This is a whole-class speaking activity, needing no preparation, that gets the students practising question forms in a way that is useful practice as well as fun.

Keneward Hill


I introduce the game by showing what an algorithm usually is: A mathematical model or pattern so that after you know the sequence, you can say what the next number will be. (e.g. 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, ...where students see that the next number is 6x6). I say we can do the same in an English game with an algorithm which is a special way to answer questions.

I tell the students that an example algorithm is True, False, True, False, ...

Then I practise the example:

  1. I ask Bobby: "What's your name?" Bobby must say "Bobby." (True)
  2. I ask Mary, who is wearing a white pullover: "What colour is your pullover?" Mary must say: "Red." etc (Any colour but white). (False)
  3. I ask Lili: "Are you a girl?" Lili must say: "Yes." (True)
  4. I ask Georgi: "What time is it?" Georgi must say the wrong time. (False)

I say that two students (it could be one or more than two) will go out while the class decide on an algorithm. When they return, they will ask questions and work out what the algorithm is. These students leave the room for a minute or two.

A good algorithm to begin with is: "Always answer the previous question". For the first question there is no previous question, so we say "Yes." whatever the question is.

Then, to check they understand, I practise with the students in the room - 

  1. I ask Bobby: "What's your name?" Bobby must say: "Yes!" 
  2. I ask Mary, who is wearing a white pullover: "What colour is your pullover?" Mary must say: "Mary!" (Mary remembers the question "What's your name?", and gives her answer to it, not Bobby's answer.)
  3. I ask Lili, (who is wearing a pink blouse): "Are you a girl?" Lili must say "I'm not wearing one!" (She isn't wearing a pullover.)
  4. I ask Georgi: "What time is it?" Georgi must say: "No!" (He isn't a girl!)

The questioners return and begin asking. They can make notes if they want to.

Students can help the questioners by giving full sentence answers, or choose to give short answers, or just give one-word answers if they are less helpful.

Other good algorithms to begin with are:

  • "Boys lie, girls tell the truth." (Or vice versa!)
  • "Tell the truth to special (Wh-) questions and lie to Yes/No questions."
  • "Follow the alphabet (with the first letter of the first word of the answer)."
  • "Tell the truth to one questioner and lie to the other."

Students will come up with many more.

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