“Fruit Salad,” the Game: How to Create Chaos in the Classroom

 | Teaching House Nomads Blog

Today, I’d like to talk about Fruit Salad. Not the food, but the game. For those of you who were never drama students, Fruit Salad is a game similar to musical chairs: easy to set up, simple to execute and fantastic fun.

To play, start by forming a circle of chairs, one fewer than there are people. Loosely speaking, the game proceeds like this:

1. The person without a chair stands in the center.

2. In the simplest form of the game, each person is assigned a fruit name: apple, orange, pear, banana, etc.

3. The player in the middle calls out the name of one of the chosen fruits, and each person assigned to that fruit jumps up and rushes around like a headless chicken trying to find an empty seat to sit in. Meanwhile, the player in the middle does the same, hoping to leave someone else standing without a chair to sit in.

4. There is much pushing, shoving and general hilarity, and at least one person will end up falling in a heap on the floor, giggling fit to burst, as they are shoved aside from their chosen seat by someone who was just a split second faster in reaching it. Or even someone who was a split second slower, but pushes harder. (Hey, I didn’t say it was fair…)

5. To add another element to the game, at any time, the caller can shout “Fruit Salad!”, at which point everyone, regardless of which fruit they are, has to leap to their feet and find a new place to sit.

So, how is this useful to you as an ESL teacher? In essence, 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 used by the central player. My favorite form is “I have never,” which is ideal for practicing the present perfect. The caller says something they have never done — except that they are, in fact, lying; they’ve most certainly done it at some point — and everyone who has also done whatever dreadful deed it happens to be, has to find a new seat.

This tends to start off being tame (“I have never been to school”), but quickly escalates into dark confessions (“I have never had sex in a cemetery at night” – yes, I did get this one from a group of teenagers once). 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, at least.

Having fun with your students is one of the joys of teaching
They look so tame when they’re standing next to royalty

One of the best things about this game, however, is that it’s energetic and madcap and therefore great for breaking up the potential monotony of a grammar lesson with older children and teenagers.

In summer school one year, my students broke three chairs playing this game in their determination to be the first into a seat. Despite nearly also breaking their heads as they sent each other flying, they refused to play any less fiercely. I loved them for that.

The best version played, however, was with my elementary-level group in Puglia, Italy. The present perfect was way beyond them, but as I mentioned earlier, the beauty of the game is its adaptability. I decided, therefore, that we would use it to practice the past simple of “to be” plus “could.” After explaining the rules and setting up the playing area together, I gave them the starter: “When I was a child, I could…” and left them to it.

As this was a free extra-curricular class in a public school, there were nearly thirty kids in the group, so it quickly got cutthroat with the typical Italian schoolchild’s urge to cheat coming to the forefront. Contrary to the spirit of the game, rather than students leaping to their feet and rushing to the nearest chair as soon as the person in the middle said their sentence, certain friends started making eye contact across the circle and arranging to swap places before ungluing their bottoms from their seats.

Teachers should set a positive tone in the classroom

This would never do, so I ordered Stefania – one of the worst offenders – out of her chair and told her to be the caller. She looked at me with injured innocence, but in the face of a disbelieving raised eyebrow (one of the most useful weapons in a teacher’s arsenal), she admitted that it was maybe possible she might have been stacking the odds just a teensy bit in her favor.

Giggling at her brazen grin, I set the game going again. And this time, overexcited at having seen Stefania meet her match, the students really got into it.

“AARGH!!” Emanuele, the smallest boy in the group shouts, having managed to tip his chair over backwards, not once, but twice. *SNAP* Maria breaks a shoe. *THWACK* Giusy and Gianluca crash into each other mid-circle, rebounding like comedy cartoon characters. Think Six Nations Rugby crossed with Spongebob Squarepants and you’ll be in the right ballpark for the scene in front of me.

Ten minutes later, Lorenzo is sprawled upside down on the floor with a look of dopey amazement on his face, and Susanna is dusting a large footprint off her bottom while Alessandro whistles and looks pointedly in the other direction. Arianna is clutching two halves of a broken chair and Eleonora is laughing so hard she can’t stop hiccupping. When the end-of-lesson bell breaks through the anarchy, there is a loud, disappointed, “Nooooooooo!” from the class.

It’s a wonderful moment for me, the creator of chaos. I gaze with pride at my savage, panting little charges, knowing that even if they forget everything else they’ve ever learned, after today they’ll always know exactly how to use “could” correctly.

Having fun in the classroom is important for both students and teachers
Me with my adorable little monsters

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