A board game designed to give groups of 2-6 players an enjoyable way of actively using their language skills, and which is truly a broadly usable teaching, practice and assessment tool.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Paula Swenson

MasterTalker is a board game designed to give groups of 2-6 players (age 14 +) an enjoyable way to actively use the language skills they have acquired and practice speaking. The game is a professionally produced product: colorful, substantial, and made to last. The language components are well-thought out and, with 900 questions, ample for many, many sessions of play.

The game is divided into 3 levels: elementary, lower intermediate, and upper intermediate. Each level then is further divided into 3 stages of difficulty. The simplest questions in each level are worth one point, the middle-difficulty questions gain 2 points, and the most difficult garner 3 points for a correct answer.

The players roll dice to make their way around both an outer and inner ring, collecting point tokens (colored chips – no need to keep score!) and finally to the center where a correct answer wins the game. With free point squares, double point squares, and ‘you choose’ squares where the player gets to determine the difficulty level of the question, there is enough of an element of chance to make the results unpredictable; good for repeated play with the same group.

Each question card contain 4 entries: a red grammar gap fill (the gaps are often phases not simply words), a yellow vocabulary question, a green speaking task (ranging from 5 seconds at the lowest level -elementary 1- to 45 seconds at Upper Intermediate 3) and a blue reading task (the player reads aloud a short text and answers a question about it). The cards provide answers on the back, actual or suggested possibilities, depending on the type of question. You can see actual samples of the cards at the MasterTalker website.

In addition to the board, question cards, dice, playing tokens and colored scoring chips, the game includes a rather fancy stopwatch, which is probably overkill and a bit tricky to use, to time the speaking elements.

Having tested the game with four different classes and one mixed group of students and native speakers, I can say that the game succeeds in getting everyone to talk in pretty relaxed environment, while still focusing on the correct use of English. While some of the Elementary level 1 questions are really almost too easy for anyone beyond a beginner class (Speak for 5 seconds about a day of the week), many of the Elementary level 3 tasks provide a bit of challenge for even Pre-Intermediate students (________ going to ________ — must be turned into a proper, grammatically correct sentence).

One real plus is the flexibility of the game. It is possible for different levels of students to play the game together by using different levels of cards, making the game a challenge for every player in a mixed group. Another positive aspect: the rules are simple enough that, after an introductory round, the game pretty much runs itself. This means the teacher can sit back and really LISTEN and take notes, and assess the progress of both individuals and the class as a whole.

Downsides are really limited to things that are ‘fixable’ in the classroom. As mentioned earlier, the stopwatch has way too many extra features – you only need on/off/reset, but you can always use a different timer if it bothers you. Also, every group I have played with was dissatisfied with the ending of the game, feeling that a player should have to answer a question in EACH category to win (more like Trivial Pursuits –game rules are the first player to answer ONE level 3 question correctly) but it is easy to make that the ‘house rule’ if you wish. It is also possible to award prizes to non-winners based on who correctly answered the most questions in any given category, the variations there are up to your imagination.

The game takes about 45-60 minutes to play, depending on the students. One class chose to set a time limit for answering, which proved helpful in moving the game along but might not work in every situation.

At a price of 89 Australian dollars (plus 19.95 international shipping) the game seems to be a good value for money for those teaching teens and adults. Even my adult corporate classes were able to see the learning value of this game, making it truly a broadly usable teaching, practice and assessment tool. My groups are all eager to play again; this game won’t be collecting any dust!

Reviewed by Paula Swenson for October 2009
Paula Swenson has taught English in Poland, Germany, the USA and now the Czech Republic. She has a BA in Communications, TEFL/TESL Certification from the International College of Applied Linguistics, and the FCTBE from London Chamber of Commerce and Industry Examinations Board.

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