I think “Messenger and Scribe” is just about the best classroom game ever for English Language Learners.

As most ELL teachers know, you write three-or-four different sentences on sheets of paper you tape on different walls in the classroom.  Then you pair students up – one is the “messenger” and one is the “scribe” (though those roles can change at various times during the game).  You tell students to “Go!” and the messenger has to run to the papers, come back to the scribe, tell him or her what the sentence says, and the scribe writes it down (the messenger can’t stand at the wall and yell to the scribe).  The first teams to write them down correctly, including punctuation, win (depending on the size of the class, I have up to six teams as winners).

It’s noisy, students love it, and they can practice all four domains – reading, writing, speaking and listening.

The other skill they practice is cheating – just about everybody tries to do it and, in fact, part of the game is catching students at their deviousness and cheerfully yelling at them.

After thinking about how to adapt this game to virtual learning, I gave it a try today.

And it went great!

After explaining the game, I paired-up students into different breakout rooms.  I then displayed the three sentences on the slide at the top of this post.  One student (the messenger) went back-and-forth between the main room and the breakout rooms, and the scribe shared their screen there as the messenger told him/her the sentences.

Prior to playing the game, I made all students make “pinky promises” to not write the sentences down and not take pictures of them.

During the game, I took quick trips to the breakout rooms to see how it was going and, low-and-behold, did catch one group cheating.  The messenger had respected the rule of not writing the sentences down and not taking pictures of them.  But the two of them had decided it was not against the rules for the messenger to come back to the breakout room and write down the sentences based on memory in the chat.

I “shamed” them mercilessly – all in good fun.

After the game was finished (it did take longer than I had expected – as all things do on Zoom), I asked students how they felt about the game.

There was unanimous agreement that they loved it and wanted to play it again in the future!