is that they ask you to listen for 6 things during a recording, which will probably be spaced at fairly regular intervals.  In real life however, we frequently have to listen to a long spiel of information, most of which is not relevant to us, without drifting off sufficiently that we miss the One Detail that is not only relevant, but frequently vital.  Train announcements are an excellent example of this, such as the one below. 

Which platform is this train going to be at?  Is this the train for Arundel?  If it is the train to Arundel, where in the train do I need to sit?

(OK, so the visuals aren't great, mostly it's someone's finger, but the audio is useful - you get some background noise, a lot of unfamiliar station names, and the answer you want towards the end of a long list.  And if you get it wrong, maybe you won't get home tonight!)

I hope that some of the above has been useful - next time: Reading Skills!

(NB - I did not create any of the videos linked or embedded here, all rights remain with the creators.)

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Whys and Wherefores of Communication Games

The following is based on my contribution to a staff development meeting at my college last night, if I had had more time, and if the IT equipment hadn't taken exception.  There will be several parts - Part 1 focuses on Communication Games, while later entries will move onto using authentic resources to stretch students' Receptive Skills, and finally to using ICT for professional development and in the classroom.  (It was a busy session - believe it or not I squeezed most of this into 40 minutes on the night, including the afore-mentioned IT trouble!)

I'm taking the opportunity now to expand my ideas a bit...

Part 1 - Communication Game

Learning should be fun, but it's all too easy for fun to become a higher priority than learning.  Especially when we start out, we can think that the nuts and bolts of grammar - let alone spelling, paragraphing or register - are 'boring,' and 'too difficult' for our students.  We want them to like us and enjoy the lessons, so consciously or otherwise, we skimp on the boring stuff, and pile on the fun.  The result?  Unchallenged, unmotivated students who are poorly prepared for using English in the real world, and may even end up complaining about our teaching style.  "So and so's classes are fun, but I need to improve my English."

It's not that games are bad, but they do need to have a clear purpose - and some students will need to understand that purpose before they see any value in the game.  So, what are some valid purposes?

First, the Warmer - for the beginning of the term, to help a new class to gel.
Everyone has their favourites, and one of mine is the Number Game.  Every student thinks of a number that has some personal significance to them (try to steer them away from just choosing their age as it's so obvious).  It might be their house number, their lucky number, the year their country got independence, or anything really.  In small groups, students tell  their numbers, and the group has to guess the reason.  This game is good for giving students practice in asking questions and speculating (you could use it to gauge current ability before a relevant grammar lesson), and also because the students have totally free choice over what personal information they reveal, so it is less pressurised for them in a new class situation.

Next, games can be focused around producing particular Target Language.
A great example for this is the Blindfold Obstacle Course.  A student is blindfolded, then the class and teacher arrange an obstacle course for them, using whatever is available in the room (pieces of paper on the floor that they must avoid treading on would be a minimalist version).  The class then has to direct the blindfolded student on a particular route through the room.  To avoid the louder students monopolising the directions, you could have a rule that each class member can only speak once, then has to wait their turn till everyone has given one direction.
This game of course practises the imperative and vocabulary for direction, but also could be used for prepositions (crawl under the tablecloth), phrasal verbs (pick up the hoop) and speaking with precision (shuffle forwards 3 inches, then turn 90 degrees to your left).

Another valid purpose for games is to enhance students' Confidence.
If you have a class with one or more very quiet students, try a Shouted Dictation. Divide the class so that half are at each end of the classroom, facing the opposite group.  Each student is then paired with the one opposite them.  One group are the readers, the other group are the writers.  You then need to give each reader a different short text to read, which they have to dictate to their partner.  If you want to make it more difficult, you can play music, or radio static if you're feeling really mean!
The readers are dictating different texts simultaneously, so it gets loud pretty quickly.  The writers have to accurately transcribe the entire passage (including punctuation), so they will start shouting too, asking for repetition, spelling, and clarification.  I have done this activity with a class which included a nearly inaudible student, and the results were impressive.  For more confident students it can also be very beneficial in terms of pronunciation and clarity.

The activity above is helpful for students who feel underconfident in the classroom.  However, sometimes there is the opposite problem: the classroom is too safe.  Students produce language happily in front of their teacher and classmates, but freeze up in a shop, at work, or in a speaking test.  So sometimes we need activities to help students Produce Language Under Stress, strange though that may sound.
For this, I like to use two Backwards Interview games.  The first one is based on a classic Two Ronnies sketch:
In the EFL classroom version, the answers will probably not align so perfectly, but you get the idea!  Students stand or sit in a circle, and ask questions around the circle.  A asks B a question, B doesn't answer.  B asks C a new question, C answers A's question.  C asks D a new question, D answers B's question and so on.  What usually happens is that someone takes a while to answer, by which time the next player has forgotten the previous question.
The second interview game is loosely based on the quiz show Jeopardy.  Time A gives B an answer, which B has to think of a question for.  Then B gives C an answer, C responds with a matching question, and so on.  This is another game that's useful for practising question forms, and it can lead to some lively debate about whether a particular question and answer really go together.

Of course these are by no means the only possible learning purposes for games, but I hope that they are useful as examples.  Please do comment if you would like to add any more game purposes for the EFL classroom, or suggest any tried and tested games.