We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
Mother Night, 1961
This classic party activity lends itself very well to teaching verbs. Traditionally one person does the mime and the others guess. I've found with small groups of elementary aged children it is better to divide them into two groups with one half performing and the other half guessing, boys and girls is a good split if their numbers are even. I stand between the two groups so I can show preselected flashcards to the performing group while keeping them hidden from the guessing group. We play about six rounds lasting 20-40 seconds each. Groups alternate between being performers and guessers. If the guessers identify the verb the card is put to one side. If, after one or two seconds no-one has guessed correctly the card goes to the back of the pile and the performers do the next card. At the end of the round we go through the cards that were missed and then the whole pack is shuffled. When all six rounds are done we count up how many cards we got.
When introducing this activity make sure you have plenty of well-known verbs. Start with around 20 verbs and gradually build up the number to 50 or more. Then extend the activity by introducing present continuous. "They are ...ing". After that extend some more and introduce past tense. Now the guessing group say two sentences. The performers mime. The guessers say what they are doing. The performers clearly stop. The guessers say what they did. Make each round at least 40 seconds when doing the activity this way but don't spend too long on each verb.
Of course an alternative to miming verbs is to mime nouns - animals, sports, musical instruments, locations hectic, Seasonal sets such as Halloween and Christmas also make for a good challenge.
An alternative to switching groups is to have everyone rotate clockwise once. So if you have two mimers only one would sit down and only one player from the guessing group would become a mimer. This works well with odd numbers of students. With a group of three everyone can go around twice. With a group of five go around once. When using this method I assign starting positions randomly.
An alternative to keeping missed cards at the back of the pack is to give the answer immediately, showing the card to the guessers. In this case it is best to split the pack.
The Hotel Receptionist:
This is the name of the activity as mentioned in Drama Techniques in Language Learning by Alan Maley and Alan Duff (Cambridge University Press, 1994, page 125). A performer is given a sentence to mime and the job of the rest of the group is to say the sentence word for word. Give the group one minute to two minutes per mime but make sure everyone in the group does a mime. It's useful if the group know some signals for common words and how to indicate the number of words in the sentence. I've done this activity with high school students performing lines from movie scripts they were studying.
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