If you’ve taught English to a few hundred people already, you’ve probably had this conversation a few hundred times.
“Hello, <student>! I’m <teacher>. Nice to meet you!”
“Nice to meet you too.”
“What do you do, <student>?”
“What is your job?”
“Oh, I am office worker.”
“You work in an office! I see. Where do you work? What company?”
And so on. While the student is nervously running through all of the set phrases they’ve learned, you as the teacher are going through a process you’ve done countless times, so it’s not all that enjoyable for either of you. Even worse, the kind of support you can offer is limited, since you don’t know anything about the student, and you’ll just be feeding them sentences and running a kind of one-sided conversation.
For just such an emergency, I’ve got a little game. It’s called Guess My Secret, and it’s an idea I stole from Game of Thrones. You and your student get to learn about each other, you can offer more support, and you can talk about a greater variety of topics–even with complete beginners. It’s particularly good for the first session in a one-on-one lesson.
First, you’ll need a way to keep score. You can write marks on a piece of paper, use little tokens, or just count with your fingers. If it’s a classroom, I don’t really like to use the whiteboard with one-on-one students much, since it shifts things to more of a “sage on the stage” , top-down style of teaching, so I wouldn’t want to use it to keep score. I always have a little pouch of Japanese marbles for these kinds of things, because I play a lot of games in my classes anyway.
You and the student will make statements, not questions, to try to guess things about the other person. Questions are harder than statements in English, so that takes some of the pressure off of the student. When you guess correctly, you get a point. Set some arbitrary limit (3 is about good) and stop when one person hits the number.
You’re talking with the student in a pretty natural way, but it’s novel and interesting. You’re talking about real things, being creative, and challenging the student to think in a way they probably haven’t before. Also, nearly everyone likes to have people try to “profile” them–just look at how many people in your Facebook feed are taking quizzes to tell them which member of the Breakfast Club they are.
My favorite thing about it, though, is that it’s really easy to give support. When a student gets stuck, you can just suggest something. “How old am I?” “Where am I from?” Try to avoid using “do you think” questions, though, because the center embed makes it really hard for lower-level students. “How old <do you think> I am?” requires them to hold one phrase on the backburner, listen to a new phrase, and finish the first phrase before they start to process the whole sentence, and that’s really crazy stuff if your first language is Japanese.
I hope you guys find this game useful in your classrooms. My students all tell me they enjoy it, and it’s certainly a lot more fun for me.