Back-Channel Bingo

Another tried and tested activity that I came back to recently. It’s meant to encourage students to be more active listeners through use of back-channeling devices i.e. the things we do/say to show our interlocutor when we are listening to them. It’s particularly useful where one speaker is dominant, for example, when telling an anecdote, or gossiping. I’ve just used  it  for a role-play where Ls talked about their lovely/awful bosses by the water tower/having a cigarette…

1. Set up the roleplay in pairs and run it the first time.

2. Comment on the active listening (or lack of) and elicit/input and board at least 10-15 devices, drilling intonation and stress. E.g.

No way!

Really? (upwards intonation – expresses surprise)

Really? (downwards intonation – shows I’m listening)

You’re kidding!

What a nightmare/disaster/pain/disappointment/relief

That’s/How ridiculous/awful/outrageous/lovely

He/She’s such a(n) arse/hypocrite etc

You poor thing.


3. Have a quick practice by demoing a conversation with a strong student. You could also just make statements to elicit responses (My dog died this morning – That’s awful!)

4. Tell every student to draw a ‘bingo’ grid of 9 squares in their notebook, and put one of the devices in each square at random, like so *.


5. Rearrange the role-play configuration into groups of 3: one ‘speaker’, one ‘listener’ and one ‘monitor’ per group.


6. Tell students that the speaker and listener will have a conversation while the monitor observes, crossing off the square on their grid each time they hear the corresponding item used. Tell groups they are playing against each other. To win, the monitor must cross off a horizontal/vertical/diagonal line of three and shout bingo. CRUCIALLY make sure that the monitor keeps their bingo card a secret. If they’re team mates are being cheeky and looking at the grid swap monitors to cut off the competition 😉 Similarly disqualify teams who use the devices arbitrarily and without regard for the content of the conversation.


7. Between rounds, switch roles so that a different monitor uses their grid each time. 3 monitors, 3 rounds.


(*For a more extended round, monitors can cross off ALL 9 squares in their grid, or alternatively just have a checklist and a target of 7 for example.)

It’s good semi-controlled practice but a little unnatural so finish this off with a new partners, minus the bingo cards for a freer conversation. This activity can be used for any number of vocabulary items or other speaking strategies really. What I really like about it though is the basic introduction of a monitor really forces learners to USE the language.




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