Lessons Learned – Musical chairs with sentences

Musical Sentences

30 to 50 minutes

I think most people have played some form of musical chairs at company events or family get togethers and I struggled for a long time trying to adapt musical chairs to the ESL classroom. Not only does musical chairs not involve any speaking, but it usually requires a big empty space with only chairs. Basically the opposite of a Japanese class room. Well I may have found the solution. It’s a combination of karuta, kaiten-zushi and musical chairs that seems to be very effective and students really enjoy it.

The key to making this activity ESL appropriate is to make sure the target sentence can be broken up into three sections that are totally interchangeable. The first time I did it the target grammar point was using “be+ ~ing” Example: “He is watching.” Later I did it with a second year class and it was equally successful with a “There are + subject + place” lesson.

Purpose: To work on specific sentence constructions.

Secondary Purpose: Force them to see unnatural sentence constructions that are still grammatically correct but cannot be used. (Example: There are clocks studying in this class).

This lesson was very successful at targeting a simple grammar point as both an introduction and a review. The students seem to genuinely enjoy anything that isn’t copying off the board or reading from the text book. Mostly I found that by the end of the activity nearly all the students had made at least two sentences and could generate a third verbally on command. I couldn’t check every student, but most seemed to grasp the concept easily. If I try with much more difficult sentences, I will post an update.

Prep: This activity does require a short amount of prep work, about 30 minutes in total. For whatever grammar point you want to cover you will have to make sentence cards and then cut them out. If you are really dedicated you can laminate the cards as well but this will add to your prep time. I have attached two of my sets for downloading. If you are teaching New Horizon 1 Unit 9 or New Horizon 2 Unit 6 these will work for you. Otherwise you can just download them for the template to save some time.EX: be+ ~ing cards

PPTX: “be + ~ing” New Horizon 1 Unit 9
PPTX: Musical Chairs New Horizon 2 Unit 6

Execution: I will use the NH1U9 class as my example execution, but for each class it will vary depending on the grammar point and what is needed to make sure the students understand how to form the target sentences. For the first year students, the JTE started the class by explaining the “be+ ~ing” grammar on the chalk board with Japanese side by side with English. Then we played a gesture game where the students guess what “~ing” I was doing. Finally, we introduced a mnemonic device to aid with words like “running,” “swimming,” “making,” and “using.”

On the board I place an ING Truck, which brings the extra N-M-P or T for words like, running, swimming and getting. On the opposite side of the board I placed an ING Gun, which shoots the “e” out of a word when using “~ing” like making, using and taking. These come into play later during the game.

It is super important you have the students completely clear their desks or you will have a pen case and notebook disaster on your hands when the game really gets going. While they are clearing their desks, pass out the sentence cards. I try to make sure they alternate, but it doesn’t really matter because the cards are going to move later in the activity. Once each student has a card, I draw three boxes on the board and place a part of 1 sentence in each box to explain that three cards make a set.

Before explaining the musical part, or the kaiten-zushi, I give the students one minute to move around the class to make a sentence using the card on their desk. They must combine cards with other students to make a complete sentence. Once a group of three students have their sentence, they come up to either the JTE or me and read the sentence aloud. If the sentence is correct, they go back to their seats. This warm up version of the activity will also gauge the student’s understanding of the sentence structure and the game.

After all the students are seated back at their desks, explain the music and the kaiten-zushi. Ask the students to place the cards on the center of their desk. Then have them all put their hands over their heads and stand up. While they are standing, explain the music element. When the music stops, they stop and try to grab a card. Karuta is a good game to use as a comparison in a Japanese class room. After explaining the music, explain the walking route. Disqualify any students who insist on running around the route. The desks are too close together to allow that, however if you have a big open space, who cares!? Kaiten-zushi is something that most Japanese kids will be familiar with but here is a diagram if you have never been to a kaiten-zushi restaurant.Kaiten-zushi ESL class diagram

One final element specifically for NH1Unit9 “be+ ~ing”: the ING Gun and the ING Truck are posted on the blackboard. If they have a word that requires an extra letter or dropping the “e,” they have to come to board and stand under the correct sign. The teachers should each stand near one to help facilitate this process.

The hard part is over. Start the music. I have the JTE bring in their favorite CD or play something fun and upbeat. While students are walking around, pull some cards off the desk. When the music stops, there will be less cards than there are students. If a student doesn’t get a card, they are out. Ask the students who didn’t get a card to go back to their seat and sit. As you are pulling cards try to make sure you get complete sentences off the desks. However if you end up leaving incomplete sentences on the desks, let the students who have duplicate cards play rock, paper, scissors to determine who gets to keep playing. For the students who acquired cards, check their sentence; if it’s ok, have them go back and stand at their desk.

For the more complex sentences like (New Horizon 2/3) there will likely be some sentence constructions that don’t make sense (There are clocks studying in this class). Don’t worry about that. You can allow them all to keep playing, but remove the cards from the game or you can allow nonsense sentences because they are kinda funny.

I was able to get through 3 rounds (not including the initial practice round without the music) in about 30 minutes. If you need to stretch the activity out, just take less cards in between rounds off the desks.

A final thought: To really make this exercise a good learning experience, the students have to read the sentences in order when they come up to have them checked. I used the popular “say no” command in Japanese which indicates that they are supposed to speak in unison. There is no need to punish a wrong sentence though, simply tell them to try again and find an appropriate mix of the three cards. One class got it right away, the other class took a little longer to get the hang of it, but I was also using it as an introduction to the grammar. If you are using it as a review, you might want to put a time limit on how long they have to make a sentence after the music stops. If they can’t make one in the allotted time then they are out. Even without the time limit it never took longer than 2 or 3 minutes to get all the students in to their sentences.

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