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Ending the Year’s Blues

by Darron Davies

If you are coming to the end of a school year, or wish to challenge a pastoral care or school camp group, here are some suggestions to keep the little tackers occupied. You may like to try out these ideas and tell me how they went.


Walk Right In
Sell a Chair
Count to Ten
100 Questions: Brainteasers
Naughts and Crosses
Roles: Telephone Exchange
Obscure Words

Uses for a Bucket
Further Brainteasers

Walk Right In

Here is an activity I tried recently with the ‘Brainwaves’ group in Hobart. It went for about 40 minutes. All that was needed was a door. I am sure that you have one or can find one within your classroom.

Simply explore the many ways a person or persons can enter a room. A student stands outside the door and the class is encouraged to look at the door awaiting his or her arrival. It is better to wait as this builds the focus and the drama. Doors have great theatrical possibilities!

The student enters the room in a certain way. He or she may be fleeing or even hesitant or reluctant. Explore the many ways to enter room. Leave this open to your students. I am yet to see a group not come up with good ideas.

You may like to explore movement. Discuss the meanings and what may be happening in the scene – a good guessing game. Explore the sounds that can be made outside the door and how they can add to the meaning. Build in dialogue. Even encourage two students to enter at the same time.

This is a fun filled activity that requires nothing other than students facing a door and a lot of imagination. You may even like to discuss the significance of doors in our lives. Explore the types of doors we enter and leave.

You may even like to create a scenario like I did recently at the Awakenings Drama Festival in Horsham, Victoria. We created the space of a lift by arranging chairs and then explored how people enter lifts and how their body language changes. This is also a good insight into discussing personal space.

Anyway, best of luck with these activities. You may even like to create stories about magical doors. Where do they take you? What do you find? Who may enter?

Sell a Chair

Another activity is to divide students into groups and ask each group to sell a chair. Who comes up with the best advert? Students can explore the properties of the chair, its use or even who has been sitting in it.

This can work really well. Leave it open to the imagination of your students. You may then like to launch into a discussion on chairs and what they mean to us – are there special chairs at home for e.g. Grandma? You can then design written adverts or even stories about a special chair.

Count to Ten

I first came upon this game in England. It is a terrific game and is a great way to start teaching as well as introducing a circle into learning. The group sits in a circle and has to randomly count to ten. One student says ‘one’, another ‘two’ and so on. If two students say the same number at the same time the group has to go back to zero. No system is allowed. Let the students identify what they have to do to reach ten. Watch carefully for any form of signalling where a student indicates that he or she is about to say a number.

This game is an excellent opportunity for you as the teacher to tune into the subtle effects that occur in a room when a group is challenged and focused. The more you conduct this game the more you will recognise how students need to tune into each other to reach a shared goal. Ask the students to observe what is happening within the group. The effects are quite palpable. The game confirms that much of the work in good teaching occurs at a subtle non-spoken level. Set class records and compare to other classes.

100 Questions: Brainteasers

There are many types of brainteasers that you can use to stimulate students. These can be used in form group sessions, for extras, or to simply challenge students and to introduce them to concepts such as open and closed questions, concrete and abstract lines of thought as well as convergent and divergent thinking. It is interesting how in this activity students get to experience a range of thinking styles. Again the experience is far more powerful than a text based introduction to thinking styles.

Many of these questions can be framed as 50 or 100 question quizzes with even the possibilities for students to form into groups, and then ask questions, if the question count is running low. If a small number of students know the quiz ask them to be observers and to report back what they have noticed.

  • A man gets into a lift and pushes a ground floor button. The lift stops halfway between floors and the lights go out. He knows his wife is dead. Why? Answer: His wife is in an iron lung in this hospital powered by electricity.

  • A dead man is lying face down in a field. On his back is a pack. What happened? Answer: His parachute didn't open.

  • A man is dead on the ground. He has a tear in his suit. How did he die? He is an astronaut on the moon who has torn his spacesuit.

  • A man is lying on the ground. Near him is a bin. In the bottom of that bin is a small pile of wood shavings. How did he die? The man is a blind circus performer. A foe has shaved the bottom of his walking stick or cane. Upon placing this can down he thought that he had grown. He was no longer "The shortest man in the world". As a result he committed suicide.

