Level: Intermediate and Advanced.
Skills: writing (speaking).
Materials: pencils and paper.
Time: 20 to 30 minutes (sometimes longer).
This game is called by many different names, depending where it's played: Categories, Town/Country/River, "Adedanha", Stop!, Jeu de Baccalauréat, Stadt Land Fluss...
First, each student creates a grid on a sheet of paper. On the left side of the paper, they draw a vertical line to create a column (it should be just wide enough to accommodate a capital letter). Next, they draw five more vertical lines to create six more columns of equal width. Their categories sheet is then ready!
Then, on the board, write a replica of this grid, labeling the columns. The categories are entirely up to your imagination, but some ideas follow:
- Food (and Drink)
- Irregular verbs in the past (or participle)
- Body parts
- General or personality adjectives
Important: the seventh column is the 'Total' column, where students should write the points they have scored each round.
You have some ways to start the game: you can call a letter arbitrarily; you can open a book and choose a letter from one of the words there; you can ask students to have a show of hands, where each finger shown is a letter of the alphabet (e.g., ten fingers shown, letter J). I have used the three systems, in different times, with similar success.
With the letter chosen and announced, the students have to immediately fill all the columns of the grid with a word (which begins with the chosen letter), as fast as they can, because the first student who finishes doing this must yell "Stop!" (or "Bazzinga!", or imitate a donkey, or clap their hands - it's your decision!) so the other participants stop writing.
Guidelines for deciding if a word is acceptable or not are up to you. You can use group consensus, your own judgment (my choice), a dictionary, the Internet... Whatever you think is fair and suitable for your class.
Students call out their words one by one. They score 10 points for each answer they give that no one else has. They score 5 points if one or more students have the same answer and deduct 10 points for every misspelled or utterly wrong word written (believe me, the students will come up with a lot of those. Once, I had a student, not remembering a fruit with letter O, simply wrote "ongoiaba" to general puzzlement and laughter). The game requires the players to be honest. It can be difficult to prove afterwards, if all answers are correct. The person sitting next to a player can control the players answer sheet or you can walk around class, with a watchful eye.
Students write down the total score for that round. Then restart the game by writing a different letter on the board, repeating the procedure. The number of rounds is up to you. In the last round, ask students to add all their points up. The winner is the student with the highest score.
In addition to being just plain fun (it is a blast when a student says a word which is pretty obvious but most of the class has forgotten, and they make that "oh, no! How could I forget that?" face), the game helps revising previously taught vocabulary – and I can testify that playing this game regularly can prevent nouns from getting stuck to the tip of students' tongue.
Variation: For each category students think of an appropriate item that begins with the chosen letter. Then they think of an item from that category that ends with the chosen letter.