Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Using Jeopardy to Teach Relative Pronouns

Last week I went to the same junior high school I went to last month for a demonstration lesson in front of 30 English teachers and officials of the city I was visiting. I was asked to teach page 60(?) of the New Horizon Textbook. My students were 35 third graders (9th grade). I was supposed to teach the nominative use of that relative clauses (The word being modified is the subject of the that clause, in Japanese this is 主格のthat). For example,

  • This is the dog that ate the cat.
  • The country that hosted the world cup was Germany.

I was not supposed to teach the objective use of that relative clauses (The word being modified is the object of the that relative clause, 目的格のthat).

The above explanation makes the class sound more difficult than it actually was. This class went better than the last one because I decided to flood students with input and encourage them to learn the new grammatical pattern that way rather than force them to speak a grammatical pattern that they did not need to use so much. I also had a graduate student, John Wang, and an undergraduate student, Monchichi, come and help me by joining the various students groups during the activity and providing support. Here is what we did:



  • Use jeopardy to help students learn how to use "nominative that relative pronoun clauses" through input flooding
  • Do 95% of the class in English
  • The students experience group work and speak English within the group

Warm up (Materials: computer, projector)

Plan: Students make pairs. Using MS powerpoint, I display 10 questions. One member of a pair is looking at the screen and asking questions to the other member who is turned away from the screen and cannot see the questions. Then, the members switch.
What happened: Students were nervous at first but did this activity.

Introduce the Key Sentence: (Materials: sentence cards (made by some nice graduate students) to put on the blackboard)

What I did and how the students reacted:
I put the following two sentences in the blackboard:
1. Mr Hall is an Iwate University teacher.
2. He is nice.
I asked students to make the two sentences into one sentence. Most of the students knew how to do this but no one volunteered an answer as I had anticipated so I simply reminded students that the sentence would be:
Mr Hall is an Iwate University teacher who is nice.

I asked students, "Why do we use 'who'?" Of course I had no answer so I asked a student, "Is Mr. Hall an animal?" The student, after an initial period of uncomfortable silence said "no." I then asked is "Mr. Hall a thing?" and asked a student for an answer. Unfortunately the student answer, "yes". I then said that I was not a "thing" but a "human" and that we use "who" to add information about humans. (The students had studied "who".)

Next, I then put the following two sentence cards on the board:
1. Kobe is a city.
2. It has great beef.

I then combined these two sentences to make
Kobe is a city that has great beef.

I asked students if Kobe was a human to which they replied "no." I then told them that we used "that" to add information about "things" or "non-humans" and asked them to make a sentence out of the following two sentences:

1. The Nile is a river.
2. It is in Africa.

As a class, students made the sentence
The Nile is a river that is in Africa.

I did not call on a student because I knew that no students would answer in such an atmosphere where they were being taight by someone they did not know and were being watched by 30 or so other strangers. Nevertheless, students seemed to understand so we went to the next activity.

Jeopardy (Trivia) (Materials: computer, projector, name tags)

Preparation:Before we started jeopardy, students made groups. The groups were pre-determined by the homeroom teacher. Each group had 6 people and each person in the group was assigned a letter from A - F.
(Side note: ALTs who teach the same students only once a month, if you are going to do group work (more than 2 members per team) I recommend that you have the HRT determine the groups in advance and tell the students before the class they will do group work. The homeroom teachers knows best which students work best together and how to make the groups about even in ability.)
Students also wore nametags. Before class, students wrote the name they wanted to be called, their group number, and their letter(A-F). The nametag looked something like this:

Group 4
Letter E

The Game

How it was played: I explained that "that" and "who" sentences could be used for trivia and then demonstrated (not explained) how to play jeopardy by practicing a few questions. I told students that jeopardy meant 質問コーナー in Japanese. The rules were that each group would have one leader and that only the leader could answer the question. Of course, the other group members could tell the leader the answer but only the leader could raise his hand. However, the leader would change after every question. For the first question, the leader was student A from each group. After the question, the leader changed. I used powerpoint to display the jeopardy game and questions. The jeopardy template came from EFL Geek and I added the questions. The file that we used to play jeopardy can be downloaded here.

