Games

Getting dicey – Part 1

I’ve always loved board games, and in happier, pre-pandemic times, these also featured quite heavily in my lessons. For those of you lucky enough to be able to use physical boards, counters and dice, here are some of my favourites. And for those of you who, like me, are limited to the virtual joys of board games, I’ve got some ideas for you, too! Here is my first post on dice games… enjoy!

DRAW / MIME / EXPLAIN

This absolutely smashing game is not my own invention, but it’s so good that I can’t keep it to myself! I have, however, adapted it over the years to suit different age groups and levels. Shout out to Jon Fitton of ILA Vietnam, who was Senior Teacher when I started working there as a wide-eyed newly-qualified teacher back in 2014 – he taught me this game and I’ve used it with pretty much every group I’ve ever taught. The idea is super simple: the dice tells you what to do.

  1. Brainstorm vocabulary on the board, or project vocabulary you want students to practice or revise.
  2. Explain that if the dice lands on a 1 or a 2, you have to draw a picture of one of the words from the board for your partner, who has to correctly guess the word. A 3 or a 4 means that you have to mime the word (no sound effects allowed!). A 5 or a 6 means you have to explain the word with your hands behind your back, so you’re not tempted to resort to gestures if you’re struggling!

It really is that straightforward. Demonstrate the activity first with the whole class, then set your students off into groups of 2 or 3. Top tip: groups of 3 allow for more manageable competition!

I teach Young Learners who can’t really produce full sentences yet. Can they still play? Absolutely. There are 2 ways you could adapt it.

Option 1: rolling a 1, 2 or 3 is “Draw”, and 4, 5 or 6 is “Mime”. Easy peasy!

Option 2: you could have a “Spell” version, where students could point at a picture in their books, and their partner has to spell it correctly in their notebooks or a mini whiteboard.

I teach higher levels where some words are just impossible to draw or mime. Can they still play? No problem! Adapt it like this: rolling a 1, 2 or 3 is “Example”, where students have to either dictate or write a sentence with gaps for the target language. For instance, the phrase on the board is intent on, so students could write “Nerea is ________ _____ taking the exam as soon as possible so she’s studying every day” or say “blank blank” if they are dictating the sentence. With some groups, I get them to say “banana banana” instead of “blank blank” and they find it hilarious. I don’t really know why. We also tried with “kiwi” and “mango” and the effect wasn’t the same. Whatever floats their boat, eh?

Anyway, by getting students do this (the actual sentence-writing part, not so much the fruit blanks part), you can check if your students are able to use the target language in context. Rolling a 4, 5 or 6 is “Explain”, and the same rules apply as for the standard version of the game. I will say, though, that the “Draw” option does work really well for idioms! Try drawing “bit off more than you can chew”…

And now for the elephant in the room:

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I teach ONLINE. Sometimes I teach face-to-face but we CAN’T SHARE materials. Can my students still play? YES! There’s always a way! Here are some of my favourites.

  1. ActivInspire: remember the software I wrote about in my previous post about classroom management? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, why not check out the post by clicking here) It has an incredible selection of tools that make online/minimal resource teaching very easy. Just click on Tools –> Maths tools –> Dice roller and voilà! A dice that all students can see on the board whether they’re physically in class with you or at home online.
  2. Proper dice: if you’ve got students who are self-isolating but can still “attend” the lesson, why not ask them to roll a proper dice at home and show their classmates? That way, they’re still involved in the lesson fully even though they’re not in the same room.
  3. Virtual dice: Google it and choose your favourite! This is particularly useful for older learners who have their own mobile phones (as long as you trust them to use their phones responsibly, of course).
  4. Zoom: you might find yourself in a situation where some of your learners are online (or worse… only one is online, and everyone else is in class). Do not fret! This could work to your advantage. Send a private message to your online student with the word they need to use. The student rolls the dice, whether virtual or physical, and does as the dice says. This way, the online student can use the Whiteboard function, mime to the whole class and explain words without missing out on the fun! This also works if you have several online students and you put them in breakout rooms.

When can I use this in class?

Maybe you’ve got to the end of a unit and you want to review vocabulary from the unit. Maybe it’s the end of term and you think your students have earned themselves a treat. Essentially, this game is a great one to have up your sleeve! When I’ve used it as an end-of-term treat, I usually get students to brainstorm celebrities, countries, food, sports and animals. I whack them all on the board, students play the game, then students have to try and write a short story using as many words from the board as possible. But maybe that’s something for another post…

In the meantime, give Draw / Mime / Explain a go and let me know how you get on!

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