The Game of Lies I Learned Long Ago: A Day in A Conversation Class

Group Story

The game of lies I learned long ago. The teacher walked into the room, smiled, and told us she had two stories to tell us.

“Cool”, I thought to myself. “I like stories.”

Lise Bell, my CELTA teacher, then proceeded to tell two stories about events that had happened in her life. In the one story, she had climbed a volcano. It was Volcano Villarica she said, and it had been a beautiful, bright sunny day. She had enjoyed herself, and had taken some great pictures to remember the occasion.

In her second story she had visited a castle in Prague. The castle had been one of those old, dimly lit castles. You know, the kind of castle that makes you think of witches, ghosts, werewolves and vampires. As she was on a guided tour, she stayed close to the tour guide.

They had gone from room to room, looked at old paintings, old battle armor and still older furniture. Finding herself in the wine cellar, in the bowels of the castle, in its deepest darkest, most dimly lit interior, yes, you can guess what happened.

The lights went out, and everybody screamed. Lise felt someone – or something – go past her, and she had recognised it had a long tail. She fainted, completely sure that she was going to die. When she woke up, a handsome young man, dressed up as a dragon was holding her hand.

The Dragon-Man spoke to her. She couldn’t understand a word he said, but she smiled and nodded her head as he kept on speaking to her. Later she found out his name was Peter. To finish the story, Lise said, “This is the man who I got married to, Peter, my husband.”

Smiling at us, Lise then told us that one of the two stories was a lie, and the other was true. We were to talk among ourselves, and then decide which story we believed, the Volcano Story, or the Dragon Man Husband Story.

We were to present our reasons why we believed the one story, and do the same for the story we believed to be a lie.

In my conversation class today, for some reason I remembered the Game of Lies, and decided to use it with a class of 8th graders, 13-14 years old. There were 11 students, 8 boys and 3 girls. I divided them up into 3 groups. The 3 girls were in one group, and there were 2 groups of boys with 4 boys in each group.

When the teacher is absent - the students teach themselves

I asked each group to make up one true story and one false story. The other groups were allowed to ask one question to the group that told the story. After that, the other two groups made their decision about which story was fals and which was true.

The class lasted for 55 minutes.

I used 10 minutes to tell two stories at the beginning of the class, demonstrating what I wanted the students to do. Afterwards, they worked in groups to come up with their two stories, since I required the true story to be something that all members of the group had participated in together. Thus, this was taken from their own life experience, while the false story was obviously one they had made up.

they had 15 minutes to prepare their stories. After that, each group presented their stories to the other two groups, as I described above. Anyone in the group could respond to the questions they were asked by the other groups. For questions, anyone in the group could ask a question, but only one question per group was allowed per story!

Was this a good class?

It depends. The students were active, participative, and collaborative. There was a real world, authentic need to communicate. The purpose was to see if you could speak persuasively enough to convince your classmates that something that was false, was true, and vice-versa.

It was a spontaneous class, sparked by my memory of “The Game of Lies”, a speaking activity I learned in my CELTA course some 11 years ago. The students themselves were the center of attention for this class. It was communicative, collaborative, and cooperative. The use of language was authentic, not dictated by the coursebook, but by their learning needs to negotiate meaning with each other.

The students were able to complete this task successfully, since they were interdependent, and could support one another. It provided a large volume of speaking practice for all students during the story preparation phase. In the storytelling phase, a more confident speaker spoke to the whole class, essentially retelling the story prepared by their group.

This was obviously a fluency activity, and in fact I made no corrections during the telling of the story by each group. I had circulated during the preparation phase, from group to group, and had supplied vocabulary and grammar as needed.

In sum, I feel like it was a good learning activity for the students. It is basically sound, from a pedagogical standpoint, and highly adaptable, responding to the level of the students and the need to communicate. It is a personalised activity, not one in which one shares painful or embarrassing personal information, but one that allows a group narrative to develop.

It involves critical thinking, because to make the story difficult to tell which is false and which is true, conscious decisions about probability and likelihood must be made, discarding outrageous stories for more probable stories that though probable, are not true.

Finally, drama is involved. Pragmatically, the body language and other nonverbal cues of voice, eyecontact and posture must be utilised to make an untrue story sound plausible.

After considering all of the above points, I can recommend this activity to any teacher, at any level, beginner, intermediate or advanced. The level of support and scaffolding provided by the teacher should be as much as necessary, as little as possible. In the end, this is intended to be a student-centered activity, with the teacher fading into the background as the students take responsibility for the activity.


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About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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