Flashcards Can Be Boring (Part III): Use Rock, Scissors, Paper and Have More Fun!

Rock, Scissors, Paper seems to be a universal thing. In Japan, they call it junken. I used that to my advantage in the game below, incorporating what kids already know with what they don’t know (the vocabulary on those pesky flashcards that the children are trying to learn).

For this game, let’s assume that the target sentence is: “What are you wearing?” –> “I’m wearing____.” and the vocabulary is based on clothing.

What you’ll need: Several copies of the following document:rock, scissors, paper graphics, students, and the flashcards that the kids are using to learn new vocabulary.

Step 1: Do a little preparation. You’ll need to print out the document that was given above (this one: rock, scissors, paper graphics). You’ll need several copies of this document, because you’ll need to cut out each symbol (rock, scissors, and paper). Once these are all cut out, attach them with tape to the back of your flashcards. Each flashcard should have one of the rock, scissors, paper symbols on the back once you’ve finished.

Step 2: Now that your preparation is done, we’ll assume that you’re in class, ready to go. Preteach the vocabulary the students are learning (with your flashcards) and cement the sentence pattern they’re learning. You can do this many different ways, but I prefer the simple repetition method when you’re first introducing the words/flashcards to the kids.

Step 3: Show students what rock, scissors, paper is. Walk through the gestures (fist for rock, index and middle finger out for scissors, and a flat hand for paper). They’ll probably already know it from junken, but try to teach them the English equivalent for the Japanese they already know.

Step 4: Put all of your cards face up on the table (or on the board – if you’re doing this, you’ll need magnets). Point to a card and say: “I’m wearing (whatever is on that flashcard).” Then, pretend to be someone else. Point to a different card and say: “I’m wearing (whatever is on that card).” Do rock, scissors, paper with your (imaginary) opponent. Then flip the flashcards over. Whichever one has the strongest symbol on the back is the winner (remember that rock beats scissors, scissors beat paper, and paper beats rock). If the 2 flashcards have the same symbol, you have to actually do rock, scissors, paper with your opponent. The winner gets both cards.

Step 5: Do a trial run demonstration with two of your stronger students. The winner keeps both cards. Slowly call other students up to try. Alternately, you can make 2 teams with players that take turns against each other.

Step 6: Give other students an opportunity to try. Either call them up one by one, have them volunteer, or choose a team approach. Students will definitely get into the activity, and they’ll be unconsciously reinforcing what they’re learning!


Getting Students to Talk to Each Other (Rather than Just the Teacher)

This game/activity has a little back story to it. As most of you know (I hope), I teach English to Japanese children. We do focus on reading and writing, but our main point of interest is conversation. The belief is that students can attain reading/writing skills later on (through books, the internet, and forms of popular Americanized media), but if they don’t start with a solid conversational base in English, they might not get the opportunity to learn that later on (since they don’t really have a chance to speak English a lot in Japan). In my larger classes, I was at a loss as to how to get students to speak not just to me, but to each other. That’s when I came up with this simple and easy game/activity.

What you’ll need: a small piece of paper for every student, maybe color pencils, a timer, and students (more than 4-5)

Step 1: Teach the vocabulary and sentence patterns your students are learning. This can be through a quick game, a review of flashcards, say and repeat activities, a gesture + vocabulary activity, or anything that works. For the sake of this example, let’s pretend students are learning vegetables, as well as the sentence pattern “I like____.” and “What fruit/vegetable do you like?”

Step 2: Once students know the sentence pattern(s) well enough and have some vocabulary to work with, distribute a small piece of paper to each student. If they can read/write, have them draw a vegetable, then write their vegetable’s name underneath. If they can’t read/write, just have them draw.

Step 3: Demonstrate the activity. Take an example card that you made and call one of your stronger and more confident students up (with their card). Show your card and say: “I like (whatever is on your card). What do you like?” The student must then respond with: “I like (whatever is on their card).” Then, switch cards. Seek out another stronger student and say: “I like (whatever is on your new card). What do you like?” They must respond with: “I like (whatever is on their card).” Then, switch cards again.