Each question and answer had a nominative "who" or "that" relative clause sentence. When a group answers a question correctly, they were able to rest. The other groups would have to repeat the answer which had the target structure. After they repeated the answer, I would remove the target structure and students would have to repeat the sentence without the target structure.

Question: This is a man from Iwate who played on the Japanese Soccer Team.
Answer: The man who played on the Japanese Soccer Team is Mitsuo Ogasawara. (All the groups except the group that answered correctly repeats.)
Answer without target structure: The man is ^^^^ Mitsu Ogasawara. (Students say the sentence adding the omitted target structure).

How the students reacted: On their evaluation forms, most students said that they understood the "that" construction and they enjoyed the class. Many also said that they had made the effort to speak English in their groups. I owe that to John and Monchichi who worked with each group and helped motivate them to speak English.
During the game, students struggled to repeat the sentence without the target structure.

Overall Reflection

I have learned a lot from my last 3 experiences teaching at a junior high school and senior high school. I am finally understanding the students and what they will or will not do in the classroom. This is good because the next time I teach jr high students I can have a class with activities I know that they can do so that the students remain confident and feel secure but also mix these secure activities with more demanding ones that will force students to challenge themselves without overwhelming them.

I also understand what kind of groundwork has to be done in advance for the students to be able to do group work (This is only if you are a visiting teacher and will only teach the students a few times a year.).


Anonymous said...

I think learning grammatical rules only through tasks or communicative activities can be very difficult for Japanese learners. As they are not exposed to English in this EFL situation, we may first have to provide them with explicit explanations about grammatical rules. After they have acquired what we call declarative knowledge we had better use tasks to develop their declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge. But, I think that we can use tasks before form-focused explicit explanations to stimulate or motivate them to find rules.
What do you think?


JH said...

Hi Rintaro,
Thanks for your comment! I am glad that somebody is reading my blog!
In the class I blogged about I presented the rule to the students and then attempted to give them "enhanced input" through the jeopardy game.
I agree with both your points. Because time is limited in the jr high school and high school English classes and class sizes are large, short and to the point explicit grammatical explanations are necessary to be able to accomplish the learning goal in the limited time that you have. However, I think that students sometimes need to practice learning a rule by themselves or learning how to use a new word by themselves through communicative activities. After that, the teacher can give a form-focused explanation and the learners can know whether their guesses were right or not. The problem with a lot of English classes I have seen is that students are spoon fed everything and do not know how to learn by themselves.

Unknown said...

This is great stuff!

C said...

I am a teacher here in the US that has previously traveled & worked in schools in Asia. Japan is my favorite and will be forever. I loved reading this entry. I wish I was in your class. What you are doing is very difficult and I am impressed because I see you are also fluent in Japanese. During my time abroad I would say I was at an intermediate level and to have a better control of the language would only have served to help me assist my students better. I started reading through your blog & I find it so engaging. What an exciting Career. I Hope you don't mind if I keep following it and your posts! Keep up the great job.

JH said...

Thank you for the kind words. You are more than welcome to read my blog and any advice from you would be appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Hello JH, I foudn your class idea very intersting. Making that grammar intersting is challenging to say the least. Is this a private Junior High School? My school is public and they barel have working computers/printers. Do you use Japanese when you explain your games? You sound very dedicated, your students are lucky to have you. Deidicated teachers here are becoming a rare breed.

Anonymous said...

This looks like a great post. I wonder if you have read Cathy Doughty's (1991) paper in Studies in Second Language Acquisition, or perhaps read of it elsewhere. Lightbown and Spada give a fair description of Doughty's research:


Good luck!

TurtLe LitTlE said...

Hi JH,

I was surfing the Internet for ideas to teach relative pronouns and found your lesson very engaging. I will be duplicating your lesson in my class and will let you know all about it.

TurtLe LitTlE said...

Hi JH!

