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Home: The "What’s New? Line Game"

The "What’s New? Line Game"
by Gary Joe Wolff

Quick guide  

Keywords: EFL, Japanese learners, student motivation, impromptu speaking, warm-up exercise
Target learner level: High beginner and above
Target learner: High school and above
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes (only necessary for first-time use)
Activity time: 5-10 minutes, sometimes longer depending on the number of students and available class time
Materials: Computer (or mobile device) and classroom projector to display sample 2-person conversation and student line-up procedure

In my quarter-century of teaching Japanese learners of English in Tokyo, one of the most popular activities in my university classes has been a warm-up exercise at the beginning of class called "What's New?" Students are given 5-10 minutes to discuss with their classmates anything of interest in their lives since the last class.

Students enjoy this very relaxed and motivating method for starting the class and consistently rate this "What's New?" activity as one of the most enjoyable classroom activities in their mid-term and course-end evaluations.

However, because students tend to sit in the same seats every week and invariably will always talk to the same classmates, a few years ago I decided to introduce a variation of this exercise called the "What’s New? Line Game."

Rather than speaking with only one or two other students, as is the case with the usual weekly format, the "What’s New? Line Game" allows students to speak with up to half of the class by lining up in two lines at the front of the classroom.


Prepare a document with a short, 2-person sample "What’s New?" conversation, which is appropriate for the class’ fluency level, that can be finished in 30-45 seconds (1 minute max.), and which shows the student line-up procedure.

I use the Notability app (Ginger Labs, Inc.,  2009) on my iPad Air 2 to display this document on the classroom projector. 


Step 1: Ask students to come to the front of the room and make 2 lines, Line A and Line B, facing each other with an equal number of students in each line. If there are an odd number of students, the teacher joins in so everyone has a speaking partner. In some cases, depending on the layout of desks/chairs in the classroom and the number of students, it may be better to line the students up on the side of the classroom, rather than the front. Either way, it is best if at least one line of students can see the projector screen.

Step 2: Students in Line A talk to the person they are facing in Line B. After students have had time to finish their first conversation (30-45 sec.), the teacher calls out to “Change!” Then students in Line B all move down one person to the right, in order to speak to the next student in Line A, with the student at the front (or far right) of Line B coming to the back (or far left) of Line B. Students in Line A remain in the same position throughout the entire exercise.

The What's New? Line Game
Figure 1. "What’s New? Line Game" sample 2-person conversation
and student line-up procedure

Step 3: After students have had time to finish their second conversation, the teacher once again calls out to change positions and the students in Line B move as before to face their next Line A speaking partner. This same procedure continues until most students in Line B have spoken with Line A, or until the teacher decides enough time has been allotted to the exercise.

Additional notes

•    Unlike the usual "What’s New?" conversations in their seats, students may need to be reminded to keep their answers short and not to carry on long drawn-out discussions. The emphasis here is on the fluency, and not necessarily the accuracy, of the conversations.

•    The teacher might want to ask the students to speak quietly and, if necessary, warn teachers in any nearby classrooms in advance, as the students can get a bit raucous during this very enjoyable exercise. 

•    In university classes, this exercise is most effective in Period 1 or Period 3 when students may need an extra boost to get the blood circulating first thing in the morning or to combat post-lunch drowsiness.

•    Because students in one line never get to talk with other students in the same line, if necessary, the teacher can make a note of which students are in each line and switch the next time.

•    I would recommend using the "What’s New? Line Game" no more than 2-3 times per semester, or it could lose its novelty effect. In a 15-week semester, using it in weeks 5 and 10 might be ideal.


The "What’s New? Line Game" continues to be universally popular in my classes, regardless of grade, major, fluency level, or whether the course is compulsory or an elective.

One reason for this, I feel, is that students are given the opportunity to converse with several others in an enjoyable cocktail party-style atmosphere.

This excites the students, and when conducted at the beginning of class, sets an upbeat mood, having the spill-over effect of increasing student motivation for the rest of the classroom activities that day.

This, of course, may not come as any big surprise to many EFL teachers, as many academic research studies have suggested that student motivation and learning are enhanced by active interactions with other students, especially classroom activities requiring them to be out of their seats (Ockert, 2011).

For many students, the "What's New? Line Game" can have the added benefit of boosting their motivation for learning English in general.

Because there is no reason to believe this game works for English-learning classrooms only, it should be suitable for use in other language classrooms as well.


Ginger Labs, Inc. (2009). Notability (Version 6.2.1) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

Ockert, D. (2011). A multivariate analysis of Japanese university student motivation and pedagogical activity preferences. The Language Teacher, 35(2), 15.

Author Bio

Gary J. Wolff is a former registered professional transportation engineer who has worked in Japan since 1991 and taught both undergraduate and graduate engineering and science students in his university’s School of Science and Technology for the past 22 years. His interests include the latest technological advances in online student forums, student motivation, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) methods, and fostering global awareness among his students. In his free time, Gary enjoys mountain climbing and has scaled all of the 25 highest mountains in Japan.

[This article was written in February 2016 and appeared in Issue #3 (July 2016) of the Tokyo JALT Journal, published by the Tokyo Chapter of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT).]

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