Do your students seem to zone out at the mention of Japanese sentence structure?
Or are they flat out uninterested in particles?
What if there were fun ways to teach Japanese grammar?
Well I’ve got great news for you, because there are: grammar games!
We all know that using games is a great way to engage students, but not everyone knows about the awesome grammar games that exist for classrooms of Japanese learners.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to go searching for them because I’ve got eight killer games to share with you right here—so you can start teaching in style in no time. First, though, let’s take a look at why games are perfect for teaching grammar in the first place.
Why Teach Japanese Grammar with Games?
Games provide built-in motivation. Extrinsically, they reward learners with fun and prizes, or points. These rewards promote intrinsic motivation by correlating that winning feeling with learning.
Even businesses are starting to use game methodology—called “gamification”—for employee training. Why? Because it works!
Playing games engages students in play that allows for ongoing drill, repetition and coaching in a fun way. Using games also enables students and teachers to divide objectives into progressive levels just like a video game would do.
For example, the first level might be simply remembering the correct verb in dictionary form, then level two might include giving past tense or honorific tense. Higher levels result in higher rewards.
What sorts of rewards? Well, for extra motivation you could give out Japanese-themed prizes to winners. These could be anything from awarding time on Japanese computer games or apps to 箸 (はし – chopsticks), small Pokemon toys or stickers. If you give out 箸, be sure to spend some time practicing how to use them!
So what kinds of games can you use to teach grammar?
8 Killer Grammar Games for Your Japanese Classroom
The first three games in this list can be used with any content, but here they’re played with Japanese grammar topics. The rest of the games are specific to various Japanese grammar concepts. Enjoy!
1. Classroom Jeopardy
This classic is a favorite for instructors and students alike. Students can be split into teams or work individually like on the TV show. To play, read an answer and the students must give the matching question. For example, your answer could be: “the volitional form of to go (let’s go).” And your students should produce the question: “What is 行きましょう (いきましょう)?”
Levels can be done just like the greater money questions in the television game, and students can progress to Double Jeopardy with more difficult questions and higher rewards. Final Jeopardy could be done with a twist: Mix in some culture or geography with the grammar. Here’s an example:
Answer: Where you can see the largest torii in Japan. (Question must include the correct location particle.)
Question: Where is 厳島神社で (いつくしまじんじゃ で)? / Where is 宮島で (みやじま で)?
If you have an advanced class, you could ask them to design answers and questions for a beginner class, thereby facilitating review and practice of older skills in the process. The students in the advanced class can then moderate the beginner game, drilling the beginner grammar skills again.
2. Pass the Chicken
Here’s another game that can be used for anything, not just grammar practice. All you need is a small, soft ball, or any other item that can easily be passed around (or in the case of this game’s name, a rubber chicken).
Begin by having students sit in a circle. The person who is “it” holds the rubber chicken (or whatever item you have) and the teacher asks a question like, “Name the counting words one to five. Pass the chicken!”
The person with the chicken passes it to the right and begins to answer the question. (Correct answer: 一つ, 二つ, 三つ, 四つ, 五つ – ひとつ, ふたつ, みっつ, よっつ, いつつ). If he or she cannot get all the counters correct before the chicken gets around the circle, he or she is still it. Otherwise, whoever’s holding the chicken when the “it” person completes their list becomes the new “it.”
3. Around the World
This classic is a great way to practice grammar! To play the game, you first need to prepare a series of questions, either verbally or visually with flashcards or a PowerPoint. Then have two neighboring students stand up and ask them a question.
Whoever answers correctly first moves on to the next opponent (physically walk a step to stand next to them), while the loser sits down wherever he or she was standing when they lost. Depending on their winning streaks, students will take turns advancing various distances around the room, and the first person to get all the way “around the world” back to their original seat is the class winner.
Here’s a sample question: Give the honorific form of 行きます (いきます). Answer: いらっしゃいます. You could also drill past tense forms of verbs quickly with flashcards, which practices reading skills at the same time as grammar.
4. Janken – じゃんけん
This game is the Japanese version of “rock, paper, scissors,” and is very popular among Japanese children for deciding everything from who goes first to who must be “it” for any of the other games.
While this game in itself does not teach any grammar specifics, it is a must-know for decision making among Japanese learners, and can help drill pronunciation since it requires speaking in Japanese when you play. The rules for what beats what are the same as our rock-paper-scissors game, but the terminology differs. Rock is グー (ぐー), paper is パー (ぱー) and scissors are チョキ (ちょき).
The method of playing is also slightly different: The number of players is not restricted to two. All players gather in a circle and start by saying 最初はグー (さいしょは ぐー), meaning “First is rock” and holding out their fists. Then the players rhythmically say じゃんけんポン (じゃんけんぽん) while pumping their fists, ending on the third syllable with their first choice between rock, paper or scissors.
