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Q and A personalisation games

Getting students talking about themselves to each other is a great way of making them take interest in classroom communication and showing them that the language is something they can use in their own lives. There is also evidence that connecting language with your own experience is a good way of making it easier to […]

Getting students talking about themselves to each other is a great way of making them take interest in classroom communication and showing them that the language is something they can use in their own lives. There is also evidence that connecting language with your own experience is a good way of making it easier to learn. It is also good for classroom dynamics for students to learn about each other. This technique of personalisation can easily be combined with another great classroom tip, which is getting students asking questions as often as possible in order to increase student talking time and give them lots of practice of the (more difficult) question forms of the tenses they are using. Below are 15 games that combine the factors of personalisation and students asking questions, making them some of the most popular games in my classes. Most of them are also easily adaptable for many different kinds of target language.

1. Answers on the board
The teacher writes five to ten pieces of information about themselves on the board as very short answers to personal questions e.g. “Three” (for “How many sisters you have?” or any other question that “three” is the true answer to) and “London” (for “Where were you born?” or any other suitable question such as “What was the last British city you visited?”). Students score one point for each question they ask that gets an answer that is written on the board, until all the answers have been ticked off. If the students ask a question that has a different answer from the one written on the board, the teacher just answers the question, e.g. “None” for “How many brothers do you have?” or “Provence” for “Where do your parents live?” The students can continue the game in groups, either preparing their answers on blank paper before they start asking questions or giving each answer to guess the question for orally one at a time as they think of them.

2. One point for yes (No points for no)
Students ask their partners Yes/ No questions that they think they will answer “Yes” to, e.g. “Are you a human?” or “Can you walk?” They get one point for each time their partner says “Yes”. This can be used as a Getting to Know You game near the beginning of a course, or controlled practice of short answers and particular tenses, e.g. “Yes, I can” or “Yes, I did”. As an extension, perhaps after a grammar presentation or error correction stage, students can play the opposite game of getting one point for each true “No” answer they can get from their partners with questions like “Have you ever been to the moon?” and “Do you like cold showers?”

3. Answer me!
Students are given worksheets or cards with short answers on, and must ask questions to try and make their partners give those answers, e.g. asking “How often do you brush your teeth?” in the hope of obtaining the answer “Twice a day” and so being able to discard that card or tick that answer off their list. The first person to have obtained all the answers on their cards or worksheets, or the person with the fewest left to do when the teacher stops the game, is the winner.

4. Me too!
Students try to find things they have in common with their partners by asking questions they think their partner will answer with something that is also true for both/ all of them. If it is such a thing, they can react with “Me too!” (or “So do I!”, “Me neither” etc) and score one point. For example, if they ask “What is your favourite colour?” and their partner answers with the same favourite colour as the person who asked the question they can say “Me too!” and score one point. Students can compete with others in their groups, in which case the winner is the person in each pair who asked more questions that found things in common, or students can compete with the whole class to be the pair who found most things in common. This can be good practice of grammar like “can” or “have you ever”, and is a great way of improving classroom dynamics by emphasizing what students have in common. Before or during the game, you might want to teach suitable language for reacting when the answer is something that is not true for the person asking the question (and therefore doesn’t score a point), e.g. “Really? I don’t” and “Really? My favourite…”

5. I can only agree
Students must reply to every Yes/ No question from their partners with “Yes”, whether that is the true answer or not. Their partners can then ask them three more questions (usually Wh- questions) about that thing and then guess whether the original “Yes” answer was true or not. If the original “Yes” was a lie, the student answering can continue to lie in response to the three follow up questions, with the other students guessing whether it was true or not from body language, pauses, unbelievable stories etc.

6. T or L
This is similar to the card game “Bluff”. Give students six small pieces of blank paper and ask them to write an L on three of them and a T on the other three. Elicit that the T stands for “T” and the “L” stands for the opposite- “Lie”. Their partners will ask them a question and they have to put one of their cards face down on the table (or under a book if it is possible to see their letter through the back of the piece of paper) and respond with a true answer if they put down a T card and a false one if they put down an L card. If all their partners think it is a true answer (i.e. a T card) or aren’t sure, they stay silent and play passes to the next person, who is asked a question and places their card face down on top of the previous person’s one before answering. If anyone thinks the person who replied was lying (i.e. they think that the card they placed down was an L card), they can challenge them by saying “Liar!” Their card is then turned face up to check. If the accusation was correct (i.e. it was an L card), the person who placed it there has to take all the cards in the pile on the table and put them in their hand. If the “Liar!” accusation was incorrect (i.e. the answer was actually the truth and it is revealed to be a T card), the person who made the false accusation has to take all the cards from the table. Anyone who has no cards left in their hand, or the person who has least cards remaining when the teacher stops the game, is the winner.

7. One bluff
A student answers 10 personal questions from their partners, e.g. “Where do you live?” and “Can you play any musical instruments?”  They should give nine true answers and one false one. Give the students a few minutes to ask follow up questions about the answers to their initial questions (e.g. “What’s your house number?” or “What is the nearest underground station to your house?” and “When did you start to play that instrument?” or “Didn’t you learn to play something at least a little at school?”), and then ask them to guess which of the ten answers was a lie, to be confirmed by the student who answered. The student answering can continue to lie while answering the follow up questions, but must obviously tell the truth in the final stage to make the game worthwhile.

