Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Countdown: A Listening Activity for the WL Classroom

Countdown is a listening activity/game in which students listen to 5 clues about the name of a person, or a word. The goal is to guess the word that is described by listening to the fewest amount of clues.

Countdown is an activity for students to sharpen their listening skills in L2 and to use some higher order thinking, as well as a bit of strategic play added in the mix.

My example below is how we played Countdown with names of women in my Spanish 4+ class. We played this at the beginning of our Mujeres Unit, but Countdown can be played with any category of words, or even words not in any specific category.

Preparation for the game

1. Students had to think of a woman that has had a positive impact in society and to NOT share the name with their classmates.  

2. Students had to write 5 sentences about the person, without mentioning her name in any of the sentences. The first sentence should be very vague; one that after listening to it their classmates may have an idea, but not be absolutely sure if they have the correct person.

The second clue should give a little more information about the person.
The third clue should allow the listeners to narrow down whom it might be.
and so forth for the fourth and fifth clue. By the fifth clue, EVERYONE should know the person that is being described.

(If you play this with a beginning level class, I suggest that the teacher write the clues.)

I gave #1 and #2 as a homework assignment because I did not want to take class time for the research and writing part of the activity.

3. Each student needs a marker board, a marker, and eraser. (You can use paper instead if you do not have mini-marker boards.) Students should sit in a large circle, facing inward, allowing for as much space as possible between each student to deter them from seeing what their neighbor has written.

Playing the game & scoring

Students will take turns reading their clues OR the teacher can collect the clues and read it to the students (which allows the teacher to make any needed corrections in the sentences on the spot, while reading).

1. Clue A (first clue), worth 5 points: Read Clue A in the TL. If a student thinks she knows the correct answer, she will write it on her marker board, hiding her answer so others cannot see what she wrote. She also writes #5 on the marker board because her written answer, if correct, is worth 5 points. (If students write the point value when they write their answer, it will be easy to tally the points at the end of the round.) 

She then puts the mini-marker board on the floor in front of her, face down. This makes it easy for the teacher and the students to see which students have written their response.

After a student, writes the name and places the board on the floor in front of her, she can NOT change her answer. If she writes the answer after listening to only one clue (Clue A) and when she hears the next clue (Clue B) she realizes that she has the wrong answer, she may NOT pick up the board and change her answer. This is where the strategic element comes into play.

2. Clue B (2nd clue), worth 4 points: Students listen to Clue B which gives a little more information about the woman. If a student knows the answer, she writes it on the marker board, along with #4 because it is worth 4 points if it is correct, and places the board face down in front of her chair.

This continues with Clue C (the 3rd clue - worth 3 points), Clue D (the 4th clue - worth 2 points), and Clue E (the 5th clue - worth 1 point).

3. After all clues have been read, the students will hold up their marker board and the teacher, or the student reading the clue, will share the correct answer. Students will keep track of their own points on their marker boards.

Example:  Below are the clues that I use as a model for the students. It is written in English below for the purpose of sharing it on my blog which is read by those who teach languages, not necessarily all Spanish teachers, but I read the clues in Spanish to my students. 

Clue A: Her father was a school teacher.
Clue B: She worked for the equality of education for girls from a young age.
Clue C: She published her autobiography when she was 16 years old.
Clue D: She is the youngest person to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Clue E: She is from Pakistan and was shot by the Taliban.

I have played this for several semesters. Some of the names that appear often are:
Rosa Parks
Ophra Winfrey
Frida Kahlo
Amelia Earhart
Helen Keller
Harriet Tubman
Hilary Clinton
Sally Ride
Serena Williams

You could play this game with cognates, foods, animals, occupations, or words not in any specific category. Playing with names of people was easy because the students didn't need to know the words in Spanish.  

Please let me know if there is anything unclear in the instructions that you would like me to clarify.


  1. Wow, thanks for sharing!! This sounds like a great game that students would really get into. With so much sharing these days, it's tough to come across something fresh and new for the world language classroom, but you've nailed it!! Can't wait to find a use for this game with my content.

    1. Thanks Shelly! Glad you will be able to find a use for this activity!

  2. This is great! I love that strategy is involved to keep even the strongest learners on their toes, yet still gives the slower processors time to figure out the right answer. This year, I'm going to use this after students draw character maps to review characters in the novels we're reading now, but I can see using it in many ways next year. I'll likely use it at the end of March, once the Locura de marzo winner is announced, to revisit the students' favorite artists. Thanks for sharing!