Jan 16, 2012

Spent but enriched

In this activity, students play an online digital game (in pairs or alone at home) and then focus on the lexis related to money.

I've never liked online games, apart from Airport Madness 3 and Airline Manager on Facebook - my childhood fascination with airplanes is probably to blame. I would even make snide remarks about people who do like them, such as: "My life is interesting enough I don't need online games" or "I have imagination, thank you. I don't need to escape into the realm of fantasy". However - now this may sound platitudinous - it all changed when I took Graham Stanley's online course "Language Learning Using Online Digital Games" on SEETA (South East Europe Teachers Association). By the way, if you don't know what SEETA is check out their website - they run great courses and you can take part in some of them even if you're not a member of a teachers' association in any of the 12 member countries. Graham's course introduced me to a lot of online games which can be exploited in class and I came to realise that digital games are not all about aliens, monsters and raising chickens, though those ones have an educational potential too.

One game I particularly liked, called Spent is aimed at raising awareness of the poverty issues in the USA. Basically, you're given $1000 and you have to make it through the month. But the depressing subject-matter is not the reason why I got hooked on this game. When you see how lexically rich it is, you'll understand why I took an instant liking to it. Try it for yourself by following this link

The activity outline below is an adaptation and extension of Graham's original idea which can be found on his blog Digital Play.

Before the game ask students to imagine what it would be like to be poor in America. What would they find most difficult?

Students play the game in pairs. Tell them to note down useful chunks as they come up in the game. They can use an online dictionary (Cambridge or Macmillan) to look up any language they don't know.

Collect on the board all the expressions your students noted down while playing
OR give them a list of expressions and ask them to tick the ones they came across:

take-home pay
sick pay
make your ends meet
fired on the spot
keep you afloat
basic necessities
live below the poverty line
make it through the month
pitch in for a co-worker's gift
face the stigma of being poor
affordable housing
life throws curveballs
effective immediately
let a friend camp out in the living room
put up with his/her annoying habits

extracurricular activities
private tutor
know your stuff
place a heavy burden on
monthly insurance premiums
provide full coverage
end up in the street
root canal
put a considerable strain on...
take its toll
stress level is through the roof
feel like lighting up
take the edge off
addiction problems

It seems like a lot of language for one lesson but in fact there will be little genuinely "new" language for upper-intermediate students; most of it will be new combinations of familiar words (e.g. make your ends meet, know your stuff or take-home pay ).

After clarifying the vocabulary (see Teachers notes), ask students to discuss and compare with others what job they chose, what course of action they took, what dilemmas they had to face (some really tough choices have to be made along the way!)

Ask students to play the game again at home, this time making different choices / taking a different course of action.

This can be done the following week or immediately after playing the game. Print the word cards, cut them up and stick them on the walls around the room using blu-tack (do not enlarge the pages, leave them deliberately small) - preparation which has to be done before the lesson.

GAPPED TEXTS for Round the Room cloze (Down and Out)

Divide the class into groups A and B and distribute the handouts. Give two texts: Work & Health to group(s) A and two texts: Children and Social Issues & Housing to group(s) B. Ask students to look at the texts and see if they complete the gaps without any word bank. Then tell them to stand up, walk around the room (background music is advisable) and find the words they need - they don't need to take them off the walls unless you have a small class and only one group A and one group B.

Alternatively and if you're short of time, divide the class into 4 (or 8) groups and give each group half a page (one text each). Bear in mind that some texts are shorter and contain fewer missing words - these can be given to groups of weaker learners.

After students have collected the words they need, put them in mixed groups where they can swap the sheets and check each others' answers

I played the game with a group of upper-intermediate students and they loved it. I originally wanted to use it to round off the lesson (the topic was Work, particularly, a gap between highly-paid and low-paid workers) but decided to go straight into the game instead. It was a great success with my students (a couple of them over 60!). It kept them going for an hour and they found a lot of useful lexis. Try and see if it works for you.

Finally, this is a vocabulary review activity which I used the following week: students have to match three words to make collocations.
VOCABULARY REVIEW - needs cutting up

For other ideas for revising and recycling lexis, see the Cycles of Recycling


  1. Clearly, I need to follow this blog too! Do you have any more fun games up your sleeve? xox Karin

  2. Hi Karin
    No not yet. But I have a few video-based activities on here.
    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Thank you for dropping by, Lucy

  4. I am loving your blog already. Where can I learn more about the Lexical Approach?

    1. Michael Lewis's books - The Lexical Approach (1993), Implementing the Lexical Approach (1997) and Teaching Collocation (2000) - would be a good place to start.

      Check out Hugh Dellar's and Andrew Walkley's blogs:

      Humasing Language Teaching has a section entitled Corpora Ideas

      and of course do come back to this blog! :)




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...