"Serious" Fun: Using Games, Jokes,
and Stories in the Language Classroom

Rodney E. Tyson

Daejin University, Summer Workshop for Elementary School Teachers, August 1998.

A successful language game should:

  • be fun.
  • involve "friendly" competition.
  • keep all of the students involved and interested.
  • require students to use language that is challenging, but not too difficult.
  • give students a chance to learn, practice, or review specific language material.
  • encourage students to focus on the use of language rather than the language itself.
  • A language game should not:
  • be used just to fill time. (Every activity should have a "learning" purpose.)
  • continue for too long. (End the game while it is still fun.)
  • be degrading or discouraging for the "losers."
  • be too easy or too difficult for the students' age and proficiency level.
  • allow only a few students to participate for a long time while the others just watch.
  • be "graded" in any way. (Language errors are usually not corrected, because the emphasis should be on language use.)

  • Blackboard Relay

    How to Prepare: Make a list of 10-20 "cues." Each cue should include a sentence subject and a verb phrase (e.g., "she/eat in the cafeteria" or "they/take the bus to school"). Students should only hear the cues, not see them. Also, prepare 2 or 3 "model sentences" that contain grammar points recently taught in class. For example, to practice/review irregular past tense verbs and past participles, you might use the following sentences as models: (1) She eats in the cafeteria every day. (2) She ate in the cafeteria yesterday. (3) She has eaten in the cafeteria before. Write the model sentences at the top of the blackboard before the game begins so that the students can imitate them.

    How to Play: Divide the class into 2 or more teams (depending on how much blackboard space you have). One member from each team, goes to the blackboard. When the teacher reads a cue, the students start writing three new sentences imitating the models and containing the correct grammatical forms of the words in the cue. Other students may give advice and suggest corrections to their teammates, but only the designated students may write on the board. The student that finishes writing three perfect sentences first gets one point for his or her team. Students take turns writing on the board.

    Pass It On

    How to Prepare: Choose or write 3 or more paragraphs of about 6-8 short sentences based on language your students have studied recently. Type each paragraph on two separate pieces of paper. On one paper, type the complete sentences, numbered in order. On the other paper, type the same sentences numbered in the same order, but with one or more blanks in each sentence. You will need one copy of each paper for each "team."

    How to Play: Divide the class into teams of about 5 or 6 students each. Have each team sit in straight rows, one student behind another. Give the paper with the complete sentences to the first student on each team. Give the paper with the sentences that contain blanks to the last student on each team. When the teacher says "Go," the first student on each team reads one sentence at a time to the second student, who remembers the sentence and tells it to the third student, who tells the fourth student, etc. The last student listens to the sentence and fills in the blanks with the correct words. The team that finishes first gets 3 points, the second team 2 points, the third team 1 point, and other teams 0 points.

    Note: There must be an equal number of students in each row. If the class does not divide evenly, have the last two students on the larger teams sit side by side at the end of the row and give each of them a paper so that both can listen and write. For example, if there are 26 students in the class, you might have four teams of 5 and one team of 6. Have the last two students on the team of 6 sit side by side and give each of them a paper that contains sentences with blanks.


    How to Prepare: Choose 5 or 6 appropriate categories (e.g., spelling, colors, opposites, locations, etc.). Prepare 5 questions for each category and write each question on the "back" of a small piece of paper. On the "front" of each paper in each category, write the numbers 100, 200, 300, 400, or 500. (100 "points" or "dollars" should be the easiest question in the category; 500 should be the most difficult question.). Tape the papers on the blackboard with each category in a separate column from 100 at the top to 500 at the bottom, and write the name of the categories above the columns.

    How to Play: Divide the class into 4-6 teams. One team chooses a card (e.g., "Spelling for 300 dollars"). The teacher reads the question. If a team answers correctly, they get the number of dollars on the card. If they answer incorrectly, they lose that many dollars. The team with the most money at the end of the game is the winner.

    Note: This game is based on a popular American TV quiz show that you can see on AFKN-TV (Channel 34) at 5:00 pm, Monday-Friday.

    English Jokes and Stories as Listening Practice

    Jokes, riddles, and interesting stories can be excellent listening practice. They are particulary useful as "warm-up" activities at the beginning of a class. They are also a great way to introduce or review new vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. Understanding an English joke or story, no matter how simple it is, can increase students' confidence in their listening ability. Your telling a joke or story completely in English also serves as a good example for your students to follow. Here are some suggestions for telling English jokes and stories to Korean students:

  • Choose jokes or stories that are appropriate for the age and level of your students. (There are many very simple jokes appropriate for children, and even some rather complicated ones can be simplified. Students are also always interested in real stories about their teacher.)
  • Try to use mostly vocabulary and sentence structures that your students know. Explain new vocabulary as you speak, writing on the board if necessary. (But don't write everything!)
  • Repeat important parts several times and check the students' comprehension often to be sure they understand. Don't say the "punchline" of a joke until you are sure they understand the rest.
  • Speak only in English. Remember, the point is to practice listening, not just to tell an interesting joke or story.

  • Here are two jokes that I've told to students of all levels:

            A woman went to a doctor and said, "Doctor, I'm very sick! Please help me! When I got up this morning, I touched my head with my finger and 'Ouch!' Then I touched my shoulder and 'Ouch!' Please help me!"
            The doctor examined the woman and left the room for a few minutes. When he returned, the woman said, "Doctor, please tell me what's wrong with me. Am I going to die?"
            The doctor said, "No, don't worry. It's nothing serious. You just have a broken finger."

            A company advertised for a new secretary. One of the applicants was a dog. Of course, the manager of the company was very surprised, but he decided to give the dog a chance anyway. He said, "If you want the job, you must be able to do three things. First, you have to be able to type." The dog walked to the typewriter and started typing in perfect English. The boss was surprised.
            He said, "Second, you have to be able to take dictation." The dog picked up a notebook and pencil and starting writing down all of the words the boss was saying with no problem. The boss was amazed.
            He said, "Finally, if you want to work here, you have to be able to do one more thing. You have to speak a foreign language. The dog smiled and said, "Meow."

    Here are some common riddles that American children enjoy:

    Q: What kind of dog has no tail?
    A: A hot dog.

    Q: What is black and white and red [read] all over.
    A: A newspaper.
    Q: What has four wheels and flies?
    A: A garbage truck.

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