"What’s New? Line Game"
Japanese learners, student motivation, impromptu speaking, warm-up
Target learner level:
High beginner and above
High school and above
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
(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
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
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.
"What’s New? Line Game" sample 2-person conversation
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.
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
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 http://itunes.apple.com
Ockert, D. (2011). A multivariate analysis of Japanese university
student motivation and pedagogical activity preferences. The Language
Teacher, 35(2), 15.
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 16 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
Issue #3 (July 2016) of the Tokyo
Tokyo Chapter of the Japan Association for
Language Teaching (JALT).]