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Now's Co-operative Newsletter
7 April 2000, #6

As I write this it's a month since the last newsletter. It looks like sending something out every two weeks might be a little ambitious. But then again, that all depends upon you. The more I receive, the more I have to include which means the quicker a whole newsletter will be created. I would like this to be more than "hi, hello from Chris". I do have some ideas I'd like to share and I hope you find them useful. I'd also like to hear from you. What are you doing, what's working, what isn't? We can all benefit from each other's experiences. All the best...

If this all feels familiar - you're right. It's my old record (should that be CD?) replaying. But then as I'm fond of saying the meaning of communication is the response you get. Since I got so little response with the above that means my communication strategy was poor. So this time I'm going to try some shock tactics and see what happens. As Tim Murphey's friend says "Try something new, if it doesn't work try something new. If it does work, try something new anyway."


PS This newsletter is now reaching out of Japan and into Europe and Canada. So I'm trying to drop the references to English and Japanese and use the phrase target language and mother tongue (is it still OK to use this phrase?), if I make a mistake I guess you'll know what I mean.

Toilet Escape

Preparation: on the whiteboard draw a toilet and the pipe leading from it. At the end of the pipe draw the slime. Divide the pipe into spaces. Between 6-12 is fine. The more spaces the longer the game. In each space, write a number. The numbers should be between 50-80% of the total number of students. So if you have 10 students write numbers between 5 and 8. Being exact isn't important. Tell the student's the object of the game is to escape the monster toilet and avoid the slime. Get the students to choose a marker to represent themselves. Put it midway along the pipe.

Procedure: Set a timer between 20-40 seconds, but keep the time secret. An alternative is to record a piece of music and pause it while recording to break it into random parts. Play a version of Simon Says mixing the target language and the mother tongue. Students should obey the target language but ignore their own. Any student using or obeying their mother tongue is knocked out for that round. When the timer goes the round is over. Count the players remaining. If the number is greater than the number in the space the students' marker is moved one space towards freedom, otherwise move the marker one space towards the slime.


  1. Get one or more of the students to be the leader. To ensure that they use their mother tongue give them a target number of commands they must use. If they fail to use that number the round is lost and the students' marker is moved towards the slime.
  2. If the students are good readers prepare a list of actions to be read. Include some in their own tongue.
  3. To escape the bowl the children must score 100%. If they fail leave their marker where they are and draw slime moving two spaces up the pipe.

Comments anyone? Shocking enough? What do you feel about the use of mother tongue? I guess in international classes a whole mix of languages could be used. It is possible to keep the game in the target language alone by using a quiz format or just using ordinary Simon Says.

I feel there are some benefits to mixing up the languages but I also wonder about the 'nasty' effect of knocking students out. See the following sections:

" If we taught children to speak, they'd never learn" William Hull

I've always been reluctant to teach, though I like talking. Often I feel that students learn despite teachers rather than because of them. I think the more a language is treated as a subject to be taught the more it becomes separated from actually being a language. Language is a code to exchange meaning. Meaning springs from intention, from purpose. Many students in Japan seem to learn English focusing on it as a subject rather than a language. I feel this actually creates barriers to learning. So recently I've been thinking about what to do to get students to experience English as a language. I've been thinking about controlled use of the mother tongue.

The mother tongue is students preferred means of communication. I feel that it's important that students are explicitly taught that there are other means of communication. For a long time now I've often used silent games with new children's classes. I usually use a non-language game involving some action. Ants in the Pants from MB is good. Players try and flick plastic ants into some plastic pants. The original is competitive but easily adapted. Making and flying paper aeroplanes into a box is a non-proprietary alternative.

The activity should be attractive so the students are drawn to it. I use some short energetic music (e.g. Debussy's Le Petit Nègre) to time the activity. We play for the length of the music or until a student speaks at which point the activity ends immediately. When doing the activity I display a "shsh" symbol. Players are allowed to communicate freely using gestures.

Other ideas include silent shopping games, sorting games and doing jigsaws together without speaking. The idea is to get students used to the idea of communicating without words.

Using the mother tongue at the same time as the target language is something I've done very little of but I feel is a worthwhile experiment. With high school students I've done games where everyone has to use a language other than their own. Hearing your own language but having to respond in another is like doing mental gymnastics. Toilet Escape challenges students to disregard their own language.

An idea I'm keen to try but haven't yet is multi-lingual shopping. How about getting the students to shop from each other? The shops use different languages. Some use the target language only, some the mother tongue and some mime only.

By creating activities in which both languages are used for the same purpose the target language is put at the same level as the mother tongue. It is legitimised as a language, and becomes a means of communication. Conversely if students only use the target language they may be practising it but in the shadow realms of subject material. The language gets tied asnd trapped to the classroom. That's my theory anyway.

