Tag Archives: EnglishTeaching

Survival: The Shipwreck Game

Learning Aim

I use this game as an aid to encourage English conversation for both children and adults. The students can talk within their team, between teams and with the teacher.

It works best with English language proficiency levels of Intermediate (B2) and above.

It introduces new vocabulary about islands, the tropics and ships and seafaring.

In lower ability classes you can teach them future phrases like “I will search for…”  “I want to find…” or “I hope the boat does not sink“.


The situation – a shipwrecked survivor – seems to be familiar to all people. Many people know of Robinson Crusoe or the film Castaway.

Players seem to like working out survive strategies. It engages students and gets the class to think of imaginative solutions to problems.


The game is best if you divide the class into teams of 4 to 6.
Each turn a different team member is nominated to be the leader of the team. This person should lead the discussion and will take the decision for the team that turn.
Let all the teams discuss their next move. The teacher calls time and invites each leader to write down their “order” for the next turn.

At the end of the game, the teacher should invite each team to criticise the choices of the other team and speculate as to who would survive or be rescued.

Explaining the game – its mostly a shared story

I start the game by drawing a tropical island on the board and asking the class if they can name things they would typically find on such an island. I start by drawing a mountain and palm trees. After the class has exhausted their vocab I start to add things like coconut trees, banana trees, streams of fresh water, coral reefs, wild pigs and goats.

I then draw a sailing ship wrecked on the coast.

On the ship I draw “compartments” and I number them from the bow to the stern in descending order, starting at 8 or 7 down to 3. I do not explain these to the players.

I tell the class a story.

They are on the ship that has been shipwrecked and we are going to play a game called “survival”. I draw a stick figure on the shore and tell them that they have managed to get off the ship and they are alone and standing their in the pyjamas on the beach, and are wet, tired, thirsty, and hungry. Their ship is stuck on a reef and still afloat though it is taking in water through a hole in the bow of the ship.

I tell them that there are things on the ship that they might get that will help them to survive.

I divide them into teams. I ask the teams to discuss what item they want from the ship. I ask them to nominate a leader or spokesperson.


I do not use any rules for finding the item they require. What I do is to ask the player where they might expect to find the item they are searching for on the ship.

I want them to give a rationale, an explanation. Sometimes if they do not give a good enough reason – my judgement – I will let them find a lesser type of object. For example they often saw they want a gun. Unless they tell a good story about why the ship has rifles with lots of ammunition, I let them find a pistol and a few bullets.


Every time a player goes back onto the ship they risk making the ship unsteady and it might take on more water and possibly sink.
To simulate this I use a simple system called EDNA* (Ever Decreasing Number Allocation). This is a simple disaster modelling system. 
The target number is the largest uncrossed number in a ship’s compartment. The player rolls two dice.

  • If the sum of the dice is less than the target number then that compartment withstands the sea and does not flood. 
  • If the sum is equal or higher than the target number, then that compartment floods. 
  • If the sum is higher and a double, then two compartments flood.
When all compartments are flooded the ship sinks taking any unwary player down with them.
So long as the ship does not sink, the player always manage to collect the item they are searching for.

Sometimes if the players are being slow or cannot agree I warn them that the wind is picking up and the waves are tossing the ship about on the water and water is flooding into the ship. If they don’t get the hint, I make the leader roll the dice, and determine if the compartment floods. I do not allow them to collect anything. It rarely comes to this, but it does add to the excitement.


Using the image of the ship above as an example. 
The players have already gone to the ship to retrieve two items, an axe and something to make a fire with. On the last of those forays they have rolled an 8 or more, but not a double 4, 5 or 6, and one compartment in the bow has flooded. The compartment with 8 is now crossed off.
If they want to go on the boat to search for something else they will need to roll 2 – 6 to avoid flooding another compartment. On a roll of 7 to 12 one compartment will flood, if the roll is a double 4, 5  or 6, two compartments will flood.

Completed game

Below are two completed games, I played with Max (11) and Nico (8), two Italian boys who have recently started living in England and picking up English. We all took it in turns to draw on the paper.

The boys were good, and selected relevant things, like clothes, an axe, tinned food, a knife and matches. But both pushed their luck too far and went back to the nearly flooded ship and sank when the ship was overwhelmed by the sea.

Materials required

  • Two six sided dice
  • Pen and paper, or whiteboard and markers

Time required

This game can easily take an hour to play. It could be done as a quick 15 minute session.

You can vary the game duration by telling more elaborate stories or discussing some vocab in more detail.

Modelling a catastrophic event

*EDNA was invented by Graham Hockley. I first used it in 1990. It has been incorporated into a some game rules.

EDNA is a simple but effective method to model an unpredictable catastrophic event that becomes more likely as time passes. It does not degrade a situation, it models sudden and absolute change from one state into another state. The ship is afloat; the ship is sunk. The volcano is dormant; the volcano is erupting. There is no half-way degraded state.

The probabilities are:

Succeed         Fail
<8 = 58%        >=9 = 42%
<7 = 42%        >=8 = 58% 
<6 = 27%        >=7 = 73%   

<5 = 16%        >=6 = 84%

<4 = 11%        >=5 = 89%
<3 = 03%        >=4 = 97%

The Last Word

Learning Aim

A game for all levels of English above pre-Intermediate (B1, B2, C1, C2)

  • Listening: understanding the rules of the game
  • Listening: to other players
  • Pronunciation: Practising saying words
  • Vocabulary: Recalling and using words in English

Game Synopsis

This is a filler game. For example it can either be used when waiting for other members of the class to arrive or as a reward, especially for younger players, at the end of a teaching session.

