A Race with Directions

Gordon Carlson, Otemae University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Following directions, language reinforcement, teamwork
  • Learner English level: Beginner to upper-intermediate
  • Learner Maturity: Junior high school and up
  • Preparation Time: 1-2 hours
  • Activity Time: 30-40 minutes
  • Materials: Paper, marker pens, envelopes, tape

Studying directions can be mundane for both teachers and students. The game illustrated here brings to life the practice of following directions while concurrently building classroom community. In addition to reinforcing language, it is useful to promote interaction, thinking, and problem solving strategies that get everybody engaged in the learning process. Through reusing language taught in class, students build upon their previous knowledge and use new knowledge in a fun competition.


Step 1: Starting from the classroom, walk through the school or campus and mark at least two separate routes with five or six points where clues can be hidden, posted or planted. Write down directions on how to get from one point to the next with the final destination being the classroom or a specific goal. One route should not be longer than the other.

Step 2: Rewrite the directions in various codes. Some examples are:

a. Change the alphabetical order of each letter and word. For example, if each letter of a word goes up in chronological order of the alphabet, “Go out the door and turn right” will read, “Hp pvu uif epps boe uvso sjgiu.” If a letter of a word goes down in chronological order, the same message will read, “Fn nts sgd cnnq zmc stqm qhfgs.”

b. Have a number represent each letter of the alphabet. (a=1, b=2 etc.) “Go up the steps and go past a tree” will look like, “7,15  21,16  20,8,5  19,20,5,16,19  1,14,4  7,15  16,1,19,20  1  20,18, 5,5.”

c. Scrambled sentences are the easiest to write and decode. “Go down the hall and turn left” would read as “hall down and go turn the left.”

d. Write clues or riddles. A hint for landmark such as a flag could read, “I am red and white, and I stand at the school entrance.” 

Step 3: Determine the number of teams and designate a color or a letter of the alphabet for each. If there are two teams, one will follow the first route and the other will follow the second. If there are four teams, put two on the first route and two on the second. If there are more teams, plan accordingly. A third route could also be created.

Step 4: Insert the coded messages into the envelopes and number six envelopes for each team in progressive order of the course. Make each team’s envelopes distinguishable from the other. All envelopes labeled as number one are to be distributed in class to direct students to the first destination. The rest will be placed in the order of the routes that lead back to the goal.

Step 6: Prepare prizes for the winners to add extra incentive and a competitive spirit. 


Step 1: Divide the class into teams no larger than five to ensure all members are involved in the process. Inform teams that they must work together to quickly decipher coded messages in the first envelope. Do not give hints on how to break the codes unless necessary. 

Step 2: Upon decoding messages, teams will follow directions to several points around campus to reach a goal or prize. The instructor should monitor weaker teams in case they go off track or need assistance.

Step 3: When winners return to the classroom, do not have them idly wait for the others to return. Provide a review worksheet or send them out to round up the rest of the class. Once the class has reconvened, have an awards ceremony and reflect on the activity. 


This exercise provides language reinforcement while creating an inclusive and spirited class atmosphere. Besides teaching directions, it encourages full participation and allows learners various ways to approach a problem. Teachers can also customize this activity and come up with other variations and themes to suit their own classes. With practice, this game can become a valuable asset for teaching class content, building community, and making the learning process stimulating and fun.