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  • Writer's pictureDiana Nazaryan

Tea Parties: What, When and How

When it comes to the British, tea is an inseparable part of their identity. Hence, it might only seem logical that tea parties should be incorporated into the ESL process. I will, however, surprise you saying that there might actually be no tea at a "tea party". But...First things first.

WHAT are the "tea parties"? The idea originated from a wish and necessity to provide the students with additional motivation to do their homework and feel social responsibility towards the rest of the group. On average, we have 12 lessons per month. For each successfully completed homework, the students receive a sticker traditionally stuck on their textbook cover. If a student dutifully does their homework, by the end of each month they will have 12 stickers. If everyone in the group has them, then we have a tea party. So, first of all, a TP is a reward for the month's hard work.

However, it is much more than that. This a chance for your students to use English in a less formal situation and utilize the vocabulary and phrases they wouldn't normally use during a standard lesson: cups, knives, forks, plates, napkins, "Set the table", "Could you pass me the juice, please?", "Can I have some juice, please?", "Would you like some tea?", "Yes, please!", "No, thank you", etc.

In addition, the TPs grant your students a chance to socialise in English, play various games, which, again, you wouldn't play during a standard lesson. This gives them a chance to know each other better, hopefully, turns them into a team, which will facilitate the learning process and make it more fun. In addition, they learn what to do and how to behave should they find themselves in a situation where they will need to use English in a non-formal situation.

Last but not least, we use the tea parties to cultivate independence in our students, especially the younger ones and boys, who are not normally expected to set the table or clean their mess themselves.

Now, remember the statement that a tea party might not necessarily include tea? Initially, tea and sweets were the only things one could find on the table. However, as our appetites grew, we started to see pizza, juice, sandwiches and even kebab on our table leaving the tea far behind. In addition, we have annual Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners irrelevant of the number of stickers they have. During these, we bring food and beverages traditionally consumed by the Americans and the Brits on the respective occasion. Moreover, we also have tea parties during the Royal Tournaments celebrating the completion of a level.

WHEN do we have tea parties? Obviously, once EVERYONE in the groups has 12 stickers. Hence, the person not having enough stickers feels responsible for delaying the celebration. The teacher might assign the person additional tasks for more stickers to accelerate the process. But what if there is a new student in the group who has only managed to receive two stickers while everyone else has 12? In that case, we ignore the newcomer's lack of "achievement" and proceed with the party. They will be expected to join the race the following month. Logically, we also have parties at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and at the Royal Tournaments. You might want to assign a day of the week when you would normally want your parties to take place. I like mine to be on Friday or Saturday even if everyone has enough stickers on, say, Monday or Tuesday.

HOW do we actually do the parties? When it comes to the how of the tea parties, your options are limited by your imagination only. When the weather is nice, we hate to stay indoors, thus we might organise picnics in the park, bring along a ball and play football, basketball, dodgeball, volleyball... You name it! Naturally, all this is done in English and we learn the relevant terminology.

When done indoors, we play a set of games I will introduce below. Feel free to add your own ideas.

Truth or Dare.

There is an app you may use for this game. However, we write down our own ideas. This serves a dual purpose. First, it makes the challenges more relevant. Secondly, this improves the writing skills of our students. Each student writes a question and a dare on separate sheets of paper. We then fold the sheets in a similar way and put onto a plate or into a cup. Each person picks either a truth or a dare and has to honestly answer a question or do something daring, respectively. A word of warning: tell your students NOT to write dares requiring to mix unmixable food and drinks. Quite a few of my students have fallen prey to these dares until I explicitly banned them.

What/Who am I?

Again, there are both apps and ready-made games for this one but we prefer to do our own ones. First, we decide on the topic: food, actors, singers, bloggers, countries, etc. Then each person writes a word or a name on a post-it note and secretly, upside-down passes it to the person sitting on their left. Afterwards, each person sticks the note to their foreheads, making sure they do not see what is written on it. The person then asks Yes/No questions trying to guess the word. I prefer to go first to show the rest of the group the kind of questions they can ask.


Only play this game in groups with more than 7 students aged 11+ and with some knowledge of the game. In the game, there are two black players (Don and Mafioso). The red players include a Sheriff and Citizens.

