6 Conversation Games for Online Learners

Many language learners right now are in lockdown conditions, just like many of us teachers. The good news is that we can all meet online, and language studies can continue. To date, I’ve had two large public live streams that have focused entirely on conversation games. All 200+ students seem eager to put aside worries for an hour or two and join in the fun.

We play the games to boost their confidence, activate vocabulary and grammar, and work on listening skills like turn-taking. Some of the participants are teachers and tutors, so they are happy to consider new activities they can use as warm-ups or as part of a regular lesson. Some of the participants find ways to meet in small groups outside of my live streams, and I’ve encouraged them to use some of these games to increase everyone’s participation.

My list may include games you already know, but I’ll offer some twists, too. I hope you find them as fun as I have!

1. Twenty Questions
This is an oldie, but goodie. I usually prefer students to guess what I’m thinking because this forces them to do most of the speaking and texting. They can ask up to twenty yes-no questions to guess what person, animal, or thing I’m thinking of. Most of the time they accomplish the task in fewer than twenty questions. Along the way, I might drop hints with an expanded answer. Student: Does it have legs? Teacher: Yes, two big ones. They’re really strong. [Answer: kangaroo] I’ve been playing this game with one student on camera with me while the others listen and text suggestions. When a student finally guesses the right answer, we then have a brief conversation to review related vocabulary. With “kangaroo” identified as the answer,  I asked the student to explain what she knew about kangaroos. Others contributed, and we came up with marsupial, pouch, joey, herbivore, and predator.

2. Would You Rather…?
This is a lot of fun when you switch roles. I always start with me asking questions, and then I let students hop on camera to ask their own questions. Everyone else busily types their answers and explanations. This is a great way to reinforce the grammar: would rather + [base verb]. Suggested questions:
– Would you rather skip breakfast or dinner?
– Would you rather shower in the morning or at night?
– Would you rather have a lot of friends or one very good friend?
– Would you rather read a book or watch a movie?
– Would you rather use Facebook or Instagram?
– Would you rather exercise inside or outside?
– Would you rather sing well or play an instrument well?

3. Mystery Guest
This game tests students’ imagination. You can be the first mystery guest. Assume the role of a famous person and invite one or more students to have a conversation with you. Respond to all questions in character. Drop hints as needed. Recently I chose to be Queen Elizabeth II and then Pelé. Once students understand the game, they can take turns being the mystery guest. The biggest challenge is choosing people that everyone knows. If you have a small number and can turn on all microphones at once, you can have a group conversation where everyone is someone famous (roles assigned by you via private messaging). One by one , each mystery guest is identified. Call the event a mystery dinner party if you wish!

4. Agree to Disagree
I found this to be hilarious when students finally lost their fear of offending me. The basic idea is that you must disagree with whatever has just been said. My format required me to speak one-on-one with a student while others listened, but this can easily be played in a group where students take turns. You can stick to one topic, such as tea being superior to coffee, or jump from topic to topic. Students and I have humorously argued about food, exercise, sports, habits, and more. Language prompts to facilitate the ongoing disagremeent:
– Yes, but…
– You got a point, but…
– No, I just can’t agree with that. Sorry.
– No, no. I don’t feel that way. Sorry.
– I hear you, but…
– I know some people fee that way, but…

5. Never-Ending Questions
I introduced this game by explaining we must be like a curious child who wants to know about everything. It’s better for the teacher to be the one asking the questions because we can purposefully ask open-ended questions to elicit as much language as possible on the given topic. However, another way to play this game is to let one person start speaking on a topic and invite one question from each student in the class. It’s amazing how beneficial it is to form questions. Many intermediate students struggle with the wording as they try to target the details. You can even set a target number of questions, for instance, a minimum of four questions before you move on to a new topic.

Example statement: I’m an active person. I exercise. I do martial arts.
Questions:
– Where do you exercise?
– Who taught you martial arts?
– What kind of martial arts do you know?
– Can you recommend any martial arts movies?
– Do you need any equipment when you practice?

6. Never Have I Ever
A number of high profile people play this game on social media. Here’s how I’ve done this with ELLs. I start by making a series of statements about unusual past experiences. Everyone listening texts in response either “I have” or “I haven’t.” For example: “Never have I ever eaten snake meat.” I have one student on camera with me, and I keep making statements until the student admits to having such an experience. We then ask more more details about that experience. Then it’s the student’s turn to make a “Never have I ever” statement for the rest of us to respond to. I bring different students on camera with me to target different topics.
Other suggested statements:
– Never have I ever ridden a motorcycle.
– Never have I ever lost my phone.
– Never have I ever gotten lost.
– Never have I ever seen a ghost.
– Never have I ever ridden a camel.
– Never have I ever eaten a chocolate-covered banana.
– Never have I ever met a famous person.

Got a fun conversation game to recommend? Feel free to share.

Featured photo by kaboompics. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/photos/mobile-phone-mobile-smartphone-791644/.

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