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Box of Lies - In-class or Virtual Communicative Activity

17 June 2021
Maddalena Shipton is an elementary teacher for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. She regularly differentiates her teaching with a focus on high-yield approaches, fostering a classroom community and promoting appreciation for individual differences. She has also been involved in a variety of ministry funded initiatives in which she worked as a Curriculum Consultant and Writer, Project Leader and Professional Development Network Presenter, with a focus on 21 Century Learning competencies, Accessibility Awareness and Differentiated Instruction.


What a BLAST! The level of engagement in my classroom is always at an all-time high with the spontaneous communicative activity: Box of Lies ou BoȊte de mensonges! A great idea introduced to me for the FSL classroom by Thames Valley DSB teacher, Jen Aston, Box of Lies encompasses critical thinking, spontaneous use of the target language and tremendous motivation. I honestly haven’t seen my students so pumped up for a long time. Perfect for anytime, but especially come Spring, when the weather warms up and student attention begins to veer towards the windows and daydreams of recess. Mine too!

For a quick example of the interactive game, played by adults, you can view this brief Jimmy
Fallon clip:
This game can be played in pairs, small groups, as a whole class or even virtually, with one class against another, from different schools. Basically, the premise is this: To hide an object within a closed box and to guess if the person describing it is telling the truth or not. A cardboard box is fine or sometimes I grab a few decorated ones from the dollar store to make things interesting. Gift bags could work just as well-- Sac de mensonges!

The person who opens the box can choose to describe the item itself or to lie about the item and make up something completely different. The opposing player or team can then pose questions to attempt to determine whether the person is telling the truth or not.

I found this activity to be a great way to promote spontaneous interaction on a “need to learn” basis, meaning students were intrinsically motivated (aka super excited!) to co-create anchor charts with vocabulary and expressions that they may need, including varied adjectives, verbs AVOIR and ÊTRE in singular, plural and negative forms, interrogative words and question formation. This also naturally led to discussions on the value of using gestures, eye contact, pitch, tone and volume to communicate/interact and equally to look and listen for those mentioned as well as body language and facial expressions to understand spoken French.

Depending on the grade, you may wish to check the curriculum expectations for Speaking to Understand, Speaking to Interact and Listening to Understand and Listening to Interact to review strategies and the ideas within the curriculum document teacher prompts. Here’s an example for grade 5 which I focused on but can totally be modified to suit a range of grade

The person who opens the box can choose to describe the item itself or to lie about the item and make up something completely different. The opposing player or team can then pose questions to attempt to determine whether the person is telling the truth or not.

I found this activity to be a great way to promote spontaneous interaction on a “need to learn” basis, meaning students were intrinsically motivated (aka super excited!) to co-create anchor charts with vocabulary and expressions that they may need, including varied adjectives, verbs AVOIR and ÊTRE in singular, plural and negative forms, interrogative words and question formation. This also naturally led to discussions on the value of using gestures, eye contact, pitch, tone and volume to communicate/interact and equally to look and listen for those mentioned as well as body language and facial expressions to understand spoken French.

Depending on the grade, you may wish to check the curriculum expectations for Speaking to Understand, Speaking to Interact and Listening to Understand and Listening to Interact to review strategies and the ideas within the curriculum document teacher prompts. Here’s an example for grade 5 which I focused on but can totally be modified to suit a range of grade levels.

Related Descriptors from CEFR:

B1.1 Using Oral Communication Strategies: identify a range of speaking strategies and use them appropriately to express themselves clearly and coherently in French for various purposes and to a variety of audiences

B2.1 Using Speaking Interaction Strategies: demonstrate an understanding of appropriate speaking behaviour in a variety of situations

A2.1 Using Interactive Listening Strategies: identify and use interactive listening strategies to suit a variety of situations while participating in social and academic interactions (e.g., build on what others are saying by offering relevant comments when participating in paired and small group exchanges on familiar topics; observe a peer’s body language to help understand his or her intended message; ask questions in paired and small-group activities to clarify their understanding of what is said)


I modeled this game with a few students in class, which immediately sparked their interest! They couldn’t wait to outsmart their peers! Students started bringing in odd and interesting items for our boxes and we created anchor charts with what we thought could be useful vocabulary and expressions when playing the game live. Our goal was to play, first in-class and ultimately with other schools via Zoom virtually and, of course, to win! Students brainstormed possible lies as well as questions they could ask to dig deeper into the truth... or suspected lies. I was honestly astounded with what they came up with!

** WARNING **
 

If you are an educator who doesn’t like “stuff” around, this may not be for you. As soon as this game was introduced, my class baskets became FULL of items that students couldn’t wait to integrate into their games and EVERY recess duty I had, was consumed by children attempting to whisper to me about their game strategies. Let’s be real-- I loved it!

I connected with interested educators via my social media networks, many of those whom I’d met at conferences in the past, and we compared classes and schedules. This is the tricky part. As FSL teachers with a range of grade levels and periods in a day, finding someone with a similar timetable or shifting around timetables to accommodate a virtual meeting time can prove to be difficult. That being said, it's definitely worth it!

We set up our laptops, projectors and boxes in anticipation. We also sent a few teasing images to spark interest.

During our virtual games, we started with introductions, welcoming each other to our schools and then the games began!

The teachers played a quick rock-paper-scissors match to determine a starting school and we lost…Not for long though!

Schools took turns inviting students to open boxes and describe what was inside. Students decided if they were going to tell the truth or lie. The opposing school used the target language to ask questions to clarify and check for telling facial expressions or gestures. Then we voted!

Box of lies Happy Dance
"C'est un masque de Batman avec une grande fleur rouge."
Box of Lies proved to be a very rich, action-oriented task that students will remember for years to come. You know an activity is memorable when parents can’t wait to talk about it at interviews and student siblings complain “Madame, why aren’t we doing that???”
The school community loved it-- their teacher even more ;-)

Try it for yourself.

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