Twist on a classic: Harry the Hippo

A nod to TESOLTOOLBOX here…

Harry the Hippo is a fun guessing game to use in the class. It can be adapted for practicing various grammar structures. I can’t remember where I first played the game or who taught it to me, but I’m sure it’s well-known by many TEFLers!

In its simplest form…

Practice language: love/like/dislike/hate

Find a good pic of a hippo. I used this one from a Google Image search. Explain to the learners:

Harry the Hippo likes a lot of things. Can you guess what they are? Ask me the question:

Does Harry like…?

Listen to the answers carefully. Make a note of anything Harry likes/dislikes. Do you notice any patterns?

(Answer: the clue is in the name ‘Harry the Hippo’. Harry likes any word that includes the same letter twice in a row, e.g. battery, butter, sheep, screen, apple, etc. Students guess items…)

Student: Does Harry like dogs?

Teacher: Not really

Student: Does Harry like fruit?

Teacher: (gives a sneaky clue) Well, he doesn’t like fruit, but he DOES like pineapples

Student: Huh?

Teacher: I know. Strange isn’t it?

Student: So, he doesn’t like bananas?

Teacher: No

Student: but he likes pineapples?

Teacher: Yes… and strawberries

Student: Huh? Does he like oranges?

Teacher: No

Students: Cherries?

Teacher: Yes, he likes cherries…



Note: If students seem to work out the answer, make sure they don’t tell anyone! Elicit some examples from the student to double check that they do know the rule

Teacher: So, does Harry like books..?

Student: Yes

Teacher: How about reading?

Student: No

Teacher: Magazines?

Student: No, he doesn’t like them

Teacher: not even football magazines?!

Student: Oh, yes he likes them… He LOVES football

(Harry loves words with two double letters, like football and coffee!)

The student then takes your role as the person answering the questions.


Twist on a classic…

In TESOLTOOLBOX style, here’s a twist on classic ‘Harry the Hippo’ that I used the other day.


We had just revised some modal verbs so I got a bit of listening practice in for them…

Harry likes…  (can)

Harry doesn’t like (shouldn’t)

Harry is allergic to… (mustn’t)


Students had to ask me the question:

Can I give Harry (something)…?


My answers were code…

‘you can!’ = he likes it

‘you shouldn’t’ = he doesn’t like it

‘you mustn’t’ = he’s allergic to it!

‘up to you’ = the item isn’t relevant to the game…


They had to guess what the pattern was for each item. This was a good variation as it was slightly more complicated. As the teacher you really have to think about the answers that people give. My rules for each topic were…

Harry like double letters

Harry hates words beginning with P

Harry is allergic to milk


This led to some funny responses and kept interest in the game for a long time!

Student: Can I give Harry some pepper

Teacher: Well, I mean technically you can, but really, you shouldn’t

Student: Huh?

Teacher: I know, that one is a bit strange. He kinda likes it and doesn’t like it…

Student: OK… Can I give him coffee?

Teacher: What type of coffee?

Student: cappuccino?

Teacher: NO! You mustn’t do that!

Student: Oh. Just white coffee?

Teacher: NO!

Student: black coffee

Teacher: Yes, you can…


I liked one student’s response at the end of this game:

Teacher, I think you should change Harry’s name to ‘Harry the really annoying Hippo’.

Smart kid!

Categories: grammar, Lesson Ideas, vocabulary

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Thanks for the nod! I’ve never come across this activity before, but will definitely give it a go 🙂


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