Apples to apples is a word association game in which players match nouns and verb phrases to adjectives. Its popularity can be attributed to the funny combinations that come up and the simplicity of its design. I’ll be showing you how the game is played and how it can be improved and adapted for the TEFL classroom using custom made cards. There is a template to follow at the end so that you can make your own.

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To play, each player is dealt six red cards which are made up of nouns and verb phrases. Then one player takes a green card, an adjective, and reads it to the other players. The player who drew the green card is judge for this turn and each of the other players select a red card which they think matches the adjective on the judge’s green card and play their card face down.

The judge shuffles the red cards and then reads them aloud. The judge picks a winner based on any reasoning he chooses and the green card is given to the winning player to show that they scored a point. The next round begins with a new judge, as the role of judge changes each turn, moving clockwise around the table.

It’s a quick and easy game that students enjoy. A lot of the combinations are silly and students like to play the role of judge and decide the winner. If you’re using it in the classroom you can preselect the cards you’re going to use before your lesson. You can use a particular subset of cards to grade the language or focus on a specific area.

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Above is a sample round from a six player game. The judge’s green card is ‘annoying’ and they have to choose a winner from the red cards, one from each of the other players. The picture above outlines a few of the limitations in using Apples to Apples in the classroom. Firstly, American pop culture references on cards like “Call me Maybe” rely on knowing songs and celebrities that students may not know. These cards can be removed from the game easily enough.

Secondly, I think the cards should be illustrated. An American phrase like “getting a shot” is confusing if you’ve never heard it before, so a picture or simple definition would be an improvement. Thirdly, the judge is being asked to understand a wide range of concepts and choose between them. For some students this may not be a problem, but some will feel a lot of pressure and if they are confused by anything in front of them they won’t enjoy the process.

So, I like the simple game mechanics and the player interaction but not the cards themselves. You can make your own set in a number of ways. You could take the nouns, verb phrases and adjectives from the word list at the back of your textbook and use them to create your own deck. In this case the set of cards will expand each week as your students are introduced to new topics, and students could even add to the deck themselves by introducing vocabulary they’ve learned outside of the syllabus.

You could also have a focused set with limited parameters. For example, picking two topics I’ve been learning with an upper intermediate class, you could use ‘jobs’ as your ‘red’ cards and ‘personality adjectives’ as your ‘green’ cards. If you printed blank cards for your students to use, they could create the cards and draw pictures or write definitions.

Below is an example of a set I’ve made for revising frequency. It uses verb phrases from the first two modules of Hot spot 2.

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I use these cards with a class of eight to ten-year-olds. There are thirty verb phrases, mostly connected to hobbies and chores. I play with a slight variation on normal ‘Apples to apples’. Players have to use their card to make a sentence and say it out loud, instead of selecting their card secretly as they would in regular ‘Apples to apples’. When the judge makes his selection he has to make sentences with each card. It allows for more interaction between the students and for easily monitored practice with the language.

An example round could be as follows:
Player 1: “Mark goes swimming twice a month.”

Player 2: “Mark brushes his teeth twice a month.”

Player 3: “Mark vacuums the carpet twice a month.”

Mark (judge for the round): “I never vacuum the carpet. I brush my teeth every day. I sometimes go swimming, so that wins. I go swimming twice a month.”

This is a rather idealized example, but once the students are familiar with the game and you’ve drilled the sentence structures with them it’s something they’re capable of producing. Monitoring and constant feedback, especially if you have multiple groups playing at a time, is essential. Typical mistakes by students include confusion with pronouns (“Mark brushes my teeth twice a month”) and omitting the ‘s’ (“Mark vacuum the carpet twice a month”).

Now that I have a set of verb phrases that the students are familiar with I can use other grammar structures. For example, like/hate/love/don’t like +ing. With each additional grammar structure students become familiar with changing verbs to fit their sentence. You could later add past and future tenses or whatever else fits your syllabus.

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Students enjoy the game and it’s a great way to start or end a lesson with a little revision. You can also mix cards of different grammar structures together, so students become more aware of the differences. A game where the sentence structures change from “I like playing computer games” in one round to “I do the dishes twice a week” in the next is more challenging but achievable.

One final idea is that I’ve been handing out blank cards to early finishers. They’ve been adding their own verb phrases like ‘go fishing,’ ‘drink water’ and ‘go skiing’. this has meant the game is growing and is becoming more personalized each week.

I haven’t been using these ideas for long, so I’m open to hearing new ideas and alternative adaptations. If you would like to make your own set, the templates I’ve made are here: [Template]