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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.


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