IATEFL2015 | Jason Anderson: Lying is the best policy… to get learners speaking! | Workshop summary

Posted: April 11, 2015 in Conferences
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Jason gave a lively interactive session full of practical ideas for using lying activities in classroom. 

Handout and more resources are available from Jason’s site. Many of the activities come from the book Speaking Games (Delta Publishing).

Abstract: Deception is a universally recognised form of creativity, a higher order thinking skill and also a very good way to get learners talking in class. It lends itself very nicely to game-type formats involving authentic language use. In this workshop we will try out activities from my new publication Speaking Games, and examine the features of effective deception-based speaking activities.

Outline of the session: 

  • lots of lying activities!
  • some thoughts why using lying activities is good for language learning

Ice-breaker: question taboo

Instructions: A mingling activity. Everyone has a card with a question and a taboo word. S/s mingle trying to answer questions without saying the taboo words.

  • Can be adapted to topic-specific language.
  • Get learners to think of their own taboo words.
  • Introduce scores for taboo-free replies

Lying activities 

  • Alibi (two learners get together and concoct an alibi; then they get interviewed separately).
  • Two truths and a lie: s/s come up with 2 true and one false fact about themselves. Their partner listens and asks 1-2 questions about each fact, and then guesses which one is a lie.
  • Teacher anecdotes. Tell the students two stories: one true and one a lie. This encourages the students to pay attention to your body language, intonation and other non-verbal cues. 
  • Kangaroo court (adapted):
    play in groups of 3-4
    one was caught red-handed commiting an unsusual crime, and must attemt to justify their actions
    interrocation follows
    the group decides a sentence: a fine of $100 / four weeks community / two months’ imprisonment / committed to a mental asylum.

From TV & radio

Recordings are available on the internet – and all these activities are adaptable to the learning classroom.

  • Would I lie to you? Participants read out statements about themselves from a card. The statement might be true or false about them. Their partner interviews them and tries to guess if they’re true.
  • Call my bluff Participants are given high level vocabulary / idioms and write three definitions for each one (one true and two ‘distractors’). This is followed by a guessing game.
  • The unbelievable truth – a radio panel show. A participant tells a story which is completely a lie but for 3 facts. Other participants have to work out the three truths.
  • Truth or lie (adapted). Provide cards/board games with topics, e.g ‘your favourite subject at school’ / ‘your first childhood memory’/…. One person flips a coin (heads = tell the truth, tails = tell a lie) and speaks. The other asks questions and guesses. The coin adds an element of fun!

Secrets’ games 

  • Taboo game (s/s explain vocabulary to each other w/o saying specified words. E.g. explain ‘city’ without saying ‘town’, ‘live’, ‘village’).
  • Secret sentences. For any discussion activity, give each student a secret sentence that they have to smuggle into the discussion. At the end participants guess.
  • Party secrets. A role play where each person has a funny idiosyncrasy.


  • Get students into groups according to their opinion. Then make each group defend an opinion that’s different from theirs.

Focusing on on-verbal clues.

People often face situations in which they have to lie in order to allow others to save face (e.g. when you’re asked a ‘difficult’ question that can’t be answered directly without causing offence). The success often hinges on the way you deliver the message: your intonation and body language are no less important than the words you choose. How to focus on that?

Here are the most common white lies in English.  Say these to your partner.  Analyze each other’s body language, intonation, etc.

1. ‘No, it looks really nice,’
2. ‘You haven’t changed a bit!’
3. Yes, it’s exactly what I wanted.
4. I can’t, I’m afraid, I’m busy that evening.
5. Can I be honest with you…

Why lie? 

  • Imagination. One of Jason Anderson’s famous quotes is this quote from Guy Cook:
    In might be that, both ontogenetically and phylogenetically, the first function of language is the creation of imaginative worlds: whether lies, games, fictions or fantasies.
  • Creativity. Bloom taxonomy: http://archive.jc-schools.net/dynamic/images/blooms.gif
    Lying is a higher order thinking skill, so these activities develop higher order thinking skills
  • An opportunity to practise the interactional functions (Brown & Yule, 1983)
  • Encourage the s/s to totally focus on their partner – watching out for body language clues, intonation, etc.

An very useful, practical session! Lots of ideas to try out! Also, it was great to hear some suggestions how to encourage students to focus on non-verbal clues. In my experience, this is a great challenge: my students often tend to assume that the ‘wording’ of the message carries 100% of the meaning – or that L1 strategies are perfectly applicable for communication in L2. As a result, they are very sceptical of activities focusing on body language and e.g. pitch (Russian is a lot less varied in terms of pitch, so students assume that varying the pitch in English is unnecessary – they also feel uncomfortable playing with pitch). So it’s great to have some ideas for language activities that give body language and intonation greater prominence. Also great to know that there are so many recording of ‘lying’ shows on youtube – I hope they can also be analyzed for non-verbals. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

  1. annazernova says:

    I’ve once tried something like that. I’d add that firstly it is vitally important for Ss to create their new image, probably, to take new name and new age, a place of living and place of work, then it is easier for them to lie.
    Thank you for a great summary!

    • olyasergeeva says:

      Thank you for the tip, Anna!
      I really want to try out some of the game-show formats with higher level students. I’ve actually been thinking about finding some game shows to try with students, and now here are some great links. 🙂

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