  • A man is found dead in a telephone booth. There is broken glass all over the floor. How and why did he die? Answer: He had been fishing and phoned his wife to tell her about the "big fish that had got away". He spread his arm to indicate how large the fish was, broke the glass in the booth, cut his wrists and bled to death.

  • A man hits a golf ball on a flat surface seven kilometres. How is this possible? He is in Antarctica and has hit the ball on ice. I have heard that this really happened.

  • A man is dead in a cabin in the woods. How did he die? He is in a cabin – cockpit – of a plane that has crashed into some woods. Note how language shapes our assumptions.

  • A man is dead on a burnt forest floor. How did he die? Your students may discern that he is wearing scuba gear. He was scooped up by a fire-fighting plane from a nearby lake and dropped on the forest floor. By the way this is an urban myth falsely generated by an Italian tabloid that went unproofed around the world.

  • A man and his son are driving along and are involved in a car accident. The son is taken critically injured and taken to a hospital. Upon seeing the son the doctor says "I cannot operate on him he is my son." How does this make sense? The doctor is his mother. A great example of how words and cultural meanings create their own meanings.

  • My meeting was delayed 30 minutes by a sea creature/fish. What has happened? The man is travelling via a flying boat that is delayed from entering the harbour by a whale. Some students may challenge this as a whale is technically not a fish. You may like to say ‘sea creature.’

  • Say this: "Two twins. One is twenty and the other is twenty two." How is this possible? Well that is how you say it. If it were read it would be "Two twins. One is twenty and the other is twenty too." You can pose another teaser in which the twins are celebrating their birthdays two days apart. How is this possible? One was born on February 28th and the other a few minutes later past midnight on March the 1st. This was not a leap year. Of course if it is now a leap year and the birthdays are a day apart because of February the 29th.


Students may like to explore the world of Palindromes and construct their own – sentences and words that can be read forwards and backwards.

"A man, a plan, a canal: Panama"

"Straw? No, too stupid a fad. I put soot on warts."

"Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus."

"Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel." 1614

"Doc, note. I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod."

"T. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad. I’d assign it a name: gnat dirt upset on drab pot toilet."

"Cigar? Toss it in a can. It is so tragic."

"Dennis and Edna sinned"

"Lager, sir, is regal."

Ten animals I slam in a net.

Too bad I hid a boot.

Was it a car or a cat I saw?

Identify words. Here are some: madam, rotor, racecar, and radar.


Translation is a fascinating activity that you can use in a variety of ways within your teaching.

I can remember working with a grade three class in Melbourne. The students came from many backgrounds. Many spoke other languages at home and were put into the position of having to translate for parents or grandparents.

There was even the example of a girl who had deaf parents. This involved another form of translation and left me with the question of whether as I had once heard that the babies of deaf parents learn at a very early age to cry silently with an emphasis on the face rather than through making noise.

Anyway, I explained to the grade three class how language and words can change through the ages e.g.- "nice’’ in Shakespeare’s age was a derogatory word (see this site). It originated from the Latin ‘nescius’ meaning ignorant or foolish. This raised discussion on how words can be misinterpreted and allowed students who translated, to come forward with misunderstandings that they had experienced.

I asked a student to be an interpreter. We invented a language – ‘gobbledygook’ – and I played the role of the speaker of ‘gobbledygook.’ A student was assigned as the English speaker and the other as the interpreter. I entered the room and started speaking in a strange tongue. The interpreter translated this into English and the English speaker’s reply came back in ‘gobbledygook’ via the interpreter. Of course this involved considerable imagination, improvisation and guesswork. We were able to build upon the comments to create a very funny series of exchanges.

I was surprised how easily the students were able to step into these series of roles and create ever-changing contexts that shaped and were reshaped by the body language, the replies and the translations. Importantly there was freedom to experiment unlike a real translation.

We were even able to set up real translations in which students communicated from their parents’ native tongue – in one case Mandarin – to an English-speaking student. I found this a most interesting experience and felt that the students were able to show a variety of skills to their classmates.

I can remember a week earlier having little doubt about the diversity within Australia’s population. At that time I had been in an ESL class supporting the teacher and students with different teaching methods. I asked the students what were their parents’ nationalities. The range within the small group included Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese and Russian.

Translation is an excellent method of challenging students. There is considerable evidence that translation is the very basis of how we communicate and learn – taking other information and breaking it into a form that has meaning for us. This also applies in terms of communicating that information to others. Just the simple act of translating information into another form can pose considerable challenges and force the student to really grapple with meaning. You may have come across this table of how we learn once posited by William Glasser in "Control Theory in the Classroom", Perennial Library 1986.

