Phrasal Verbs in Context
This week I based some of my lessons on the game called ‘What’s In The Bag…?’ (Click here.) I adapted this rather simple idea to make it into a competitive team game that could fill a 45-minute lesson.
I had been thinking about doing this activity with my students for a while, but earlier in the week I had impulsively bought a large blue plastic bucket for garden use (clippings and so on) and it occurred to me that this would be the ideal receptacle for this game.
So it became ‘What’s in my bucket?’ rather than ‘What’s in my bag?’ There had to be a way to keep the contents of the bucket secret as students dipped their hands in, so I covered it with a 120l bin bag (see picture above).
The language aims were:
- teaching vocabulary
- to be able to discuss and describe everyday items
- to practise using descriptive language
- to have fun with English
- bucket / bag
- something to cover it with, e.g. a blanket or a bin bag
- a spare bin bag in case SS (students) destroy or damage the original (they did!)
- one or more sets of x (e.g. 10) interesting everyday items for SS to guess. I had three different sets which I could use in different lessons (see picture below). You could vary the number of items to fill the time you have
Procedure for a 45 min. class:
- As SS entered the class they could see ‘What’s in my bucket?’ on the board and the large bucket in a big blue bin bag standing on a table in the middle of the room. SS became a tiny bit interested in what the lesson was going to be.
- After doing the register, I asked SS to work in groups of 3 (or 4 if necessary). The aim was to have 4 or 5 groups max. in each class. SS thought of a team name and I wrote them on the board. This was a fun way to identify the teams. Rather than ‘Team 1’, ‘Team 2’, etc. we had ‘Racing Team’ or ‘Damek’s Carrots’!
- Warmer: I asked them straight out: ‘What’s in my bucket?’ SS had to guess cold, without feeling inside the bucket. If anybody had been able to guess cold they would have scored points. Again, the aim was to arouse interest in the activity – and, if I’m being honest, pad out the lesson content a bit.
- I gave the SS the instructions: each group had one minute to feel inside the bucket and try to guess the ten items in there. I used a timer on my phone. SS could take it in turns, but it had to be one at a time. ‘You can’t look! No looking!’ (Of course, some did. In the case of some SS I had to hold the bag as a sleeve so that they couldn’t lift it up and see in.)
- SS wrote items that they had identified on the board (under their team name – see picture below) – in English. (SS were allowed to use dictionaries and the internet to check words they didn’t know.) If one team had guessed an item, another team couldn’t claim the same item. SS had to be fairly specific, so for example in the case of the toy polar bear the word ‘TOY’ or ‘ANIMAL’ was not accepted by me, while ‘PLASTIC BEAR’ was. With higher-level groups I made them be even more specific: ‘Yes, it’s a battery, but what kind?’ SS feels in the bucket again: ‘AAA?’ ‘Yes, that’s right! But what colour is it?’ Seriously, you could give bonus points for correct guesses to questions like this.
- Each group had a turn. After one round there were several items written on the board, under various team names. I said which were correct. After the second round (60 seconds each) the SS had maybe been able to correctly guess seven or eight items between them. Time-permitting we played a third and final time, but with only 30 seconds per group. If at the end they hadn’t guessed all ten items I gave clues and tried to elicit what they were until the SS guessed them. Or just told them, if we were in a hurry. With a few groups I helped them by removing the guessed items one by one (and eliciting their names from the whole class) to leave the last two or three items, making them easier to identify.
With one higher-level group I was able to use two sets of ten items in the 45-minute lesson, because they were so fast. It was necessary to have more than one set of items prepared, partly for this reason and also in the case of SS stealing or throwing the items. (One class inevitably did this!)
If you have time, you could ask SS to pick some items to put in the bucket for you to guess. Of course, don’t look when they are doing this! One of my classes did this and I had to guess the items, but I felt it was a bit boring for the SS and the focus was all on me, which I wanted to discourage.
- It was really interesting that the hardest part of the game for the SS was not guessing the items, but finding the correct name for those everyday things. I had chosen things that we see around the home all the time, but don’t necessarily know in the target language (English). One example was the word ‘coaster’. In Polish this is ‘podstawka’ which basically means ‘stand’. In Polish this single word can mean one of half a dozen or more different items, so the SS came up with various names when they felt this item: ‘tea tablet’, ‘tea pad’, ‘tea stand’, ‘tea saucer’, ‘tea tray’… all of these words are served by the same word ‘podstawka’, while in English we have many different words, including ‘coaster’.
- The SS were intrigued by the initial concept: ‘What’s in my bucket?’ I was able to use theatricality, e.g. showing a squeamish face as I gingerly delved into the bucket. Some SS remarked that there could be a snake in there. I hope it was a fun and unusual lesson that will be memorable for my SS, who are so often used to sitting still for 45 minutes reading the course book in class. (Not in my classes, I’m happy to say.)
- It was really nice to see teamwork within the groups of three. Most of them naturally – without being told by me – adopted the dynamic of one feeling and speaking, one checking the translation, and one writing on the board.
There had to be a group who didn’t take the activity in the spirit in which it was given; I knew that they wouldn’t, but I wanted to try it with them anyway and see what would happen. So we got chaos:
- stealing the items, keeping them, even after the lesson into the following break
- hiding the items
- drawing ‘rude’ pictures on the board
- tearing the bin bag to make a hole so they could see in
- throwing items around
- pulling the ring pull off the can of sweetcorn, then near the end of the lesson, when they felt hungry, trying to open the can by smashing it on the corner of a desk. They now owe me one can of sweetcorn!
And yet this class were still able to guess six out of ten of the items. In hindsight, should I have played this game with them?
In terms of the language goals it’s debatable how much English the SS learned from doing this activity. It wasn’t really a communicative activity and SS used Polish throughout, apart from to say/write the names of the items. There was no presentation element, unlike the previous few weeks’ lessons. However, it was undoubtedly fun for each group. Next week we will have to work harder on speaking in class.