I tried your game with my class (with amendments) and my students loved it. I played a gameshow host and they were all very tickled by it. Thanks to you for your idea.

JH said...

Hi Turtle Little,
I am glad that the game worked for you and thanks for telling me how I went. The original file came from EFL Geek.
By the way, which country are you teaching in?

sinloi said...

hi im a year 10 highschool student in perth. i was wondering how many years you need to study to be come an english teacher in japan. to teach in japan is a dream i have had for a while. do you need any work experience in the contry you came from? thanks hope u can reply soon
thank you

Anonymous said...

thanks for telling your experience, I had some problems planing my class (I'm teaching also relative pronouns) but now with this I got the idea to make another game, a competition game. again thank you

アンミ英会話教室 said...

I enjoyed reading your post. I found the details regarding how your students responded and how you anticipated their responses to be most interesting. I have worked with a number of English instructors here in Japan who had a clear command of the English language. However, the more successful instructors were those who also had a clear understanding of how Japanese kids (and adults) think. I hope your students appreciate how fortunate they are to have such an instructor.

Anonymous said...

You have done a great job! Practicing TBLT is demanding for teachers! But it pays off.

Alex Case said...

Googling Relative Clauses games, and this is the best one I've found so far. Might well use it with my class, even though very different to yours (Upper Int adults in Korea)

Anonymous said...

Dear JH

I went through your blog and found it interesting and helpful, I wish I could have attended the class. I have to teach this lesson to my JHS kids and so thanks for sharing some insight into it.

Anonymous said...

Hey I have a question
you put "Mr Hall is an Iwate university teacher who is nice" is that right man?
I guess the right answer is "Mr Hall who is an Iwate unversity teacher is nice"
Please confirm

JH said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for the question and sorry to respond 7 months late. The sentence I wrote is OK. In the case teacher functions as a predicate noun (a noun following the be verb is called a predicate noun) and predicate nouns can be modified by a relative clause. For example, "Mr. Carey is a teacher who loves to tease his students" is an acceptable sentence.
By the way, the sentence you wrote is fine too.

Perdido Sin Visene said...

AWESOME idea. I`m definitely using this with my business students next week. Thanks!

Anonymous said...


It is now 2012 here in Japan and the newest MEXT guidelines state that "in principle" English classes should be conducted in English at H.S. in Japan. I imagine that J.H.S. will not be far behind. Educators here are going to be forced to take advantage of 60 years of linguistic research instead of clinging to the old "Japanese (X) is different."

I see that Jeopardy has become very popular recently. In fact, just the other day a guest lecturer at a big conference used a jeopardy game by way of an example of "making English classes more communicative."

I have avoided doing jeopardy because multimedia is still difficult to accomplish where I am in Japan, but I am encouraged by your blog and think I will give it a try.

Six years on, are you still teaching?

JH said...

Hi, wow, I can't believe it has been six years since I wrote this post. Yes, I am still doing the same thing but I work primarily at a university teaching people how to teach. Jeopardy has been popular in the Japanese EFL classroom for perhaps decades. In the case of relative pronouns, it is a great way to supply students with a lot of input. The powerpoint file attached to this post will actually make your job a lot easier if you can get the projector and computer set up. Making the jeopardy game the old-fashioned way is incredibly time consuming and also difficult to store.

Regarding this:

"Educators here are going to be forced to take advantage of 60 years of linguistic research instead of clinging to the old "Japanese (X) is different.""

I did not quite understand what you were trying to argue.

Unknown said...

This was the first hit when i googled `Relative clause activities`.
I might use this provided my JTE approves.
I am assuming you lived in Iwate? I am a current JET ALT living in Sendai.
I teach Japanese to high school students in Australia and we teach relative clauses but fun activities are hard to find (let`s face it, relative clauses are not fun).

JH said...

Sorry, I get so many spam comments on this blog that I often miss the authentic ones. I am still in Iwate. Understanding relative clauses are essential for being able to read English. I think at first, it is important for students to understand them. Learning to use them will take significant time. Were you able to use this activity?