Step 4: By this point, students should more or less understand what they are to do. Just in case, though, have them practice with whoever is sitting next to them. Observe how the activity is going by circulating through the room. Help those who need it and encourage those who are doing good.

Step 5: Set your timer for 5 minutes (or however many minutes you feel you need) and tell students they have to ask as many different people as possible. Allow them to walk around the room freely. It will be fun to see them go. Once the timer goes off, they must return to their seats. Of course, make sure you are supervising the activity while it’s happening and helping those who need it.

Step 6: Ask students what vegetable they like once they are back at their desks (as a review of what was just done). They will have fun sharing what’s on their new card!

The Bomb Game: A Better Way to Play Hangman

I’m assuming we all know the popular classic “hangman,” where you think of a word, write a dash for each letter on the board, then have others guess letters in an attempt to guess the whole word. Whenever they get a letter wrong, we add to our little hangman until he is, well, completely hung.

It’s a great game to practice spelling/reading and review vocabulary, but in Japan IT’S ABSOLUTELY NOT OK TO PLAY THIS IN YOUR CLASSROOM! Honestly, never play this game with your Japanese students! Let me repeat that with much more emphasis: DON’T PLAY THIS GAME IN YOUR CLASSROOM!!!!! It’s culturally taboo because students who choose to commit suicide in Japan often do so by hanging. Hangman is therefore seen as encouraging that behavior, so steer clear.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t still use the game and change the visual we use. I opt for a bomb instead of a hangman, and I call this game the bomb game. Here’s how to play…

What you’ll need: a board, a marker (or chalk), and students

Step 1: Choose a word that the students are familiar with, preferably one from your most recent lesson. Write one dash on the board for each letter of that word.

Step 2: Draw a giant bomb with a string attached to it over the word. Look at the picture below to see what I mean.

bomb game

Step 3: Have students guess the letters in the word. Every time they guess one correctly, write it where that letter’s dash was. If they get one wrong, write that letter on the board and erase a part of the string attached to your bomb. If the students don’t guess the word before the string of your bomb is gone, the bomb explodes and they lose. If they DO guess it, you lose! It’s super easy and fun to play and it’s even better if you make sound effects when erasing a part of the string or when the bomb explodes.


Super Mario as an English-Teaching Tool? Yes, Please!

Yes, you read that correctly. This game is all about those famous Super Mario Bros (and English). Here’s a little YouTube video to set the mood… 🙂

Super Mario is very well-known all over the world. Plus, in Japan some of the character names are the same as they are back home. So that makes this game a little easier to explain to the kids. With this game’s colorful characters, opportunity to work in teams, and competitive nature, your students are bound to get excited about sentence patterns! Try it out and you’ll see how fun it can be!

What youll need: a board (and markers to draw on it), magnets (at least 6-7), the color characters from this link: general Mario game on board (you will need to cut them out), and students

Step 1: Practice the sentence patterns or vocabulary that the students are working on in class. It’s important that they be able to produce answers to the questions you’ll ask them BEFORE they play this game. To drill the sentence patterns, you can use a game, basic repetition, or whatever works for you and your students.

Step 2: Once you’re satisfied with the level the students have reached, draw a course on the board (it can look like a basic road; there’s no need to get fancy). Draw a castle-like thing at the end of the road and write FINISH underneath it. Then add small dots along your road. For an example of what this could look like, see the image below.

super mario road

Step 3: Put your students into groups. There should be no more than 6-7 groups. Pull out your colorful characters to get the students excited. Assign one character to each group. If the students are calm and well-behaved enough to share popular characters, you can let them choose which Mario character they’ll be.

