Another article of mine from Modern English Teacher
Most books of photocopiable materials and books of games contain a mingling activity or two – usually one where each student gets a question or list of questions and are told to go round the class to talk to everyone. It is easy to see why mingling activities have become a TEFL staple:
– Usually seated students suddenly move around and get active for a change
– You can easily see when someone isn’t taking part
– The movement and noise can energise the class
– Students are forced to change partner until they have spoken to everyone
– It’s a great way of repeating the same language over and over without it getting too repetitive and tedious.
It is also, however, easy to see why some people resist Find Someone Who and other mingling games:
– It’s unlike most real communicative situations students are likely to find themselves in, and little attempt is usually made to make it more so
– Time spent moving around often means less time speaking
– Students are asked to move on just as each conversation becomes interesting
– The activity is impossible with too many or too few students
– The activity is difficult for the teacher to monitor
– The number of times students have to repeat themselves is decided by the game rather than by their interest in the answers or how much practice of the language they really need
With young learners, there can also be problems with moving around in a cramped room and losing control.
In most versions of mingling, you are asking questions given to you by the teacher that you may have no particular interest in and you may also not know how to respond to the answers in a natural way. Furthermore, although I have called it a game, it often lacks the competitive element and clear outcome of games we play in real life. Personally, having to take part in mingling activities is my least favourite thing about TEFL workshops and conferences, and I have spoken to many teachers who feel the same way- even ones who use mingles in their own classes!
Below are some tips of how to vary mingling games to fully use the advantages, avoid the disadvantages, and provide a bit of variety to anyone (student or teacher!) who is getting tired of the same old game. Each section below contains several ideas based on one general tip on varying mingling activities. The titles of the individual ideas are marked in bold.
1. Real life mingling
Despite what I have said above about the artificiality of mingling activities, there are a few occasions that are similar to mingling (and my hatred of such social occasions might explain why I’ve had to find and come up with these variations in my classroom!) One is a house party, e.g. a party in a student house or a housewarming.
You can echo the real-life situation of a house party by getting students asking questions that they would really ask in such a situation. For example, if they are going to go to the same kinds of Freshers Week parties as I did while studying abroad, they are almost certain to be asked “What other universities did you apply for?” and “What are you studying?” many many times! The other kinds of language they will need in any kind of real life mingling are ways of starting and ending conversations, e.g. “How do you know…?” and “Great party, isn’t it?” to start, and “I really need to speak to…” and “I’ll just go over and get myself another drink” to finish. Some language to respond to what people say with interest (“You’re kidding!”) and to continue conversations (“That reminds me of a time when…”) could also be useful. Giving students paper cups and plates really helps them use language like this more naturally and get into what is basically a roleplay, and real food and drink would probably help even more! Adding these elements to mingling activities can lead onto great discussions on cultural differences in socialising (e.g. most Japanese have never been to a house party) and how to start and politely finish conversations (e.g. the incredibly long sequences when Spanish people say goodbye), perhaps including the always amusing topic of chat up lines.
About the only other realistic situation that is similar to a mingling activity (if one students are unlikely to find themselves in) is going around asking everyone if they have lost the thing you have found or seen the thing you have lost. This could be done with cards with pictures or descriptions of objects and people (perhaps ones that are similar to each other), or real objects like each others’ erasers (without showing the one you have to the person searching for it, to prompt speaking). Again, giving them suitable functional language like “Thanks anyway”, “I’ll keep an eye out for it/ him/ her” and “Good luck with your search” can add learning and aid more natural interactions. This is also a game where the variation below would make it more natural.
2. Find and pass on
This is one way of avoiding students asking the same questions over and over and making them really take an interest in the answers that they receive. As well as answering questions about themselves, students pass on anything they have learnt about other people in the class so far. This could be telling the person who they are talking to who else they should ask (“You should probably talk to…” being another realistic and useful phrase), or passing on the actual information that they have learnt. For example, with the (too) typical textbook task of having a list of people to find (“Find someone who has been to more than 6 countries” etc), students could ask their partner if they have done any of those things, but also ask them if they have found out anything relevant about other people, e.g. “Has anyone else been to more than 6 countries?”, therefore practising third person S. If you add the element of competition, e.g. points for people who finish first, students could trade information with each other, therefore practising first conditionals and other negotiating language like “If you tell me what you know, I’ll tell you two of the ones that I know”.
3. Find it sooner, better or more
It is fairly easy to add a competitive element like that described above, and therefore more fun and a clear aim, to almost any mingling activity. For example, you can give points for predicting things about the class and then finding that your predictions are true when you go around and ask your questions. There are many ways of organising this, some of which tie in nicely with specific language points. One way is to give a list of generalising phrases like “The majority of people in this class…” and “Very few people in this class…” Students fill the spaces with information they think is true (perhaps connected to the topic of the lesson, e.g. only things about hobbies), then get points for each statement that they have written that they manage to check is true by the time the teacher stops the activity. The activity can also be arranged the other way round, with students adding the generalising expressions to statements about the class, e.g. “… like blue cheese”. Both games can be made more energetic by just giving one statement to each student, letting them come to you for a second one whenever they have found something about the class that makes a true sentence with the words that they have been given. I call all these variations “Find How Many Who”.
A game that also involves some prediction is one I call “Unique”- trying to thinking of one thing that is true of yourself but not for anyone else in class and then going round talking to people until you have found that you are in fact special in that way. You might find instead that the thing is actually also true for someone else in the class, in which case you have to try and think of something else that might be unique to yourself and start again. This game is great for “Have you ever…?” but could work for almost any language point, e.g. families (“Do you have an uncle who is almost the same age as you?”), routines (“Do you clean your teeth in the shower?”), and Simple Past (“Did you see more than two DVDs at the weekend?”)
A similar game that is perhaps nicer for classroom dynamics is “Find Someone Who is Too”- getting one point for each time you find something in common with the person you are talking to, having to move on each time you ask one question (but being allowed to come back to the same person later to try again if you like)
A general use of prediction that is always good in a mingling activity is students picking who they want to talk to by what answer they think they will get, rather than just milling around randomly and asking everyone everything. This can added to a Find Someone Who activity by giving a point each time they find someone who the sentence they have been given refers to, then letting them come to the teacher for another sentence. The winner is the person who has got through the greatest number of sentences when the teacher stops the game. If students are told the rules of the game before they write sentences about themselves for other students to be given and try to find someone for, they can try to make the things ones that are really difficult to guess so that the other students take longer to get points and so they have more chance of winning themselves.
An even more challenging and fun variation is Find Someone Minimal Clues. Students write short answers, e.g. “Three” or “Vienna”, then the student who is given that piece of paper has to guess not just the person who it is true for (i.e. the person who wrote it), but also which question will produce that answer. Another possibility is Find No one Who, in which they try to set each other Find Someone Who tasks that they think are impossible, e.g. “Find someone who has a pet snake”.
A really fast and competitive game that involves mingling is one that I call “The ? Game”. Give each student six small pieces of scrap paper and ask them to write a question mark on each one. Tell them that the winner is the person who gets rid of all their cards first, then it should be easy to elicit that they have to ask a question to get rid of a piece of paper. They start the game by standing up and finding a partner. When they start talking to someone, the person who can finish asking their question first can give their piece of paper with a question mark on it to the other person, who must answer the question and move onto someone else (i.e. they can’t give a piece of paper straight back to the same person). No one can use the same question twice, but students can copy questions that they have heard other people asking (a good way of learning from each other). If anyone ends up with no pieces of paper, they can sit down while everyone else tries to finish for a couple more minutes. If no one finishes, the winner is the person with the fewest pieces of paper in their hand when the teacher stops the game.
4. Find the Joker
Another way of adding fun to mingling activities is to throw a spanner into the works by asking one or more students to do something entirely unexpected to the other students, e.g. always keeping two metres away from the person they are talking to, continuing each conversation as long as possible (and so stopping their partners from moving on), pretending not to understand anything they are asked, using the word “elephant” with every person they speak to, or avoiding answering all questions directly. This can give them a bit of variety and add to the challenge – usually mean spotting the person who has the joker and avoiding them for the rest of the activity, but also maybe trying to guess what the joker was asked to do. I can also lead onto discussions on points like personal space in different cultures.
5. Find your own way
This technique involves getting students to decide on the questions they will ask each other, therefore hopefully adding to their interest in the answers and also maybe cutting down on photocopying and other kinds of preparation. Many of the games described in this article, e.g. Find How Many Who above, include this factor.
A way of adding students deciding on their own questions to a Find Someone Who activity is to rewrite the sentences in the book as single words or short phrases, e.g. changing “Find someone who has eaten snails” to just “Snails”. Students can then think of any question they like connected to that word that someone in the class will probably say yes to (e.g. “Do you like snails?”, “Do you have snails in your garden?” or “Can you draw a snail?”). They then try to find someone who that is true for, changing the question as they go along if they need to.
6. Boring mingles
Mingles can also be used to liven up the simplest and most humdrum of language exercises. For example, if students have to match things like beginnings and endings of sentences, they can be given a slip of paper each and told to go around reading out their bit and listening to others until they find a match (obviously without showing it to anyone), at which point they can sit down together. You can extend this activity by students scoring one point for a match and then going up to the teacher for another slip of paper.
7. Shout someone who
If you have students who are too shy to mingle (I remember a group of teenagers who somehow managed to mingle between boys to the right and between girls to the left without ever once mixing sexes in ten minutes) or lack the space to move around, any game that can be played as a mingle can also be played by shouting across the classroom to the people you want to speak to. This is also a great variation for students who speak too quietly or just as a change from standing mingling games. It can also add a mingling-like effect to activities where standing up doesn’t really make sense, e.g. pretending to phone round lots of shops to find the best deal. If you want to use this as a way of persuading students to mingle, you can also give them the choice of shouting and/or mingling.
8. Roleplay mingles
If you think the students know each other too well and so will instantly find someone who… or that they are too shy to answer those questions about themselves, ask them to pick a role and answer as that person. This could be a particular famous person or just their idea of a certain kind of person, e.g. a surgeon or a recently retired woman. If everyone knows which role their classmates are playing, they can choose the person that they think will answer with the thing they are looking for. At the end of the game, you can then discuss how accurate their answers probably were, e.g. lives of famous people or views of particular groups of people. If they don’t know which roles their classmates are playing, they could try and guess that at the end of the game. That could also be the task, e.g. “Find someone who is playing the role of a hunting enthusiast by asking people’s opinions on politics”.
An earlier version of this article was originally published in Modern English Teacher magazine. Published online with the permission of the author and publisher.
For more on mingling games, see 15 Find Someone Who and Mingling Games