Things (the game)

Here’s a class activity that like my last two is basically a frame for communicative use of selected grammar and vocabulary.  This one is based on a party game that I was introduced to on a trip back to the US called Things.  It has the advantage, in addition to its flexibility, of requiring very little in terms of materials or preparation.  For groups of 3-6, ages 9 and up.

The rules of the game are simple:

  1. Everyone writes a sentence or idea on a predetermined theme (e.g. “Things you put on a sandwich”) on their own small slip of paper.
  2. A player designated the reader collects the slips (in smaller classes, the teacher is usually the reader).
  3. The reader reads all of them anonymously, including his/her own.
  4. Players except the reader take turns guessing who wrote what.  Obviously, they can’t guess their own.  If they are right (other players have to be honest about whether theirs has bee guessed), that answer is eliminated and the player who wrote it is eliminated too.  The reader can read the remaining answers aloud again as requested.
  5. After all the answers are guessed or after a set number of go-rounds, the player who guesses the most correctly is the winner.

Read on for detailed steps, benefits for language learners, and 工夫 (customizations).

First, with intermediate to advanced learners, this game works fine with no modifications as a warmup or a review.  I have used it many times at the beginning of a class to activate schemata (which is a teacherly buzzword meaning “get their thoughts oriented around a topic”) or at the end of a class as a way of summing up a lesson and giving students something to take home – the slip of paper they wrote on for the game.

Most of the time I used this game in class though, I had a grammar point or sentence builder (sort of a halfway point between a grammatical structure and an idiom, a la “I wish I’d never ___” according to Nattinger & DeCarrico) I wanted to focus on.  It is for these that the controlled but still communicative nature of this game really gets put to good use.

To make this game more grammar oriented, I would start by choosing or having students choose 1 or 2 sentence builders and write them on the board.  These would replace the topics from the vanilla version of this game outlined above.  The whiteboard would then look like this:

Made here with Zen Brush

In this example assume I’m teaching a group of high schooler soon to start getting ready for college.  Note that both of the sentence builders can be completed with the same type of phrase – in this case a noun phrase or gerund.  This is important as students should be guessing based on content, not on grammar.  (Bad example: “I like _____; I can’t _____”)


The rest of the steps of the game are the same.  The reader should read only the last part of each answer though, not the sentence builder part that was determined in advance.  He/she should also try to randomize the order in which the answers are read so that the other players don’t know which answer goes with which sentence builder.

If handed this slip, for example, the reader might read “making new friends, (another answer), (another answer), “my pets”, (another answer), etc.

The rest of th egame is played as normal, except that in this example players have 2 answers each instead of 1, and therefore aren’t eliminated until both of their answers have been guessed by other players.



A feature of this game that I only noticed after trying it out for the first time is that it scaffolds third person -s, quoting, and hedging very naturally.  Of course, if the sentence builder is “I eat _____ times a day”, when students guess each other’s answers they will need to be able to say “Sakura eats 6 times a day”.  Likewise, if you start with “I might _____ this weekend”, they will need to guess with “Koki thinks he might go to the to beach this weekend” (as opposed to “Koki think I might…”, 2 common errors).  As with the last classroom activity I wrote about, they may also want to hedge before their guesses with comment clauses like “I guess…” although this doesn’t affect the rules of the game.

This can lead to funny and unique moments as students will guess things like “I think Kazuki is looking forward to living alone”, when it turns out he will miss living alone as both his parents work now and are out of the house most of the time, whereas when he starts college he may have to share a room with a Warcraft addict who never showers.  The potential for memorable class moments to be created in this game is limited only by the personalities of the people playing and the topics/sentence builders that are used.

工夫 1: start with a limited vocabulary set

I mentioned once that my adult classes all had unique class dictionaries.  Sometimes for review I would play this game with a sentence builder like “I hope my next teacher is _____” and have them choose only from one set of word, in this case adjectives, from their class dictionary (loaded on an iPad I would have them pass around) from the last few months.

工夫 2: Use unusual sentence builders and grammar points

It’s fine for students of even very low levels to keep the answer portions to simple nouns, verbs, and adjectives, a la “I want to _____ this summer; I didn’t _____ today”.  For more advanced students, you can try putting the blank in a part of the sentence that calls for a very specific type of word or phrase, like “I _____ that the Prime Minister will resign this year”, where some answers might be doubt, predict, cautiously hope, read, or other verbs of guessing or getting information.  Again, the only limitation is your and your students’ imaginations.



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