Game shows and TV quizzes are a great source of inspiration for classroom activities. Believe it or not, I keep a notepad on the coffee table so I can jot down any teaching ideas I get from watching TV!
It’s always good to have a range of different games up your sleeve to mix things up a bit. Here are some activities that appear in shows on the telly. I bet you already use a fair few of them, but you might find something new!
Mini-whiteboards might be handy for a lot of these activities, particularly ones involving guessing.
Consider the process language needed for any of these games.
- How much…? (Show: Supermarket Sweep)
Supermarket Sweep is ELT game heaven. My favourite is the pricing game. Display supermarket goods on the board, and give students a list of prices. They have to match the correct retail price with the item. So simple!
Good for… revising foods/household items, revising numbers/prices.
- Rhyming blanks (Show: Supermarket Sweep)
Good for… sounds and rhymes, listening
- This is the answer, what’s the question? (Show: Mock the Week)
I’ve been using this for years in my introduction lessons. Just board a range of answers to questions about yourself.
31 1984 3 Vietnam Tuna
Students guess the questions.
How old are you? What’s your favourite food? Etc.
Good for… revising question forms
- Conveyor belt (show: the Generation Game)
This is basically Kim’s game. The final challenge on the Generation Game was where contestants saw loads of objects pass by on a conveyor belt. They then had a set time to recall the objects, winning each one they could remember. You can do the same game to suit your topic, awarding points for each item/word recalled.
The best thing about the actual show was that one prize was always a cuddly toy. You can add your own humour by including silly, irrelevant objects like ‘a rubber chicken’.
Good for… improving memory, revising vocabulary items
- The Chase
In the TV programme there is a part of the game whether contestants answer questions against ‘the Chaser’, who is a quiz expert. If they get a question right, they move a space closer to safety. If the Chaser gets the question right, they move closer to the contestant, in the hope that they catch them. This is easily adaptable to the classroom for review games. You can make a small group of students the Chasers, and the rest of the class the contestants.
The ‘final chase’ is also quite fun. In this game the Chaser has to answer a certain amount of questions in two minutes. If they answer wrong, the contestant has a chance to answer. If the contestants are right, they peg the Chaser back one space. This activity can be fun, frantic, and importantly EVERYBODY LISTENS TO THE QUESTIONS!
Good for… active listening
- You Bet
This was a brilliant show in the 1990s. Members of the public would take on difficult challenges, and a celebrity panel would decide if they would complete them or not. If you are working at a summer school or activity centre then this is a really fun games night to organise. You can film you and your colleagues completing various challenges, and have some live challenges on the night too. Here is a 3 minute video of our ‘Crossbar Challenge’ from last year.
Good for… language for prediction/probability
This one isn’t too complicated. The game show Crosswits basically involved contestants answering crossword clues, with the puzzle displayed on a screen. If you’re doing a crossword with target language to wrap up the lesson, why not make it competitive. Split the class into two teams, have them choose a clue which you read. If they get it right then they keep control of the board, if not control passes to the other team.
Good for… reviewing vocabulary
- Add a letter (Show: Chain Letters)
This show was great lunchtime viewing. The ‘add a letter’ round was simple but fun. Contestant 1 started with 3 letters, e.g. T, A, E. They had to arrange the letters in to a word – EAT. Contestant two had to add on more letter and make a new word, e.g. MEAT. The can mix the existing letters up if they wish (e.g. TEAM). This continues (TEAMS, MASTER, MASTERS) until one player can’t continue.
Good for… spelling
- Booby Trap (Show: Chain Letters)
This was another good one from the show. Give one team a 4 or 5 letter word, e.g. MATE. The team have to change one letter to make a new word – MADE. However, an opposing team can try to guess what word will be created. They write down their guess in secret. Both teams then reveal their words. If the opposing team guess correctly, they win the points. If the other team avoid the ‘booby trap’, they get the points!
Good for… minimal pairs
- Call my Bluff
In this show, the presenter revealed an unknown word. Each team had three members – each member would read a definition for the unknown word. Two definitions were false, one was true. The opposing team had to guess who was telling the truth. I use this ‘game’ more as a gist task, for texts about things students won’t have any prior knowledge about. Here’s an online example of the game
Good for… predictions, probability, gist tasks
- How well do you know your friend? (Show: Mr and Mrs)
In this show a partner had to answer questions about their spouse. The husband/wife couldn’t hear the answers. The host then asked the spouse each question – every time the answers matched, they got a point.
