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ELT Game Corner

Welcome to my Game Corner. Here I introduce a game for you to use in your classes to help make English come alive.

May 01, 2003

Guess Who?

guess_who.jpg The first time I saw American kids playing "Guess Who?" in New York many summers ago, I thought, "This is an ideal game for EFL students in Japan." Now that it is available to the English teaching community in Japan, I would like to recommend it as a strong teaching tool, which really makes English come alive through the active questioning of the players.

First of all, two players or teams are necessary to play the game. One team uses the red game board and the other uses the blue one. The 24 cards, consisting of fascinating male and female faces, are all flipped up on the game boards in view of its team members. The teacher gives each team a mystery face card, which the opposing team cannot see. That card is propped up in the last row of the game board in view of its team members. The object of the game is for one team to guess who the other team's mystery person is via a process of elimination by asking questions about the mystery person's appearance in English.

These are suggested questions that the teacher can practice with the students before playing.


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Each team can ask one question about the mystery person per team turn. The opposing team can only give YES or NO answers. When the team asking a question receives its YES or NO answer, then that team flips down the cards of the faces that are eliminated via the answer. For example, if the red teams asks, "Is she wearing a hat?" and the blue team says NO, then the red team flips down all the faces of women who are wearing hats. It's very suspenseful and the suspense builds via the gradual process of elimination.

Students are very keen to be the first to guess the mystery person, so they listen very carefully to what the opposing team asks them; they also speak very clearly when asking their own questions.

The first few times your students play this game, they will need to look at the blackboard or a print with the suggested questions. But after playing it several times, they will be able to ask the questions on their own. The game is both entertaining and educational.

Language points:
I always tell the students, we can use "wear" for hat, earrings, glasses, contact lenses, ring, shoes, socks, belt, dress, shirt, pants, etc. In Japanese there are various verbs for wearing things on each part of the body. So clearly, in this case, the English verb "wear" is more manipulative and easier to use than the Japanese counter-parts. This is always an interesting language point for the students to absorb. Some older students often equate "putting on" with "wearing" which can be addressed as a grammar point for teachers.

Hair color descriptions are also helpful for EFL students. Native speakers usually say, "She is a blonde, She is a brunette, She is a redhead, She has brown hair, white hair, gray hair," etc. Japanese usually make mistakes differentiating between brown hair and red hair. They refer to people with red hair as having brown hair. So this game is a good way to teach them how to refer to hair color. (This is really informative as many Japanese dye their hair these days.)

The same is true with the terminology for beard, moustache, goatee and bald. These are useful phrases for students to learn when describing people.

As I mentioned earlier, "Guess Who?" is an enjoyable, suspenseful game which empowers students to be able to ask questions of description in a natural way.

It's even fun for the teacher to play against all the students! Can you beat your students at "Guess Who?" ?

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