Word games are an almost perfect fit for the language classroom, but I will say that part of me dies a little when I often see five copies of scrabble or boggle gathering dust in the corner of a teachers room. There are so many word games out there that don’t require people to sit down and memorize dictionaries (I do love Scrabble and Boggle but don’t rate them highly as classroom games). These games test players abilities to use and interpret language rather than simple language knowledge.
In the past few years it has been heartening to see games like Codenames become a staple of ESL / EFL classrooms (I personally think Duets is the best version) but 2018 was an absolutely brilliant year for new word games. Here are five that I think you should think about adding to your school shelf.
Okay, so the first is a cheat. Werewords came out in 2017. However, that version of the game only supported 4 to 10 players. Werewords Deluxe smashed this by now allowing from 2 - 20 players. Perfect for a large class or a private lesson.
Werewords twists the classic 20 questions game by adding a social deduction element. Players have to guess a word by asking “Yes” or “No” questions. However, one player already knows what that word is. This player is the “Werewolf”. If, at the end of the game, players have guessed the word and identified the werewolf then they win. The werewolf wins if the word is guessed and they remain undetected. Simple, but there are also other roles with special powers that make sure that each game is exciting and different.
The game also has a free app that gives you the words to be guessed. You can select different levels of vocabulary based on your class level.
I would also recommend Insider from Oink Games in 2016, it is a Japanese / English Bi-Lingual version of the game that follows basically the same formula but is more simple overall.
In my opinion, Decrypto is the latest challenger for Codenames crown. Played in teams, players are trying to guess which number different hidden words corresponds with on their team while also trying to interpret the hints that the other team is giving each other to decrypt their code.
For example, if one team needs to indicate the number 2 which is represented by the word ‘crocodile’ then they might say ‘lizard’, ‘green’ and ‘water’ over a series of rounds. However, if the other team works out that these words all refer to the same thing, and therefore the same number then they will win.
It is a really intense and fun game. Giving good hints takes a lot of thinking to balance communicating effectively and also not giving too much away to the other team. It is definitely one of those games, like Codenames, that is perhaps a little tricky to explain at first but after one play people totally get.
Played Taboo? The game where your partners have to guess a word like ‘school’ by listening to your definition, but you have a list of words you cannot say like ‘student’, ‘teacher’, ‘class’ etc?
Yes? Well, in Trapwords you get to decide what another team cannot say. Also, they don’t know what they cannot say. They have to describe their word while also avoiding the words you have set as traps. What if someone on the other team has to guess ‘school’ but one of your “trap words” is ‘white board’ and they say it? Then they lose.
It is very simple to teach and play, although I ended up making my own deck of cards to play with (will share soon) because I found the cards in the box a bit too esoteric for my students. Having said that, Chech Games are they people behind Codenames and I think they have made another instant classic with Trapwords.
Out of the Loop is an App from Tasty Rook who also made one of my favorite ever social deduction games, Triple Agent. It is a free app (with some in app purchases) that only needs to be downloaded on one device to be played with up to 9 players.
In the game, everyone will get a turn to look at the phone and see a word like ‘Pizza’. They will then take turns asking each other questions like ‘Would you eat this for breakfast?’. The game is that one person has no idea what the word is. If the other players can identify who this person is then they win. However, if the person who doesn’t know the word can guess what the word is then they can still win.
It is really fun and challenging because you have to give a good answer so that people know that you know the word, but you also cannot give to much detail because then the word can be guessed. The game is also really easy to set up as all the instructions are presented as you play.
Okay, another cheat as this one is still, as of writing, only available in French. Hopefully, an English version will be distributed soon, but until then let me wet your appetite.
This is a group co-op game in which people have to guess each others emotions. To do this one player takes a secret emotion card which will indicate something like ‘Happy’. That player then has to construct a sentence using a small selection of beginning, middle and end cards that conveys that emotion. If the other players successfully guess the emotion then everyone scores a point.
I made my own quick version of this in English on index cards and changed a few of the rules around to fit the classroom (putting people in pairs and giving more time to study cards) and it ended up working really well. I am looking forward to grabbing an English copy.
I highly recommend checking out the rules and videos on these games to see which you think would work in your classroom. Over the next few months I will be sharing some resources and lesson plans I have made for each game. I will also be talking about a few games I am excited about for 2019!
Note: Tanuki Games is not affiliated with any of these companies and has and will not receive any financial compensation for recommending them. These are just are heartfelt recommendations for some games we really enjoyed.
Last year four friends sat around a living room idea pitching ideas for games to each other. One was a co-op game about escaping a prison, another was about ghosts scaring high school students, yet another was a Indiana Jones inspired story telling game and one game (the best one) was about David Bowie and his friends saving the universe. The evening continued and out of it came the prototypes for the three games Tanuki now publishes. This year, it appears, we have a game company.
That is not to say that these games are a year old. All of them had existed in some form or another in our classrooms for years before. Taught and played hundreds of times. It is also not to say that they were ready then. Over the next year they were play tested again and again, refined, changed and tweaked. In what seemed like no time the fur of us where around another table. This was at JALT PanSig in May this year and now the table was full of our finished, printed games.
What we are trying to say is that it has been a very long road to get to where we are. This has been an exciting and intense 18 months but we are glad to say we think it has all been worth it. Now, all we have to do is say thank you to a whole bunch of people.
First, thanks to all the friends and students who play tested our games. They wouldn’t be what they are without all the thoughtful feedback we got from them. Thanks to those who among them who answered the hundreds of questions that made So Says Japan possible.
Thanks to Taylor Ruddle at Champ for all of the design work on our games. Thanks to David Millard at Touch of Tensai for putting together our website and store in record time. Thanks to Damian Case for designing the Tanuki Logo.
Thanks to all the team who put together JALTPanSig in May and JALT National and ETJ Fukuoka in November. They were all such welcoming places to debut our products and we really fed of their enthusiasm for our endeavour. We couldn't have launched our company in the way we did without such great organizations already being there and the army of volunteers that make them happen.
Finally, a huge thanks to all those who bought our games over the last year. In April we would have been happy to have a dozen copies in the hands of our peers. We are delighted to say that we are over the moon to now have over 200 copies of games being used in classrooms across Japan (and the world). The feedback we have received has really pushed us to keep going and we want to continue to give back to the community that has supported us. See you in the New Year with lots of exciting new resources, games and ideas. Maybe, just maybe, David Bowie Saves the Universe will become a thing.
Until then we hope you enjoy the rest of your 2018 and that 2019 brings you joy, love, health and happiness.
Yes. We know. It is still November. However, we wanted to share this with you before we see you at JALT National in Shizuoka this weekend. Here is a small print and play version of So Says Japan that focuses on Christmas and New Years. Only eight cards with two bonus questions but easily enough to fill a nice 15 minutes 'cool down' (get it? because it is winter) activity before the end of year holidays? What is Japan's favorite English Christmas songs (like you don't already know), how are people planning on spending the New Year and until when do people believe in Santa. Download, play, find out!
If you are going to JALT National this weekend please come and say hi and we will also have printed out versions of these cards to give away.
Board, if you need it:
So Says Japan is probably our most classroomy game. It is also one of our most versatile. When we started on it as a project, we had an idea of the multiple uses it has. But now that it has been on the market for six months, we have discovered it had even more applications than we imagined.
If you haven't played it yet, allow me to quickly talk you through it. It’s game of discussion, deduction and educated guesses – a close comparison could be made to the classic game show Family Fortunes (Family Feud to our North American friends). One student will draw a card and present a question, without showing the card, to the rest of the class, group or the teacher (one beautiful point of the game is that it is completely scalable to fit class size). The card could be something like these:
Afterwards, the other students will bet on various aspects of the card and score points if they are correct. You can print the large, free, score chart from this PDF:
It's a fun game, and also a great discussion starter and a wonderful way to practice presentation skills because the game requires the student to communicate some of the information on the card. In each set of So Says Japan you will find three extracards that contain the language you need to prompt students on what to say:
However, it doesn't stop there. Here are some other ways we have learnt teachers have been using these cards.
This was a very simple exercise but also a good one. One teacher gave a random card to each of their students and then simply asked them to write their thoughts and opinions on the survey results shown on each card. To facilitate this they showed articles from blogs, magazines and newspapers as examples of how statistics are reported in the media. The teacher gave examples of the type of language used in this type of journalism and followed it up with a discussion exercise that focused on critically thinking about how much to trust numbers and statistics. We were glad to hear about our simple game being used in such a deep way.
Compare and Contrast Essays
This sounded like a fun little project. One teacher assigned each member of the class a card from the deck. The students then had to survey their classmates to get their answers to the question. The next step involved the students writing a compare and contrast essay that looked at the similarities and differences between the answers on the card that represent Japan as a whole and the answers given by their classmates. Typical target language included phrases like:
"While pork was the most popular answer to the question ‘What do you like in your okonomiyaki?’ in Japan as a whole, in our class cheese was by far the most common answer."
I am definitely going to be using this idea in my class this semester.
Make Your Own
This is a brilliant example of project-based learning. I really don't know where some teachers find the time! Quite simply this teacher had their students choose a topic (like food and drink) that they were interested in, make 15 questions, survey as many people as they could and then turn those into new cards for the game. They then spent a class playing the game with the new cards they made. Spectacular. Topics the students came up with included Pokémon (obviously), fashion and beauty, sports, idols and singers and school life. We at Tanuki are hoping to take these surveys and turn them into free printable versions of the game you can use in your class.
Thanks for reading. If you haven't played So Says Japan yet, make sure to try out our free print-and-play version here. We have three other versions of So Says Japan in print now. You can get samples of these on our website. We also have many more on the way. Check back often for more free stuff and please get in contact if you use our games in new or interesting ways.
Do You Feel Lucky?
There are so many small-box games out there and a lot of them have something interesting to offer. But which one to get? Well, we don’t have the time nor the resources to try them all, but one simple game I’ve had the pleasure of playing is the game Incan Gold by Arclight Games (in Japan) and Eagle-Gryphon Games (International).
The idea of Incan Gold (also known as Diamant) is that you and your friends are a team of explorers exploring the ruins of an Incan Temple and hoping to be the one, at the end of a five-day expedition, to have the most treasure. The problem is these temples are full of dangerous traps and creatures (obstacles) that may have you running to the hills and dropping all your precious loot along the way. If players choose to collect the loot they have gained without exploring forward, they get to keep it; however, they may be missing out on some of the higher yields as the more adventurous (foolish) explorers delve into ever deeper and ever riskier territory.
It is a simple enough concept based around a ‘press your luck’ mechanic. A press your luck mechanic is where the player repeats an action until the point they feel it is too risky to continue. Press far to gain more rewards, but press too much and you’ll lose everything. The great thing is that repetition is built into this type of game, so if we can build a learning aim into this fun mechanic, it is win-win for everyone.
Ok, sounds great. It is. It’s fun, simple to learn, and can be a great game for young and old. But I am a busy teacher, so how can we adapt this for the classroom? Easy.
If you just want to play it, then the easiest way (apart from buying the game) is to grab a deck of cards and remove all the clubs and spades from 2-10. Then shuffle the deck. In this game aces represent treasures. Kings, queens and jacks double as obstacles, and all the rest determine how many coins the students get. You’ll need colored chips (or coins) to represent different values (1, 5 and 10). Have all the students make groups of 4-8 players and stand up. These groups will all be playing their own smaller version of the game as you, the teacher, run through the deck in front of the class.
We can also easily create some classroom drama. Draw a stick figure on the whiteboard and a big temple or something similar, and then reveal the first card and say how much it is. “You find four coins!” or something like that to match your target language. Anyone who is standing gets to divide that number if they can. If not, they just put them aside for now. Students should be encouraged to say something like “I get 1 coin.”
This is where the fun starts! Then you should ask the class. “So, do you want to keep going or go home?”. If you are teaching kids, here you can easily add TPR to this by saying things like ‘If you want to keep going jump up and down’. Students who wish to go home simply sit down and keep the tokens they have claimed. They place them under a book or notebook, or even a folded sheet of paper, to indicate that the loot is theirs for good and they can’t lose any of it. The brave ones continue on, pushing their luck in search of more treasure.
With each new card, draw a bit more of a map on the whiteboard showing them going deeper and deeper into the cave. With each new card drawn it will become increasingly more dramatic. Once all players have either returned back home or bee forced out of the temple by obstacles, the first of the five days, or rounds, is over. Then you can simply pass out a deck of cards to each group prepped as above and let them continue on their own.
You can also re-theme the game with your own target vocabulary and phrases. Rather than gold and temples it could be animals and food, parents and toys or elves and presents. We have included a PDF version you can print and play for Halloween here that uses candy as points and ghosts and monsters as the obstacles.
Of course, if you use our free version, we encourage you to get a copy of Incan Gold (we are not affiliated in any way, just a heartfelt recommendation) for your classes and try it out with added pizazz.
How to play: