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liroku
December 9th, 2010, 23:53
So, I came up with an idea for a lesson. It worked out even better than I expected, so I thought I'd share it here.

The basic idea is simple. The goal is to build the tallest tower out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti pasta. The kids have to use English to get the marshmallows and pasta.

Now, if you're interested, I'll describe the specifics, potential pitfalls, etc.

TL; DR (copied from a MYC presentation I did a few weeks ago):

Imagine a game so fun, kids will be screaming at you to hurry up and and let them practice some English with you! I call it "Tower." I dreamed it up a few weeks ago, gave it a try, and decided it was awesome! It's cheap, easy, flexible, and requires almost no prep time. It works with Elementary or Junior High school students (might work for High School students, too; I don't teach 'em so I've never tried); my best attempts have been with 3rd-6th grade Elementary students. It's freakin' fantastic for one-shot ES ALTs (or even a repeat lesson; my kids love it).

Like most of my games, the idea behind this one is to get the kids working towards a goal by doing something incredibly fun that actually has nothing to do with English, but requiring English to advance toward the goal. The kids learn and practice English skills without thinking about it; English seems (to them) to be secondary to their primary goal—winning the game!

You'll need to buy a few things to play this game: a bag (or two) of nice, thick (I use 1.7mm or bigger) spaghetti noodles and several bags of marshmallows, some paper, and English cards, questions, or whatever English lesson you're going to be teaching or reinforcing. The goal of this game is pretty simple—build the tallest tower out of the uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows! I've played it as a team game; groups of 3-4 seem to be best. Get the homeroom teacher* to help you divide the teams up, if possible, especially if you don't know the kids personalities well. Keep in mind that the kids who are best at English may not actually be the best at building a tower! You want well-balanced, evenly-matched teams! The contest should be a close one!

*If you don't have the support of the HRT, this game might bomb. I tried it once at a JHS with a JTE who never supports anything that I do. She didn't help translate at all, nor did she help in any other way--unlike all of my extremely helpful ES HRTs. The game didn't go particularly well...

First, make the kids wash their hands. If you don't have a sink in your classroom, bring some wet-naps or something. This will help keep the marshmallows from sticking to their hands and help prevent germs from spreading in case a kid decides to sneak a bite of marshmallow, and besides, it's good for 'em--these filthy little rugrats don't wash their hands often enough.

Then, explain the game to the kids. Get the homeroom teacher to help if you don't speak all that much Japanese. If you have enough materials, build a small sample tower to help explain it! I usually do. The kids will probably understand the idea quickly enough. First, give each group some paper. I like to use 4 sheets of scrap A3 paper. You can use six sheets of A4, or one sheet of A3, it's up to you. This will be the base of their tower. Tell 'em they can't build outside of the base. This is important for two reasons*. Trust me, you need the paper. Give 'em a big enough area to work with, but not too big.

*Using the paper to designate a limited “base” area for the tower solves two problems. I discovered that when I didn't designate a base area, some kids would occasionally try to build a tower on its side, then lift it and set it upright. Obviously, this failed miserably; they had to start all over again, and I felt bad for the kids. Giving them a base area forces them to build up, rather than to the side. The second reason is that the kids will invariably want to eat the marshmallows after the game is done—despite your cries of “ばっちい!!” I usually say no, initially, but leave it up to the homeroom teacher in the end. If they say yes, at least the marshmallows won't have been touching the floor. Gross!

Give each group a certain amount to start with... say, 4 marshmallows and 10 pasta sticks. From here, the game is easy! In order to get more marshmallows and pasta sticks, they have to use some English! This can be in pretty much any form you want—answer a question, call out vocabulary from a flashcard, or even write a sentence or word. You can go to individual groups one at a time (works best for questions or vocabulary flashcards), or you can address the entire class with one question that each group will individually respond to. In one class, for example, I walked around to each group, showed 'em a food flashcard, and had a student from each group ask the other students if they like that food. Every time I came around to a group, I'd show a card to a different kid in the group. That way, everyone got a chance to practice some English.

Upon correctly answering a question (or using a vocabulary word, etc.), the group receives a certain number of marshmallows and pasta sticks; say, two marshmallows and five pasta sticks. For advanced students, you can get creative with this! For example, you can have two groups of questions—one all relatively easy questions, the other, relatively difficult questions—and offer more supplies for correctly answering a difficult question. You can even offer multiple attempts; say, if they answer an advanced question correctly after one attempt, they get four marshmallows and ten pasta sticks; two attempts, three marshmallows and seven pasta sticks, and so on. It's up to you! Don't give 'em too many marshmallows and pasta sticks, though. The idea is for them to need the materials--don't give 'em enough that they have extra marshmallows or pasta.

Then, just keep on going, allowing the kids to build their towers as they see fit! Some good vocabulary to teach here is “square,” “triangle,” “weak,” and “strong.” As in, “squares are weak; triangles are strong.” Show the kids a demonstration, if you have time. Make a square. Then squish it. Make a triangle. You can't squish it without breaking the spaghetti! If you don't have time, just draw it on the board. Keep an eye on the kids later, make sure they're not including too many squares in their design later. After you tell 'em to use triangles, you'll invariably have a group of kids try to build a triangular prism, like this:

http://www.kosbie.net/cmu/fall-08/15-100/handouts/triangularPrism.jpg

Show 'em where the square is and get 'em to try again! This is a game in which you want to really help the kids out, and let the HR teachers help, too!

Toward the end of class, tell 'em they've got a few minutes left, then give each group a few marshmallows and pasta sticks as a bonus! (I usually give 'em 3-4 marshmallows and 10-15 pasta sticks.)

It's nice to have a meter stick or a tape measure handy to determine the winner, although it'll usually be pretty obvious. It's fun to announce the winner of the “Strongest Tower,” “Most Creative Tower,” “Craziest Tower,” etc. Stickers make great prizes!

Kerensa
December 30th, 2010, 02:49
I see no one else has responded, but I think this is a great idea. When I first read the objective I was a little off-put, but after reading the whole of your article I feel that this would work really well!

When I get a job teaching in Japan I've decided I'm going to try to give this a shot. :)

summergirl
January 31st, 2011, 20:00
I think this is cool,Thanks for sharing..