Speaking/Writing: Lists with a Twist (30 minutes or so)

Levels: intermediate to advanced.
Ages: teens; young adults
Type: variation on the old “pyramid discussion” activity.
Skills: listening; speaking; writing (spelling).
Language focus: grammar – modals of speculation/possibility; any vocab as arises.

Note: I THINK this idea is my own; the seeds for this game come from Keep Talking by Friederike Klippel, and my own boredom with conventional “list” games (wherein students individually order a pre-defined list and then compare preferences, trying to agree a final order), which I believe are a little over-used in the EFL classroom, and with which I think students in communicative classrooms are often all-too familiar.

Preparation: blank paper, some cut into slips; blu-tack to stick paper to the walls; optional – some recorded music the students won’t dislike.

Procedure:

  1. Divide the class into small groups and ask each group to sit apart from the rest, so they can talk without any other groups overhearing them.
  2. Explain that each group is going to write a list of ten things, but that they get to choose the topic together. Give some examples (e.g., “Things I would never eat in bed”, “The ten best things your parents could ever tell you”, “Ten things to do before you die”). Make sure the students understand that they can be obvious, so they don’t strain for ideas.
  3. Allow a few minutes for the students to decide on a topic and agree a list of ten things. Play the background music if you have any.
  4. (Stop the music and) ask each group in turn to call out their items, clearly and loudly (make sure each student calls out at least two things). The other groups listen and individually write down what they think the topic is.
  5. When each group has finished calling out their lists, ask the groups to compare what they have written and try and agree what the topic was for each of the other groups. Again, allow a few minutes for this, and again play the background music for this period, if you have any.
  6. Ask each group to decide on a team name and board what they tell you; find a really unimportant object from your bag or pocket (e.g., a paperclip, or a small coin) and proudly hold it up, reverently saying that this will be the prize for the lucky winners. Explain that each group will get 10 points for every topic they guess correctly (if they are a good-natured group, add that they will lose 10 points for every one they get wrong).
  7. Taking each group in turn, ask the other groups what they thought the topic was; you should say what you thought the topic was as well (try to be wrong). After you have all guessed, the group reveals their topic; award points accordingly (though not to yourself!).
  8. At the end of the activity, award the prize (it can be fun to be very solemn here, as though you’re bestowing a vast fortune upon the winning group) and have a class vote on the most interesting or surprising topic.
  9. Ask each group to choose their favourite topic, and to write 5-10 questions about it to ask other students. You can help them formulate their questions here.
  10. Ask the groups to stick their questions to the classroom walls when they have finished.
  11. Number the students in each group, using the same numbers with the other groups (so each group has a 1, a 2, etc.). Ask your students to stand up, then ask 1s to form a group together, 2s to form a group, and so on.
  12. Ask each group to stand by a different question sheet; ask them to use the questions on the wall as conversation starting points. Groups can move to a different set of questions when they are ready.
  13. Monitor your students’ language, thinking about what they could have said as well as what they did say.
  14. Give whole class feedback, on pronunciation or on language choices.

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