British Council teacher and trainer Melissa Thomson shares her tips for turning chat show games into grammar and vocabulary practice.
A chat show, also known as a talk show, is a programme with a host who interviews people – usually celebrities.
Many have an informal format. YouTube has lots of clips from US chat shows where celebrities take part in games.
A lot of these games include speaking, and many are information gap activities for pairs or small groups. They’re perfect for use in the classroom as a fun warmer, filler or reward. My teenage and adult learners love to watch the celebrity doing it first, then try it themselves.
Here are some of the games that I've found work best in class, instructions on how you can adapt them for your learners, and YouTube clips of celebrities playing them.
You can find many more examples of celebrities playing these games. Watch them before showing them to your class – some include content or language that is not suitable for young learners.
Box of Lies – The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Watch an example with Emma Stone (search for Adele and Jennifer Lawrence for other good examples)
Level: Elementary to advanced
This describing game is perfect for learners of all ages.
Before class, fill a bag with random objects (e.g. soft toys, foodstuff and stationery). Ask pairs of learners to sit opposite each other and make a barrier using a textbook or cardboard, so that they won't be able to see what the other is holding.
They take turns choosing an object out of your bag and either describing it truthfully or lying about what they have. Play three rounds.
If a learner guesses correctly, they score a point. If they guess wrong, the other learner wins the point. The first learner to get two points wins.
My learners now ask to play this regularly, and have even brought in their own objects to use.
Here is some useful task language to practise with your learners before playing:
- You’re lying!
- You’re telling the truth!
- On my table I have a …
- You usually find this in ...
- It’s made of …
- It’s blue/red/silver …
Mad Lib Theater – The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Watch an example with Tom Cruise
Level: Intermediate to advanced
This hilarious story-generator game works well with teenage and adult learners.
If you show this clip to your class, I recommend watching only until 00.04.46 before playing the game, so you don’t reveal all the jokes.
Learners work in pairs to create a story by filling in the blanks of a pre-written script. You could write the script yourself before class, or you could use the Mission: Impossible-style script Tom Cruise and Jimmy Fallon act out in the clip above.
Here is the beginning:
A: Good evening [name of a cute puppy].
B: Special Director [silly word]. It’s good to see you again.
A: I’m here with your next mission. A criminal organisation of the world’s most [adjective] [plural profession] hacked into their [type of 1980s technology], stealing their top-secret report on [something you buy on eBay].
B: [What you would shout if you saw a spider.]
A: I understand your reaction. Your group also kidnapped your [type of relative] [woman’s name], and is holding them at ransom for [a number] dollars ...
Split your learners into pairs and ask them to sit opposite each other. Learner A provides the missing words, and Learner B writes them down. Make sure they complete two copies of the script. Once everyone has finished, each pair takes it in turns to perform their script to the class.
You could then encourage your learners to be creative and write their own scripts using ideas from films that they like. One of my teenage classes created a zombie chase scene and a pirate treasure hunt.
You will need two newspapers to use as props for the acting part of this. Learners could keep their scripts hidden in the newspapers. You could even invite another class to be audience members.
Learners who enjoy this might also be interested in the website Plot Generator.
Younger learners can try writing their own short story on the LearnEnglish Kids website.
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Human Guess Who – The Late Late Show with James Corden
Watch an example with Sharon Osbourne, Rosario Dawson and Tony Hale
Level: Beginner to intermediate
This is a live version of the classic children’s board game. It works particularly well if you have a large class.
Write everyone’s names on slips of paper and put them in a hat or box. Choose two pairs of learners to be players, and ask each of them to pick a name and keep it a secret. Ask the rest of your learners to stand up. They will be part of the game board.
The aim of the game is for each pair of players to guess which learner the other pair have chosen. They do this by asking questions about the learner’s clothes and appearance and eliminating other learners from the game board.
For example, if they ask ‘Does he or she have blonde hair?’ and the other pair answers ‘yes’, all learners without blonde hair should sit down.
The pair of learners continue asking questions until everyone has sat down but the learner chosen by the other pair.
Repeat the game with the second pair of players asking the questions. The pair who guess correctly in the fastest time are the winners.
Play this with lower-level classes to practise body parts; adjectives such as tall, short, blonde, dark, straight, curly; clothes words; and patterns on clothing accessories.
You could also pre-teach these grammatical patterns:
- Does his/her shirt have ...?
- Has he/she got …?
- Is he/she wearing …?
5 Second Rule – The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Watch an example with John Travolta
Level: Beginner to advanced
Play this fast word game in groups of three.
One learner acts as the game show host and names a category. The other two learners each have five seconds to give three answers for that category. The winner is the person with the most points after three rounds each.
Consider giving lower-level classes ten seconds instead of five.
Some categories are ‘things you would say to a ghost’, ‘what makes you embarrassed’ and ‘the three most disgusting sandwiches possible’. These always make my class laugh, and some learners have surprised me with their inventiveness.
After watching an example on YouTube, ask your learners to write their own categories. As well as funny categories, ask them to include some vocabulary sets you have recently studied in class.
Use a bell or a squeaky toy if you have one to create an authentic game show atmosphere.
Heads Up! – The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Watch an example with Melissa McCarthy and Lena Dunham
Level: Beginner to advanced
You may have played this classic word guessing game yourself. One learner has to guess the word/phrase that the others act out for them. The winner is the person who gets the most correct in one minute.
This segment of Ellen’s show became so popular that it is now one of the most downloaded apps. You can use the free app on an iPad or mobile phone, or write your own words on pre-prepared slips of paper.
The words could be from your class word bag, words that appear in the coursebook, or the learners could write their own. Action verbs work especially well. My class laughed a lot acting out jungle animals last month.
One benefit of using the app is that it keeps track of scores and times. It also video records the actors, which is very funny to watch back as a class. The app comes with the option to buy a 'build your own deck' feature that lets you edit the lists to practise words you have studied in class.
If you use the app with young learners, make sure they have the ‘share to Facebook’ setting turned off so that they don’t share photos or videos of classmates by mistake or without permission.
Before playing, you could introduce or practise task language such as:
- Do it again please!
- I have no idea!
- I don’t have a clue!
Many thanks to Cristina Cabal, who introduced me to Heads Up! at the British Council conference in Spain.
Keep an eye on these chat shows for new games, and your class will never be bored.