Working with 6th Graders

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



14 thoughts on “Working with 6th Graders”

  1. I learned a new game from my students on the exchange trip. The school we are visiting asked for our high school students to play games in English with their younger students. One of the games they are playing is “Steal the bacon”. It’s a great way for students to hear numbers at random.
    Divide students into two teams. The teams line up opposite one another in a row on each side of the “field”. In the center is the “bacon” (a ball or other object). Number students on each team, but not in order. For example, the line-up on one side might be 1 8 5 2 6 3 7 4.
    The teacher (or designated student) then states two numbers, one for each team, and calls “Ready, set, go!” Then the students with those two numbers run to the middle and steal the bacon for their team. So the caller might say, “Seven. Three. Ready, set, go!” Number seven from Team A and number three from Team B run to the middle. The one who “steals the bacon” earns a point for the team. You can also call out more than one number per team.
    The German students have enjoyed playing the game.

  2. Ben, “La chaise spéciale” worked really well in my 6th grade classes this past year. If you have large classes, getting to each kid does require quite a lot of time.
    I wrote a comment in the “Setting up Star of the Day” post where I describe what I did with the 2 kinds of PPs. That might be good to put in the 6th grade category. Unfortunately, my PPs may have images that aren’t public. Do I have time to switch them all to HD? Not anytime real soon.
    Super mini stories worked well. They liked acting them out afterwards too, while I narrated one sentence at a time. Some classes did better with that than others. I could do more of that next year. Also Draw and Discuss retells.
    “Two Truths and a Lie” worked really well after Christmas break. Each student had a turn, and it didn’t take so long as La Chaise Spéciale.
    “Oui ou Non” – Active CI game – One wall has “oui” the other has “non” posted somehow. I ask a yes/no question and they go to the wall that fits their answer.
    I’ll add as I think of other things.

    1. Totally agree on all Ruth’s points related to 6th graders. Special chair rocks! Often for me, this meant about 5 minutes per student, asking the class questions and coaxing the special chair student to role play what we create. Then get a new student in the special chair and repeat.
      Two other favorites of my 6th graders in the past, which I also liked: Improv and Smack!. I think they are similar to activities others do under other names. I’m waiting at the airport so I hope I can describe them clearly enough:
      Improv: co-create (by storyasking-type questions, or provide sentences in advance) a list of 8 to 12 sentences (each sentence including at least one target structure). Students pair off and have 30 sec. to prepare a semi-improvised, 5 to 10 second, silent “skit” based on the meaning of a sentence. (I encourage them to come up with 2 or 3.) The other teams get to guess which sentence is being acted, and if correct, get to act next — or get to pick which group goes next if they’ve already acted. Repeating sentences (that is, if more than one group happened to choose the same sentence) is great. More reps. I love how this connects repeated reading of the same content yet with creativity and acting. I would like to do this with a short storyline instead of random sentences, too. I use Improv in high school classes, too, but less often. The seniors loved it last year; they were hams.
      Smack!: I have an account with World Language Games that makes this easier to do because it draws on my database of sentences. You need a chart of several sentences again (could re-use a set of sentences from Improv). Then there are a lot of options. A few:
      – Say the meaning of a sentence, and students find the TL sentence and smack it with a stuffed animal they throw at the screen (not for Smartboards!)
      – Say a word out of a sentence(s), they smack the sentence(s) that include it
      – Two teams with team 1 reading a sentence & team 2 getting a few seconds of time to smack it (works better with Chinese probably than with a phonetic script)
      – Teacher reads a sentence aloud, students find it on screen and smack it, then go for another point by saying what it means.
      I think there are a lot more things that could be done with a chart of sentences up on screen and a stuffed animal to throw at it.

  3. Here are a few other brain breaks:
    1. ¨I like my neighbor¨
    Make sure there are no empty seats available at start of game. The teacher participates, and starts by saying, ¨ I like my neighbor, especially those who…are wearing blue, or… have a dog, or… have ever been to the local mall, or …like pizza, etc.¨ Everyone who is either wearing blue or has a dog, etc., gets up and moves to an open seat, the teacher included. This means someone will be left standing and that person gives the next ¨I like my neighber, especially those who…¨
    * Point out that kids cannot isolate one student (or teacher) by saying something like, ¨I like my neighbors, especially those who are wearing a t-shirt with (something specific) written on it.¨ The category must be generic.
    * Play the game a few times in L1, then introduce the vocabulary on the board to play it in L2.
    * I let the game go for a few minutes, and then end it before it loses its energy.
    2. An old standby for teaching numbers: ¨Buzz¨
    All students stand up and count going around the room: 1,2,3,4, etc. Any time the number 7 comes up or a multiple of 7 comes up, the student must say ¨Buzz¨. For example, the student would say ¨Buzz¨ on 7,14,17,21,27,28,35,37, etc. It really gets interesting when you get into the 70s: buzz, buzz, buzz, etc.
    * I play the first few rounds in L1 to show them how it works, and then I switch over to L2. I might alternate between L1 and L2 for a while before locking into L2 only.
    3. ¨Queen Loves¨
    Start by having students sit in a circle. The teacher begins by being queen and then counts off to the left with the first student being 1, the next student 2, etc. The last student, who will be to the immediate right of the queen in the count-off, goes into the center of the circle, the ¨mush pot¨. The game begins with the queen saying ¨Queen loves (a number, say 4)¨; Then, number 4 says, ¨4 loves 2¨; 2 says, ¨2 loves 10¨; 10 loves 1¨ etc. If someone does not respond, or if someone bounces right back to the same person (10 loves 1; 1 loves 10), or in any other way messes up, that person goes into the mush pot and the mush pot person becomes the last in the circle while everyone who was a higher number than the person who messed up moves down to get a new number. (In this example, everyone above 10 would move down and get a new number: 11 is now 10, 12 is now 11, 13 is now 12, etc.) The goal is to get the queen and the low numbers out. (I hope this makes sense – as in most explanations, it sounds more difficult than it is.) As in the other games, I start in L1 and then add the L2 vocabulary so we can play in L2 (And I play – it is fun to sit on ground with kids and really get into it – you have to listen and so do the kids!)
    I hope these are helpful!

