Final question, for 500 points: What’s a simple way to get an entire classroom excited about a language lesson?
Answer: Make it a game show.
A teacher and a TV game show host aren’t that different. You both call out questions and reward knowledge.
The game show host just gets music, flashing lights and applause while they do it.
Must be nice, right?
Luckily, with a few simple tweaks to some classic game shows, you can bring that energy and excitement into your classroom, too.
When the lessons are presented as awesome educational games that students can’t wait to play, the difficult task of making grammar, spelling and other basics relatable and interesting will suddenly become much easier.
Imagine your students jumping to answer all of your questions about verb conjugation. Sounds cool, right?
Let’s find out more about why game shows work for the classroom, and then we’ll explore some of the show formats that adapt best to language lessons.
Why Use Game Shows in the Classroom?
Language educators know that it’s important for students to be listening and speaking, not just staring at vocabulary lists.
But simply calling on students at their desks doesn’t always improve their skills or classroom morale.
That’s where game shows and other group activities come in handy. They inspire active learning, which is a student-centered strategy that encourages interaction with the lesson, not just receiving information. Active learning has been shown to improve students’ understanding of concepts with a concrete impact on their grades.
When a lesson is structured as a game show, students are rewarded for actively listening and responding to information. They’ll be involved in material they might otherwise dismiss as boring or unimportant if it were simply presented in a handout.
And as a teacher, you’ll have the opportunity to acknowledge student success in a setting that isn’t a test.
You could even show clips from the game show that you’re modelling the lesson after to further excite students. You can find such clips and many other videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
How to Be a Game Show Host… and Still a Teacher
Of course, the flip side of the game show reward system is that there will be some students who didn’t win. As the “host,” your job is not just to count up points. You want to make sure everybody leaves the game feeling more confident in the class material, even if they didn’t win.
The easiest solution is to keep games short and team-based, and to reshuffle the teams continually. That way no single student feels put on the spot or responsible for a big loss. Even game shows that have individual contestants on TV can be adapted as team games, as you will see below.
Although a TV game show host fosters competition, as a teacher you want to allow friendly competition while still encouraging collaborative learning. Concentrate on why certain answers are right and wrong – you might even need to pause the game for explanations.
Like all educational games, this activity is first and foremost a tool to help students internalize lessons.
Winning Lessons: The 5 Best Game Shows to Adapt for Language Class Activities
1. “Wheel of Fortune”
“Wheel of Fortune” is great for teaching vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation all at once.
- Three teams.
- A spinning wheel with dollar amounts written in wedges. If your arts and crafts skills are rusty and you have access to a tablet or laptop in your classroom, you can use an online wheel creator.
- A list of expressions or phrases in the target language. These can be phrases you’ve already taught and want to review. For more advanced classes, you can use any common expression.
The premise of the game is simple. Pick an expression and write it out in blanks—kind of like hangman—on the board. Teams spin the wheel for a dollar amount, and then work together to guess a letter. If the letter is in your chosen expression, they keep that dollar amount, multiplied by how many times that letter appears.
To keep the game moving, give each team one spin per turn, even if their guess was correct. When a team is ready to solve the puzzle on their turn, they can guess the whole expression. If they’re right, they keep their cash from that round.
And repeat! Whoever has the most cash when the bell rings wins. Your students will have spent the whole class practicing spelling, speaking and thinking in their target language.
“Password” is especially useful as a vocabulary revision game that will break your students out of rote definition memorization.
- Two teams.
- A vocabulary list. With beginner and intermediate classes, you may want a list of words you’ve already introduced.
- Index cards.
- A timer.
This game show activity is very similar to the party game Taboo. The goal is for students to describe vocabulary words to one another without using the word itself.
Give one student a word on an index card and have them attempt to describe the word on it to their team. If the team guesses the word within 10 seconds (or whatever time frame you choose), they get a point. Alternate between teams, rotating who gets the index card.
Password is a very flexible game that works for a variety of class sizes. Just adjust the number of teams and team sizes if necessary.
3. “The Newlywed Game”
On TV, “The Newlywed Game” was a risqué show that gave couples points for how well they knew each other. In the classroom, you can take this game show’s structure for a much tamer, but very effective, icebreaker and conversation skills exercise for students. You can call it “Get to Know Me” or create another similar title.
- Two teams: Red and Blue (or whatever team names you or your students choose).
- A list of basic biographical questions.
- Two chairs labeled Red and Blue.
- Index cards or mini chalkboard/whiteboards.
Two members from each team sit in chairs facing each other. Ask the Red team member a question about the Blue team member. Some possible questions are:
- What sport does he or she play?
- How many siblings does he or she have?
- What is his or her favorite season?
The Red player writes down a guess and the Blue player writes down the answer. They reveal what they’ve written at the same time. If Red’s guess matches Blue’s answer, Red gets a point.
Repeat, posing the question to Blue this time. Then get two new team members in the chairs and continue. The team with the most points once everybody has played wins.
Not only does this game require your students to listen and respond to questions in their target language, it also creates connections between classmates.
This game show activity works best for intermediate and advanced classes, with lessons that cover more than just grammar and vocabulary. If you want to review geography, literature or history concepts before a test, for example, “Jeopardy” is a useful tool.
- Three teams.
- A list of trivia questions and answers (25 or more, depending on class size).
- PowerPoint or another dynamic presentation platform. Fortunately for teachers, there are numerous “Jeopardy”-style game templates available online, such as Instant Jeopardy Review and Jeopardy Rocks.
Design a “Jeopardy” board with questions arranged in columns by topic, increasing the difficulty of the question with the number of corresponding points. You keep the questions. The class should only see the categories and point values. Once you’ve created your board, split your class into three teams. These teams take turns choosing squares on the board and answering questions.
To keep the game moving, give each team one question per turn, even if they were correct. When all the squares are out, the team with the most points wins.
Unless you are explicitly teaching your students to formulate questions, it can be useful to ignore “Jeopardy’s” famous “what is” question/answer structure. In this case, you can make things simpler by asking questions in the usual question format, and having answers be statements.
“Tic-Tac-Dough” is another trivia game with a simpler structure than “Jeopardy.” Based on the short-running American game show from the 50s, this activity could be adapted for either language basics or more advanced concept review.
- Two teams.
- A blackboard.
- A list of questions and answers.
Draw a tic-tac-toe board with nine squares. Each square will have a corresponding question. Teams will alternate choosing squares and answering the questions from you. They can only put their mark—X or O—in the square if they answer correctly. As in tic-tac-toe, the team’s goal is to complete a line of three squares.
You can always be flexible with the setup and rules of these game shows, to create an activity that works best for your particular classroom. No matter the form your game show ultimately takes, the activity will energize your classroom, increase comprehension and encourage interaction and student bonding.