SHIPWRECKED! — a great ESL game

I would like to introduce you to a great ESL game that I used in the class to great effect.

I call it Shipwrecked and your students will love it.

You can play it with all ages — certainly from teenagers up to adults — and it really makes your students think creatively and critically.

Let’s get right into it.


What You Will Need


You will need a board — whiteboard/blackboard — and some coloured chalk or marker pens.

That’s it!


Step One


This activity works very well if you are talking about jobs or skills.

If you are teaching a corporate class or a class in school where you are talking about jobs, then this is ideal.

Or you could be teaching something about skills or what people are good at. This game is great for this topic too.

So the first thing you need to do is go round the room and ask each student what their job is or what skills they have.

Make sure to write all of these down as you will need to know them for later. If you are teaching a class in a company and all the students work in marketing or sales, then it is best to ask them what their skills are. You can’t have students with the same job or skill or the game will not work well.

In the end, you might have a class of students whose jobs — or ideal jobs — are:

fireman/engineer/chef/dog walker/soldier/electrician/farmer/shop assistant

Or they might have varying skills or things they are good at:

cooking/communicating with people/growing plants/teaching others/dancing/singing/telling stories

It doesn’t matter what their skills are, anything can be used in the final game.

Once all the students have told you their jobs or skills and you have made a note of them, you can move on to the next part.


Step Two


Now you need to use your artistic skills on the board.

You should draw a desert island on one side of the board. Something like this

Then you can say:

This is a beautiful desert island, but it is very far from any other land. It is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is comfortable on the island — the weather is very warm all year round, there is lots of fruit growing on the island, and there is a fresh mountain stream with water that you can drink.

The students may have questions such as:

Are there wild animals on the island?

Are there any other people living on the island?

You can leave these questions open. You can just reply: I don’t know.


Step Three


Now draw a ship sinking on the other side of the board.

Something like this

Say to the students:

You were all on this ship. But something terrible happened! The ship hit something in the sea and now it is sinking.

The students may express some concern about their welfare…


Step Four


In the middle of the board, draw a lifeboat.

Also, draw a few cartoon heads in the lifeboat.

Tell the students:

You don’t have to worry! You all got in a lifeboat and you are all safe.

The students may breathe a sigh of relief…

And then you draw some sharks’ fins circling the lifeboat.

You say:

But there are many sharks!

And then you draw a hole in the lifeboat.

You say:

And the boat has a hole — it is sinking fast!


Step Five


Now comes the main part of the activity.

Tell the students they have to prove their worth to the other students in the lifeboat. The lifeboat is sinking and there are sharks circling around and waiting.

Say that one student has to leave the boat.

Then all the others can be saved and live on the island.

So how to decide this?

Each student has to prepare a short introduction of themselves and the job they do or their skills they are good at.

They have to stand in front of the class and convince everyone in the class how useful they would be on the island. They can do this by describing parts of their job or the skills they have.

For example, you might have a salesman in the class. He might say:

I am a salesman, and part of my job is to convince people to buy the products or services that I sell. Many times people don’t really want to buy from me or they want to have more time to think about it, but I cannot let them do that.

I have to stay positive and motivate myself to continue and try to make the customer buy from me.

If I am on the island, I can use these same skills with all the other survivors. There will be times when people will feel hopeless and that no one will come to rescue us.

That is when I will use my sales skills to convince you all that we can survive and to help people remain positive.


Or you might have someone that has the skill of taking care of house plants.
They might say:

I love to look after house plants. So on the island, I could be very useful in cultivating and looking after plants. This might include plants that can give us food like fruit or vegetables.

I am very good with all kinds of plants so you will need me on the island!


Now, for an answer like this, another student may see the flaws in this. They might say:

Well, house plants and wild plants on a desert island are very different. And just because you can grow house plants does not mean that you can grow fruit and vegetables too.

You’re just a person with an interest in house plants — not a farmer!

Then the first person should try to provide a counter-argument against this.

The idea is for all the students to talk about their jobs or their skills in a presentation.

They need to think very creatively to persuade the other students to keep them on the lifeboat.


Step Six


Now all the students vote!

Write down the names of the students on the board — you may have some difficulty, so make sure there is enough space between the island, the sinking ship and the lifeboat.

One by one, you call out the students’ names and remind the class of their job or skills.

Then say:

Raise your hand if you think we should keep this person in the lifeboat?

Count all the hands and write the number next to the students’ names.

The person with the lowest number is the loser…

And you can throw them into the sea with all the sharks!


Try this game next time you have a class about jobs or skills.

It is great fun and I am sure your students will love it.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “SHIPWRECKED! — a great ESL game”

  1. The thing that is good about this lesson is that when people have to describe skills, they dredge up vocabulary they don’t use too often. I would not do it on the skills they have, but on the skills they think would be needed to survive. Choosing the most vital skills for survival would force them to expand their vocabulary.

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