Activity 4: Team Guessing Games

▶ Duration:  15–25 min
▶ Aim:  Oral fluency practise
▶ Summary:  The typical "twenty questions"-style guessing game, confined to small groups.

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Guessing games can generate a lot of spontaneous speech, even if much of it is fairly simple in structure. To implement a guessing game as a speaking activity, working as a whole class offers too little opportunity for each student to speak, but working in pairs may often leave the lone guesser stumped for ideas. Groups of about 4 seems to be the ideal size, with one person as the "knower" and the other group members guessing.

The range of topics for guessing games is wide, so the game can be tailored to match the theme of the class. Some examples are given in the Resources section. If you devise your own topic, please share your ideas with the rest of us by posting in the Comments section.

Prepare a sheet with all the items, make enough copies for every group, and chop the sheets into pieces (one item per slip). Make a set for each group, each set containing one copy of each item, and place the sets into envelopes.

Write an additional one or two items on slips of paper and place them in a separate, marked envelope to use during the demo.

First explain the game, emphasising that the knower is only allowed to answer "yes" or "no".

Demonstrate the activity, by asking one student to come from the front, draw the slip from the special "demo" envelope, and answer questions from the class.

Explain that students will work in groups, taking turns to draw a slip from the envelope. Check:

The materials can be collected after the activity and reused in a different class.

When I first tried this activity I was worried that groups might overhear one of the answers from another group. But in practice, amid the noise that this activity generates, this is not a big problem.

If some groups finish early, you can ask them to take turns thinking of another item for their group members to guess. Alternatively, you could keep a few extra guessing items on hand to give to them. This way, the faster groups have something to occupy them, while the slower groups can still have the satisfaction of eventually finishing the whole envelope.

The items for guessing need not be a single word. See the Strange Souvenirs topic in the Resources section for an example where the item to be guessed is an explanation.

Penny Ur, in Discussions that Work (Cambridge University Press, 1981) covers guessing games in some detail.


With this topic, you might want to brainstorm some questions with the class before starting the activity, because good questions to ask aren't as obvious as "animal, vegetable, mineral". Good questions include "Is it an outdoor activity?", "Do you collect something?", "Is it a kind of art?", "Is it related to music?", and so on.

The items I used were: collecting autographs; bird watching; fishing; knitting; golf; playing drums; collecting rocks; and writing poems.

A ready-to-print version of the above list is available: guess_hobbies.doc (html preview).

Snowy Wood

The imagery for this variation was inspired by Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". All the items are things you might see in a snowy wood. Each card includes a hint (eg. "a thing", "a man doing something") which the guesser tells his/her group first. After that, they can only answer "yes" or "no".

The cards are listed in this document: guess_snowy_wood.doc (html preview). NOTE: a full set of 12 cards is too many for a single group to guess. 6 to 8 is probably sufficient.


I haven't tried this variation myself (as a group activity, anyway). One possibility is to get the students to write the celebrity names on slips of paper (2 or 3 from each student), then collect them and redistribute them randomly to other groups, not unlike Activity 3: Celebrity Backs.

Strange Souvenirs

The idea behind this variation is a little more complicated, and needs to be explained carefully. A person has gone on holiday to either another country or a place in China, and has brought back an unusual souvenir (for example, a pair of earplugs for blocking sound). The guessers must not only guess where the person has been, but also guess the complete explanation for them bringing back the souvenir, as written on the card (in this example, they bought the earplugs before visiting the Sydney Opera House, because they don't like opera). As usual, only yes/no questions are allowed.

The souvenir is written on one side of the paper, and the guessers are allowed to see it. The explanation is written on the other side.

This document contains some examples: guess_souvenirs.doc (html preview). To prepare the cards, first print and photocopy the explanations and then write the souvenirs on the opposite side of each card. NOTE: the document contains 8 different cards, but this is too many to give to a single group initially. When I ran this activity, I colour-coded the cards into two sets of 4, and gave just one set to each group. If groups finished early, I let them swap their set for the other colour.
Rating: 4.5 stars

This type of activity tends to be very motivating, and fun.

I really appreciate this idea. And I'd like to try it in my class. Thanks for it.
wenli gong []
18.11.2004 , 22:31

I teach oral english to large middle school classes where smaller group work is often difficult when the students are very unruly. So I did the Hobbies variation but split the class into 2 teams, and helped them think of good yes/no questions about hobbies.

I started out as the leader. A team would ask me one question, then the other team would get a chance, and so on. Guessing the hobby (Is it fishing?) counted as a question. When someone guessed the answer, their team got a point, and than that person acted as the leader. The kids really got into the competition, and by the end, nearly all had asked a question during the gameplan.

Not as ideal as smaller groups, but very effective given the circumstance of this particular class.
enli []
15.06.2005 , 11:30

you should have REAL games and ACTUAL fun games!
haydon m. strable []
15.09.2005 , 01:21