Skip to main content

University Challenge game

Some teachers tell me that they think we've gone too far down the gamification road in language teaching. They may be right, although my first response is that a game or game-like activity is just another language practice task with a purpose. The fact that games often involve a bit of fun and competition adds to the motivation factor. Needless to say, a good language game needs a decent learning goal and behaviour needs to be right.

"University Challenge" is a long-running British television quiz show where teams of four students from rival universities pit their knowledge against ecah other. This is a high-level quiz show! The team members answer questions from Greek mythology to advanced mathematics, to quantum physics, to medieval history.

This format works brilliantly in language lessons, particularly with advanced level groups. You divide your small group into two teams. If the group is larger, some students will be mainly listeners. You prepare a long list of questions about the culture of the target language country. Divide the questions into categories, e.g. geography, history, famous people, food and drink, language, industry and agriculture, tourism and entertainment. You'll need at least 100 questions.

The teacher asks a TL starter question and a member of each team tries to buzz in. (A tap on the table will do if you don't have buzzers from the science or tech teachers.) No conferring between team members is allowed at this stage. If a player buzzes in before the end of the question and makes an error, they lose 5 points. A correct answer gains 10 points. If a starter question is answered wrongly someone from the other team can buzz in and have a go. Make the starter a relatively easy question. Whichever team gets the starter question right has the chance to answer three follow-up questions - conferring between team members is now allowed. (You could involve onlookers/listeners to supply answers if the team does not know them.) These follow-up questions can earn 5 points each.

After the follow-up questions have been answered you ask the next starter question and so on. A game might last about 30 minutes provided you have a large supply of questions.

This is a great game because all the communication is in target language, the students get to show off prior knowledge, learn new stuff about the TL culture and, importantly, you can tailor the level of questions and language to the class, probably incorporating work you have done in class. To make answers accessible you can give three options, multi-choice style. Don't forget that, for our purposes, you can ask plenty of linguistic questions: " What's the opposite of...?" "How do you say.... in (TL)" etc. Fans of comprehensible input should love this!

I kept a bank of questions and usually saved the game for the end of term. I used it with advanced students, but could have adapted it for intermediate level, but you'd have to make sure the onlookers are engaged somehow. They could write down answers to be tallied up at the end for a winning score.

So I wouldn't diss games in general, just bad ones.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…