Lebo-Lebo Game

Justin Pool, Osaka Kyoiku University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Nonverbal communication, communicative competence, question formation
  • Learner English level: Beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school and above
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 20 minutes to entire class
  • Materials: Explanatory PowerPoint or paper (optional), reflection sheet (also optional)

This activity gives students a firsthand opportunity to discredit the notion that they cannot communicate in English by showing learners just how much they can express themselves nonverbally or through intonation. Students communicate to a partner what they did during summer vacation (or other break) through intonation, gestures, facial expressions, and the medium of a nonsense language (Lebo-Lebo) while their partners practice confirming information and asking for details. In my experience, after playing this game students become much more willing to try to express themselves in English rather than resorting to Japanese or simply giving up.


Prepare a PowerPoint explaining the basic rules. Create a self-reflection or discussion sheet.


Step 1: Tell students we will play the Lebo-Lebo game and that this game requires the use of Lebo-Lebo language. Ask the students rhetorically if they have heard of Lebo-Lebo language. When they acknowledge that they have not, admit that this is because it is a language that you have invented. Speak the nonsense language in front of them (when I do it, it involves the tongue moving rapidly along the roof of the mouth and lips to make a repeated sound of lebo lebo, but any repeated phonemic chain will suffice).

Step 2: Explain the rules. Students will be playing this game in pairs. One partner speaks only Lebo-Lebo language and the other partner speaks English. The English-speaking partner asks the Lebo-Lebo speaker what they did for summer vacation. The English speaker then listens and only speaks to confirm information or to ask for more details. The Lebo-Lebo speakers must use their voice volume, intonation, facial expressions, and gestures to convey meaning.

Step 3: Model the activity with a team-teaching partner or student whom you feel confident understands the gist of the activity. Act as the Lebo-Lebo speaker. Choose activities that you are confident that you can communicate to your partner, such as watching fireworks with your daughter, swimming, bike-riding with family, etc. 

Step 4: After modeling the activity, remind students how much they learned about my summer vacation when I used no English or Japanese at all. 

Step 5: Pair the students and choose one in each pair to be the Lebo-Lebo speaker and one to be the English speaker. Have the students speak for three minutes before switching roles.

Step 6: Have students report back (voluntarily or randomly chosen) about what they learned from their partners and confirm the accuracy of the information. Again, remind the students that they were able to communicate all this information without the use of Japanese or English.

Step 7: Engage in self-reflection or group/class discussion where you have students ponder the purpose of the activity.

Step 8: Repeat with new partners to give students the opportunity to perform the task with an awareness of its goals.


Students inevitably communicate more through Lebo-Lebo than they think they can in English. Through continual engagement with the idea that students can communicate large amounts of information without the use of English, they begin to see English as a tool to add greater nuance to their meaning-making endeavors rather than focusing on their inability to engage in error-free production. They become confident in their ability to communicate their ideas while also developing positive active-listening habits. Many students have commented on the impact of this game in year-end reflections.

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