(image by Darwin Bell on Flickr)
Fruit Salad. It’s a rubbish food, but a brilliant game. For those of you who were never drama students, Fruit Salad is a game similar to musical chairs. To play, you form a circle, with one fewer seats than there are players. The player *sans* chair stands in the centre, and is the caller. In the simplest form of the game, each player is assigned a fruit name: apples, oranges, pears, bananas etc. The person in the middle calls out one of said fruits, and everyone assigned to that fruit jumps up and rushes around madly trying to find an empty seat to sit in. Meanwhile, the caller is doing the same, hoping to leave someone else standing in the middle to be the new caller. There is much pushing, shoving, and hilarity, and at least one person will end up falling on their arse, giggling fit to burst. To add spice to the game, at any time the caller can shout ‘Fruit Salad!’, at which point everyone has to leap to their feet and find a new place to sit. It’s energetic and madcap, and can keep a group entertained for hours. In summer school last year my students broke three chairs playing this game, in their determination to be the first into a seat. Despite damn nearly also breaking their heads as they went flying, they refused to play any less fiercely. I loved them for that.
So, how is this useful to me as an EFL teacher? Well, I don’t think there’s a language point that it can’t be used to teach. It’s merely a case of modifying the phrase the caller is given. My favourite form is ‘I have never’, which is ideal for practising present perfect. The caller has to say something they have never done – except that they are, in fact, lying. Everyone who has also done whatever nefarious deed it happens to be has to find a new seat. This always starts off being pretty tame (I have never been to school), but quickly escalates into dark confessions (I have never had sex in a cemetery at night with my best friend’s little brother.) It’s always entertaining to watch the caller squirm with embarrassment when they’re the only person that’s done what they say they’ve done. Or the only one that will admit to it, anyway.
I’m working with an elementary group in one of my outside classes at the moment. Present perfect is way beyond them at this point in time, but I can use the game to practise the past simple of ‘to be’, plus ‘could’, our grammar point for the day. I give them the phrase, ‘when I was a child, I could …’ and let the game commence. There are nearly 30 kids in the group, and it quickly gets cutthroat, with the usual Italian urge to cheat coming to the forefront. Rather than leaping to their feet and rushing to the nearest chair as soon as the caller says their piece, there is a minute of inactivity, as friends make eye contact across the circle and arrange to swap places. This will never do. I haul one of the worst offenders out of her seat and order her to be the caller. She looks at me with injured innocence. I raise a disbelieving eyebrow at her. She concedes that she may have been stacking the odds somewhat in her favour. The rest of the group titter. The game is on again, and this time they’re really into it. *THWACK!!* Paulo, the littlest boy in the group, sends himself flying over backwards not once but twice. *SNAP!!* Francesca breaks a shoe. *DOINNNNG!!* Giulia and Giuseppe crash into each other mid-circle, rebounding like comedy cartoon characters. It’s Six Nations Rugby crossed with Spongebob Squarepants and it’s *brilliant*.
Ten minutes later, Luigi is sprawled upside-down on the floor with an expression of dopey amazement on his face. Sara is dusting a large footprint off her bottom. Alessio is whistling and looking pointedly in the other direction. Federica is clutching two halves of a broken chair and Elena is laughing so much she can’t stop hiccupping. The end of lesson bell breaks through the anarchy and there is a loud, disappointed, ‘nooooooooo!’ from the class. It’s a wonderful moment for me, the creator of chaos. I gaze proudly at my savage, breathless little charges, knowing that, whatever else they may forget, after today they’ll always know *exactly* how to use ‘could’ correctly.
My work here is done.