Teaching English through remixing games and game rules (“Jidoukan Jenga”)

My students and I run a Game Club one Saturday afternoon a month at our local community center (“Jidoukan”). The elementary school kids learn games and make friends, and we get to experiment with different teaching activities with games.

Today I had a small group (a 6th grade boy and two 3rd grade boys). The three boys chose to play with me after I and my other students had introduced what we wanted to do with the 15-20 kids that came. The older one had studied some English, and one of the 3rd graders goes to a cram school for English. I tried a new activity with them using Jenga. I spoke in Japanese to them for the instructions and main interactions.

“Jidoukan Jenga” – the modified rules and the game in play

What we did:
1. They had all played the game, and they explained the rules to me in Japanese.
2. We played the game twice.
3. I asked them what they think of Jenga, and they shared their views in Japanese. We then used my dictionary to look up the main English words of their views and I helped them make complete sentences, which they repeated back to me.

“It’s good.”
“The tower might fall down.”
“My heart is beating.”
“I have to concentrate.”

4. I then showed them the rules to Jenga in English and explained some of the key terms to them (“tower, 3 blocks across, with only one hand, a loose one, take one block, put it on top”). I then asked them to change the game anyway they wanted. They suggested pulling two blocks, and not putting them on the top but on the table in front of us as points. I showed them in the rules where the related sentences were, and worked with them to change the rules (“a block” became “2 blocks,” scratching out “put it on the top of the tower.”).
5. We played our version twice. I then asked them what they thought of the new game and helped them look up translations for the main words.

“It’s more difficult than normal Jenga.”

6. Since we had made a new game, I asked them to make a new name for their game. They suggested “Jidoukan Jenga” which I wrote on the top of the paper.
7. We chatted about the “lesson.” They said that they thought they made fun rules, that they were happy to be able to make their own game, and that they encountered some difficult words that they didn’t know.


The lesson was hard for them (one boy left halfway through to join a different table and a card game) but the general flow seemed to work. I’ve done Snakes and Ladders written rule remixing with university students and it always seems to work well and can be done in 90 minutes. I’d like to give this Jenga-based game and game language remix activity a try with some junior high school students who have had a little more grammar and vocabulary training already. It seems to be a somewhat smooth way to analyze and create games and language.