Mad Libs is a quick and amusing game which is ideal for teaching parts of speech (word classes) and semantic fields. It’s ideal as a warmer or 5-minute end-of-lesson activity.
Basically the game involves completing blank spaces in a template with various parts of speech and the results can often be very amusing.
For example, the template could be:
Yesterday a large [animal] was found [preposition + place] eating my [noun].
Leading to results such as:
Yesterday a large dog was found in Spain eating my leg.
Yesterday a large ant was found under the desk eating my hat.
Have a few template sentences ready. You can restrict the missing words to more or less specific classes of words or phrases depending on the level of your students, their age and interests.
For example, you can ask for a general noun or specifically for a countable noun or a word from a certain semantic field, etc.
Then, once you have a good list of templates, check them to make sure they work and try them out with random words to see if they produce decent results. Here are a few examples:
When I grow up I want to be a [job title]; all day I’ll [verb] in my office and drink [drink],
I found a [noun] in my soup. No problem, I [transitive verb] it!
Running the Activity
Choose a suitable template, but don’t let the students see it.
I [adverb of frequency] [intransitive verb] before I go to [place]
Clear the desks except for a piece of paper and a pen. Ask the students to write down
- an adverb of frequency
- an intransitive verb
- a place
Now write the template on the board and get the students to read out their versions using their words:
I often sleep before I go to bed.
I sometimes eat before I go to Paris.
I never cry before I go to school.
You can then perhaps vote on which student has the best result.
And once the students have played the game a few times they’ll begin to get more inventive with their suggestions as they see how it works and they’ll begin to try and guess the original template and make their answers fit to that.
Mad Libs in the TEFL Classroom
In your lessons you can often use the Mad Libs concept to help explain words and to give the students practice with certain forms. For example, suppose you were explaining the concept of adjectives to a class. You can write up a template like this for them to see:
He drove a ____ car.
And the class can suggest suitable words which would work here. All well and good.
Alternatively perhaps, you could ask for some random adjectives from the class first:
brown, smelly, cold, sexy, expensive, complicated…
And when the template is revealed it’s much more fun (and therefore memorable) to the class!
Mad Libs was invented in 1953 by Leonard Stern and Roger Price, who published the first Mad Libs book themselves in 1958. It resembles the earlier games of Consequences and Exquisite Corpse. Mad Libs books are still published by Price Stern Sloan, an imprint of Penguin Group, co-founded by Price and Stern.
If you want to experiment with templates and ideas, see the website It’s a Mad Lib World which has plenty of ideas.
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