$1000 Pyramid Game: Using English to Explain and Simplify Difficult Words

Gerry McLellan, Nagoya Fuzoku Junior High School Affiliated to Aichi University of Education

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Speaking, adjectives, creative thinking
  • Learner English level: Low intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school 
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 40 minutes
  • Materials: Blackboard, chalk, handouts

This game is based on the popular TV show of the same name. The aim is to help students use English to explain generally known words to members of the same team. It is particularly useful in small classes of no more than twenty students. Larger classes can be divided into smaller groups to maximize student participation. Many students in EFL classes revert to L1 or use electronic dictionaries to explain difficult words. This does not help them when challenged to offer an explanation in a real life situation. By giving students opportunities to be creative and use English to simplify and clarify difficult concepts, they can develop confidence in more challenging situations.


Step 1: Make a list of categories that students can choose from. Under each heading write six words that fall under the particular category. Examples are as follows: things that are red, things that are yellow, things that are cold, etc. A more comprehensive list can be found in Appendix A. The words can be made easier or more challenging depending on the level of the students

Step 2: Make a handout for the students explaining useful vocabulary and expressions they will need to know in order to successfully accomplish the task. For example, the teacher may wish to focus on some of the following: It is a (gas, liquid, solid), it has…. you can see it in… it lives in… etc.

Step 3: Teachers may also wish to elicit responses from students as to what constitutes a gas, liquid, etc. It is also useful to make a short quiz for the students and to get them to make a short quiz using the target language. For example: Hint number one: It is a gas. Hint two: It is yellow. Hint three: You can see it in the sky. Hint four: It is very hot. Hint five: It is big, etc.


Step 1: Give handouts to students and go over the new words and phrases. If a student knows the meaning of any new vocabulary have them explain in English to class members who do not understand. Try to avoid the use of Japanese in the class.

Step 2: Depending on class size, divide students into groups of two, three, or four. Students then take turns at coming to the front of the class in their groups. The teacher should ensure that chairs are placed in front of the blackboard for the students to sit. If four students are in each team, two should face the board and two should have their backs to it.

Step 3: Explain the rules of the game. The students as a team decide on a particular topic. The teacher then writes six words pertinent to the topic on the blackboard. The students who can see the board are then asked if they understand the meaning of the words. If they do not the teacher can whisper the meaning in Japanese or show them a card with the Japanese translation. Once the words are understood, the game can begin.

Step 4: Play the game. Students who can see the board shout out similes of the words on the board. If the other students guess correctly, the word is erased and the team scores a point. A time of two minutes is given for the task. If students complete the task within 30 seconds they get five bonus points; three points for completion within one minute and one point for completions within 90 seconds.

Step 5: Upon completion of one round, another group tries the task. When all groups have finished, round two begins with students changing roles.


This game offers students a chance to shout out and have fun in class without inhibition.


The appendix is available below.