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Slow Motion Pictionary

I’ve been looking for games I can play with my older classes, especially my one-on-one class with a quiet teenager. This works very well at keeping the conversation flowing in full sentences during a fun vocabulary-based guessing game.

To start, one person (could be the teacher or a student – we’ll call him the artist) thinks of a word. The rest of the class has to ask questions to try to guess the word. The questions must be yes/no questions, and every time the answer is “yes” the artist can add one line to his picture. The other students continue asking questions until they can guess the word.

If your class is as obnoxious as mine, you might have to be explicit about the rule that questions must be on topic – asking “are you our teacher” or “is Kevin in our class” is not a fair way to get a free line drawn on the picture.

This was as far as the artist got before the other students guessed "tennis racket"

This was as far as the artist got before the other students guessed “tennis racket”

Example Game:

  • Jenny comes to the front of the class, flips through the textbook for ideas, and chooses a tennis racket as her picture.
  • Bob asks, “Is it an object?” It is, so Jenny draws a line.
  • Mandy asks, “Is it an animal?” It isn’t, so Jenny doesn’t add to the picture.
  • Eric asks if it can move on its own. Jenny confirms that he means that it can move if people aren’t touching it, then says no. No new lines added.
  • Tim asks if it’s small. Jenny asks how small is small. Tim rephrases the question to ask if it’s small enough to carry in one hand. Jenny says it’s small and draws another line.
  • Sarah asks if it can be seen in someone’s house. Jenny struggles to answer, then decides that yes, it is seen in people’s houses, but only when it’s not in use. She draws a third line.
  • Jason thinks he knows the answer and asks if it’s something used in sports. Jenny confirms and draws another line.
  • Jason guesses tennis racket and wins the game.
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Decorate the Tree

This is my game of the week in all my classes – a silly game to get them started on the Christmas spirit so we can plan our Christmas party for next week.

To prepare for the game, I took two dozen Christmas ornaments and glued or taped magnets to them. At the beginning of class, I drew two equal-sized Christmas trees on the white board, and prepared two sticky balls (with flashing lights inside, because I like sparkling lights).

To play the game, two students rock-paper-scissors (paper-scissors-stone) – loser asks the winner a review question. Then each student throws the sticky ball at the tree. Wherever on the tree the sticky ball hits, the teacher places an ornament. Once everyone has had a turn, or once one team runs out of ornaments, the game is over and the team with the best-decorated Christmas tree is the winner.

I’ve also got half a dozen variations on the game – if you have a classroom of your own, rather than ten different classrooms like I do, you could use felt trees, a velcro sticky ball, and felt or velcro decorations to make a longer-term display, playing by the same rules. Kids can wander up and move decorations around at will, which might make for chaos or break-time entertainment.

For a review game, teams can take turns throwing balls at the tree while the other team is reading or reciting material. The team with the most ornaments on the tree is the winner, and the losing team sings a Christmas carol as punishment.

For a Christmas party game, one team can sing a Christmas carol while the other team throws sticky balls at the tree. Then the teams switch.

For a ridiculously crazy party game, play hot potato by passing two or three sticky balls while singing along to Christmas carols. Whenever you stop the music, whoever’s holding a ball has to throw it at their team’s tree as fast as possible.

If you don’t want to go to the bother of preparing ornaments, you can draw them on the tree before the game, and have students race to undecorate the tree by erasing every ornament they hit with the sticky ball.

If you have more students than decorations, you can have the students throw left-handed (non-dominant-handed) or roll a dice to determine what silly way to throw (blindfolded, on one leg, over one shoulder, etc.) so as to limit the number of balls that actually hit the tree.

I didn’t do this, but it might be fun to decorate the tree with garlands as well as ornaments – each kid throws twice, and the garland’s two ends go wherever the sticky balls hit.

You can also do this game pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey-style, with kids taking turns being blindfolded, trying to place ornaments on the tree.

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Last Card

This game is good for reviewing old material, or for a quick warm-up at the beginning of class.

Distribute a whole deck of cards among the students so that each student has at least two cards. On the board, draw a target (I prefer it dartboard-shaped) with the card values on it. Students take turns throwing a sticky ball at the target. When they hit a card value (king, for example) any student holding one of those cards has to stand up and answer a review question. They then return that card to the teacher. If the student throwing the ball hits a card value that’s already been returned, the student throwing the ball answers the question instead. The game ends when there’s only one card value left – the four students holding that card are the winners.

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Make A Question

This is a great game for beginners just learning the grammar of how to ask questions, or for intermediate students to review question-making. Before class, prepare several sets of cards with words on them. I make about one set per four to six students, with twelve cards per set.

  • who
  • what
  • is
  • can
  • Sandy (or someone’s name)
  • holding
  • eating
  • hold
  • eat
  • a
  • hamburger
  • ball

Each team gets a blank sheet of paper and one set of cards. On the board, draw a picture of a person (Sandy, in my case) holding a ball in one hand and a hamburger (with a bite out of it) in the other hand. Give the students an example question – “Is Sandy eating a ball?” and have them make it by rearranging their word cards, and then write it on their paper. Now challenge them to make as many questions as possible from their cards.

In beginner classes, I have each team raise their hands whenever they have a completed question, and I check it for grammar before they write it down. I keep track of how many questions each team has by awarding stars or stickers for each question made.

In intermediate classes, teams write down questions as quickly as possible without consulting me. Then each team reads out their questions to the class, and we discuss whether the grammar is correct so they can earn a point. Other teams can correct any grammar mistakes to “steal” the points for the question. This takes much more time than the beginners’ way, but is more educational, I think.

I’ve also used this game in advanced classes, with more complicated pictures. At that level, the students don’t need any vocabulary cards to rearrange and can make up questions quite well on their own. You’ll get much more creative questions (Why doesn’t Sandy seem to like his hamburger? Does he like ice cream better?) but a lot more grammar mistakes.

Using the twelve word cards above, my students have made at least 20 grammatically correct, logical questions, but there are a lot more if you accept obscure questions such as “Who is eating Sandy?” or “What is a ball?” My best class got 68 unique questions, which I’ll leave as a comment.

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Hot Potato Reading

This is a good game for reviewing old lessons before a test. Make sure you have two different-coloured dice or balls for the students to pass around.

Students read their old lesson aloud while passing the balls around the room. About every ten words or so, the teacher shouts “STOP!” In beginner to low intermediate classes, the two students holding a ball race to answer the teacher’s comprehension question about whatever they just read. In high intermediate or advanced classes, the person holding the pink ball has to ask a comprehension question for the person holding the yellow ball to answer. After they’ve asked and answered questions, continue reading and passing the balls.

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Monster Mini Golf

Make a cardboard cutout of a monster (or other Halloween-appropriate shape) with the open mouth on the floor. You’ll also need ping-pong balls and a squeaky hammer (or rubber chicken, if you swing that way!).

Divide the class into teams. After each student answers a skill-testing question, let them use the squeaky hammer or rubber chicken to try to hit the ping pong ball into the monster’s mouth. Keep a tally of team points – one point per hit – and the team with the lowest score at the end of class is the winner.

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Witch Hat Ring Toss

Stuff a witch’s hat with newspaper to keep it standing tall. You’ll also need some rings – dollar stores and bookstores sell large rings that would work, or check out toy stores as well.

Have each student answer a skill-testing question before throwing three to five rings at the witch’s hat. Award candy or stickers for each successful throw!