It places great emphasis on students actively and physically working with knowledge, group work and in particular translating knowledge back to others:

We learn

10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we both see and hear
70% of what we discuss with others
80% of what we experience personally (emotional)
95% of what we teach others (a form of translating of material)

Imagine your students translating your area of study from that of e.g. a secondary school textbook into a children’s book for six year olds. This requires considerable grappling with language and may even require the need to find new metaphors and analogies to make that knowledge even more understandable.

Naughts and Crosses

Ask the students to create a grid of nine chairs – each to correspond with a square on a naughts and crosses board. Students should form two lines. One line is the naughts and the other the crosses. The front student from each line is to take a position on this grid and either to have his or her arms crossed to signify a cross, or above the head in an arc to indicate a naught. This is a contest. You can have the best of five games. An alternative is to ask students to face questions pertaining to your subject area. If either side gets the question right a student can go to a chair within the grid.

I came across an alternative to this at a seminar to challenge bright students. It involved the drawing of the grid on the board labeling each naughts and cross square – A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3.

Two students stand at the front of the room and play a game of naughts and crosses in their minds without looking at the grid e.g. "Put a cross in A3."

Roles: Telephone Exchange

Rather than the more formal role-play sessions use this activity as a means of generating fun possibilities and new meanings. Students should adopt the roles of people within the field of study or objects. The aim of the activity is for people/objects to communicate to each other via a telephone exchange. A call must be made to the operator and a connection made.

The conversations must have a beginning, a reason and a natural end. The person or object phoned must then create another conversation with another student by going through the exchange. It does not matter if the people are not in the same era. Conversations will generate many new possibilities and links and create a sense of difference e.g. just how different the world may be seen through the eyes of different characters e.g. in a novel. "Hello operator, this is Kylie Minogue here, could I please speak to Buddha."


Get small jigsaw puzzles of about fifty pieces. Groups compete against each other to see who can complete the jigsaw first. Discuss how the group worked. A good introduction to team processes.

Obscure Words

Students should get into groups of four. Hand each group a secret word. The aim is to give four dictionary definitions for that obscure word: three lies and one truth. Can the audience guess which student is lying and who is telling the truth? Groups can vote and contest.

Quirly: cigarette rolled in corn leaf

Quaff: to drink a lot

Pettifogger: anyone who argues over little details

Nabob: wealthy powerful man

Momser: a rude man

Klaxon: horn for early car

Jix: person who interferes

Jape: joke or trick

Gimlet: gin cocktail

Ghoti: ridiculous spelling word –
GH as in tough, O as in women, Ti as in motion.
Pronounces "Fish".
A great introduction to the pronounciation of words.

Fanfaron: proud

Flaybottomist: school teacher

Choctaw: fancy step in ice skating

Chouse: to cheat

Chintzy: cheap or poorly made

Buttinsky: person who butts in to conversations

Balbriggan: men’s white cotton socks

Podunk: insignificant town

Roscoe: gun

Snood: woman’s hair net

Solon: lawmaker

Termagant: violent person

Tiggerty boo: okay or right

Faro: type of card game

Falderol: nonsense

Gibus: folding opera hat

Aglet: end bit of a shoelace

Anitifogmatic: alcoholic drink


Another great activity is to get students to make anagrams from their own names or others. Whose name makes the most words? Make rules whether words should be two letters or more. This may keep the students well occupied. Look at Christian names or surnames.


Uses for a Bucket

Explore the funniest uses for a bucket. Teams to list as many uses for a bucket. Teacher to decide the team with the funniest responses.

Further Brainteasers

  1. What was so special about 12.34 pm on the fifth June 1978? 12345678
  2. My first two is male, first three is female. First four is a famous man and first seven a famous female. What word am I? Heroine
  3. I am a six-letter word to do with music. I have no vowels. What am I? Rhythm
  4. What are the next two letters in this sequence? OTTFFSS__ __ EN number’s initials one to ten
  5. What letters come next? JFMAMJJAS_ _ _ OND: months of the year
  6. What sport has the most deaths in the world? Lawn bowls – age is the factor.
  7. What is next in this sequence? CV_ _? BN – letters on keyboard.

