Updated 17 November 2017
As promised, here are many many more ideas on using a coin in TEFL, published in English Teaching Professional (ETP) magazine but available for free with added links to worksheets for my regular reader here on TEFLtastic.
I would have found it difficult to believe earlier in my teaching career, but I recently discovered that it was so long since I had used dice in class that I couldn’t remember where I had put them. Over the last couple of years, to add an element of chance to my classes, I have almost completely replaced the rolling of dice with the flipping of coins. That is partly because I am unlikely ever to have difficulty finding coins to use in class, but there are also other advantages to using money rather than dice. For one thing, learning to flip a coin properly is inherently more fun than rolling a dice. It’s a useful real-life skill too, as flipping a coin is often used to make decisions – and incompetent attempts to do so can cause amusement. More importantly, one to six is usually too big a range of numbers for what I want to do in the classroom, making dice less than perfect. Therefore, nowadays, I tend to flash the cash in class at least once a month.
How to flip a coin
The most elegant way to use a coin is to flip it up into the air with the right thumb, catch it with the same hand and quickly slap it on the back of the other hand. When you take away your right hand, the side of the coin that you can see is either “heads” or “tails”. It’s nice to bring in a coin where the heads side actually has a head, but if there is no actual head on the coin that you are using, the side with the number is ‘tails’ and the other side (often with some kind of picture) is ‘heads’. If students have so much difficulty flipping coins elegantly that there is a danger of being hit by flying metal, you can also get them simply to throw coins in the air and catch them, or teach them to spin them on the table.
An equally fun but somewhat less useful action with coins is to flick them across the table with your index finger. Games using this technique are mentioned at the end of this article.
Coin bluffing games
Students can have problems choosing whether or not to lie in bluffing games, but this can easily be decided by secretly flipping a coin and saying something true if they get heads or something false if they get tails. Alternatively, the coin could decide if they should respond positively or negatively to a question. For example, heads = they must answer “Yes, I have”, and tails = they must answer “No, I haven’t” to “Have you ever …?” questions (no matter what their real answer would be). Perhaps after asking questions to find out more, their partner then guesses if the original answer was true or not.
Another possibility is for the coin to decide what kind of true or false sentence the person speaking must make. For example:
Heads = (true or false) positive statement/ Tails = (true or false) negative statement
Heads = statement with regular past simple/ Tails = statement with irregular past simple
Heads = present perfect/ Tails = past simple
Heads = reported speech/ Tails = direct speech
Heads = statement with “make”/ Tails = statement with “do”
The coin decides the response
The idea of student who has to speak next in an activity flipping a coin to decide how they should respond to what has just been said doesn’t have to be limited to bluffing games. For instance, if their partner makes a requests, getting heads means they should respond positively (“Of course. No problem” etc) and tails means they should respond negatively (“I’m really sorry but I have absolutely no idea how to do that. Technology isn’t really my thing”, etc). The same game also works for:
Questions to and from a shop assistant
Progress check questions in a meeting
Asking to speak to someone on the phone
Making proposals in a negotiation
Job interview questions
Similar games include:
Heads = agree/ Tails = disagree
Heads = sympathetic response/ Tails = unsympathetic response.
The coin decides what response you want
When it is their turn to speak, a student secretly flips a coin and then tries to say something that will get the response that corresponds to that side of the coin from their partner. For example, if heads = “Yes, I have” and tails = “No, I haven’t”, a student who gets heads could ask “Have you ever been to the convenience store near this school?” – the answer almost certainly being “Yes, I have”. If they get tails, they could ask “Have you ever been to the moon?” After their partner responds, they show the coin and get one point if they obtained the response that matches that side of the coin.
The coin decides the roleplay
Both the responses coin games above work well to determine what is said during roleplays, but a coin can also be used to set up a roleplay. The simplest way is for the coin to decide who does what, e.g. heads = You are the boss; tails = You are the employee. It can also be used to decide between pairs of situations. For example:
Heads = roleplay a formal situation/ Tails = roleplay an informal situation
Heads = meeting for the first time/ Tails = meeting again
Heads = a face-to-face meeting/ Tails = a teleconference
Heads = communicating by email/ Tails = communicating by telephone
Heads = a scheduled meeting/ Tails = cold calling somewhere.
The coin decides the topic
A coin can also be used to decide conversation topics. For example, you could have a two-column table with easy topics like “holidays” and “weekend activities” in the heads column and more difficult ones like “present project” and “cultural differences” in the tails column.
Coin drawing games
Especially with young and low-level learners, drawing and miming something can be a great way of adding fun and checking that they really understand the language. A coin can be useful for deciding what they have to draw or mime. For example, the students say and/or write a sentence such as “The dog has long ears” (perhaps from the prompt ears on a card, a worksheet or the board). They then flip a coin, and if they get heads, they can draw the positive sentence that they made, but if they get tails that means the sentence is changed to the negative version “The dog doesn’t have long ears”. In that case, they have to draw a long ear with a cross through it, draw the opposite of that thing (a dog with short ears), or simply not add that thing to the picture (depending on what you tell them).
