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Forced output in a fun and engaging manner

Thomas Boutorwick, Osaka Shoin Women’s University


Quick guide

  • Key words:Forced output, relationships, classroom environment
  • Learner English level:Low to intermediate
  • Learner maturity level: University
  • Preparation time:15-20 minutes
  • Activity time:20-30 minutes
  • Materials:Writing utensil, point cards, note cards (or strips of paper)


According to the Output Hypothesis, language is acquired when learners are pushed to produce output that is accurate and precise (Swain, 1985). This forcing of output can come from a breakdown in communication. When a breakdown occurs, we reconsider, and try again to relay or understand the intended message. Through this process of trial and error, comprehensible output surfaces and the intended meaning is realized. This activity uses that logic and forces students to produce output until the intended meaning is successfully communicated. Students, in groups of three, take turns trying to guess a word from their teammates. All but one member in the group of three knows the word; the third person has no idea. Each group has one minute to make that third student say the word in question by describing it without actually saying it. If the group succeeds, they are allowed to choose a point card for a chance to receive anywhere from one to one hundred points. If they fail, however, each member must conform to a penalty.


Step 1:After explaining the activity, have students form groups of three.

Step 2: Pass out two cards to each group. Explain that they should think of two nouns. Give examples of words that they could use.

Step 3: Next, tell the students that they should now think of a penalty and write it on the reverse side of each noun card. Examples can include mimicking a famous person, answering an embarrassing question, acting a certain way (e.g., like a duck), etc.

Step 4: Explain that each group must decide which member will be guessing first, second and third. This is to ensure that each member has a chance to play both roles in the activity: the guesser and an explainer.

Step 5:Decide which group will go first. You can do this by having a representative from each group play rock, scissors, paper. Next, have one member from the winning group choose a card. Make sure that the explainers both understand the meaning of the noun on the card. Also be certain to reinforce that explainers may not say the noun, nor can they use any language other than English.

Step 6:The minute begins when the explainers begin. During a group’s minute, the other groups listen.

Step 7: If the group’s guesser is able to identify the noun, allow them to come up and choose one of the point cards on the board. Add the points to the group’s total. If they fail, the entire group must carry out the penalty that is written on the back of the card. Students can act out the penalty either at their seats, or at the front of the class. Repeat from step 6 until each member in every group has had a chance to be the guesser.


This activity is designed so that students use English in a productive, light-hearted manner and so that they have an opportunity to work together to solve a problem. This activity not only promotes output, but also reduces the nervousness that is afloat in any classroom by promoting stronger student-student relationships and student-teacher relationships.



Swain, M. (1985). Communicative competence: Some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development.In S. Gass & C. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition, (pp. 235-256). New York: Newberry House.

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