    1. Just to remind anyone who may be wondering if some of these strategies from Don are not full-on CI. They don’t have to be. These are sixth graders. And these ideas probably had a lot to do with Don being chosen as his California district Teacher of the Year last year. Very cool Don and I’m already feeling a lot less nervous about working with that level next year in India.

      1. Thank you Ben for your kind words! I am so grateful for all that is shared by you and the other members here. This blog is a constant inspiring, educating, and motivating influence. I am so pleased to hear that others might be able to use what I share.

    2. These look good, Don! “I like my neighbor” is like “The cold wind blows for someone who…” And that makes me think how we could switch this game up by using all sorts of different phrases to call people up.
      Another game that isn’t full-on CI but rather a little early output is “In my bag there is a…” We sit on the floor in a circle. I start off holding the empty canvas bag and say, “Il y a dans mon sac un petit chat (or something easy that they know). I pass the bag to the next person who says, “Il y a dans mon sac un petit chat et une tortue” etc. around the circle, each person listing everything in the bag so far and then adding their own. We always do this with lots of saying together, hinting, prompting, and no pressure at all. I tell them they can name anything – a color, a day of the week, a number, a feeling, anything. It doesn’t have to be tangible.
      It’s pretty hot and humid today (relatively speaking; maybe not by New Delhi standards), so thinking about this is a great way to take a break from working in the garden 😉

      1. I think that a few years ago I would have thought that output like what Ruth describes in the comment above might not be all right. And indeed as a result of the discussion over the past few years here I am still very much about input and spontaneous unforced speech output and free writes and a little dictado thrown in there in terms of output. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do the activity Ruth describes above. Is not creating good will and an enjoyable atmosphere with a LOW affective filter more important than anything? I keep coming back to this in my own practice – it’s now what we do as much as it is how we feel. Fortunately, we now have a boatload of strategies that bring much enjoyment into the classroom. In 98% L2, of course. Hee hee.

        1. These are great ideas Ruth – thank you! I will use these next year!
          Also, I was reading ¨TPRS in a Year!¨ (I decided I would finish that book before starting ¨The Big CI Book¨!) and I came across on page 165 the ¨où est/where is, où sont/where are¨ shell game strategy for teaching ¨where¨. I can see how middle school kids would like to play this game. And it also makes me wonder, Ben, were you a middle school teacher when you wrote ¨TPRS in a Year¨? If so, you might have a foundation text for next year in Delhi.

  4. Thanks Ruth. I really look forward to our getting a really complete list of strategies for 6th graders that is just a mouse click away on the Sixth Grade category here on the right side of the page. I did see Kathryn Kuypers doing La Chaise in her classes last winter as I went around observing in DPS and it really was as you say, where the personal attention throughout class using the questionnaire creates a naturally focused class. I will add the Setting up Star of the Day thread to the Sixth Grade category, and thanks for that as well.

    1. Martha Nojima

      My take is that is doesn’t matter so much what grade level they are, 4th, 5th, 6th JR high whatever, even younger kids, what matters is how long you have had them. After they have had enough CI and they’ve learned tons of verbs with TPR, simple responses to questions, and they know how to listen, stories come naturally. I have a wildly enthusiastic group of 6th graders, most of them I have had at least 4 years. They sing, dance like wild people, and are into stories.
      Last week we had a big drama, where my mother in law called during class to tell me my dogs collar came off during his walk and she could’t catch him. I told the kids about it and one kid called his mom who has a big car. The whole class piled in the car drove to my neighborhood piled out, rounded up the dog, ran into my house with the dog , closed the door, problem solved.
      We will be doing that as a story this week, PQA any new language then probably as a reading. I’ll write it out in three or four short paragraphs with spaces under each one, where they can draw the story out. As these one page stories collect they are a great record of every story and always personalized. I finally have a way to have something tangible that kids can look back on to see how much they have learned, and they like to reread them. They love drawing and LOVE writing the dialog portions in bubbles, and love screaming the dialogs.
      Confession, I almost never play games with any level, but they think they are playing games.

      1. That is the shitz. With this sentence:
        … they love drawing and LOVE writing the dialog portions in bubbles, and love screaming the dialogues….
        you seem to have done something that I thought we were at least 20 years away from in Japan, allowing kids some space to be happy in their class. Way to go on that one Martha!
        Completely unconnected: Someone working in the war room one night mentioned Martin Luther King. Sabrina turned to me and said “Martha Luca (my son’s name) King?” Of course, that will be repeated in future conferences. I am definitely going to keep that one going.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben