Sugoroku board game facilitates interchange among students

Takeshi Ishikawa, Rikkyo University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Sugoroku board game, shy students, risk-taking
  • Learner English level: Lower-intermediate and up
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: 3 minutes to explain the procedure
  • Activity time: 10-20 minutes for making pairs and Sugoroku
  • Materials: Sugoroku sheet

This fun activity aims at solving two problems Japanese university students, especially freshmen, usually have at the beginning of a new semester: hesitancy to speak English and worries about adapting themselves to their new surroundings. The item used in this activity is called Sugoroku, a traditional Japanese board game originally introduced from China. Often played on New Year’s Day, Sugoroku is familiar to almost all young Japanese people and uses a game board and rules similar to those of Snakes and Ladders. Given a chance to learn English with this familiar game, students always seem excited. The author has received positive feedback from his students, who report how much the activity helped them build easy rapport with one another as well as create a cooperative classroom ambience.

Create a Sugoroku board (For a sample, see Appendix). In each box is a question, and in one of the corner squares is the word START. As for the questions in the boxes: avoid grammatically and lexically difficult ones, refrain from long sentences, and provide a variety of topics to help students get to know each other. As a change of pace, you could prepare a box which requires the pair to play a game. Box D3 of the author’s Sugoroku version has students play the Number 3 game. When the game piece enters the box, the pair takes turns counting from one to thirty, but they must not say numbers with three (3, 13, 23, 30) or numbers divisible by three (3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30). When students reach a taboo number, they clap their hands without saying anything. Players with fewer mistakes win. You could also create a box where the pair takes turns saying a tongue twister the teacher has prepared three times (e.g., Mix, Miss Mix! or Can you can a can as a canner can can a can?) The pairs get to know each other while building intimacy.

Step 1: Have students make pairs at random and number each student one or two. If possible, arrange desks in a circle.
Step 2: Distribute one Sugoroku board game sheet per pair (See Appendix). Students prepare one game piece per pair (e.g., an eraser) and put it in the START box. As a substitute for dice, they play rock-paper-scissors. The winner advances the piece five spaces for a paper win,  two spaces for a scissors win, and one space for a rock win. The winner starts the board-based conversation, and the pair talks about the topic until they are satisfied. Then, the pair plays rock-paper-scissors again, moves the game piece to another block, and has another conversation. There is no GOAL box, since the aim is simply to facilitate conversation, and not win.
Step 3: When students seem finished, have those assigned as number one move clockwise in the circled desks to pair up with new partners.
Step 4: Continue the activity until the teacher feels the activity goals have been achieved.
Step 5: To wrap up, call on some students to report to the class what they have learned about their partners.

Because this is a fun activity which students control with teacher guidance, it seems to lower their affective filters, even those of very shy students. After doing Sugoroku, my students who were reluctant to risk expressing themselves in English learned to speak up with more ease. Not only were many glad for the chance to work on English-speaking skills, but they also realized the importance of jumping into the uncertainty of English conversation. The activity can be adapted for other language skill work. For example, in writing classes, you could do this activity and then have students write about their Sugoroku partners. In all, as many of my students have stated, Sugoroku in the language classroom greatly helps strengthen intra-class bonds.

The appendix is available below.