Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

October 9, 2019
by leesensei

JuMpInG into JeNgA..!

We know that the teachers of #langchat always provide new ideas to try in the classroom. So when Jenga started popping up – okay Meredith White was tweeting all about it – I thought ‘hmmm’. Then more tweets followed and I thought..”I’m in”. More required Twitter reading and I had my plan…today was my first day using it in class and here’s what I learned.

Getting ready..

  • Order a coloured blocks version – you’re going to want to use this several ways and colours allows you to assign tasks by group. I ordered a 48 piece ‘knock off’ of the classic game and 7 sets (enough for teams of 4 or 5 – my max. class size is 30)
  • Take them out of the boxes and put them in labelled ziplocks – they are easier to hand out and collect that way.
  • Label the blocks in the middle of the block with a handy sharpie (“A1”, “A2″…) – this serves two purposes. One is to keep the set together. When you find a block under a chair after a session and it’s labelled “A24” you know it belongs in bag “A”. Also if you label it in the middle kids can’t ‘see’ the number until they remove the block…
  • Prepare some general instructions – believe it or not some kids have never played this – so I found a simple explanation online at ‘wikihow’ and prepped a one-page sheet (here’s mine: jenga rules student)

Decide ‘how’ you want to play – there’s a couple of options.

  • If you are using colours you can have students respond to a prompt based on colour. Over time I plan to also develop games with a ‘question’ per block – okay that’s 48 but if you teach a language that ‘conjugates’ imagine how easy that would be. Here are today’s prompts:

Prepare The Instructions:

  • Put the instructions for the activity and the game in a plastic report cover sheet to hand out – on one side the basic ‘how to play’ and on the other the instructions for the game that day. And I never have to make up that instruction package again!
  • Consider if you want them to ‘record’ their answers. I decided that kids should write down the ‘structure’ part of each answer they gave today (you can use it also for more feedback). Their sheet recorded their name and then the key part of the response…

Hand out the games/instructions to the teams (my kids played in 4’s)

  • Go over the basic way to play the game and how they will be playing this time (their task as it were)
  • And then tell them the “what to do on your turn rules”  – which for my class today were:
    • take out a block
    • say the answer to the question prompt (based on colour) and no repeats!!
    • put the block on top
    • write out the required part of what you said as another group member takes their turn
    • If your groups’ Jenga falls…start again!!!

Stand back and let them at it! Some kids asked if they could pull 2 blocks at a time and give 2 answers and I left the ‘yes or no’ up to the group. They played for about 40 minutes and had a ball. I plan to use it once a unit (at least!). If you are looking for information try searching “jenga #langchat” on Twitter and you’ll get lots of ideas. Oh I will use this again!


PS : I’ve spent a lot of time in the past year on improving my practice – amazing professional development but not conducive to blogging. This year I’ve vowed to return to the blog and hope that sharing what I am doing perhaps resonates with others…



January 11, 2015
by leesensei

Class Activity Fun: Pictionary! Phrase-onary and even Sentence-onary!

MP900341508Take 30 Yr1’s and 25 minutes to go in the period and a game is needed!  We’ve done the bingo and jeopardy to death and I am without a Kahoot ready for this. So I go back to an old favourite – Pictionary – but “whole class” Pictionary. And not just pictures…eventually phrases and sentences. It’s structured to be a review time if needed and fun/competitive enough to involve them in the spirit of the game. And best of all it draws upon teamwork to succeed.

The Game Rules:

Team Set-Up: I like to play in teams of 5-6 students. They will all be taking a turn drawing – and answering and it gives enough ‘mass’ to work well. I allow one set of notes – upside down in the centre of their table (answers there if they are needed….). They are required to think of a team name in the target language (with 14-year olds this can take 10 minutes!)

Everyone Answers – We’ve all had that one Hermione Granger (Harry Potter reference) – the kid who knows it all (I loved her by the way!). But in my pictionary world it is the team that is key. As soon as you answer for your team you are ‘out’ until everyone else on the team has answered. Of course a student can give an answer to someone on their team – that’s fine. But no putting up your hand until all are called (I often note names for teams to avoid the “But Sensei I haven’t answered yet – really” claim).

