Number one for English language teachers

Vocabulary: The rolled-up newspaper game

Level: Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Extra

This icebreaker practises vocabulary groups from previous lessons and gets everyone laughing and enthusiastic.

I have been teaching English in Mexico and Spain for about seven years, and this is one activity which seems to work as a great icebreaker with everyone regardless of age or ability. It practises vocabulary groups from previous lessons and gets everyone laughing and enthusiastic.

  • Students sit in a circle with the teacher standing in the middle holding a roll of paper. Tell everyone to choose a word from a particular vocabulary group – for example, with fruits, one student picks apple, the next orange and so on. Make it clear that the fruit is now that person’s name and the aim of the game is to remember people’s new names. Go around the class so that each student says their fruit out loud two or three times while everyone (teacher included!) tries to memorize them.
  • The teacher asks a student at random to say the name of another fruit in the group. The teacher advances on the person with this fruit name with the roll of paper raised and explains quickly that the student has to say another fruit name in the group before they get tapped on the head. The student will either shout out another fruit just in time, in which case the teacher goes after the next nominated fruit, or they get tongue-tied and say nothing (it happens a lot more often than you’d think) – in which case the teacher taps the student on the head and this student then passes into the centre of the circle.
  • Having successfully tapped someone on the head, the person who was ‘it’ in the centre can then sit back down, taking the place in the circle which was previously occupied by the new ‘it’, and BEFORE they sit down they must call out the next fruit for the new ‘it’ to go after. (If they forget, the new ‘it’ can tap them on the head and it’s back to the centre they go…)
  • Allow the game to flow as long as it holds their attention – the teacher can step out of the game as soon as the role as demonstrator is done, and become the umpire. You may need to impose the rule ‘No rebounds’ in order to avoid deadlock between two students who only shout out each other’s names and do not vary. Make it clear that students cannot say the same fruit twice in a row, or else they will become ‘it’ and go into the centre.

Tips

  • If you are playing with children this is likely to get them all quite rowdy, so choose something soft to touch each other on the head – a rolled up newspaper can be vicious when wielded with enthusiasm.
  • I use this activity at the very beginning of a course just to learn people’s real names within the group – if they enjoy it I then repeat it in order to reinforce vocabulary groups such as fruits & veg, animals, furniture, clothes. Students soon learn to adopt the most original and unusual words within a category so that it is harder for people to nominate them.
  • Try it among a group of friends first to analyze how the game flows and to feel more prepared before the class – we tried it out in a teacher’s meeting and loved it.
  • You can make it easier for younger learners if you incorporate flash cards so that the ‘apple’ student is holding a picture of the same, and so forth.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I think I would find another way to time out the person, such as giving a set time limit (egg timer/timer app) instead of tapping people on the head as some students may feel uncomfortable with this either for personal or cultural reasons.

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