A coin can also decide the kind of sentence that the students must say and/or write and then draw. For example:
Heads = There is …/ Tails = There are …
Heads = It is …/ Tails = They are …
Heads = He is …/ Tails = She is …
Heads = I am …/ Tails = You are …
Heads = … likes …/ Tails = … doesn’t like …
Coin miming games
Miming works for far fewer language points, but a coin can decide if a student should act out “I can swim” or “I can’t swim” (e.g. miming sinking into the water) and “I like spiders” or “I don’t like spiders” (e.g. stroking or running away from their wriggling hand).
Ask and tell coin games
This is a kind of truth-or-dare game. One student picks a question, or makes their own question from a given word or phrase. They then flip a coin to decide if they can ask that question to someone else (heads = ask) or they have to answer their own question themselves (tails = tell). For example, if the given word is “divorce”, they can make the tricky question “Would you get a divorce if your husband or your wife kissed someone else?” However, they would have to answer the question themselves if they got tails, so instead they could choose to ask an easier question like “Do you know anyone who has got divorced?”
This game is a good way of practising vocabulary of one particular kind, e.g. a whole collection of love and relationships expressions (“get engaged”, “live together”, “split up”, etc) or a set of phrasal verbs.
Storytelling coin games
There are many possible uses of a coin in storytelling activities. For example:
Heads = continue with the plot of the story (in chronological order)/ Tails = go back in time in the story (maybe using the past perfect)
Heads = continue with the story/ Tails = explain some background information (probably with the past continuous)
Heads = the same character acts next/ Tails = a different character does something next
Heads = make a positive sentence next/ Tails = make a negative sentence next (e.g. “He didn’t know what to do”).
Things in common coin games
Finding things in common is a great way of making students really communicate with even very simple language. A coin can decide which kinds of things they need to find in common. For example:
Heads = say something that makes your partner say “So do I”/ Tails = say something that makes your partner say “So am I”.
The coin can also mix up finding similarities and differences. For example:
Heads = say something that makes your partner say “Me too”/ Tails = say something that makes your partner say “Really? I…”
Personalised guessing coin games
Even simpler than finding things in common is just trying to make true sentences about a partner, either with or without the inclusion of specified target language. Heads and tails could be:
Heads = make a true statement about your partner using language point 1/ Tails = make a true statement about your partner using language point 2
Heads = make a true positive sentence about your partner/ Tails = make a true negative sentence about your partner
Heads = make a true sentence about your partner/ Tails = make a true sentence about someone in your partner’s family.
Pronunciation coin games
The person speaking flips a coin to decide what kind of sound, word or phrase they should produce, and the person listening tries to identify which of the two possibilities was being pronounced. This is easiest with minimal pairs. For example:
Heads = “lead”/ Tails = “read”
Heads = loose/ Tails = lose
For intonation and stress practice, the same activity can also be done with statements and questions (e.g. “He came back” and “He came back?”) and words with different stress patterns (e.g. the noun and verb of “increase”).
How to replace dice with coins
If you planned to use dice in class but forgot to bring them, there is no need to despair – and in fact you might be glad you had to use a coin instead! If, for example, you want your students to get a number between one and (around) six, in order to progress around a board game, this can easily be done with a coin. The students start with a score of one, and then get one more for each time they flip a head, stopping whenever they get a tail. For example, if they get heads, heads, heads, tails, they score the three heads plus the initial one and so can move four squares. However, if they get tails straightaway, they can only move one square.
Scores tend to be lower flipping a coin this way than they would be with actual dice, but that is usually a good thing. For one thing, when you use a dice board games often finish too soon, with the students having skipped lots of useful squares. To make progress round the board even slower, you can also use a simpler way of using a coin: heads = move two squares; tails = move just one square.
Coin flicking games
When I was at school, I often played games where we flicked a coin along the floor or tabletop, like a simpler and higher-energy game of marbles. To flick a coin in this way, put it down somewhere flat, such as on a desk or an open book. Make a circle out of your index finger and thumb, like an ‘A-OK’ sign, but upside down. Push very hard against your thumb with your finger until your index finger pops out and hits the coin, hopefully making it skid across the surface in a very satisfying way.
I often use coin flicking in class to revise a textbook page and/or make it more fun. The students take turns flipping a coin across two pages of an open textbook and can ask each other questions about whatever the coin ends up on. For example, if the book has pictures of lots of food, they ask each other “Do you like …?” questions about whatever picture the flicked coin comes to rest on, and get one point if the answer is “Yes, I do”. With a dialogue, they can challenge their partner to remember whatever word(s) the coin is hiding.
Similar games can obviously also be played with specially prepared worksheets, preferably on A3 paper. The students can also flick a coin across more conventional worksheets to decide, for example, which of the roleplays on the worksheet to do next, which of the words to use in a sentence, etc.
Photocopiable EFL coin games classroom activities
Can/ can’t coin games (make me say yes, things in common, lying games) – NEW
Do you want coin game
Like and don’t like coin games
Can and can’t miming coin game
Like and don’t like things in common games (with two coin games)
Have and don’t have coin drawing games
Invitations coin games
Basic personal questions coin bluffing game
Negotiations saying yes, no and maybe
Positive and negative email replies game
University challenge board game
Like and don’t like alphabet coin game
Third person statements bluffing coin game
Do you like/ Does… like questions categories coin game
Progress check meetings coin game
Being sympathetic and unsympathetic with coin game
Concession and addition coin game
Strong and weak opinions coin game
Ask and tell blog post and examples