8. Role bluff
Students are given roleplay cards that tell them what story to tell about themselves (e.g. “You have seventeen brothers or sisters”) or simply say “Tell the truth about (your last holiday/ your family/ your job)”. Students tell their true or false stories and answer 3 follow up questions, and then the other students guess whether they were telling the truth or not. If they were telling a false story based on their roleplay card, when they have revealed that fact the other students can ask them questions about their real holiday/ family/ job etc.

9. What’s my line?
This is based on the television game show of the same name, where contestants ask questions to work out which of three people really has the job they are all saying they have. Each student writes one true but surprising thing about themselves, e.g. “I have eaten crocodile” or “I can’t whistle or click my fingers” three times on three separate slips of paper. They keep one copy and put the other two into a bag or box held by the teacher (or just fold them up and put them into the teacher’s hands). Each student then takes two slips of paper from the bag, box or teacher’s hands, checking that they haven’t taken the same piece of paper twice or received their own slip of paper back. The first student reads out one of their slips of paper to the class, e.g. “I sleep on the floor with no bed or mattress” (it doesn’t matter if this is the one they wrote or someone else’s). The other two people in the class who have the same slip of paper then read it out in the same way. Everyone else in the class then asks all three people detailed questions about their statement (e.g. “Why do you sleep on the floor?”, “When did you start sleeping on the floor?” and “Do the other people in your family also sleep on the floor?”) until they think they have worked out which of the three people is telling the truth (i.e. which person originally wrote those three slips of paper) and which two people are lying. The two people who are lying can continue to use their imaginations when answering the follow up questions, with people working out who is telling the truth by how believable their story is and other hints like twitching faces, laughing etc.

10. Toss me a question
One student asks a personal question and then tosses a coin to work out if they can ask someone else in their group that question (heads) or have to answer the question themselves (tails, for “tell”). They can ask absolutely any question, including quite personal and embarrassing ones, but they always run the risk of having to answer the question themselves. This works best if you give the students prompts for the questions, e.g. a pack of cards or worksheet with vocabulary that could lead to interesting questions like “kiss” and “bored”, or a list of suggested sentence stems like “In the year 2050” and “After you finish this course” for future tenses.

11. Roll me a question
Students roll a dice twice and are asked questions based on the numbers come up and what they mean according to the guide on the board or worksheet. The easiest way of organising this is by having the first roll as the topic and the second roll as the grammar, e.g. for the first roll 1 = your studies, 2 = your job, 3 = your free time and hobbies, 4 = your family, 5 = your hometown, 6 = your finances and for the second roll 1 or 2 = the past, 3 or 4 = the present and 5 or 6 = the future.

12. Find How Many Who
This is a variation on the mingling game Find How Many Who that takes away the fact that in that game as given in most photocopiable worksheet books students aren’t making their own questions and aren’t particularly motivated to find the answers. In this version students make predictions about how many people in the class certain things are true for, e.g. “_______ people in this class want Australia to be the next foreign country they go to”. They choose the one they are most confident about having the right number written down for and race to find out if they got the right number or not by asking that one question to everyone as they go around the class. If they have asked everyone and did have the right number, they can sit down. The first person to sit down is the winner (or the last person left standing is the loser). If they find out they had the wrong number for that question (as soon as they get a higher number than the one they write down or realise that there aren’t enough people left to ask to reach the number they predicted), they can switch questions and start again with that one.

13. Find How Many Who Two
Students are given sentences starting with numbers of people in the class, e.g. “5 people can ____________”, “Only one person wants to _____________________” or “Almost everyone __________________”. They complete the sentences with something they think is true, then race round asking everyone else the equivalent question until they know if their number is true or false. The person who has confirmed the truth of more sentences than the other students when the teacher stops the game is the winner.

14. Mr and Mrs
This is based on the old TV game show of the same name, and is like a personalised version of the classic TEFL speaking activity The Alibi Game and the plot of the Gerard Depardieu movie Green Card. Students are given 5 minutes to find out everything about their partner, then the two people are separated and asked questions they probably can’t answer about their partner (e.g. “What is her favourite perfume?” and “When did he last phone his mother?”) They are then asked the same questions about themselves and lose one point for each thing that their partner got wrong. The pair that was caught out by the fewest questions is the winning team.

15. The ? game
Students are given 8 small pieces of paper each and are asked to write a question mark on each one. Elicit and/ or explain that each one represents a question and that they have to ask someone a question to be able to pass that piece of paper onto the person they are speaking to, and so the first person with no pieces of paper left in their hands is the winner and can drop out of the game. If someone asks you a question, you must answer the question, take the question mark paper from them, split up and start talking to someone else- i.e. you cannot ask a question straight back to someone who just asked you a question. If two people start asking questions at the same time, the person who finishes asking the question must be answered and so can hand over their pieces of paper. You cannot ask the same question more than once, but if someone asks you a question that you haven’t used yet you can use that question with other people (so that students learn from each other). If no one has won the game when the teacher stops the game, the person with fewest question mark pieces of paper left in their hands is the winner and the person with most is the loser (although you might not want to point out who the loser is!)

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net December 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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TEFL.net : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Games : Q and A personalisation games