24 defining and non-defining relative clause games

1. Trivia sentence building challenge Give or brainstorm a list of things that trivia questions are often about, e.g. the Amazon, the Statue of Liberty and Einstein. Students should choose one of the things from the list and say something true about that thing or person, e.g. “The Amazon is in South America”. Their partner […]

1. Trivia sentence building challenge

Give or brainstorm a list of things that trivia questions are often about, e.g. the Amazon, the Statue of Liberty and Einstein. Students should choose one of the things from the list and say something true about that thing or person, e.g. “The Amazon is in South America”. Their partner should expand that sentence by adding information, but without changing any of the words that their partner said, e.g. “The Amazon, which is a river, is in South America.” Play then goes back to the original person or to the next person, who tries to expand it even more, e.g. “The Amazon, which is a river, is in the northern part of South America.” The same thing continues until one person makes a factual mistake or someone gives up. You shouldn’t need to tell them to use relative clauses as it is difficult to avoid them when playing this game.

2. Personalised sentence building challenge

This is similar to Trivia Sentence Building Challenge above, but students work in threes and fours and take turns expanding true sentences about one of the people in the group, e.g. “Eduardo, who is our classmate, comes from Oviedo”, “Eduardo, who is our classmate, comes from Oviedo, which is in Spain” etc. The person being spoken about tells them when someone says something that isn’t true, then they start again with someone else in the group.

3. Trivia jigsaw

Prepare true sentences similar to the ones in Trivia Sentence Building Challenge above and split each sentence into three parts (“Tokyo Tower/, which is a copy of the Eiffel Tower, /is taller than the original”) and put them into a table with three columns in a word processor program. Photocopy and cut up the worksheet so that each piece of the jigsaw contains at least two pieces of the table, e.g. two parts of one sentence or the middle parts of two different sentences. Using their jigsaw skills, grammatical knowledge and knowledge of the things that the trivia sentences are about, the students have to put the jigsaw together.

4. Relative clauses chain story (consequences)

Prepare a worksheet to tell one particular kind of story, e.g. a fairy story. Each line on the worksheet should contain some kind of relative clause and a gap for students to write their ideas in, e.g. “The prince, who __________, rode past on his white horse” or “The princess rejected the prince who __________ and married the prince who __________”. Students should pass the worksheets around the class or their group, completing just one line each time before they pass it on. This can be made more fun by folding the paper each time so that the next person writing doesn’t know what has been written so far. The last person reads the whole story and feeds back on its logic, interest etc.

5. Definitions game/ Back to the board

This is one of the most well-known games to practice defining relative clauses. Students are given a list of words or expressions and have to describe which one they have chosen without saying which one it is until their partner guesses, e.g. “This is a thing that you use to open bottles of wine with?” (without saying “cork” or “screw”) for “corkscrew”. You can tell them that they must use defining relative clauses or just see if it comes out naturally from the game.

6. Schools rules definitions game

You can combine revision of the things that they should and shouldn’t do in class (useful for naughty kids!) by giving them a list of nouns and verbs connected to the classroom and getting them to define them with sentences like “This is a thing that we shouldn’t do because it disturbs the other classes” for “shout” and “These things, which we use in almost every class, can be dangerous” for “scissors”.

7. Grammar definitions game

You can also revise grammar with this game with sentences like “This tense, which is used to talk about unfinished time, is easy to confuse with the Simple Past” for “Present perfect”.

8. Taboo

This is a variation on the Definitions Game above in which students are given three words which they can’t use when defining the word for their partners to guess, e.g. “chicken”, “yolk” and “white” for “egg”. You can get students more involved and thinking about the vocabulary more carefully by getting them to write the taboo words on the vocabulary flashcards before the game starts.

9. Call My Bluff

Prepare true and false definitions of difficult words, e.g. idioms and slang, putting relative clauses into each definition. Students either have to guess which definition is correct or guess if each definition is true or not. Students can then make similar true and false definitions to try and fool their classmates with. Doing this with different varieties of English is particularly good for non-defining relative clauses, with sentences like “Barbie, which is Australian slang, is short for barbeque.”

10. Fairytale dominoes relative clauses variation

This is based on a game in Intermediate Communication Games, but can also be played with any packs of cards with pictures or words representing typical things in fairy stories like dragons and witches. Students deal out the cards and use them to make a story. Students should avoid using the cards in their hands if they can by continuing to describe the last character, e.g. “That witch was the person who had changed the prince into a frog”. The person with most cards left in their hand when the teacher stops the activity or when one person manages to bring the story to an end is the winner. By changing the cards used you can also do this with science fiction, murder mysteries etc.

11. Fairytale dominoes relative clauses variation two

This variation is much more complicated but is designed to add more defining relative clauses to the story. Give out packs of cards which have two copies of each card in them. Tell students that each time they use the card it should represent a different object or character, e.g. they can decide that the first “witch” card that they use is a good witch and the second witch card that goes into the story is a bad witch. When they mention those characters from then on they should therefore use language like “The prince who had saved the princess” and “The sword which they had found in the river”.

