“Why is a river rich?” The answer is, “Because it has two banks.”
Riddles like the above can be used as a game during the variety session of a Toastmasters meeting. What is a variety session? Many Toastmasters meetings have a Joke Session in which members tell jokes. In my club, the Joke Session is sometimes changed into a Variety Session. In this case, we play English games rather than tell regular jokes. Therefore, in addition to collecting jokes, it is a good idea for a toastmaster build up a collection of games.
Criteria for a game that is suitable for use in a Variety Session
Which games are suitable for a Variety Session? I use the following criteria.
1. Fun (interesting, creative and challenging): If a game is not fun, how can it be called a game? Variety Sessions often occur at the beginning of a meeting. Starting with FUN activities will make the atmosphere more relaxed.
2. When playing the games, all or many of the people present can speak English (or the target language of the meeting), and speak as many English sentences as possible: Generally, the main reason for a person to be a toastmaster is to practice speaking English and therefore some games, like hangman, do not meet this expectation.
3. Real communication (that is communication that helps members to know each other better): The main purpose of language is real communication. Games helping this are more meaningful.
4. Suitable for about 20 people playing over 10-15 minutes: We have to take the real situation into consideration.
The following are examples of games that I have used and highly recommend.
1. Find Someone Who…
Prepare a list with statements such as: Find someone who has delivered more than 7 speeches at Toastmasters. Find someone who attended the Toastmasters Fall Convention last year….
Give each member a handout of this list and everyone tries to find answers by talking to each other.
2. Role-playing jokes
The Session Master prepares several jokes on cards. The members are divided into groups of about 4 people. Give each group a joke to role-play.
3. Just a Minute
In small groups (or pairs), each one take turns speaking on the topic provided by the group. He must speak for one whole minute, and speak as fluently as possible with no hesitation or repetition. The Session Master speaks as an example at the beginning.
4. Which of the three statements is not true?
Say three things that you did recently or are related to you. One of them is not true. Let others guess which is not true. For example, “I played badminton with my husband yesterday. My Mom was in the hospital last week. I went to Japan during Chinese New Year holidays. Which is not true?” More information can be shared after the right answer is announced.
5. Take as many as you like.
The Session Master prepares some chocolate beans. First, each one takes as many chocolate beans as he likes. Next, the Session Master announces: Each one says some things about yourself—If you took four beans, you say four things; if you take ten beans, say ten things.
6. Ask a counselor a question
Everyone has two cards of different color, such as a white card and a yellow card. Everyone write on the white card a question that puzzles him or someone he knows. (For example, “How can I win the heart of the girl I love?”) Then write the answer to that question on the yellow card. (For instance, “Buy her chocolates.”) Then all the white cards are collected and shuffled, and all the yellow cards are collected and shuffled.
One card is picked from the white deck randomly, the question is read. Then one card is picked from the yellow deck randomly and the answer read. The questions and the answers will not match, of course. But sometimes they seem to match in a strange way. Members can then share in small groups why they wrote their questions, etc.
7. Use 3 pictures (or 3 objects drawn from a bag) to make a story.
This game encourages the story tellers to use their imagination to invent a story.
8. A coin story
Take out a coin; see the year on that coin (when it was made). For example, the year is 1994. The person must then tell the audience one important thing that happened to you in that year.
9. A (adjective) story
The Session Master shows a list of adjectives that describe people’s emotions. The audience can add some more adjectives. In pairs or small groups, each one chooses an adjective and takes a turn telling a story of himself. The adjective needs to describe well the story. For example, I choose “exciting” and tell my exciting story.
10. An interrupted story
Someone tries to tell a story of his own. His purpose is to reach the end of the story, but the audience’s purpose is to delay this as long as possible by interrupting him with all kinds of questions. For example, when the story-teller says, “I went to England…” The audience can ask immediately, “When?” or “Why?” or “With whom?” The story-teller needs to answer and then go on.
11. Give hints to people in order to guess words. The words can be some key words in the recent news, the names of your favorite sport or movie, or spelled from some letters making up a longer word.
12. Ten questions
Give a category, for example, animals. Think of one animal (maybe your favorite pet), and let the audience guess by asking yes/no questions. They can ask only ten questions. A similar game is where the audience knows one word, but one person does not. This person asks WH- questions to find out the answer. In his questions, he uses “the teapot” to replace the unknown word. For example, he asks, “Why do you use the teapot? What is the teapot made of?”
13. The Yes/No Contest
In pairs, one asks yes/no questions, the other must answer. However, the one who answers can not say “yes” or “no,” and cannot nod or shake his head. The time limit for asking questions is 30 seconds. For example, if the question is “Are you a Toastmaster?” You can answer “I am (a Toastmaster)” or “That’s correct.” You cannot say, “Yes, I am.” Otherwise, you lose the game.
(Variation: You can answer “Yes” or “No”, but when you say Yes, you need to shake your head, and when you say No, you need to nod your head. To make the game more challenging, you need to raise one hand and one leg on the same side of your body when you say Yes, and you need to raise one hand and one leg on the opposite side of your body when you say No.)
14. A quiz game
The Session Master prepares many questions for the audience to answer. These questions can be related to information known to most members, such as famous people or places in the world, the history of the Toastmasters club, etc; or the questions can be interesting ones. In addition to the one at the beginning, the questions can be as follows:
How can there be 12 seconds in a year? (Answer: January second, February second, etc.)
Which word starts with a t, ends with a t, and is full of tea? (Teapot)
Which English word is the longest one? (Smiles—because there is one mile between the first letter and the last one.)