Step 4: Place all of the Mario characters at the beginning of the road that you drew on the board (this is where those magnets come in). Explain that when a group gets a correct answer, their character moves up to the next dot on the road. Proceed to ask questions that the students know the answer(s) to. The first group to put their hand up gets to answer. If they have the correct answer, their Mario character moves onto the next dot on the road. For example, if the class is working on fruit, you can ask: “What fruit do you like?” or “Do you like____?” If they’re working on flashcard vocabulary, you can hold up a flashcard and ask: “What’s this?” Really, this game can be used with any and all sentence patterns and vocabulary.

Step 5: Play a practice round to get the students into the game, then play it for real! It’s just amazing how a board, some markers, some magnets, and Mario character cut-outs can get students excited about English!

Jeopardy as a Review Game

For those of you who are currently working in Japan or have worked in Japan before (or maybe you’ve just done some serious internet-searching on working here?), you know that the school year comes to a close at the end of March. That leaves us with the question of how to review the content we’ve been teaching kids all year. I’ve found games to be an effective way to do this, in particular Jeopardy. The kids get to work collaboratively to play, they have fun, and (if they can read) they practice reading categories and questions.

Contrary to a lot of the games I’ve presented, this one does take some time to set up. Since you (and maybe your supervisor) are the only one who knows exactly what you’ve been covering in class, you have to design a jeopardy game that fits your kids. You can make your own game on this awesome website. Once you’ve made it, then you can continue onto the game itself. So, without further ado, here’s one of several ways you can use jeopardy in class to review:

What you’ll need: a board, a computer, an internet connection (and the URL of the jeopardy game you made), possibly a projector or large TV screen (so your students can see the game), students, and I like to use bells/buzzers (but you can easily ask them to put up their hands instead).

Step 1: Before the game starts, cycle through some of the sentence patterns and vocabulary that the students have seen over the past year. Ask questions to different students, pull out flashcards, and do what you need to do to get their brains warmed up and ready.

Step 2: If you have a lower number of students, you can make each students his/her own team. If you have a larger class, you can make groups of students. Try not to have more than 5-6 groups overall, or else things can get kind of messy. Give each group a number and write their group number on the board.

Step 3: Set up your jeopardy game and open it up. Show kids how to play (they must choose a category, then a number of points; the more points, the harder the question). A different student must answer each time (I make this rule so that the quieter students have a chance to shine too).

Step 4: Give students buzzers/bells and do a practice round so that they can understand better. The first group to ring the bell/buzzer gets to answer the question. Alternately, you can also just say that the first group with all of its members’ hands up gets to answer first. When they choose a question, read it to them (this helps them a lot if they can’t read).

Step 4: Play the game and keep track of points. The team with the most points at the end wins!

If you’re having trouble imagining what a jeopardy review game could look like, I invite you to check out this jeopardy game. I made it as a review for some of my more advanced students. They seem to enjoy it, and the pictures really help them follow along.

AHHHHHH: The Yelling Game

Before I dive into this game description, I have to apologize for being MIA for a while now. Things at work have been quite busy and I haven’t had the time (or energy) to continue to add to this growing list of resources. Sorry!

Anyway, about this game… It’s almost exactly what it sounds like: students yell the sentence patterns you’re working on in class. I find that this gets some of the jitters out of active students and wakes up those who are falling asleep. Plus, it gets all the students practicing the sentence patterns. You’ll notice that, because they’re in a group setting, even shyer students tend to get involved in this activity!

Before we start though, I have two little disclaimers: 1) It WILL get loud in your class, so don’t do this on a day that you’re fighting a headache; 2) Don’t do this activity for longer than 10 minutes or your students might lose their voices. With that in mind, here we go!

What you’ll need: students (preferably 4 or more) and a board (but you can do without the board, really).

Step 1: Drill whatever sentence pattern you’re working on. You can use a game for this or if your students prefer repetition, that works too.

Step 2: Once you’re satisfied with the students’ progress, separate them into 2 teams. If your group is especially creative, have them name their team (with an English name).

Step 3: Instruct both groups to say a sentence pattern. For example, if you’re working on “I can____.”, have group 1 say “I can walk.” and group 2 say “I can jump.” Tell them to use big voices and be as loud as they can. The group that is the loudest wins. At this point, to help students understand, I usually draw a mini bar graph on the board (one for team 1 and one for team 2). If one group is particularly loud, I draw lines into their bar graph. Once the bar graph reaches the top, it means that that team is the winner.

