I’ve worked at a lot of schools during my time in Japan; although some have been graced with technology and resources, some have been rather lacking in that department. Beyond this, there were times when the Japanese teacher realized they were a few minutes short of finishing the lessons, and would look to me to fill the time.
Below are a list of the top games that I would play with students at Elementary Schools (ES) and Junior High School (JHS) though you can easily adapt the games for high school (HS), and even adults.
Got any filler games you swear by? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Level: I often play this game with ES students, but you can also do it with the early grades of JHS.
What is it: A game for practising vocabulary, where every student gets a chance to speak it.
Break the class into rows (from front to back), and place flashcards on the board (for ES), or hand each student at the back some chalk to write the word (for JHS/HS).
Give each student on the front row a word or phrase, and explain that they have to use a quiet voice. As soon as you say go, the student at the front turns around and whispers the target word/phase to the student behind them.
Repeat this until it reaches the student at the back, who must then run to the front and either touch the correct flashcard (ES), or write the word (JHS).
If you want to continue, you can have the student at the back swap places with the first, and everyone moves up a seat.
Row and Across/Criss-Cross
Level: Mainly used at JHS but also at ES with easy questions.
What is it: A question and answer game. Mainly used as warm-up.
Have all the students stand up. Explain that you will ask a question, and the first hand up who answers the question correctly can pick between: “Row” and “Across”. If the student picks “Row”, every student in front and behind them sits down; if they say “Across” all the students to their left and right sit down. In addition, students have the chance to say “Only me”, which means only they can sit down. I only allow this three times, or the game will go on for hours.
You can make the game last longer by having students pick between “front”, “back”, “left” and “right”, with only the students in that respective direction sit down. To add a new twist to the game, when students say “row” or “across” as an answer, and a student is already sitting down in that direction, they must stand back up. For greatest comedic effect, keep it a secret until it happens.
Level: I only used this one at JHS and above, but you can play it with the later years of ES if they have a high English level.
What is it: Similar to the Japanese version of shiritori, but as the name suggests, in English.
Break the class up into rows. Break the board up into similar rows (top to bottom), as many as you have in the classroom, and put a letter at the top for each row. For example, if there are five rows in the classroom, draw five separate rows on the board and put “A” in the first row, “B” in the second, etc.
Each row must start by making a word from the letter at the top, for example, for the A row: apple. After this, they must write a word that begins with the last letter of the word before it. For example, “Apple -> Eggs -> Star”, and so on, for a set amount of time.
Students are allowed to check textbooks and dictionaries for new words, but can’t bring them up to the front. If you want to make this more difficult, set a limit for the amount of letters a word must have. At the end, students read the words they wrote, and any word that they spelt wrong doesn’t count. Tally up the points at the end.
Level: JHS and above.
What is it: A game where students must remember a given word, and make a correct sentence as a group.
Either provide students with paper or allow them to use their books. Secretly create a sentence that links to the topic you have been teaching. For example, if you have been teaching the students the word “favorite”, you could make: “My favorite food is sushi.”
Put the students into groups of four or five, have them put their desks together, and assign each student a number for as many words in the target sentence. For example, using the sentence above, there are five letters, so five numbers to give to students. (Students having more than one number is okay).
Have all the students, bar the student who is number one in each group, put their heads down and close their eyes. On the board, write a random word from your sentence (out of order; for example, “sushi”). Allow the students time to memorize it (they can’t write it down).
Then, tell student number one to close their eyes. Erase the word, and write a new one down. Ask student two to look up, memorize the word, and then repeat until all words have been written.
After all the numbers have been written, allow the students to work together to try and make the sentence. The first one to come to you with a completely perfect sentence is the winner.