It is quick, competitive and engaging. Learners are intent on winning and forget they are thinking and speaking in English because they want to win.

Resources required

  • two dice, if possible have one dice that is much larger than the others, if not use differently coloured ones
  • whiteboard or blackboard to write up the target letter/s and the words used


Introduce the game, and go through the rules. Give an example of a turn. Emphasise that the game is about speed.

Order of play

  1. Use a simple method to select who is the first player (last birthday, who last went to a party, who last ate a boiled egg, etc.)
  2. A letter or combination of letters is selected, usually by the teacher. This is the letter or letters that each word has to start with. The selected letter/s can be “e” or “ch”. (Note for harder variations you can designate that the target letter/s come at the end of a word.)
  3. The start player rolls the large target dice once and that number is the target number. Place this on a book or somewhere prominent so it can be seen be all and not knocked over!
  4. The start player by taking the “rolling” dice and tries to say a word that starts or ends with the target letter/s.
  5. If they say a correct word they roll the dice, if it is the same number as the target dice they have said the “last word” and won.
  6. If not, they pass the dice (or it is grabbed by the next player) and they have their turn.
  7. Repeat stages 5 and 6 as rapidly as possible.


Two alternatives. The simple scoring methods suits younger learners.

Simple scoring

The player who says the “last word” scores a point. Note this on the whiteboard / blackboard.

Advanced scoring

The player who says the “last word” scores points for every word that has been said in answer to the current “target word”. (Note this requires that each word is written on the blackboard or whiteboard.) Be prepared for cries of “its a lucky game!”


Example of play

  1. The teacher selects a “ch” as the target letters.
  2. The player who last visited a shoe shop takes the target dice and rolls a “4”
  3. The first player says “charlie” and rolls a 3 with the rolling dice
  4. The next says: “chips” and rolls 5.
  5. The next says: “chimpanzee” and rolls 1.
  6. The next says: “chocolate” and rolls 4. The “last word!”
  7. They score 4 points under the advanced scoring or 1 point using the simple scoring rule.

Note on speed

The teacher should drive this game to go as fast as the players can manage. Obviously use your knowledge and judgement of the players, but at times you might wish to drive the play by grabbing the dice and passing it to the next player, or if a player hesitates too long pass the dice to the next player… As the learners get familiar with this game, they will drive this themselves.

Word Battleship

Learning aim

A game for pre-Intermediate and advanced-Intermediate English learners.

  • Listening to and understanding the rules of the game
  • Practising saying letters and numbers 
  • Understanding and spelling words in English

Game synopsis

Using the traditional format of Battleships, the players attempt to locate words and predict them and their location on the grid.


  • paper with 10 by 10 gridded squares
  • whiteboard and markers / blackboard and chalk
  • pens, pencils etc.


The teacher prepares a crossword like grid with 10 words that are written vertically top to bottom or horizontally left to right and that intersect. All words have to be written like a crossword so that they only form proper words. Do not run words parallel to each other or butt words endtoend!

Each player is given a blank grid so that they can mark off the missed shots and letters hit.

The teacher writes on the whiteboard 20 words, 10 of which are already on the grid prepared earlier.

Order of play

  1. In turn each player calls out one of the gird references. (e.g. “A8”)
  2. The teacher tells the player if they have:
    • missed
    • hit and what letter was at that grid reference
  3. The player can try to guess either a word or the entire grid. See “scoring” below.
  4. Next player…


After each player calls gets a hit, the player can attempt to guess the word hit. Each word correctly guessed earns a point.

Alternative scoring: A correctly guessed word scores as many points as there are still un-hit letters in the word correctly guessed!

Monster’s Inc

This is a simple educational game that engages the children in a game, gets them using their imagination and naming body parts, and also gives them some drawing fun.

I have used it to assist children in listening and speaking English.


  • pens, pencils, erasers, crayons etc.
  • paper
  • alternatively you could use a whiteboard or blackboard


  1. Each person takes it in turn to suggest a body part, a type of animal or some feature. For example: a big nose, speakers for a hands, pirate arms, angel wings or a giraffe’s body. The teacher writes this on the board.
  2. Each child draws the new “body part” on their paper, adapting it to the other parts drawn before.
  3. When all have finished, each student passes their paper to another student. This is simplest if they pass to the same person each time. It could be randomised, but this will create more fuss and potential confusion.
  4. Go back to 1 and repeat.
I would suggest that no more than 6 or 8 parts are included in each drawing as the sketch gets a little busy after a while. Keep an eye on progress.

When all have completed their drawing, gather them in and ask for the children to judge which is the best.

Ask them what they like about each one. Praise good ideas etc.

Ask them to name the bit which is the head, or the body etc.


This example was created from the following list.

  1. Speaker Head
  2. Thin Body
  3. Pirate Arms
  4. Octopus’ Tentacles
  5. Silly Hat
  6. Small Legs.
The class voted this one the best one.
I liked it because one child told me that he had included two “pirate arms” – the one with tattoos and the “internet pirate” with the mouse! Not bad for a Spanish kid of about 12.


Thanks to Ian Temple for suggesting this idea.