The ‘shush’ tweak and lexical priming

IMG_20150920_115047Did I tell you how much I love the define-and-guess-the-word activities with the ‘shush’ tweak? The tweak lies in the rule that whenever a student guesses the word (or an expression, idiom, picture, movie, etc.), they are never allowed to say the answer aloud.

Again, this is one of those activities which require no or very little preparation. They are highly engaging, especially due to the game-like element, but, most importantly, your students will practise speaking, listening, vocabulary and grammar – all at the same time. Oh, this is not an advert, is it? 🙂

I’ll start with the basic, no-prep alternative. I strongly recommend that you spend some time demonstrating the activity; it may look complicated at first sight, but once your students grasp the rules, it’s pretty simple.

Put Ss in groups of (ideally) 4.  Student 1 chooses a random word and defines it. Note: When I demonstrate the activity, I usually start with a very straightforward definition of a simple vocabulary item, such as cat (It’s a pet that likes drinking milk and chasing mice.). When somebody in the group guesses the word, they shout ‘Stop!’ – even in the middle of my definition. From now on, no more comments or elaborations on the definitions can be produced. Also, remember that nobody is allowed to utter the actual word.

Now, it’s the next student’s turn (Student 2)  – this doesn’t necessarily have to be the one who stopped the game, i.e. the one who first guessed the word. It is simply the student in the order given. This student’s task is to find a new word to describe, this time starting with the last letter of the previous word, i.e. ‘t’ (cat).

This is when it becomes interesting. Student 2 either knows what Student 1 (me) was talking about and continues without any major difficulties. Or, she doesn’t have a clue and can either give up or bluff. Bluffing means that she will describe something in a deliberately ambiguous way so that some players come to believe she’s actually in the know. Example: Student 2, ‘the cheater’, tries to bluff by saying something really vague: It’s something that you can find in the classroom. An impatient opponent (Student 3) thinks it must be table (cat > table) and stops the game. This saves the cheater, at least for the time being, and the game goes on uninterrupted, especially if the others swallow the bait too.

However, if one of the players suspects Student 2 was bluffing, they can immediately ask for verification by stopping the game and shouting Check. Now, they must carefully formulate the checking question they want to ask the cheater, e.g. ‘What was the word Student 1  was describing and what was your word then?’ If the cheater answers unsatisfactorily, he or she earns a ‘strike’. However, if he or she manages to justify the answer, or if the questioner gets trapped by asking a bad question, the one who asked gets a strike instead.

Alternatively, if someone feels the speaker defining the word was interrupted prematurely, i.e. that the one who stopped the game could NOT know what was being described, they can ask for a check. I’d like to stress that it makes the game more dynamic if the definitions are interrupted as soon as somebody knows the answer, but someone who intervenes all the time, without really having a clue, will sooner or later spoil the game.

So, when everything’s been successfully negotiated (preferably in English), the next student then chooses a brand new word and the game continues in the same vein. The funniest moments are those when students learn to bluff effectively or when they realise that they can even pretend to be bluffing. 🙂

The benefit of this activity is the fact that it requires a great deal of conciseness and concentration on everybody’s part. But not only do the players need to be clear and succinct and constantly pay attention to what’s being said, they also have to predict a lot.

IMG_20151004_130347What comes to mind here is lexical priming – a linguistic theory developed by Michael Hoey, which suggests that we are primed to expect words to be in the company of other words (their collocations) and also expect words to appear in certain grammatical situations (their grammatical colligations) and in certain positions in text and discourse (their textual colligations).

So it often happens that somebody starts defining the word cat: It’s a nocturnal animal which likes drinking milk and chasing ….. when somebody suddenly interrupts the player by shouting ‘Stop!’. Now, I imagine that at that very short moment, an awful lot is going on in the heads of all the players. They’re probably feverishly searching their mental lexicons as well as the schemata they have of nocturnal animals. Thus, I believe, a lot of learning is happening.

If you want to practise certain vocabulary sets, you will obviously want to limit your student’ choices of the words they describe. You can prepare cards with specific expressions (idioms, collocations), or you can use images or flashcards.

Having said that, here’s one more tip I’d like to share before I sign off: it’s quite interesting to combine this activity with Bingo. I once needed my B2 students to practise some advanced crime vocabulary. On the internet, I found 20 representative images of crimes we had learnt in the previous lesson (arson, robbery, burglary, trafficking, forgery, etc.). I printed the pictures out on small cards. First, I got each student to choose 10 words out of the 20 and write them down. Then, each student got one random image and was asked to describe the crime in detail to the rest of the class. Once somebody thought they knew what it was, they shouted Stop – regardless of whether they had previously written the word down or not. Those who had written it down (and the student who had successfully described it) could cross it off from the list. The aim of the game, as you may have predicted, was to get rid of all the 10 words.

Well, this seems to be the first 2016 post. Once again, I wish everyone a Happy New Year full of professional development opportunities. May all your plans and wishes come true. And, happy blogging to all my fellow bloggers!

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
This entry was posted in Dogme teaching, Speaking, Teaching ideas, Trying out something new, Vocabulary. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The ‘shush’ tweak and lexical priming

  1. Hana

    First of all “Happy New Year”. Read your post and really liked the activity. As you rightly guessed it sounded a bit complicated on paper; but, I’m sure it won’t be when put into use. Really loved the “shwish” tweak.
    Will let you know the result when I put this to practice in my class.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Many thanks for having successfully waded through all the post, Cherry! 🙂 Yes, the instructions look complicated, but it’s worth it, I promise. Anyway, I’d be happy to read about the results when you put it to practice. Do keep us posted.


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