On the spot!

Steve Hampshire, Fukuyama City University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Language review, question and answer, speaking, listening, exciting
  • Learner English level: Upper beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: Junior high and above
  • Preparation time: 10-20 minutes
  • Activity time: 20-30+ minutes depending on class size and the number of rounds
  • Materials: Teacher’s list of questions

On the spot is an exciting team-based, quick-fire question-and-answer activity. Pairs of students, one member from two different teams, in turn compete against each other to be the first to answer a question fired at them by the teacher. As judge and jury, it is up to the teacher to decide on what constitutes an acceptable answer. Students will (unsurprisingly) often offer one-word answers to many questions. You may accept these or you may, where appropriate, want to encourage longer responses.
While the quick-fire random questions help promote careful student listening, the competitive element not only forces the need for quick thinking and response times but (judging by my students’ faces) also seems to encourage them to dig deep to try and come up with a winning answer. As such, the activity provides an engaging way of recycling, reinforcing and reviewing language covered during your course and I find it a particularly useful tool just before test time!

Before the class, decide what questions you are going to ask and prepare a list. You may wish to focus only on past tenses or routines or spelling or maybe up the level with comparatives and conditionals! The possibilities are endless. Simple assorted questions could include:

  • What day is it today?
  • What time do you usually get up / have lunch?
  • Do you like potatoes / swimming / English?
  • Do you have a dog / an older brother?
  • How do you spell kitchen / purple / your name / his name?
  • How do you say ninjin in English? / carrots in Japanese?
  • Can you fly / make a cake?
  • What color is your shirt / an elephant / this?
  • Where is the pen / the door?
  • Did you do any homework yesterday?
  • Have you ever been to Sapporo / eaten fugu / seen a snake?
  • Would you like to play tennis tomorrow?
  • Which is bigger / more expensive, a car or a bicycle?
  • Which do you like best, Mos burgers or Macs?
  • If you could fly, where would you go?

Step 1: Divide the class into teams A and B. If you have space, have the students sit on chairs in 2 columns­—column 1 team A, column 2 team B—facing the teacher, about 2 meters apart. This set up makes the initial pairing and turn-taking clear and easy to supervise. An alternative is to draw an imaginary line down the center of the room, with all students on the left team A and those on the right team B. In this case, as the students may be spread out it may be more practical to call up pairs by name.
Step 2: Ask all students to stand in front of their chairs.
Step 3: Call the first pair of students to approach a designated spot in front of the teacher, who then asks them a question.
Step 4: The first student in each pairing to respond correctly wins that pair-off and returns to their seat and sits down while the loser returns to their seat but remains standing and awaits their next call-up. The winning team is the first to have all its members sitting. This round can be the end of the activity or just the first of several.

If you intend to play more than one round, scoring can be made more competitive by awarding points to the winners of each round, according to the number of members of the opposing team who are still standing. Again, make this clear from the start.

ConclusionIn my experience this activity appeals to all ages. I have used it successfully with classes from junior high first year right up to university level. Students very quickly pick up the idea, overcome initial hesitancy and go on to relish the challenge of being put on the spot.