Gibberish Sentences

I invented this game when my Fourth Graders were studying immigrants.  It is designed to get the students thinking about what it must be like for someone who is suddenly thrust into a world in which he or she doesn't speak the language or understand the culture.  It's extremely simple, but it shows how even simple drama activities can be constructed to directly support other curriculum.


Note:  This lesson has nothing to do with the "language" called "Gibberish" that some of us learned as children.  Ironically, that "language"--in which extra syllables are added to words in a prescribed way--is not actually gibberish at all, because anyone who knows the rules can understand it.  I'm using the word in its accepted general meaning--sounds that are indecipherable as language.  (Blah-de-blah-de-blah-blah-blah. etc.)



Before class, prepare some index cards--at least twice as many as there are students in your group--each with one simple sentence written on it.  These should be sentences that are fairly elementary and important--basic communications.  A complete list of the sentences in one of my decks of cards is at the bottom of this lesson.


Play the Game

Students sit in a semi-circle.  One student volunteers to go to the front, and glances at the top card in the pile.  (Sometimes I manipulate the deck so that the most advanced students get the hardest sentences.)  The student's job is to communicate the precise meaning of the sentence as efficiently as possible without the use of spoken language.  (Sometimes I say without making any sound, but usually I allow sounds as long as they are not words.  The title of the game comes from the fact that I sometimes allow the students to speak "gibberish" as they gesture.)  The student must imagine that he or she is a stranger in a new country and does not speak a word of the language.


Students raise their hands and try to guess the meaning of the sentence.  I do not, of course, insist on exact words, but I am fairly picky about precise shades of meaning.  (For example, if the card says, "I like your new haircut," I do not allow "Is that a new haircut?"  but I do allow "Nice haircut!")  Depending on the success of the class and the sophistication of the particular sentence, I may coach and hint--"you're close!" etc.  After a minute or two if no one has guessed the student tells the class what his sentence was.  If this happens I always ask the class for suggestions for how the student could have made the meaning clear.

I play the game until everyone has had a turn, or until time is up.



I don't ordinarily set aside time at the end of class for discussion when I do this activity, but I am constantly alert for the opportunity for analysis, discussion and critical thinking during the game.  If a student is successful only after a long time, or with a lot of elaborate pantomiming, I open up a discussion about what might have been a more efficient way to convey the meaning.  When someone comes up with a gesture that is a cliche--like the "check mark" in the air for "check, please!"--I applaud its efficiency but then discuss the way that gestures become universal clich├ęs.  This game allows for lots of connections and thought.



Below are all the sentences from my deck of sentence cards  (in no particular order):


I have a toothache.

I like your new haircut.

Where is the exit?

That is a very beautiful hat.

I've missed my bus.

Please don't shout.

Are you my mother?

Is this your hat?

Who's in charge here?

May I take your order?

My feet hurt.

I can't find my shoes.

Does the train stop here?

Stop, in the name of the law.

I'm thirsty.

It looks like rain.

What a beautiful day!

We're going to be late.

This food is spoiled.

Get off my lawn!

My head hurts.

Where is the telephone?

Do you have a pen?

Leave me alone!

I'm cold.

I'm hungry.

My leg is broken.

Have you seen my dog?

You mustn't smoke in here!


(Naturally you will come up with more of your own.)