One thing that Michele Whaley has taught me is to look to ALL content areas for inspiration. SIXES is a game that I learned from a math teacher, and it translates easily into a language classroom (get it? translates? ;-)).
Overview of Sixes
In Sixes, students are racing against peers in their group to be the first to complete a written task. The task might be “writing out the numbers 1-100” or “filling in the Periodic Table”; or it might be “translating a list of Spanish sentences into English”. It could also be “re-writing (or copying over) the class story”.
Whatever it is, the end product must be VERY specific and clear: this is not a creative task! Whoever finishes the task and produces the end-product correctly first, wins!
Prepare to play Sixes
First, give every student in your class a die: if you have 35 students, then yes– you need 35 dice!
Also give each student a piece of paper or a worksheet. This will depend on the task that you want them to accomplish.
Divide your class into groups of 3-6, and give each group ONE pen or pencil.
How to play Sixes
Group members sit at a grouping of tables or in a circle on the floor, with their worksheets or papers in front of them. They place the ONE pencil or pen in the middle of the circle or grouping, ready for someone to grab it!
All group members begin rolling their dice simultaneously. As soon as someone rolls a SIX, that person yells, “SIX!” (or “¡SEIS!”, if you’re playing in Spanish class) and grabs the pen or pencil from the center of the circle. That person starts working on their writing task– perhaps translating the first sentence on their list from English to Spanish.
As the first person that rolled a six is writing, all other group members keep rolling. Once another group member rolls a six, that person yells, “SIX!” (¡SEIS!) and immediately grabs the pen or pencil from their group-mate, even if that person is mid-sentence! The new owner of the writing utensil starts writing and continues until another group member steals the pen or pencil. Meanwhile, the original obtainer of the pen/pencil picks up their die and starts rolling again, trying to roll another six and reclaim the writing utensil.
Play continues until one group member has had enough time with the pen/pencil to finish their writing task! The teacher checks it while group-mates keep rolling. If it is accurate, that student wins! If not, they keep trying to roll a six in order to get back the pen/pencil and make the necessary corrections on the paper.
Sample writing tasks for language classes
Because students are vying for use of a single writing utensil, the task that they are trying to complete must require for them to use a writing utensil. However… there are lots of ways to get creative within that!
Use a pen or pencil
- Assign a Free Write (or Focused Free Write) with a minimum word count. Set the requirement before game play begins (35 words, 50 words, 75 words, 100 words, etc.), and the first student that writes that number of words, wins! Make sure that you choose a number that is attainable for ALL students in you classes, and use papers with pre-counted spaces so that students can easily see when they’ve reached their target. While students will be mostly focused on rolling when they don’t have control of the writing utensil, they will likely be dedicating a little bit of brain space to planning what to write next– and processing time is key for students in the early stages of language acquisition!
- Translate a list of sentences or a text (story, cultural text, the page from a book etc.) from L2 to L1 or from L1 to L2. I prefer to have my students reading sentences in Spanish and writing the English translations so that students are receiving input throughout the activity.
- Do a Horizontal Conjugation of a list of sentences (not ideal) or a text (my preference!).
- Fill in the blanks in a text. Give students a story or informational text with missing words. If it’s a familiar text, students can fill in the blanks based on memory with the support of context clues; for an unfamiliar text, students can rely entirely on context clues to complete the task. Either way, you can choose to give students an extra layer of support by providing them with an word bank, or you can require them to come up with the answers on their own. As a twist, eliminate PARTS of words instead of full words. Ex: El chico va a la t_ _ _ da y compra _ _ che. If it’s a familiar text or story, students should be able to do it without much trouble!
- Re-write a story: yes, students can literally copy over a story or text! They are reading and re-reading it, which is a good thing. The fun, competitive nature of this game will keep this from feeling like busy work!
Use a highlighter
- Give students a CLOZE passage (learn more here). Students have to read the text and highlight the word in each set of parentheses that best completes the sentence/story!
- After asking a story, reading the chapter of a novel, or reading and discussing an informational text, give students a list of review sentences about the topic. Each sentence should be a fact or event from the text/story/discussion, but it must contain ONE error. Students must highlight the error in each sentence! To add another layer of challenge and strategy, you could have a pencil AND a highlighter in the middle of the group, and students must HIGHLIGHT the mistake with the highlighter, then get a pen or pencil to write it correctly!
- With a list of sentences or a text in front of them, tell students to highlight a specific linguistic item: all the verbs, all the subjects, all the nouns, etc. This is a way to draw students’ attention to grammatical features and still exposing them to contextualized language that they understand (input). Because it puts their focus on form instead of meaning, however, I do not recommend doing this kind of a task too often!