12. Work out where to put the relative clauses into the story

Copy, write or rewrite a story, then take out most or all of the relative clauses and put them at the bottom of the page (mixing them up if you want to provide more challenge). The students then have to work out where the relative clauses should go. This works best for a story that they then have to do something else with, e.g. a murder mystery where they can work out who did it once the relative clauses are put back in.

13. Improve the story

This is similar to the idea above, but with the students putting in their own relative clauses to improve the style of the story. They can them compare with the original, keeping their own ideas if they think that they are better (very likely with writing you find on the internet!)

14. Guess why this person or thing is important to me

Put the names of some important things on the board, and student try to make true sentences about why those things are important to you, e.g. Whitney Houston- The first person whose CD I bought, Mr Smith- The first teacher I had whose name I remember, Matchboxes- The things that I collected when I was a child, July 1991- The time when I first went on holiday on my own. They can then play the same game in pairs or small groups.

15. Trivia one more hint game

Students have to listen to the facts about something and guess what you are talking about. Prepare at least four hints for each famous thing, starting with very obscure facts that are difficult to guess from and moving towards more well known facts. Students can then make similar sets of sentences from their general knowledge or internet research to test other teams with.

16. Trivia same sentence one more hint game

This is the same as the game above, but expanding the same sentence to include the new facts each time and so therefore using more and more complex relative clauses.

17. Guess the national holiday from the things people do

This is one example of the Trivia One More Hint games above that contains a nice cultural aspect, e.g. “It’s the time when English kids eat most chocolate” for Easter.

18. Crosswords

Another way of getting students to define words is to give them a crossword and ask them to make the definitions for another person or team to use to complete it. A variation on this is to give each pair of students a version of the crossword with half the answers in and ask them to define the ones they have for their partner so that they can fill in their blank bits. This game is not very good at revising vocabulary (as it usually used), but is great for defining relative clauses. You will need to make sure you only use vocabulary that you are sure they will both know.

19. Archaeologists

This is another game that originally comes from Intermediate Communication Games but can easily be used without the original photocopiable worksheets. Students are given pictures of common everyday objects from the present or past and have to imagine they are an archaeologist from the distant future who is digging them up. They describe the objects and their apparent purpose while avoiding what they know they are really used for with sentences like “This tool, which was probably used as a spoon to feed elephants, had a wooden handle and a slightly pointed metal end” for “spade”. Students can either guess what their partner is describing or compete to come up with the most imaginative descriptions. Instead of archaeologists, you can ask students to pretend that they are aliens sending ill-informed reports on life on Earth back to their own planet.

20. Random pelmanism

Make a pack of cards with any random collection of vocabulary on it, e.g. recent vocab from the textbook that you want to revise. Students spread the pack of cards across the table and take turns taking two cards and trying to show a connection between those two things, e.g. “They are both objects that you can buy in a supermarket” for “yoghurt” and “matches” or “They are both people who work outside” for “vet” and “postman”. If their partners accept that the sentence is true, they can keep the cards and score two points. If not, they put them back where they came from. The person with most cards when the game ends is the winner.

21. Relative clauses brainstorm

Give the students a category including a relative clause that there are quite a few answers to, e.g. “People who have played football in Italy and England” or “Places that have appeared in Hollywood films”. Give students a few minutes to brainstorm as many things as they can that match that definition, then feedback as a class. If anyone thinks that another team’s answer is wrong, they have to explain how that thing is different, e.g. “He is a person who has played football in Spain and England, not a person who has played football in Italy and England”. There are also several variations on this game where you get students making the relative clauses. One is to get them to write a definition that other teams will be able to come up with the least possible number of things for. Another is to ask them to make sentences that they think their classmates will come up with a certain number of answers for, e.g. one sentence each for all the numbers from one to ten.

22. Relative clauses challenge

Give the students the name of a person, place etc and ask them to think up very unusual definitions of that thing, maybe working together in pairs or groups. All the students then read out their versions and vote on which is the most original (they can’t vote for their own ideas).

23. Relative clauses list dictations

Think up some definition sentences that have several answers, e.g. “Things from the sea that English people don’t usually eat” or “Places where I would like to go”. Without telling the class what the original definition was, read out a list of your answers until they guess the definition sentence, starting with the most difficult to guess from (e.g. “whale”) and getting easier and easier until they get it right. They can then do the same thing in pairs or groups.

24. How British is your English?

Make a list of words that are different in different kinds of English, e.g. “fanny pack” (American English) and “bum bag” (British English). Define the words to the students (e.g. “It’s a small bag on a belt that people often use while travelling and hiking”) and ask them to write down the word they would usually use (or the word they like the sound of if they haven’t heard either option before). When you have finished defining 10 to 20 words, tell them which words come from which variety of English and so which variety of English they speak.

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


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