I’ve played this game with classes 5 and 6 and with one or two younger classes too. It could be played at any level at all, using abstract words, or words connected with a particular topic/theme/subject. We played it a few times for about 10 minutes at the end of a lesson, but then we stopped to think how we could play it better. I realised that some words are too easy as ’passwords’ to make the game fun, useful or have scope for thinking (eg ’apple’ was too easy to describe). ’Suitcase’ was a word that worked well and I’m describing it below.

The basic game:-

  • One pupil comes to the front of the room and faces the class.
  • The teacher writes a word on the board.
  • The rest of the class have to say a sentence each describing the word, but they’re not allowed to use the word itself.  
  • The pupil at the front guesses the word.

Content aim: I wanted to use this game to help pupils to learn to describe things better in English. We had played ’Alias’ ( a game with words or cards with pictures of objects, where players have to describe the word/object to each other as quickly as possible, so that their partner can guess it easily) in English before, but they had a lot of trouble thinking of things to say; their problems were to do both with the language (especially vocabulary) and with working out exactly how to go about describing something well, clearly and quickly. This is an importat skill when using a foreign language (and the native language ) in real life.

Thinking aim: I wanted them to start thinking in parameters and wanted to help them to see how much it would help them to play this game better and think things up better. This was to give practice in making and using ENV, first in playing the password game, and later in playing games like Alias. It would also help with the yes/no game, so that they could think of strong questions better.

 We started by playing password, so that we could gradually build up vocabulary and a system for describing things.

STEP 1: The Challenge / Game - One pupil came to the front, facing the class. I put the word ’SUITCASE’ on the blackboard and the pupils came up with many suggestions for describing it. If they aksed for new words I gave them. I wrote down all the sentences they came up with. - When the pupil at the front had guessed the word, I asked which clues were the most important in helping him to guess? He said, ’ You can carry things in it’ and ’ It’s rectangular.’

STEP 2: Building the stairs: to think about how they were able to find the answer and to make a tool so that they could play better the next time. I then asked the class what these sentences tell us about the suitcase. It took a while for them to understand this, but finally someone came up with ’shape’ and ’use’. For the next lesson I had written out all their sentences on a handout (Password game worksheet (towards ENV)) and in pairs they had to divide the sentences into groups and find names for the groups (about 20 minutes). They asked me for words along the way and I wrote up anything they needed. At first they found this very difficult and complained a lot, but then they did gradually start to get ideas. We looked at their suggestions and in the end most were similar – anything they could justify was acceptable. We decided together which groups names (paramaters) would be most useful for describing this object and in fact any object. Finally they reorganised the information into three columns, 1. the suitcase 2. the parameters (size, weight etc) 3. their sentences next to the correct parameter. They now had an ENV model which helped with this particular word.

STEP 3: Reflecting on the tool and testing it in a different situation.  Next lesson I gave each pair an object from the book they were using (camera,  binoculars, a toothbrush etc) and they had to write sentences about it for the others to guess. The sentences had to be true, but they wanted to make it difficult for the other groups to guess (in fact, the opposite of Alias). I thought this would mean they had look carefully at many parameters, the important and the less important. They could refer to the ENV model of the suitcase.   They all enjoyed doing this task, also the weaker ones, and thought of a lot to say. When they asked me for words, I gave them and wrote them on the board to come back to later.                                                       

They then had turns of reading out their descriptions and the rest of the class guessed the word.(I didn’t actually make it a competition, but that would have been better and even more motivating.) After each description we thought about which sentence helped most and which least and what these sentences described according to the ENV model they’d made. (For example, one boy had the word ’camera’ and his first clue was ’You never have this when you need it.’ It was a difficult clue and a difficult one to classify, but we finally agreed it was ’Use’.)  We put the parameters (size, weight, colour, appearance, shape, use, material, location) on the wall and possible beginnings of sentences ( It is.., It weighs.../ It is..., It looks..., It can be..., It’s made of..., You can find it..... etc) so that we can easily refer to it when we play again.

My reflections on these lessons. I think this game and these lessons were fun and useful and the pupils are beginning to get the idea of parameters and to use them in playing the game. I would love to feel I had the time to spend whole lessons on this, but I’ve just been doing it a bit at a time – I think another time I would actually devote two or three lessons to this only and then we could play it now and then after that. I put in their last test that they should describe an object, and said I would guess the object when marking their tests. This went well and many of them wrote very good descriptions. They had remembered more new vocabulary than they usually do, which was encouraging.

My next step will be to play Alias with them, which will increase the challenge as they’ll have to look carefully at the ENV and think which are the most important parameters which would help someone to guess a particular word as quickly as possible. I thought we could first play without the time limit, but we would evaluate more carefully what a good decsription is and how to change the ENV for different situations and then they could practise getting faster. We can then later move on to using the same skills to help think up strong questions in the yes/no game. This is what I plan to do, but I know it’ll take time and I somehow have to get the game to fit in with what we’re doing otherwise in class.



# Alexander Sokol 2011-12-16 22:23
Susan, thanks a lot - I think it's a very good description to help colleagues use the Password game for introducing some of the ideas on bringing thinking in the classroom.
Joomla SEF URLs by Artio