The Drawing: No pressure to be a Picasso! Drawing takes place on my whiteboard at the front of the room. All ‘drawers’ are doing so in front of all the teams. Who cares if you can’t draw well – everyone can see all of the pictures – and someone else’s may provide the clue for your team! You don’t need a lot of room – I had 6 teams working on a double board…If you don’t have a lot of board space then large sheets of paper would work I think. “Send up your drawers” – and the students come forward. I give them the word – in English – so the pressure is on the team, not them, to know the word. They aren’t allowed to write words but I do allow ‘am’ ‘pm’ and characters for ‘month’ and ‘day’. Students get the word – get into position and I call ‘start’ and watch for hands going up.

The Progression:

This is the key part for me. We start with individual words – usually a quick few rounds to get them used to the game – and have everyone give an answer. Typically I give 1 point for each but the points don’t matter. Then I start to progress. From a basic word “TV” to “watching TV yesterday” to “I watched TV yesterday with my friends at my house.”  As we move up I will give clues like “This is a phrase” or “its a sentence”. It’s a great review time as, in Japanese, it hits some technical grammar points (particle use) particularly well. As kids guess I will encourage with “close” or “think about…” and other clues. Often the need to have a new ‘answerer’ each time means that they are working together to solve the picture puzzle. We keep going team to team until the correct answer comes out. Of course I add outrageous point values to try to keep it fun!

Pictionary/Phrase-onary/Sentence-onary is a fun alternative for part of a review class, or any other time when you just feel that you ‘need’ a game…





December 1, 2014
by leesensei

Targeted Practice – “The Picture Activity” Game

dicePracticing a new concept or new vocabulary always presents a challenge for me. I know that language is communicative – and that it is best learned/used in a communicative and purposeful setting. But sometimes I want a 15-minute focus on a particular point or a group of vocabulary terms. For that I often use a game that came from a textbook series  (Obento) that I used to use. Essentially it is fun line drawings of everyday activities. (This generic picture game board is part of their blackline masters – and I am not posting it to be copied but to give you an idea of what it looks like.). A colleague asked me how I used this game and I thought I’d share. The more you use it, the more you see a place for it – for those times when you want a short focus on a specific element. The game is most heavily used in my Yr1&2 classes with some use (but more limited) in my Yr 3/4 ones.

I use the game many ways and in two forms:

Form 1 – as a board game (with dice). Start at the bottom left and follow the dark arrows to the top left (finish)
Form 2 – I cut out the individual squares of the game (I have 15 sets) so that we can use it in a ‘draw a card’ format

There are two basic ways – either to practice a construction/conjugation or as a practice/conversation starter (supported by their follow-up questions sheet).

Conjugations (I know!) – If I taught a European language (which I don’t) – use the roll of the dice to determine what conjugation to give

–        Land on square and the dice roll determines what you do
–        Dice roll 1 – “I” , roll 2 “you – informal”, roll 3 “he/she – singular” etcgeneric picture game board
–        Partner call – instead of using the roll of the dice – partner decides
–        Option – pull a card and then roll dice or partner call

Verb tenses – – use the roll of the dice to determine what form to give

–        Land on square and the dice roll determines what you do
–        Dice roll 1 – “did yesterday” , roll 2 “will do”, roll 3 “doing now” etc
–        Partner call – instead of using the roll of the dice – partner decides
–        Option – pull a card and then roll dice or partner call


–        Eg – words for “Places” –  Roll the dice and land on a square and add a logical place that this activity could be done
–        Eg – “Temporal terms”  – Roll the dice and land on a square and partner asks “Do you do this after school/on the weekend/before breakfast…”etc


–        Land on a square and partner asks how often they do that activity
–        If they don’t – do they want to ‘why/why not’?
–        If they do it – use the follow-up questions to probe for details


–        Land on a square and partner asks if they can do that activity
–        If they don’t – do they want to try it? Why? Why not?
–        If they can do it – use the follow-up questions to probe for details


–        Land on a square and have to give a reason why you are or are not doing this activity

Want to

–        Land on a square and have to give a reason why you are or are not doing this activity – if they don’t – follow-up questions to probe as to why


–        At the end of the semester I use it for review – we put all the ‘things’ we learned how to say on the board (eg, ‘giving reasons’, ‘wanting to’, ‘~ing’ etc) usually there are about 10 main grammatical items
–        When they land on the square their partner calls out what they want them to do
–        * sometimes I also include things that we may have touched on but are not necessarily ‘part’ of the course. We call these the ‘challenge’ items and I encourage kids to go for them if they want

Once you start using it in a variety of ways you begin to see other ways to use it. For 10-15 minutes its an option to ‘target’ learning.



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