This concept is easily adaptable to the classroom. It’s just a prediction task really – I’ve seen teachers use it in many ways. Once, I saw a lesson when the theme was giving presents. Students were paired with someone across the classroom. One side of the room thought of presents to give to their partner, the other side wrote down the present they wanted. The pairs then greeted each other, did a little roleplay (‘I saw this and thought of you…’), and compared answers. It proved to be a really good way to highlight attitudinal function, for phrases like ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have!’
Good for… asking and answering information about yourself…
- What’s the next line? (Show: Never Mind the Buzzcocks)
This show had a round where teams had to guess the next line of a song. The presenter would read the lyrics in a really mundane way, to make the challenge harder. Students who love pop songs also love this game!
Listening for detail for specific song lyrics is a popular task, and was also a fun round on this game show. I introduced a class last month using a gap fill snippet from Sinatra’s My Way, because the lesson was about regrets:
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
Good for… listening for detail
- Bidding war (Show: National Lottery Who Dares Wins)
I think it was this programme I was watching… Anyway, contestants are given a topic, for example ‘Premier League football teams’. They have to decide how many they can name. The opposing team decide if they can answer more or less than the initial bid. The bidding continues until one team opts out. To win the points, a team must then name the amount of items from the topic that they bid.
I think I just made that sound far more confusing than it is!
Good for… vocabulary review, topic introduction (activating schemata), assessing learner confidence
- Observation rounds (Shows: A Question of Sport, The Krypton Factor)
The Krypton Factor was one of the best shows on telly when I was a kid. My favourite feature was the observation round. They would show a video clip, and contestants had to watch and answer questions on it. Simple. I have made plenty of ‘observation challenges’ in class, using movie scenes, sporting moments, introductory videos, anything really. Here’s one I made a while ago on Windsor Castle, just as an example.
If you find the right video you can relate observation challenges to any grammar point.
- Quick fire guessing games (Shows: numerous)
Rounds that replicate games like Taboo or Back to the Board are plentiful in quiz shows. I recommend storing taught vocabulary by theme and using this for quick fire quiz rounds. You can also get lists relating to pop culture, geography, history, anything you want really.
Good for… activating/reviewing, developing socio-cultural knowledge, defining and explaining
- Pictionary (Show: Win, Lose or Draw)
As I said, you probably use some of these already! Also, I didn’t say that these games originated from the game shows, just that they are a good source of inspiration. I don’t play Pictionary much at all in class actually, I probably have about 3 times in my life.
Good for… making students laugh
- Find… (Show: Wipeout)
The game Shout It Out is similar to this, but that just gives you a category without actual answers. Wipeout was presented by Bob Monkhouse. It showed a load of answers on a screen. Like this:
Then the presenter asks something like ‘Find 10 teams that have played in the English Premier League’. You can adapt this to pretty much any question or context.
Good for… introducing topic (activating schemata), reviewing vocabulary
- Lose two lives and you’re out (Show: 15-1)
Fifteen to one, with William G. Stewart. What a show, and so difficult! Basically, every contestant had two lives. They got asked questions, once they lose two lives they are out. In the second round, once a contestant answers correctly they can nominate someone to answer the next question. Students love this! I play the game in 4 teams, and make it super quick and high-pressured!
Good for… giving differentiated questions to stronger groups but keeping element of competition
- The YES/NO game (Show: Take Your Pick)
‘Open the box, take the money!’ That’s pretty much all I can remember from this show. Apart from the awesome YES/NO game at the start. The contestant has to answer the presenter’s questions for one minute, but they can’t say YES or NO! If they do, they’re out. If they hesitate too long, they are out too.
Good for… developing answers, thinking on your feet, developing confidence
There is a great review game of Blockbusters knocking about. I was passed a copy over the summer whilst at British Council Vietnam. You can download it here. Unfortunately, I don’t know who created it, so I can’t reference the source. However, I can tell you what an amazing job you did, thanks for the brilliant resource.
