Three classmates are playing the game.
Vy: Here are the names of four classmates. Which one is special? Julie, Mai, Saura, Thi.
Katya: Could you repeat that again?
Vy: Sure. Julie, Mai, Saura, Thi.
Alessa: I know. Julie is special.
Vy: OK. Why?
Alessa: Because she is not Asian, but the other three are.
Vy: That’s right! But there is another one.
Katya: Let me see. Oh, I got it. Thi is special. She is the only one who knows how to drive.
Vy: You got it.
Danica: I know another one. Saura is special.
Katya: Really? How come?
Danica: She is the only one who finished her homework for today.
(Eruption of laughter.)
Vy: Now it’s your turn, Alessa.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students. See below.) *
While the students were in engaged in this activity in triads, I was standing on the perimeter. I could overhear the list that Vy read, but couldn’t think of anything special about the four names except the obvious one that Julie was the only non-Asian. A minute later, I heard the sudden explosion of laughter and talking from them. I realized that they had shared an inside joke.
The basis of this game (Odd Man Out) might sound familiar to many of you. But by exploiting it more, it turns into a great interactive activity that is not only fun but also a chance to internalize many useful expressions and produce a lot of conversation. And students are intent on listening to each other.
In its simplest format, student read a list of four words to their partners. The partners have to choose which word is strange or odd or special and explain why. For example:
cat, lion, dog, fish
Most of us would probably identify “fish” as being odd because it is the only one that lives in water. However, another choice could be “lion,” since the others are common pets.
Making this a good learning tool and customizing it
In the process of doing this activity, students have the opportunity to use some very common expressions when interacting with others, for example:
I got it; Could your repeat that again?; You’re right!; Oh, I know; Now, it’s your turn.
They begin to use these naturally. In the attached activity, students work with a sample in which they see how these expressions can be used.
Also, students are focused on listening to each other and are determined to understand. Often there isn’t just one correct answer, so it’s not a race to see who can “get it” first. The challenge (and fun) is coming up with a way to explain the one that is different.
Customizing after practicing with the handout activity
After students briefly work with the sample, they form groups of three (Student A, B and C), and read their lists to their partners, tell what word(s) is strange and explain why.
This is when it gets interesting.
Next, the three group members write their own lists. Often there is a lot of laughing as they help each other make lists which are about their lives and their classmates’. It could be special features of specific students (as in the example above) or about popular computer games or social media sites or even current events. Then the three group members separate from each other and form completely new groups of threes (or fours). These new group members take turns reading their lists, choosing the strange/special word and explaining the reasons.
Two final attractive features
This is an activity that has been used successful with all levels.
And it a good one to have ready as a back-up activity whenever you need something that doesn’t involve a lot of preparation.
Here is the handout that you can use with your students. Find the Strange Word Handout Activity
For more about customizing activities, see my YouTube video ESL Conversation Activities: Making the Perfect Mixture of Structure and Autonomy (Customizing)
For more interactive conversation activities, see Conversation Strategies, which is now available in digital and print version for students to rent or buy.
*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.