Lessons Learned – BLOCK!


30 to 50 minutes

This game is a very simplified version of the game Scattergories that I have been able to use effectively in just about every class I have taught from review to introducing grammar. If you have played Scattergories than you can probably skip down to the execution part. If not, here is the basic premise. In teams, students create a list of something using complete sentences, then they read the sentences aloud. If another team has the same sentence or close to it, that is a BLOCK! NO POINTS! If no one else has the same sentence, then that team earns points.

Purpose: Multi-task approach to review or introduce a particular grammar point.

Secondary Purpose: Encourage students who don’t typically participate in class to do so in a team in environment.

This is my go to activity if I a teacher gives me a last minute heads up. This game works great and you can scale it up or down depending on how skilled your students are. I have used it about 20 times now in all three levels of Japanese junior high school, with poor classes and great classes, and have generated good results in all those classes. If this game is executed effectively it can make any class exciting.

Prep: This game can have varying degrees of prep depending on how elaborate of a setup you would like to use. Since I use this as my go to game when a teacher gives me a last minute notice, I execute this with almost no prep at all. Preparation for this game should be centered around what the grammar point is. For Unit 6 of New Horizon 2 I found an ISPY picture to put on the board and pass out to the students but for the 3rd year students all I needed was a chalkboard. Depending on how elaborate you want to be I would gather these materials as a good starting point and then add as you see fit for your classes and your text books.

  • Japanese to English Dictionaries – Enough for 2 per team, usually a student will go get them from the library if you ask nicely.
  • Each student will need: Notebook paper, black pen, and red pen.
  • A deck of playing cards with the jokers removed.

Execution: Start off by reviewing whatever the grammar point is for the day. I will use two examples for this post. The first is introducing the grammar of New Horizon 2 Unit 6, “There is…” and “There are…” The second example is from New Horizon 3 Unit 6 as a review of the entire unit.

kumamonExample 1: To start the class, I drew a big tree on the board and then added a picture of Kumamon. The Japanese teacher and I had several short conversations about the location of Kumamon in reference to the  tree.

Next the JTE explained the grammar in Japanese as well as defined several prepositions that will be important for the exercise: on, near, by, far from, next to, under, in(side), and over

Now the students formed 6 teams of 5 to 6 students and one student from each team can come to the front of the classroom to get a Japanese to English dictionary. I had the students completely clear their desks except for a red pen, a black pen, and their notebook. Then I presented on a large TV monitor the ISPY picture and gave several examples of sentences using a There is or There are construction. For each group I had also printed out an A4 size of the same picture and 1 or 2 examples on the back side of it. The teachers at that school later decided to laminate the pictures.ISPY

To the class I explain that they have to work as a team to write as many original sentences as they can using only the picture and the Japanese to English dictionary. I give them 5 minutes to do this, if they are having a lot of trouble you can tack on two to three extra minutes. Once you set them off on the sentence writing, walk around to ensure that they all working as a team and they all understand what they are supposed to do.


After the 5 minutes is up I have the students put away their black pens. It is important that they do this because they should not be able to add sentences as the game goes on. To demonstrate the game play, the teacher pretends to be one of the students at a group and I sit down with another group. The teacher stands up and reads an original sentence based on the picture. “There are 3 buttons near the…” I then stand up and say I have the same sentence. BLOCK! NO POINTS!!

It usually takes about one round for the students to get the hang of this but after round one they are quite keen to see if they can keep another team from scoring points. I make sure that each student of the group has a chance to read. You can adjust the rules to your liking but since they are working as a team I let them read from anyone’s notebook from their group. Also, make sure they are crossing off sentences that have been blocked by other groups so that there are no repeats.

The point system is entirely arbitrary but to keep things close I make each new round worth more points than the previous round or use a deck of cards to randomize point values so that no group can really get too far in front of the others. To maintain the suspense and fun of the game, the teams should be relatively close the entire game. Once you have the game going you can play till about 2 minutes before the bell rings and then determine the winner ensuring that all teams have said an equal amount of sentences to the class. I usually give out extra stamps on their stamp sheets but stickers, fake money and other prizes are good for the winners.

Example 2: For New Horizon 3 Unit 6 review I started out by reviewing each of the sentence constructions on the board:

  • This is a book I bought in the United States.
  • Becky is the student who comes from Canada.
  • This is a movie that (which) makes people happy.

Similar to the above execution I have them form teams, clear their desks, and come get Japanese to English dictionaries. The major difference here is the subject matter for the sentences. I gave them a general category. For one class I chose J-POP and for the other I chose K-POP. They had use any of the three grammar points and their subjects were limited to artists, songs, lyrics, and albums from either J-POP or K-POP.

kawaii, neh?!

The rest of the process is the same except a small change with respect to how you, as a teacher, judge the game. I was very strict when it came to blocking sentences in the early part of the game but relaxed the rules a little bit towards the end. With more complex sentences you will have to make some judgement calls but try to remain as fair possible. For rounds 1 and 2 the subject and the verb (Arashi is the group I like best) must be exact on the other team’s paper to create a block. For rounds 3 to the end, I only required that the subject (artists, songs, lyrics, and albums) be the same to cause a block.

Also with more complex sentences there will be situations where a team will take forever to pick the sentence they want to read. I give them a few seconds and if they aren’t ready I start a five second count down. Sometimes the class will join in! At the end of the five seconds, if they haven’t chosen a sentence, they forfeit their turn. However, it’s ok to be lenient with this because it might be a pronunciation issue or something along those lines. Take a moment to walk over to the student and help them with the sentence before you move on to the next group.

A final thought: The possibilities for this game are endless. Even with elementary school students you could play using something so simple as name a food in English or animals. As long as you can make a consistent sentence this game will work. The flexibility of this game however does not generate the excitement. The ALT does. When using this game, you have to treat it like a game show. Make noises, bring a buzzer, gasp, use countdowns. Watch some Wheel of Fortune or The Price is Right and replicate some of things they do in your class with your voice and mannerisms. The more into the game you are the harder it will be for the bad kids to make trouble for you since their team mates will want to play.

4 comments on “Lessons Learned – BLOCK!

  1. cornishkylie says:

    This looks great and I love that I spy image, it could be used for so much! I’m thinking of how I can use this in my classes this term now – thank you for sharing.

  2. When I taught English, I would use ‘Guess Who’. It taught the kids how to describe looks, vocabulary on clothing, eye color, hair color etc. It was fun 🙂

  3. […] Distance’s Lessons Learned this month featured the game BLOCK! It’s like Scattergories but with less gore… you don’t play with swords then? Oh, […]

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