Step 4: Try switching up the sentence patterns each group is saying. If we follow the “I can____.” example, have them say they can do different actions (bounce a ball, jump rope, fly a kite, ride a bike, swim, run, etc.) then have them practice “I can’t____.” (the negative form).

The Keyword Game: A Quick Way to Review

This game is a great way to get students to recognize new words or phonics sounds. It’s perfect as a quick warm-up or as a closing game to eat up those extra 10 minutes.

What you’ll need: flashcards of whatever vocabulary or letters you’re teaching, 1 eraser or pencil for every 2 students, and students (duh!)

Step 1: It’s important that students know the words they’re going to play with, so make sure you teach them first.

Step 2: Place a pencil or eraser in front of each 2 students (they can do this themselves too with their own pencils/erasers). Place one in front of yourself so you can demonstrate.

Step 3: Hold up your “secret” word. Say different words (preferably other vocabulary words they know). Then, say the “secret” word and grab the eraser/pencil as quickly as you can. The idea is that when the “secret” word is said, the students need to try to grab the pencil/eraser. The first student to get it wins.

Step 4: Do a practice round with the same word. The kids will catch on quickly if they haven’t already at this point.

Step 5: Play several more rounds, but switch up your “secret” word so that students can learn to recognize different and new vocabulary.


Flashcards Can Be Boring (Part II): The Mystery Box Makes Things More Fun!

Aaaaaaand we’re back on the topic of flashcards. As I’ve said before, they are most definitely useful when teaching, but I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve seen that simply show the flashcards to the students over and over and have them repeat the associated vocabulary words endlessly. When you introduce vocabulary for the first time, this “no-fun” and calm approach is necessary so that students can absorb the information. But for review, using flashcards this way is just… ZzZzZzZzZzZz… A total bore!

So here’s a simple idea that could make things a little bit more fun.

What you’ll need: your flashcards (of course!), students (preferably 4 or more), a cardboard box big enough to put your flashcards in, and chairs.

Step 1: Teach the flashcard vocabulary first. Yes, you can use the “boring” way for this step.

Step 2: Have students make a circle. I usually just get them to stand or sit on the floor in a circle. However, depending on how many students you have and how much time they take to move chairs, you can have them make a circle with their chairs too. That way they can just sit in their chairs.

Step 3: In front of your students, put all of the flashcards you’ve just seen in the box and close the lid. Oooooh! So mysterious! The more you hype this part up, the better the students’ reactions will be.

Step 4: Have students pass the box around from student to student. Have them chant: “Pass, pass, pass” to help them keep the box moving. Once the box gets back to you, yell: “STOP!” and hold onto the box (this is to show students how the game is played). Without looking, slip your hand in, pull out a card, and say what’s on that card. That’s the point of the game: students need to pass the box until you yell stop. The student holding it when you yell stop needs to pull out a flashcard and say what’s on it.

Step 5: Continue to pass the box and yell stop at different intervals. Try to keep track of who has gone already, and yell “Stop!” strategically so that as many different students as possible can have a turn.

Step 6: Once you feel the students are tired of the game (10 minutes or so), get them back in their seats, or have them put their chairs back and continue with your lesson.

***Please note: to make this more fun, you can have students say the flashcards they choose in different voices. To do this, I yell: “STOP! Monster voice.” and the student with the box will have to say the word in his best monster voice. If you’re playing this way, it might be beneficial to preteach a few voices though, so that students know what you’re asking of them.***

Sentence Patterns and Gestures: The Hula Hoop Game

This game was something I kind of made up on the spot when I had 10 minutes or so left in one of my classes. I quickly scanned the room I was in and spotted a huge pile of hula hoops. “DING!” The lightbulb in my brain went off and I suddenly had a new game that I could use in several of my other classes to practice vocabulary, sentence patterns, and gestures associated with vocabulary.