Which English phrase starts with a p, ends with an e and has a million letters in it? (Post Office)
Which date is a command to go forward? (March 4th—it sounds like “march forth”.)
Why is the capital of England in the middle of the sea? (Because the capital word of England is e, and e is in the middle of the word sea.)
How can you run as fast as a horse? (By riding on it.)
Why is heat faster than cold? (Because you can catch cold.)
Why can a monkey escape from any cage, but other animals cannot? (Because the monkey has a “key”)
Why does a bicycle fall over? (Because it is two-tired [too tired].)
One person makes many questions (for example, 15 questions) and put them under
different categories (for example, History, Literature, Math, etc.). The other people are
divided into two groups. Each group tries to guess as many questions correctly as possible
in a limit of time (for example, two minutes).
17. A or B?
In pairs, one person prepares five or more questions to ask the other. The questions
are in the form of “…A or B?” For example, “Do you like long hair or short hair?” The person who answers must answer very fast—without thinking. The last question is not a “A or B” question, but some interesting question for a brief answer. For example, “Do you have a girl friend?”
18. Draw pictures or mime
The Session Master prepares some words. Write each word on a card. Invite one person to take one card and then draw on the board (or mime) and let the others guess what it is. When it is answered correctly, invite another person to explain the importance of that word. For example, during the Christmas season, the pictures can be “manger”, “angel”, etc.
Make groups of 8-10 people. Each group makes a circle. Each one takes turns making a sentence using an adjective and a gerund starting with the same letter of his name. For example, my name is Freda, so my sentence can be: “I am fantastic Freda; I like flying.” After everyone says one sentence, share with the group your real personality and what you really like most to do.
The two people in each pair discuss (for about 5 minutes) how to “defend” themselves later by giving the same answers to some questions that they guess will be asked.
Then Session Master selects one pair, telling them, “Last night, someone was murdered here at some time from 7 to 8 o’clock. You are suspects. You will use an alibi to prove you are innocent. In other words, you will try to prove that you were together at another place at that time. Now, one of you two please leave the room. We will ask the other person some questions. After that, you can come in and answer the same questions. If the answers from both of you are all the same, you are innocent. Otherwise, you are guilty.”
21. Brainstorm words related to a topic
The audience is formed into groups of about four people. Each group try to brainstorm as many words as possible related to one topic, for example, “contest”. Then the first group says one word and explains why it is related to that topic. If some other groups have the same word in their list, they call out saying “Bingo!”. The more “bingos” your group has, the more points you get.
If DVDs are available, we can play this game. In each pair, one is the viewer/reporter, the other is the listener. The Session Master plays that DVD without sound while the listener sits with their back to the screen so they cannot see anything. The listener’s partner (the viewer/reporter) will describe to him everything the DVD displays. After about three minutes, shift the roles.
A variation is: Provide several short and interesting films (each one about one minute long). Everyone can see the screen. The audience takes turns to describe what is going on in the film. One person describes one film, which is about one minute long.
23. What’s the question for each answer?
Play in pairs. One writes several words about his personal information, for example, “1. Twenty years. 2. Paul. 3. Yellow....” These three are answers to three questions. What are those questions? The other tries to guess by asking, for example, “How long have you been working?” If that is not the correct question for Item One, the first person will say, “No, it is not the question.” If it is the correct question, the first person will say, “Twenty-three years. I have been working for twenty-three years.”
Do you like the above games? Would you like to try some of them in a variety session at your club? With two banks—a joke bank and a game bank, a toastmaster can bring much fun to others.
1. A TV Series Friends, Season Four, episode 12, “The One with the Embryos”.
2. A TV Series Friends, Season Five, episode 22, “The One with Joey’s Big Break”.
3. Hartley, Bernard & Peter Viney (1983). American Streamline. N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
4. Kelty James (1991). Family Album U. S. A. Ontario: Maxwell Macmillan International Publishing Group.
5. Rentz, Mark D. (1992). The Reader’s Journal. New Jersey: Regents/Prentice Hall.
6. Richards, Jack C. & David Bycina (1987). Person to Person. N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
7. Yeldham Michael (2001). English Conversation in Taiwan. Taipei: Crane Publishing Co., Ltd.
the format is similar to 大風吹—but say “what is real about you” (Facilitation, 2008 Nov)
20 questions yes/no questions
Each one read a different article. Summarize what you read to a partner. Then switch the articles. Read it and summarize to a third person. (Eric Yang, YM evening classes)
yes, but… vs. yes, and…
Michael Rost (2008 Nov):
Draw four shapes. Write in each shape a date (or week, month, season, year, etc.) that is important to you.
Speaking circles: Look at two partners for 30 seconds silently. To establish a connection with your listeners before you say anything.
The Real Me: First person presents and then the two listeners ask 5 questions for the first person to answer.
Story relay: Four people will relay a story. They are story tellers. The variety session master will give a sentence to start a story. Then he will point at story tellers by random. Any story teller pointed by him must continue the story.
Make a circle. The first one calls a person’s name and throws a ball to that person. The receiver will say “Thank you, ____(the thrower’s name).” And throw to any other person.
(Eric Yang) Write on each of the corner of a piece of paper: job, favorite recreation, interest or goal, most special
(Andy Hsieh) change identity. A tells B what A likes to do, and B tells A. Then they hit a palm with each other, and receive the new identity. Then they go to C, D, etc. doing the same way. Finally, some of them will describe their new identity, and let others guess who they are.