Good for… reviews
You can find some nice templates for Jeopardy here. I’ve included it, but I’ve only ever seen clips of this show. I don’t think we ever had it in the UK, I could be wrong though.
Good for… reviews
- Remove a square (Show: Catchphrase)
When contestants answer a Catchphrase correctly, they then have a chance to remove a square from the prize board. Behind all the squares is another phrase for them to guess – the more squares that get removed, the easier it is to guess.
Just display an image on the board covered with removable squares. Then think of your review questions. It takes 2 minutes preparation. I find that students respond better when the image is not digital. Print something off or draw something on the board (before class), and cover it up with A4 or A3 sheets of paper. Students like to remove them.
Good for… topic introductions and reviews.
- The Price is Right
Similar to the pricing game above. Guess the price of the item – closest team wins. You can be under, but not a penny over.
- Million Pound Drop
This is quite straight forward. Each team has £1m. They get asked a multiple choice question. They can choose to put the whole £1m on one answer, or spread it across different answers. Any money they put on a wrong answer will be lost (in the show it’s dropped into oblivion).
I do this in a different way. During my classes, teams accumulate points. I give each team one question each at the end of class. They must put all their points down, however they want. Obviously I give the winning teams harder questions. It just makes everything a bit more even.
Good for… making sure students are challenged right until the end of class
- Matching answers (Show: Strike It Lucky)
Ok, so we all give matching tasks, word and definition. So did Michael Barrymore in Strike It Lucky. Maybe he started out in ELT…
- Buzzers (Shows: Numerous)
I love a good buzzer noise. So do students. Get them to choose their buzzer sound as a group. They can’t answer a question if they don’t buzz in with their unique sound, AND if they don’t gesture that they’ve ‘pressed their buzzer’. Why not, just for fun!
- Elephant in the room (Show: QI)
I use a similar game to this in class to keep students thinking. I just call it Bonus Word. I write a bonus word on the board at the start of class. Students can shout ‘bonus word!’ at any time during the lesson, when they think something we are currently doing relates to that word.
For example, the other day I wrote the word ‘SIGN’ on the board. During language input, I introduced the word PETITION. A student buzzed in to say ‘Bonus word! You sign a petition’. They got a point for their team. The word could appear at any time, and can be as obscure as you want.
Good for… getting students to stay alert
- Headlines game (Have I Got News For You)
In this show the host chooses a random publication, takes the headlines from various articles and blanks out certain words. Teams guess what the missing word might be, thinking carefully about the context and topic of the publication.
I used this for a recent lesson on natural disasters. We’d covered quite a lot of vocabulary on the topic, but they didn’t get this one… it was a bit hard!
Good for… recognising the word form needed, reviewing vocabulary in context
- Split or Steal? (Show: Golden balls)
Although Golden Balls was a fairly forgettable game show, it did have one great feature – Split or Steal? After the final two contestants had accumulated as much money as they could, they each had a decision to make. They could either split the money with the other contestant, or choose to steal it. If both contestant A and B choose to split, they get the money. If A chooses split and B chooses steal (vice-versa) then the thief nabs the cash. If they both choose to steal, they both leave with nothing! Here’s a clip, which you’ll need to contextualise for the students:
There are plenty of ways to use this in the classroom. It is a good introduction to complex topics for higher levels, such as Game Theory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma. It can be used for conditionals (‘what would you do?’ or ‘If I’d known she’d steal…’ etc). You could even make some detailed listening activities for this video alone, or explore some vocabulary that might arise from it (two-faced, integrity, manipulative, etc).
- Connections (Show: Only Connect)
Participants have to guess what the connection is between seemingly unrelated items.
I mentioned something similar before in a previous post on introducing your lesson topic. I looked back at that post and found that these ideas were also game show related
Arranging letters to make words (Show: Countdown)
Top 5 Answers (Show: Family Fortunes)
Dingbats (Show: Catchphrase)
Odd One Out (Show: Have I Got News For You)
I hope you’ve got one new idea from the above list. It just goes to show sometimes – watching TV might not be a waste of time!
Please feel free to share any other game show inspired ideas!