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Variations on Change Chairs If

Change Chairs If is a great game for approximately 4 to 12 year old kids (plus older students who are up for fast physical games). Students sit on chairs in a circle with one chair less than people in the class or group. The person left standing up, e.g. the teacher, then gives a description […]

Change Chairs If is a great game for approximately 4 to 12 year old kids (plus older students who are up for fast physical games). Students sit on chairs in a circle with one chair less than people in the class or group. The person left standing up, e.g. the teacher, then gives a description of the kinds of people who should stand up and quickly change chairs, e.g. “Change chairs if you are a girl.” The person standing up then races to sit down in one of the chairs of the people who stood up before anyone else sits down on it. There should then be one person left standing up- either one of the people who had to change chairs or still the person who was standing up in the last round (if no one had to change chairs for that sentence or they were too slow trying to sit down). That person then chooses and says the next sentence (e.g. “Change chairs if you are nine years old”) and rushes to sit down as the others change chairs.

This game can be used for very many different language points, e.g. possessions (“… if you have…” or “…if there is a…/ there are some… in your house”), appearance, numbers, colours, clothes, likes, Simple Past (“… if you… yesterday/ at the weekend”), Present Continuous (“… if you are breathing/ wearing something blue”), prepositions of position (“… if you are sitting between the whiteboard and the teacher”), object pronouns (“… if you are sitting next to her”), abilities, Present Simple for routines (“… you get up at 7 o’clock”), comparative and superlative adjectives, family vocabulary, and favourites. Because it can be used for so many things and is so useful as a physical warmer with lots of speaking and listening in it, it is well worth having some variations up your sleeve. Here are 15 ideas:

1. And and but
Allow or ask students to use sentences like “…if you are a girl but you don’t live in Seoul” or “…if you are taller than me and older than Juan”.

2. Sticky ball prompts
Letting students make up the sentences about which students should change chairs can lead to long pauses or unimaginative sentences such as endless ones with “if you like…” One way of getting round this is to put sentence prompts on the board in a grid and have the student whose turn it is throw a sticky ball (= sucker ball) at the board. They then have to use the prompt that they hit or are closest too when they tell the other students to “Change chairs if…” The prompts can be whole sentences (“You have three brothers or sisters”), short prompts that should be used in the sentence (“three brothers”), or grammatical or vocabulary categories that should be used (“Simple Past” or “family”). Using a grid like this also allows you to choose the language that comes up, be it for revision or to introduce new language. If you want to give students more freedom and get them more involved, after the first grid is finished you can put up a blank one and take ideas from them for what can go in it.

It is also possible to have the people sitting down throw the sticky ball to choose the prompt for the person standing up.

3. Choose from the board
Although throwing a sticky ball is lots of fun, giving students more freedom to choose their prompts (so that they can use their knowledge of their classmates to predict which chairs are going to be free and so easily sit down) has perhaps more of a mental challenge. You can achieve this by having the same kind of grid on the board but letting students choose which one they use (as long as they don’t take too long choosing). Ones that have been used can be crossed off or left up, depending on how you want to do it.

4. Take card prompts
Before the class, prepare slips of paper that tell students what sentences to make. These can be used throughout the game, or just if the students run out of ideas or pause too long. The things written on them can be the same kinds of full sentences or shorter prompts explained in Sticky Ball Prompts above.

5. People sitting down make the sentences
E.g. whoever comes up with the first good idea. This cuts down on the pauses between goes and gets the people sitting down more involved, e.g. by getting them thinking of sentences that won’t make them stand up. This can be used throughout the game, or just if the person standing is too slow or has no ideas.

6. Teacher makes the sentences
This cuts down on the amount of speaking (and thinking) by the students, but allows you to stretch them with natural speed sentences and more complex language. You can also plan the sentences you use so that everyone has to change chairs once every few goes and so that one person doesn’t end up being the one standing up too many times. A compromise position between this and the ideas given above is the teacher choosing the category each time and the students competing to be first to make a suitable sentence.

7. Prompts from tape or CD
This takes some preparation, but is perhaps a better test of listening comprehension than the other methods and also allows for a range of accents etc.

8. Settling disagreements
The other major possible problem with this game is people sitting down on the last chair together at virtually the same time and then trying to work out who should be the next one standing up. The easiest way is to get them to do paper scissors stone (= rock paper scissors = janken) to decide. Alternatively, you can add more language when settling disagreements by making the two students answer an English language question and letting the one who answers most quickly, with best pronunciation etc sit down. Alternatively, if they sit down at more or less the same time you can let them both sit down and choose someone who hasn’t been made to stand up yet.

9. Teams
If you have a class that insist on having overall winners for each game or who need the threat of points taken away to behave themselves, it is also possible to play this game with teams. Give one point to a team each time someone from another team has to be the one standing up. This makes them think about their sentences more carefully, so that only people from the other team(s) have to stand up.

10. One two three change now
If some students aren’t changing chairs because they don’t understand the sentence or often have to be the one standing up because they respond more slowly, you can introduce the rule that no one should actually move until the teacher or person standing up says “Ready steady go!” or “On your marks, get set, go!”

11. More people standing up
You can also play the game with two chairs less than people and so two people standing up and trying to sit down each time, perhaps with them deciding on the sentence together each time. You could even take a chair away occasionally so have more and more people standing up, if your class could stand the excitement and disorder.

12. Change chairs if your flashcard…
Students move depending on what is on the flashcard they are holding rather than their personal information, e.g. “Change chairs if your animal has stripes” or “Change chairs if the thing on your flashcard has more than four wheels”. This is also possible with realia or words students have chosen and written down themselves. You can play this with students showing their flashcards at all times, or just showing them at the beginning and then the person standing up having to remember what is on them. It is also possible to play with flashcards that they haven’t shown to the other students, as long as the teacher checks that they change chairs when they have to.

13. Don’t make me!
During/ before the game, students write down sentences that they don’t want to be used during the game because it would make them change chairs. Alternatively, you can brainstorm some sentences like that onto the board.

14. Ask the people who stayed sitting down
E.g. after “Change chairs if your father is an office worker”, the student who was standing up (or the student who is standing up now or the teacher) goes around the class asking everyone “What is your father’s job?” to check that they didn’t stay sitting down when they should’ve changed chairs. Eliciting the questions for each statement is also good practice of question forms. Doing this at times can also stop cheating and lead to more speaking for everyone, but it does slow down the game and so somewhat take away from the excitement.

15. Jump, hop etc between chairs
This introduces another language point to practice and cuts down on the speed they are moving around and so reduces the possibility of crashing into each other as they race to beat the other person onto a chair. The way that everyone should move can be changed occasionally or each time by the teacher, the person standing up, or the first person in the class with a good idea.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net April 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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TEFL.net : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Games : Variations on Change Chairs If