This game can be played with almost any vocabulary/gestures/sentence patterns, but, for the sake of simplicity, let’s use family members and the sentence pattern “Who’s this?” –> “It’s my brother/sister/mother/father/grandma, grandpa.”

What you’ll need: hula hoops (lots and lots of hula hoops – preferably one for every 2-3 students, depending on the size of the hula hoops and of your students), flashcards for the vocabulary you’re teaching (in this case, family members – you can find a set of family member flashcards here), and students (more than 4 would be good). As a side note, this game is best played in a larger room, so keep that in mind.

Step 1: Use your family members flashcards to teach vocabulary words to the students. Do repetition drills, touch games, or whatever else helps them retain those words!

Step 2: Teach students gestures for each word. I usually hug myself for mother (because she hugs you), I pat myself on the head for father (because he encourages you and may pat you on the head), I mime a short person for sister (because in my mind, I associate the flashcard I have with a little sister), I put my hands on my hips in a confident stance for brother (because brothers tend to be boisterous/confident), I mime a person walking with a cane to the right for grandma (because older people often walk with canes), and I mime a person walking with a cane to the left for grandpa (because I couldn’t think of a more original gesture).

Step 3: Teach the students the following question and response: “Who’s this?” –> “This is my mother/father/sister/brother/grandma/grandpa.” Have them make gestures for the different vocabulary words they respond with.

Step 4: Spread your hula hoops around the room. Make a big show of it so that you intrigue students and get them excited.

Step 5: Put 1-3 students in each hula hoop (depending on the size and number of hula hoops you have). Make sure to reserve one hula hoop for yourself so you can demonstrate the game.

Step 6: Walk around the hula hoops while chanting: “Walk” over and over again. Then yell out a vocabulary word and hold up its flashcard. Make a big production of running back to your hula hoop. Once in the hula hoop, say: “This is my ____.” and mime the associated gesture. That’s the idea of the game: students walk around the hula hoops until you yell out a vocabulary word. When you do, they have to scramble to get into a hula hoop. They then have to make the vocabulary word that you yelled out’s gesture, while simultaneously using it in the learned sentence pattern.

Step 7: Play a practice round to see if students understand. Do the first few sentence patterns and gestures with them, so that they can get the flow of the game. Once they get it, allow them to say the sentence patterns and do the gestures without your help.

Step 8: Play the game and have fun!


Fruit Basket: “I like___” and “I don’t like___” (and “I’m wearing___.”)

OK… So you’re teaching “I like______.” “I don’t like____.” and “What food do you like?” –> “I like____.” and the kids are bored with repetition drills. To be honest, you are too. Well, try shaking things up with this game!

What you’ll need: more than 4 students and a chair for each student

Step 1: Preteach the necessary vocabulary. Students should know a handful of foods (such as: hamburger, salad, spaghetti, pizza, fries, apples, bananas, peaches, etc. – you can even throw in some Japanese foods like soba, natto, and ramen for good measure). They should also know the following sentence patterns: “I like___.” and “I don’t like___.”

Step 2: Once students are able to make short sentences with different foods, have them make a circle with their chairs.

Step 3: Stand in the middle of the circle and say “I like____.” Show students with gestures, or explain to them, that if they like the food you named, they have to switch spots with someone else. If they’re left standing, they have to make their own sentence.

Step 4: Play a practice round. Say “I like____.” and try to grab a chair before another student. To encourage the student in the middle, ask: “What food do you like?” and have them answer using “I like____.” The students who like that food must switch spots.

Step 5: Play as many rounds as you’d like! Preferably until each student has had a turn. Once each student has spoken, try using the negative form (“I don’t like____.”) so that students can practice that too!

**Important note: This game can also be played with clothes and the sentence structures: “I’m wearing____.” and “I’m not wearing____.” For this version of the game, every student that is wearing the item named must switch spots. For the negative, if they are NOT wearing what the student said, they must switch spots.**