" Teacher's Questions, like their tests, are traps" John Holt

I have a problem with Toilet Escape. I'm unhappy with the trickery. The game works by focusing on mistakes. The game is one in which there is a right response and a wrong response. I feel this is suspect.

When we want to check understanding we often ask direct questions. Inherent in this is the notion of right and wrong. When we are asking direct questions we are creating a situation that invites failure. It is a truism that test do not show what students know but what they don't know.

As an alternative to directly testing students' knowledge with direct questions I prefer nonsense. Children, particularly, are very literal. If I show a flash card of a cat and say "Now this monkey..." I will be corrected. So I can use known vocabulary in a nonsensical way to validate new vocabulary without asking "What is it?" If the children correct me but don't give the real answer I can supply it myself. I feel it's foolish to use the question "What is it?" when I know what it is. Where there is no genuine question the true meaning can only be to test. I feel testing (but not assessment) is top down and punitive.

Making mistakes and waiting for correction is I feel a better strategy than putting students on the spot. If a student knows the answer the question is meaningless other than as a test. If the student doesn't known the answer I've proved the student inadequate. And moreover the whole process reinforces the idea that English is a subject to be studied rather than a language to be used for communication. It is useful to understand what students have internalised and what they haven't but care is required in finding out.

I think that processes which draw attention to the students' lack of knowledge are 'nasty' because they can attack self-esteem. If students have high self-esteem and feel confident then I think games like Toilet Escape are not dangerous. It is important that students feel comfortable about mistakes. But there is a difference between making a mistake and being trapped into making one. Or am I just being too sensitive?

What's Next - a monster in the making

Last issue I included a list of concepts to be included in What's Next - a CD of musical games and activities. Currently I have a 60-page booklet very much intent on growing. I'm desperately trying to get some focus. I'm moving in the direction of games and activities to teach the idea that English is a language. The theme for this issue. Here is a revised list. Many have no actual English content. But I feel that they facilitate the learning of English. So the time spent on introducing them will be returned with more motivation, enthusiasm and commitment to learning. And if that sounds paradoxical I guess it is. A lesson is a learning opportunity. I feel learning occurs naturally when it is experienced rather than taught.

Set One: Concepts about Language

  1. Communicate without Speaking
  2. Repetition is different from language
  3. Be aware of the language you are using and when
  4. Use English
  5. English is a Means of Communication
  6. Multiple Replies are Possible to the Same Question
  7. There are different ways to say the same thing
  8. Context Effects Language

Set Two: Specific Functions in English

  1. How to stop something Uncomfortable.
  2. How to get attention (Excuse me!)
  3. Show You Don't Understand
  4. Getting someone to speak more slowly
  5. Getting someone to say something again.

And there's one more, nothing to do with language (exactly). It goes like this: we are all different and that's OK. OK?

The Lion Game Story

I created the Lion Game after visiting Doug Gilbet's home page Taiwan Teacher:


There are quite a few games there but at the time I couldn't find any co-operative ones. Recently Doug sent me an email to tell me that the Game had been reworked. At first glance I found the new game to be competitive, but actually it needn't be. In fact I feel that the creator Getraud Muraoka, has made a more interesting version. She teaches in Vienna using a system called Opening Learning. Here are a few of her observations:

I'm teaching kids between 10 (beginners) and 15 this year. I do OL sessions in all classes, but mostly with the younger groups. We also do roleplay, quite a lot of exercises based on rhythm, and I sometimes even dance sentences to my students who then wonder if I have gone mad at last. But there is still a lot to be changed to get kids involved with learning. It is the whole system that needs to be changed, in fact. What's the use of using modern teaching methods in one subject, i.e. 4 lessons per week if the remaining 28 are held in the traditional way? Sometimes it takes quite a time to get these tired and bored kids away from their desks, and even then they will sit down again as soon as they have the slightest chance. Because that's what they have learned to do - sit, wait, and listen. Our schoolrooms are not designed for moving around much, which is a pity.

I think the idea of dancing sentences is great. And I too feel the system needs to be changed. John Holt was writing in the sixties. It's sad to note that his reflections and concerns about school still seem so pertinent.

"The young person in school is monstrously confronted by the BARBARIAN in unforgettable form. The latter possesses almost limitless power. Equipped with pedagogical skills and many years of experience he trains the pupil to become a prototype of himself. The pupil learns everything required for getting ahead in the world - the very same things that are necessary for getting ahead in school; deceit, pretending to have knowledge one does not have, the ability to get even without being punished for it, speedy acquisition of clichés, subservience, a readiness to betray one's fellows to the higher ups..."

Bertolt Brecht
(quoted in Chapter One of my father's book
Hopes for Great Happenings, Methuen 1976)


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Note: Now's Co-operative Newsletter used photos to link to other sites. Some links have been replaced as the original websites have disappeared. Accordingly notall photos lead back to the sites they came from. Spelling has been left as was - ouch!

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As intact as can be!

last updated: 5th August 2005

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