New semester has started at British School Wawer, the language school where I teach, and I met my new students. I teach teenagers and adults of all levels, including exam preparation groups.The first thing I want to do at the start of a new semester is to make sure all my students have been assigned to the groups that match their language levels. At the same time, it would be great to make students feel at ease and encourage integration. I decided to take ASK! DON’T STRAY! to my classes last week and am amazed at how helpful the game has proved with achieving all my objectives.
Detailed gameplay instructions can be found here [http://regipio.com/reg/?p=3076], but let me quickly go over the general rules of the game.
There are four types of cards: profession cards, which look a bit like restaurant menus, character cards, category cards and question cards. There are ten professions in the game, so if you have fewer students than that, you should put aside profession cards and corresponding character cards that you aren’t going to use. Each character available in the game belongs to one of the professions, and there are six characters per profession.
Each player draws one profession card, which tells him or her which character cards to collect in order to win. This card also contains information what abilities and activities to ask about.
Of course, nine times out of ten I drew teachers. I am now good friends with Caroline, Agis, Kristen, Anton, and Alisha who are the characters in this profession. In fact, I actually feel a bit incompetent compared to them: Anton can sing operas, Susan has already enjoyed activities such as riding a camel and sleeping under the stars, Kristen can climb rocks and is going to take part in a marathon at some point in her life. I feel that I would quickly become friends with Agis from Cuba. He has weird sense of humor, enjoys fooling around, spent last weekend at a beauty saloon and has worked as a clown at some point in his life. Caroline from Ukraine has inspired me to try to be more organised and maybe start a new hobby.
There are two other types of cards: category cards and question cards. Category cards inform everybody which (grammar) category to focus on during the particular round. The minute I saw them, I knew I would use them to control the game. Teaching lower level group? Just put aside the category cards with tenses students don’t know. Want your B2 students to feel challenged? Remove appearance, abilities, nationalities and everyday activities from the deck. Want to follow from easier to more advanced structures? Pretend to shuffle the cards while sneakily arranging them the way you want it.
When it is someone’s turn, that player has to first ask another player a yes/no question about an activity chosen from those listed on his or her profession card. If the player who has been asked the first question has in his hand a character for whom they can say yes, they confirm, and the active player follows with a “wh-” question to win the desired card. This follows until someone, or everyone, collects full set of character cards.
Since my aim wasn’t to introduce new structures, but to check how much my students already know or remember from their last course, I did not give them any examples and allowed them to play the game without my guidelines or corrections. I was able to diagnose students with weaker grasp of grammar immediately, I also gained precious insight into what structures my students were struggling with the most.
I loved the fact that very quickly my students began to help each other modelling structures and whispering helpful corrections – a bit of unexpected, but most welcome, peer teaching. There is more…
One of the groups I played the game with was my B1+ adult group. They are all returning students and we know each other quite well. They haven’t had an English lesson since the end of the last semester, and I was impatient to find out how much they still remember. When we played ASK! DON’T STRAY! they quickly noticed which structures they needed to revise and without any effort on my side started creating a revision plan. Turns out playing this game is good for developing language awareness and learner autonomy too.
Summing up, I tested the game as as my secret diagnostic tool with groups ranging from A2 to B2. The game has become popular with all my students: older kids, teenagers and adults. In the course of my little experiment my students offered some creative ideas that I would love to share with you as well in my next article.
Łukasz is a teacher, teacher trainer and Regipio’s very own game tester. He teaches at British School Wawer and Youth Sociotherapy Centre No. 1 SOS High School. He trains teachers in the effective use of educational technology. His other passions are mobile photography and blackout poetry.