This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of CONNECT.
Jordan Rocke (Ehime)
It seems more and more likely that most senior high school ALTs are going to be in situations where involving tech in their lessons is not just probable but encouraged by their JTE’s. A tech lesson might mean carrying a portable projector up three flights of stairs, and the JTE asking repeatedly to make sure the activity is THAT good so it’s worth the effort. And there would still be at least a 25% chance you’ll be using chalk anyway. To be honest, I miss it! The joy of a low-tech workplace is having 101 games that require basically no prep. So today, I want to run you through a few.
Jeopardy and Typhoon (at least as I have been taught) both reveal quite plainly when you’ve burned through the pre-written questions and are at the more improv point.
For this game you’ll need at least 45 pieces of paper- a comfortable size to shuffle and handle. Write numbers from 5 to 50 on the cards, in multiples of 5. That’s 10 cards. Repeat this process 3 times, making 30 cards. Then write another set, same numbers, but all negative. For the last 5 cards, just write the word “typhoon” on them.
Next, set the class up however you normally do a review game, breaking the students into some form of team (groups, rows, whatever works best). Students raise their hands to answer your questions.
If a student is correct, they get to say a number from 1 to 20. Draw that number of cards, and whichever card is the last (i.e., if they say 5, it’s the fifth card you draw), they get that many points. But what if they draw “typhoon”? They get to choose a team to lose all their points. If you want to add more conditions, you can add “Double” and “Halve” cards that double and halve the point total of the student who draws them respectively. To up the ante, feel free to add exactly one “Lose All” card to the deck. If the game seems to be too mean, with most groups ending with negative totals, feel free to either add more positive numbers, or trim down the number of negatives in the deck.
The game is flexible, exciting, and really gets the kids involved. Also, in mixed level classes, you have the negative cards to ensure that one or two kids answering a bunch of questions won’t completely prevent some good luck putting someone else in the winning spot!
I Went to the Shops
A to Z is an old walking game I used to play with my mum as a kid, when we had to travel a long distance. For the classroom, setup is simple. Write the phrase “I went to the shops, and I bought…” at the top middle of the white/blackboard. Underneath, write the alphabet from left to right across the board.
First student reads the sentence then adds something starting with A. Second student reads the sentence on the board, repeats what the first student added, then adds something starting with B. Continue either until you finish the alphabet (if you have a smaller class) or until all the students have given it a crack, repeating the alphabet to include them. Try to stop kids from writing down the answers and get them to simply memorize all the words.
Mistakes should be treated as inevitable, and feel to try and give some hint if they get stuck- pretending to eat the food they should be guessing is a good gesture to guide them. A nice perk is that some kids who normally are disruptive pay attention because they don’t want to be the kid who can’t get past “bananas.”
Generally, try not to be too strict with anything about the game. You may come to a fork in the road where you are either going to spend 2 minutes trying to explain what a xylophone or an x-ray are, or you’re going to let a student run with X-Japan or Xmas. I encourage you to take the latter, just to keep the rhythm of the game going. If you think kids are really going to struggle, feel free to take out Q, X and/or Z, just to keep the game moving a little faster.
After you’ve finished the game, if there’s still time, I try to do time trials. I’ll challenge students to recite the full list as fast as possible, timing how long it takes them. To offer greater challenge, you can also erase the alphabet off the board at this point, which makes the game considerably harder.
A to Z
A few years ago, I asked a friend for some ideas for a warm-up game. She excitedly gave me two activities that worked well for her students, but I was very new and still trying to get my brain into teaching mode (three years later and still not there), so I read the two games as one thing. Luckily, it worked!
For this game, you will need a ball, preferably something that will not cause bodily injury when thrown by 17-year-old boys. I normally use a ball of crushed up paper if I know I’m teaching any baseball pitchers that day. Setup is a bit like the previous A to Z game – you will write the alphabet on the board but try to write it shaped as a condensed square so that it is easy for you to access quickly.
Choose a category that includes many answers. I use cities, countries, animals, sports, and colours quite often. Toss the ball to a student. They must name something in the category. When they do, take the letter that word starts with off the board. No future answers can start with that letter. The student passes the ball to another student, and they have to give an answer in the same category, starting with one of the remaining letters. If a student can’t come up with an answer, they sit down. Repeat until time is up. I recommend 5-10 minutes. At the end, try to get the students as a class to think of answers for the few letters that remain, and then give them answers they may not have thought of (if there are any).
The game can be engineered to be more competitive by breaking students into groups, and having the whole group sit down if they can’t give an answer on their turn. If you have a class with students who tend to prefer silence over saying they don’t know, you can also institute a time limit per answer, around 30 seconds.
That said, the game works perfectly well as a collective activity, with students drawing upon the people around them if they catch the ball and don’t know what to do. In a sense, it’s them against you, and it can be a good icebreaker for lessons that you need that dynamic for.
Shiritori is a classic, and my absolute go to. I assume most folks know the game: write a word starting with the last letter of the previous word. For the classroom, break kids into rows or groups, and have them take turns writing words, with the board portioned off so that each group has a section. Whichever group has the most correctly spelt English words that start with the last letter of the previous word wins.
Let’s make it more meaningful. Here are a few of the simpler modifications I make to the game:
- Ruling out several letters that kids have the most difficulty using (not doing this has the benefit of making them hunt a little harder if they’re normally dictionary dependent during the game).
- Giving them 3 letters, of which every word they write must contain at least one of them
- Making them only use words above a certain letter count (normally above 4 or 5 is a hard enough challenge)
- Making them only use 2 or 3 letter words
- Giving them extra points if they use a word from a certain category, such as animals, numbers, or colours. This works really well if connected to the topic they be studying afterwards
- If students use a lot of words, you don’t think they know, give extra points to the first student who can translate words you pick after the game is over
- To make them really plan, set a letter they MUST end on, otherwise they get no points at all. This criterion is best used with classes that need a new challenge.
- For classes with whom you have tried everything, my rule that adds the most difficulty is that every word must be longer than the previous word.
All of these can be made harder by not allowing students to use dictionaries or textbooks during the game, but rules of each game can be adapted to make something that works for every English level!
Jordan Rocke is a fifth-year SHS JET in the beautiful town of Hojo in Ehime. He is originally from Canberra, Australia, where he was a history teacher. His love of games, quizzes and trivia will eventually drive his friends and loved ones into a spiral of despair they will never recover from. He really likes sunflower seeds.