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Before the Bell

This article appeared in similar form in The Language Teacher, volume 17, number 8, August 1993, published by the Japan Association for Language Teaching. Copyright @ Randall S. Davis.

Having been a student myself, I know there is always a feeling of anticipation to leave the class during the waning minutes. Students can be seen shuffling their books, putting on their coats, and chatting with fellow students about the day's lunch menu. Yet, these last few moments during the class period can be the most productive to tie the whole lesson together. Here are a few quick and easy five-minute games that I have found effective to wrap up my lessons.

Odd Man Out

Purpose: Help students aurally recognize and group words according to theme.

Preparation: Before class, the teacher should make several lists composed of three words from a related subject area (clothing, hobbies, food, etc.) with one word that serves as a distracter. These lists can made up from the words students are currently studying.

How to play: Divide the students up into small groups. Tell the students that you will read a list of four words. The should find the word that does not belong. One example would be a list of words composed of the following: doctor, architect, office<, and lawyer. The word office is not an occupation, so students should choose this word. Other examples include:

  • kitchen, bathroom, television, bedroom (television is not a room in a house)
  • plate, spoon, knife, fork (plate is not a utensil used for eating food)
  • creative, intelligent, sociable, laugh (laugh is not an adjective)
  • box, table, bag, backpack (table is not used for holding or carrying things)

    The first team to identify the "odd" word wins a point.

    Up to Bat

    Purpose: To review any material including vocabulary words, cultural questions, or grammar.

    Preparation: The teacher should come up with a list of thirty questions or so that the students already know. Such questions could include vocabulary (for instance, the teacher would say the word in Japanese, and the students would give the appropriate response in English) or cultural questions (What is the biggest state in the United States?). Other possible questions include:

  • What is the opposite of boring? (vocabulary)
  • What is the past tense of ride? (grammar)
  • How do you spell library? (spelling)
  • When is Remembrance Day in Canada? (culture)
  • What another way to say good-bye? (conversational discourse)

    Draw a picture of a baseball field on the board and prepare markers (pieces of paper with tape on them) to mark the bases.

    How to Play: Divide the class into two groups. Each team then chooses the lineup. Flip a coin to see which team is "up to bat" first. The teacher is the pitcher for both teams. The teacher then "pitches" a question to a student. If the student answers the question correctly, the student moves to first base, and the teacher marks this move on the board. If the student can not answer the question, it is counted as a strike out. After three outs, the other team comes up to bat. The number of innings played is decided beforehand.

    Options : The teacher can assign each question of "hit" value by categorizing questions by level of difficulty and then deciding which questions count as singles, doubles, triples, and homers.

    Categories (Adaptation of a traditional spelling game)

    Purpose: To review general categories of words.

    Preparation: Make a similar grid on a piece of paper. Select word categories that student are most familiar with (jobs, sports, articles of clothing, places, etc.). The number of categories depends upon student needs, time, and the teacher. Write the names of the categories at the top of the paper, but leave the letter and item columns empty (the blanks have been filled in as an example below. Make copies for each group of five students. (The letters down the left of the table indicate the initial letters to be used and are provided as examples here.)

    clothing job sport name food
    T tie truck driver tennis Tim tomato
    D dress doctor diving Doug donut
    P pants painter ping-pong Peter pizza
    B bathrobe banker bowling Betty banana
    S shirt salesperson skiing Susan salad

    Other categories include: verbs, countries, cities, animals, modes of transportation, and places (bookstore, restaurant, hotel). Each team should sit in a row from the front of the class to the back. The teacher gives the first person in the row a copy of the grid. To start the game, the teacher writes a letter on the board, and the first student copies the letter in the first vertical column. The student can fill in any word starting with same letter under any one of the column headings. Once the student writes in a word, the paper is passed back to the next student in the row. If a student is unable to come up with an appropriate word, he or she should put an "X" through one of the boxes. The first group to fill in the grid wins the game. Teams receive one point for each word correctly spelled. No points are given for an "X". A bonus of three points is given for the team that finishes first.

    Name That Word!

    Purpose: To help students figure out meaning from the context of a conversation.

    Preparation: Select vocabulary words that students have already studied.

    How to Play: Divide the class into groups of five students. Have one student from each group comes to the front of the room and show them a word. Then these students return to the group and use a nonsense word (beep) in place of the chosen one in a short dialogue. For example, if the word is book, the person might say, I bring my "beep" to school every day. I like to read mystery "beep" at home. I go to the library to find "beep." The first team to guess the meaning of "beep" wins the point.

    These are only a few of such five-minute activities that can keep students on task until the closing moments of class. Try them. They will make your classes more fulfilling for you and your students.


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