Losers drop out, and tied players (players who picked the same choice) continue by saying あいこでしょ, meaning “Seems like a tie” and continuing to quickly throw out their next choices in rhythm (throwing their play on the last syllable) until there is only one winner left. If saying あいこでしょ becomes tiresome, students can also just chant しょしょしょ, throwing on the third syllable as usual.
Of course, in a group, it is possible to have no clear winner. Say, for example, that in a group all three possibilities are thrown. Since each player beats one and loses to the other, this is also considered a tie so play continues until only two of the possibilities are thrown among the entire group. Then, the losers drop out and the winners continue. This can happen very quickly, even in a large group, and newcomers are often astounded at how rapidly rounds are decided.
Variations of this game abound. Some groups are adding new symbols to make the games more complicated. One common second round to the two-player classic adds a twist that allows a loser another chance. After the first round, the winner says アッチ向いてホイ！(あっちむいて ほい！), which means “Look over there!” If the loser can manage to not look, he gets the chance to play another じゃんけん round, but this is harder than it sounds. For classroom purposes, sticking to the basics is probably best!
5. Verb Charades
Prepare a series of cards listing action verbs. Students pair up to act out the word on their card, and partners must correctly identify the verb. This can be expanded depending on the level of the students so that the guesser must then give required tenses, such as –ます form, past tense, volitional, negative forms, imperative, -て form, honorific, etc.
Classes can have a lot of fun acting out anything from 行け！ (いけ！- “You go!” command) to 歌いましょう！ (うたいましょう！- “Let’s sing!” volitional). If the class is advanced, each verb form can earn points to see who can rack up the highest overall number.
6. Mad Lib Stories
Intermediate and advanced students can create blank Mad Lib forms for classmates and for beginner classes. They should create stories and then pull out some verbs, adjectives or nouns, leaving a blank line with the part of speech indicated underneath. The person who is the caller (chosen by じゃんけん!) requests the parts of speech and fills in the blanks without reading the story.
Once all the blanks are filled, the caller reads the story created. All teams/classes can then share or compete for who has made the best (or funniest or silliest) story with their finished Mad Lib.
Here’s a short example to get you started:
([Student name] is making dinner.
S/He chose [food].
First, [Student name] [action verb] the vegetables.
Next, s/he [action verb] the [food] in a bowl.
Last, [action verb] on the gas stove.
The meal is [adjective]!)
You can choose to help students by giving them the category of the story or make the stories sillier by giving no hints at all. A follow-up exercise can be correcting the story as a class to make the story seem more realistic.
7. Pick the Particle(s)
This game can progress with the students’ abilities. Students are split into two teams and the first player from each team is given a marker (or chalk). Start by writing a sentence across the top of the board, leaving out some or all of the particles.
When you’re done, say よし! (OK!). The first two competitors rush to the board to rewrite the sentence and include the correct particles. The first to complete the sentence correctly wins the round. This game is great because students also get to practice their writing skills.
8. Perform Skits
Students can act out stories or scenes from longer works, read either by other students or by you. A good choice for beginners is ピーターラビットの世界 (ぴーたーらびっと のせかい – “Peter Rabbit’s World” by Beatrix Potter). Older students can use scenes from classic novels such as こころ by 夏目 漱石 (なつめ そうせき – “Souseki Natsume”), or popular comics such as ナルト(なると – NARUTO).
Advanced classes can write the stories to act out themselves or for other classes. Students can prepare and practice ahead of time, or a more challenging activity is to receive the scene and act it out on the spot!
These eight games will add some much-needed excitement to your Japanese grammar lessons, and students will appreciate that you’re teaching in style! Enjoy!
Wait! One More Thing…
The games you play in class don’t just have to involve cards, papers and dice. Have you ever considered adding a little digital fun to your Japanese class? After all, there’s tons of awesome Japanese music and video content out there. But the big question is always, “how can I turn entertaining video clips into an interactive game?”
Well, FluentU has the answer.
We’ve got a tremendous collection of authentic Japanese videos that native speakers actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices here when you’re looking for material for in-class activities or homework. Plus, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Each video has interactive subtitles in Japanese and English, and the Japanese displays helpful furigana to boost student comprehension.
If a student comes across a word they’re unfamiliar with, they can hover their cursor over the subtitled word. That word’s definition, pronunciation and in-context usage examples will all pop up on-screen instantly.
This is what your students will get after they click “watch” on a video. Clicking “learn” opens up a whole new learning experience for them.
In learn mode, all the vocabulary and grammar from the video is taught and reinforced through varied repetition (practicing the same concepts in different forms and contexts). They’ll play with flashcards, games, word matches and exercises like “fill in the blank.”
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that they’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos based on what they’ve already learned. Every student has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Use FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App for iPad and iPhone from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Japanese with real-world videos.