Female Names: Give the students a random list of the below names. Divide students into teams. What are the ten most popular female names in the UK? Point a correct name. Point in correct spot.


  1. Margaret
  2. Mary
  3. Susan
  4. Elizabeth
  5. Sarah
  6. Patricia
  7. Joan
  8. Jean
  9. Christine
  10. Kathleen

Male Names: Give the students a random list of the below names. Divide students into teams. What are the ten most popular male names in the UK? Point a correct name. Point in correct spot.


  1. John
  2. David
  3. Michael
  4. James
  5. Robert
  6. Paul
  7. Peter
  8. William
  9. Andrew
  10. Christopher

Buying a House: Give the students a random list of what is below. Divide students into teams. What are the ten best ‘turn ons’ when buying a house? Point a correct name. Point in correct spot.

  1. Nice smells
  2. Fresh flowers
  3. Clean carpets
  4. Neat lawn
  5. Warmth
  6. Mirrors
  7. Table lamps
  8. Smart front door
  9. Clean kitchen
  10. Being offered glass wine

Buying a House: Give the students a random list of the below names. Divide students into teams. What are the ten worst ‘turn offs’ when buying a house? Point a correct name. Point in correct spot.

  1. Bad smells
  2. Hair in plugholes
  3. Dirty toilets
  4. Toilet seat up
  5. Cobwebs
  6. Damp
  7. Poor lighting
  8. Noisy neighbours
  9. Noisy traffic
  10. Death in the house: ghosts

Phobias: Match the phobias. Point for each correct answer.

  1. Fear of knees
  2. Fear of churches
  3. Fear of dolls
  4. Fear of number 13
  5. Fear of the flute
  6. Fear of chins
  7. Fear of string
  8. Fear of chickens
  9. Fear of the left side
  10. Fear of nudity
  11. Fear of teeth
  12. Fear of beards
  13. Fear of the stars


Alektorophobia: fear of chickens
Aulophobia: fear of the flute
Ecclesiaphobia: fear of churches
Geniophobia: fear of chins
Genuphobia: fear of knees
Gymnotophobia: fear of nudity
Levophobia: fear of the left side
Linonophobia: fear of string
Odontophobia: fear of teeth
Pediophobia: fear of dolls
Pogonophobia: fear of beards
Siderophobia: fear of the stars
Triskaidekaphobia: fear of number 13

Worst Fears: Give the students a random list of the below fears. Divide students into teams. What are the ten worst human fears? Point a correct name. Point in correct spot.

  1. Public speaking
  2. Heights
  3. Bugs: eg spiders
  4. Financial problems
  5. Deep water: drowning
  6. Sickness
  7. Death
  8. Flying
  9. Loneliness
  10. Dogs

Lost in the Desert

You and your group are members of a tourist group that has gone into the Simpson Desert. Your Land Rover has blown a tyre, caught fire and been burnt to a shell. All pockets have been emptied and you have discovered items thrown from the Land Rover. Rank the items in order of 1-15 in order of their most importance to your survival. Number one is the most important item. Point a correct name. Point in correct spot.

  1. Small bottle of salt tablets
  2. Box of biscuits
  3. Blankets
  4. 20 litre can of water
  5. Four camp cots
  6. Three empty backpacks
  7. One bottle of rum
  8. Shaving mirror
  9. One square metre of plastic
  10. One carton of cigarettes
  11. One case of canned fruit
  12. Rifle and six rounds of ammunition
  13. Small transistor radio
  14. 8 litres of oil
  15. Large sheet of canvas


  1. 20 litre can of water: Drinking for survival
  2. One square metre of plastic: water still to supplement water supply
  3. Large sheet of canvas: shade from heat
  4. Shaving mirror: attract attention/start fires
  5. 8 litre can oil: ignite for signal
  6. One case canned fruit: food supply
  7. Rifle and ammunition: attention and food gathering
  8. Camp cots: shade and lower temperature than ground
  9. Blankets: shade, attention, warmth
  10. Box of biscuits: Food: salt and sugar cause problems
  11. Transistor: psychological comfort/outside world
  12. Backpacks: making hats
  13. Rum: antiseptic – alcohol dehydrates
  14. Salt tablets: cause greater thirst if low on water
  15. Cigarettes: stimulant dehydrates

Best of luck with the above challenges and feel free to contribute others or give me feedback. It will be great to further build the website resources.

Darron Davies

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