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:
I love an activity that can get the whole class into action quickly and easily. I think that an easy-to-comprehend activity that is infinitely adaptable is the key to minimal teacher talk time. I pride myself in being able to get a class that knows me well into an activity with only seconds of explanation. To do this I design tasks and activities to have a minimal amount of what I call and thens. What I mean is that I like to think about how many times I am going to have to say ‘and then’ to explain an activity or task to a class.
For this reason I love card a game with simple rules that I get a whole class of students playing in no time at all. One that, if explained right, can be done with minimal teacher talk time and maximum student participation. We have tried to make sure all Tanuki games are like this. Today I’d like to introduce a favorite game of mine that has great gameplay with minimal rules: Cockroach Poker.
Cockroach poker is a game for three to six players in which everyone is competing to not be the loser. It has very little to do with poker except for the fact that the game revolves around a very simple bluffing mechanic. Each player is trying to lie their way into giving cards full of disgusting creepy crawlies (spiders, bugs and cockroaches) to other players while avoiding receiving them themselves.
How to play from BoardGameGeek:
On a turn, a player takes one card from his hand, lays it face down on the table, slides it to a player of his choice, and declares a type of critter, e.g., "Stink bug". The player receiving the card either
• Accepts the card, says either "true" or "false", then reveals the card. If this player is wrong in her claim, she keeps the card on the table in front of her face up; if she is right, the player who gave her the card places it face up before him.
• Peeks at the card, then passes it face down to another player, either saying the original type of critter or saying a new type. This new player again has the choice of accepting the card or passing it, unless the card has already been seen by all other players in which case the player must take the first option.
The game ends when a player has no cards to pass on his turn or when a player has four cards of the same critter on the table in front of him. In either case, this player loses and everyone else wins.
It is such a simple game but it really fun, easy to teach, and, most importantly for an English Language classroom, the use of language is intrinsic to the game. Admittedly,the language required to play the game is very simple: ‘This is…’, ‘Yes, it is’, ‘No, it isn’t'. However, fortuitously for teachers, because of its simplicity, the game can be adapted to almost any vocabulary and yes/no question pattern.
This blog contains one of the many varieties I have made. In this version people have to pass ailments to each other using ‘I have a headache; I have a sore throat’.
I personally like to keep the games shorter. Instead of waiting until someone has four of the same card to declare a loser, I just play until three. Also, I sometimes use the house rule that if you have five different cards you are also a loser. This means students can play multiple rounds in the same class. I guarantee they will want to play multiple times.
It is great how a game with essentially one rule can create such interesting game play. Luckily for teachers, its simplicity means it is easily adaptable. Once students know how to play they will want to do so with whatever grammar / vocabulary combination you can think of.
Enjoy the medical version of the game I have made here. The original is widely available, so please support it if you like the game. If you need to see more, here are two videos on the game.
If you make your own version of the game please email us here - we’d love to share or promote it.
Click on the image below to download the PDF of the game:
It has been a few weeks. The good news is that we have finally caught our breath and fully recuperated from the fun, excitement and, let’s face it, hard work that was the trip to Tokyo for PanSIG. We would like to take a moment here to thank all of the kind people that we have met and been in contact with over the last few weeks. As usual, the conference was a wonderful experience and the discussions we had with everyone we met and talked with were informative, inspirational and really motivating.
We were especially heartened by all your positive reactions to our products. Like in education, feedback is essential for growth, and your critiques, comments and questions were all so very helpful. It has been exciting to take it all on board and we are now enjoying channelling it into what we are doing.
We here at Tanuki Games are just getting started. As we are small team, our content may take some time to emerge, but we are intent on making fun, useful and quality products. We are sure you will not mind the wait! That being said, be sure to look forward to some exciting things coming soon. Over the next year we have plans for lots of supplements and expansions for our current range of games. We also have plans for new role-playing, card and board games, as well as some exciting lesson plans and apps. We hope they will be making their way to your classroom tables soon.
Over the next six months we will be a fixture at more JALT conferences and other events across Japan, so always feel free to come and say hello. In the meantime, please check back on this blog soon and often for some fun free content and, as always, feel free to get in touch for anything you need.
Thanks again and always. Happy gaming, happy learning!
We are officially opening our Online Store today, so you can pick up the latest games from Tanuki Games!