Fun Te Reo Games-Barrier Games

Looking for a fun game to play in te reo Māori? Barrier games are a must. They are an excellent way of practicing words and sentences in te reo Māori.

Barrier games provide a motivating, fun wheako (experience) for practicing newly learned vocabulary or sentence structures. They can be created to target specific language structures or skills such as asking questions, explaining, clarifying, giving instructions or just identifying or naming things. Barrier games have been in existence for many years, and include games which require players to give and receive directions or questions, while being separated by some kind of barrier. A common barrier game many of you may have played is Battleships, a hit/miss game with co-ordinates.

Barrier games are a flexible teaching tool which can easily be adapted to cater for a
wide range of ages and abilities. The complexity of the language used will depend on
the task. The games can range from simple sequencing of coloured counters to
giving lengthy instructions for locating objects in a detailed scene. They can be differentiated and supported by written instructions or cheat sheets.

Why are they popular with ākonga? Because they are fun and can be structured to be very supportive while enabling the learners to kōrero. They are social – you have to work together to solve the problem. They involve conversation – the basis of learning a language is conversation. These types of information gap activities allow for a  non-threatening way to learn. So have a go – once you’ve tried one or two I’m sure you’ll integrate this popular learning strategy into your teaching ia rā ia rā. At the bottom of this page is a link with a game to try. (The photos on this page are from this freebie).

When teaching  how to play a barrier game, choose a partner and play the
game while the rest of the class observes. (For a tuakana-teina approach you can have pairs on each side of the barrier).

Modelling is the best way to show how Barrier games work.

Barrier Games Set Up

This includes how to position the barrier so that you can’t see the other player’s
game pieces and how to sort the playing pieces so that they are all visible.
Note: Young children may find it easier to sit beside each other with the barrier between
them rather than sitting opposite. This can avoid lateral problems, particularly
when the barrier is removed and children are checking their work. (I often number the starting place and direction for younger learners).You could have just a few numbers for younger learners.

One example of set up is one player placing items (cards or pictures) on a grid (or boxes). The other player asks “What’s in box 1?” etc. The below example uses a variety of possible differentiated questions/phrases. Your first black and white grid can be used to ask “What’s in box tuatahi?” Then scaffolding up to being able to say “He aha kei roto i te pouaka tuatahi?”-What’s in the first box?

You can then move on to asking what’s in the coloured boxes. “He aha kei roto i te pouaka whero?”

What’s in the red box. Some examples from He Reo Tupu He Reo Ora here. Here is a “Kai” barrier activity and some phrases you can use. This is also good for drawing instructions.


As further support have a “cheat sheet” on the barrier for reference and for ways of extending the conversation. This one also includes other simple phrases you may need e.g “Kōrero anō” “Say it again” The sheet below is part of this Barrier game freebie for you to trial.

Barrier Games Rules

This includes speaking and listening courtesies, such as asking the other player if
they are ready before giving directions. “Kua reri ?” Remind players about the “no looking” rule.
It is also important that the player giving the direction also follows the direction themselves so that the game items “match” when the barrier is taken away. Another way of setting up is that one player sets their board up with pictures in a certain position (or box/location). The other asks where things are.

Barrier Games Language Use

Model any specific language needed. Most barrier games use vocabulary associated
with nouns (the names of items), attributes (their size, shape, colour etc.) and location
(where they are to be placed, e.g. top, bottom, near to, etc.) also model how to
ask questions when you need more information.
Below are “starter ” questions. You can begin with a few questions and then learners can add more when they’d like to. For example-In between, next to, on the side of.

Completion of Game

Demonstrate how to remove the barrier and compare the game pieces before packing
them away. Model how to reflect on why differences may have occurred. The object of the game is for both of the sides to have the same objects in the same place.

Here are some other ideas for Barrier Games.

Here you can see an example of how a barrier game is played with our fruit- Hua rākau resource.

This freebie has Native New Zealand birds as its theme. What an awesome way for your ākonga to learn the names of some native birds 🙂
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What Barrier games have you played? Do you have any other ideas of how to use Barrier games in your te reo lesson?