Dice – teacher’s best friend?

By Anka Zapart

A little bag with dice is always in my rucksack. The box at the school and the drawers in the office are filled with big dice, acquired or donated or homemade. Dice, dice everywhere… Here are some of my favourite ideas for young learners and adults, too!

Can you clap your feet?

What you need: a simple grid where 1 = clap, 2 = touch, 3 = move, 4 = shake, 5 = dance, 6 = freeze, accompanied by pictures to help the kids who are still pre-literate.

Teacher pre-teaches the verbs and practises first with only two of them, i.e. touch and freeze, as a simple stirrer.

In the beginning, the game can be also played while seated to give the kids the time they need to get used to the routine and to starting and stopping the activity on teacher’s command. Then, more verbs and body parts can be added. In the end, the grid is introduced. Teacher rolls the dice, reads the verb and finishes the sentence (in case of numbers 1 – 4, 5 – 6 are simple activities with no follow-up but they are the most fun). Students perform the actions. Later on, kids also get to roll the dice and create new commands.

Have you ever tried clapping your feet? No? You need to try it: it is possible and it’s fun!

Mime it

What you need: numbers drawn on the board and a set of flashcards. Each number becomes one word, e.g. an animal, depending on which topic is being covered. Teacher chooses the animals (i.e. those that still require more practice) and attaches the cards to the board with magnets or blu-tack, one animal per number.

Teacher rolls the dice and says ‘You are a cat’ – kids perform the action. As soon as they are ready to take the lead, the kids take over, roll the dice and give commands to the rest of the kids. To make it more productive, there can be two or three animals for each number and each student will choose their favourite.

The students can also make more complex sentences, i.e. ‘You are a big / small / angry / sleepy / happy cat’. This same pattern can be used to practise grammar structures, i.e. ‘I am eating a banana’ ‘Put on a jacket’ ‘The cat is eating a banana’ ‘I go to school by plane’, etc., depending on the topic and the age of the children.

Do tigers like meat?

What you need: a special, home-made dice with the following images (fruit, grass, meat, corn, fish, and insects) and a pile of animal flashcards.

Students roll the dice and pick out one of the cards. Teacher asks a question or makes a sentence: ‘Tigers eat fruit’ or ‘Do tigers eat fruit?’, kids respond ‘Yes, it’s true’ or ‘No, it’s not true’.

In the beginning, they might be using only simple answers ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but later on it can be extended to ‘Yes, it’s true’ and ‘No, it’s not true’ as well as to producing full correct sentences, i.e. ‘Tigers eat meat’.

Manufacturing the dice takes some time but they can be reused throughout the course and there is some potential for variations, i.e. dice with habitats, adjectives used to describe animals (big, small, fast, strong, dangerous, friendly) or things that animals can do (swim, run, climb, sing, fly, crawl).

Banana banana riddles

What you need: since this activity is for older students, what you need is just a die per pair of students and a set of words that you intend to practise written on the board or on a handout that the students will have in front of them.
Teacher writes on the board the instructions for each number, at the same time giving one of two examples of the technique in action.

Students work in pairs. Student A rolls the dice, gets a technique that they should be applying and then chooses one word on the board (their choice) from the list and do what is necessary for their partner to guess the word.

It is important that the students first roll the dice and then choose the word as not all of them will lend themselves to all techniques. Ensuring students play in this way will give them some flexibility and make the task achievable.

1 = Mime it: students have to mime the word for their partner to guess
2 = Define it: student should give a definition of the word
3 = Draw it: students draw one of the words
4 = Mouth it: students mouth the chosen word
5 = Associate it: students give a list of one-word associations with their word
6 = Banana Banana it: students use the word in a sentence but instead of saying the word from the list, they say ‘banana banana’

Other options include also: say it in L1 (they can translate the word into their L1), say what it’s not (flipped definitions), acronym it (students treat the word as a made up acronym), deconstruct it (SS divide the words into smaller bits and describe them one by one, good for longer words), what the dictionary has to say (SS use the collocations or idioms from a dictionary (paper or online) to provide clues for their word and this way, the game can also become an opportunity to practise but also to learn more about their words)

Linking words game

What you need: a die per pair and a set of cards with simple sentences / sentence starters.

Students pick out one of the sentence starters, roll the dice and finish the sentence using the assigned linking word. I have played the game with my primary A1 students using the simple sentences such as I can…I can’t…I like…I don’t like

1 = because
2 = and
3 = so
4 = but
5 = when
6 = your favourite word

My FCE students liked the game, too, though, but the sentence starters were much more complex and we used linkers from the higher shelf, for example:

1 = However,
2 = Although
3 = On the one hand / on the other hand
4 = What’s more,
5 = Besides
6 = Despite

Describe the picture

What you need: regular dice (one per pair), and a picture (the same for the entire group or different pictures for each pair). It can also be any of the illustrations from the coursebook you are using.

It is especially useful for lower levels students who are learning to describe pictures although it can be stretched into B2 level exam practice (FCE speaking task 2).

Students work in pairs, roll the dice and take turns in describing pictures, starting from the sentences dictated by the dice. For example:

1 = There is…
2 = There are…
3 = I can see…
4 = …..is ….ing ….
5 = …..is next to / behind / on / under / in …..
6 = I like this picture because / I don’t like this picture because.

Instead of sentence starters, questions can be used, too. In this case the activity will be even more communicative, as student A has to roll the die and ask the question, student B – answers it.

1 = Where is….?
2 = What is he/she doing?
3 = Are there any ….
4 = Do you like…
5 = How is he/she feeling?
6 = What’s this?

B2 students who are preparing for FCE speaking task 2 can start the sentences with the following expressions:

1 = Both pictures….
2 = Picture 1 is different because…
3 = Picture 2 is different because…
4 = I think it might be easy / difficult / strange / lots of fun because…
5 = He / she must be….because….
6 = These pictures are similar because ….

The biggest advantage of this activity is that it can be used in practically every lesson, with different illustrations or photos. Eventually, using these expressions becomes much easier, even without the dice, and students are better able to describe the picture.

Question game

What you need: dice (surprise, surprise!) and a set of vocabulary that you want to practise, for example phrasal verbs, vocabulary from the unit or any random set of the key vocabulary from the text or the listening you are currently working on.

Teacher makes a list of the question starters on the board, for example:

1 = What?
2 = Where?
3 = Why?
4 = Do you?
5 = Have you ever?
6 = Is it easy to?

Students work in pairs or in groups of three or four and take turns in rolling the dice and choosing the word to make a question for the rest of the group to discuss. It will work best with the intermediate level up but it can be adapted to lower levels too, for example a set of verbs and questions such as Do you / Does your mum / dad / friend / brother / teacher, etc.

Now, the only thing you need to do is to get yourself a set of dice! Happy playing!

Author's Bio: Anka is Senior ADOS for VYL and YL at BKC-IH Moscow and a teacher trainer for the IH VYL course and IHCYLT course. She has been teaching for 15+ years in Poland, the UK, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Russia. Her professional interest include second language acquisition in preschoolers in instructed settings, assessment for VYL and YL, literacy in the early years, CLIL and material development.