The roles can be assigned in a variety of ways. First, there are special Mafia cards. During the first "night" (everyone's eyes are closed and heads bowed), the host offers the players to draw their card. The latter is then returned to the host. Alternatively, you may simply write the roles on post-it notes or just gesture their role (thumbs down - Mafia, thumbs up - Citizen, two fingers on the shoulder - Sheriff, tapping the ring finger - Don). Following the role assignment, everyone closes their eyes. The host loudly asks the black players to open their eyes, meet each other and decide whom they are going to shoot during the first night, second night and the third night. They close their eyes. The host invites the Sheriff to open their eyes and look at the sleeping town. Sheriff closes their eyes and the host announces the "day".

The ordinary red players (citizens) are only active during the "day" when all eyes are open. They hold a discussion (everyone takes turns to speak) and offer ideas on who they think might the black players be. They nominate someone they think is a black player and at the end of each "day" but first, voting takes place. During the latter the entire population votes against the person they want to leave the game. There can be more than one candidate. Everyone has to vote. If they fail to do so, their vote goes against the last nominated candidate. Naturally, the black players should try to convince everyone that they are red, draw the suspicion towards peaceful citizens and try to vote them out.

During the second "night", the host asks everyone to keep their eyes closed while mafia (also with closed eyes) draw out their weapons (two pointed fingers). The host then says that the mafia (both black players) go past each of the players' house, e.g. "The Mafia go past Anna's house, the mafia go past David's house....". The host should make sure they mention the black players too unless they want to give them away. Whoever both Mafia players "shoot" (fold and unfold the mentioned two fingers) "dies". The host then asks the mafia to hide their "guns". Following this Don opens their eyes and tries to find Sheriff (they point at the sleeping player they suspect, and the host either nods or shakes their head confirming or rejecting the suspicion). The same procedure is repeated with Sheriff trying to find a black player.

The second "day" then comes. If the black players were successful during the night, the host announces the "dead" person. The latter has the final words to say and then leaves the table. The day's discussions start with a new person. This continues until all the black players are voted out or the number of the black and red players equals. This sounds like a lot of work but the game is actually great fun.

Guess the Item on the Table

I play this game with younger players aged 7-8. It is a variety of "I spy with my little eye" only we do not say the initial letter and give no clues at all. One person at a time thinks of an item on the table (food, drink, cutlery, containers, etc.). The others then ask Yes/No questions trying to guess what the item is. The person who guesses the item is the next to think of a word. This being said, it is traditional to make sure everyone gets a chance to think of a word and people who have had a lucky guess the second time often yield their turn to someone who hasn't had the chance yet. Again, this game is a great opportunity to practice the vocabulary not often used during the lessons, as well as question formation. NB I insist on my students giving proper answers, instead of a simple "Yes/No", e.g.

_ Is it food?

_ No, it isn't.

_ Can we drink from it?

_ No, we can't.

The game has gained great popularity in Armenia during the recent years. Only here it is played without the board. There are normally seven words written in each card. The teams take a card in turns and explain the words to their teams within a limited period of time (usually a minute). You can use the app, the ready-made cards or make your own. With the younger players, we, again, use names of the things that are on the table.

Word Builder

This game, recently introduced by a student of mine, has gained popularity. This is a great vocabulary game you may play during the ordinary lessons as well but we prefer to keep it for the TPs only. You draw a table with 9 lines down and across. On the fifth line write a nine letter word, e.g. adventure (you may also elicit it from the class). The teams then take turns adding letters either above or below the original word. The rules are as follows:

* You cannot create forms of the existing words, e.g. glove - gloves, put - putting, play - played. Irregular verbs and irregular plurals are exceptions.

* You cannot make the same word twice.

* You cannot add more than one letter.

* You cannot build words diagonally.

* Teams get points equal to the number of the letters in the word they make. Hence, the team that made the word "adventure" receives nine points, and the one who made "fad" receives three.

The game continues until there is no more space to use or until the time allocated for the game is over. The points are then calculated and the winner is announced.

Movie Watching and Discussions

During the thematic TPs, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter I invite a discussion asking my students what they know about the holiday. I also ask them to say what they are grateful for (at Thanksgiving) and talk about their impressions and plans (at Christmas). We then watch short videos explaining what the holiday is about and how it is celebrated. Movie watching can be a TP activity on its own but I personally don't often use it.

Your Ideas

I encourage my students to bring their own games.

A fair question might arise: Do we play all these games during each tea party? No. What I normally do at the beginning is writing down the list on the board. We then vote on the games we want to play most and the amount of time we want to spend on each.

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