One of the first activities I learned for teaching English to Elementary School kids was “Fruit Basket”. Although in Japanese it’s pronounced more like Fruits Basketo due to the way it’s translated into Japanese sounds. This simple Elementary activity is fun for everyone and it’s quite possible that you’ve played this or a variant of it in your home country.

Setup

The first step is to arrange a circle of chairs facing inwards. One chair for everyone involved, minus one. The competitor without a chair stands in the middle of the circle. Everyone has a keyword assigned to them from a given theme, for example: fruit. Assign keywords by giving each student a card with a certain keyword on it. For this example perhaps three students have banana cards, another three have apples, and the final three have oranges. Whoever starts off in the middle of the circle has to say a sentence using one of the relevant keywords. For our example they could say something like “I like bananas”. Then, everyone with the associated keyword card, in this case “bananas”, has to stand up and in a frenzied rush, make a dash for an empty seat. This also gives the person who was standing in the middle a chance to grab a seat. Whoever doesn’t get to a seat in time is now “it”.

Themes

In Elementary school this activity can be used with a lot of the vocabulary that’s typically studied. By having students say singular words instead of a sentence this could theoretically be used with any theme.

For example: animals, food, family members, colours, objects, places, buildings, countries, and so on and so on.

But to level it up and to give the game some context it makes sense to try and include a sentence structure. The main ones I’ve used in the past have been:

I like food/animal

I can verb (play soccer/play the piano/swim/etc.)

I want to go to country

PRO TIP: Try using this activity for older students, adults or even in English Club. For these classes increase the challenge level by removing the cards and telling them to say something about the other players. Such as “I have black hair” (everyone with black hair has to stand up) or “I have never been to America” (everyone who has never been to America has to stand up).

Preparation and Presentation

Before class it’s necessary to prepare a set of picture cards. I think it’s best to have at least three of each type of card so that there’s a decent scramble for seats. When doing colours I actually have a set of plastic chips, a bit like tiddlywinks, which I hand out to students. It’s worth considering an “Everyone Go!” keyword that makes everyone stand up and find a new seat. This carnage is often the most hilarious part of the game, so it’s worth having a special word for it. I sometimes use the theme word, so maybe “I like animals!”, but feel free to get creative. For colours I use “white!”

In showing the students how to play I’ve found it’s best to try and do it instead of explaining it. With gestures and simple instructions I would get students sitting in a circle. I would then put myself in the middle. At this point I would hand out the cards, saying what’s on the card each time I hand one over. This way everyone knows that each person has a card with a thing on it, and some people have the same. Once everyone has a card I say each item and ask students to raise their hands if they have it, thus checking understanding and emphasising that some have the same card. I then start the game by clearly saying the target sentence (which they should have been practicing before the game began) and encouraging all students with the relevant cards to “stand up” and “change” seats. Then, when there’s one student left in the middle I would encourage them to say the sentence with a new keyword by making eye-contact and mouthing the sentence. I found that some students would always look to me to make eye-contact every time they spoke, even though they could speak perfectly well. It was sweet and I tried my best to always have my eyes ready.

PRO TIP: Don’t introduce the “Everyone Go!” rule straight away. For one thing, the more rules there are to remember the more confusing the explanation becomes. Also, once the special rule has been introduced some students will just say the special keyword every time and there’s less practice of the real target structure.

It’s a good idea to keep instructions clear, visual and involving. Not only for the students’ sake, but for the Japanese teacher too. Any students who don’t understand the activity will inevitably turn to their home-room teacher for support. If the Japanese teacher doesn’t get it, or interprets a rule or two incorrectly, it can lead to a whole mess of spoiled fun. So let’s keep this fun, simple game simple and fun.

Have you ever used this game in class? What variations have you made to this classic? Share your thoughts below.

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