logo image

20 Questions Game


The 20 Questions game is a great game for language students. A person thinks about an object, say a table, and the other players (or player) have to ask questions that can be answered with yes or no, or a few select answers such as probably, rather not, or irrelevant. The team has to guess the imagined object through 20 questions or less.

Before asking students to play with each other I’ve had good success with having them play “against” the computer –  there is a free online version available in multiple languages. By providing a computerized Other, the game fosters a feeling of in-group identity. The computer is remarkably clever, and often either guesses the students’ object or gets close to it. For example, recently my German 202 students chose the word “(die) Hexe” (witch) and the computer thought “(der) Zombie.” Eventually, after about 23 questions, it guessed correctly.

It’s important to prepare students and provide some scaffolding. Over the years I’ve found that these guidelines work best:20q

– provide students with a list of answer choices that the computer will offer (see below); and give an example or two
– designate a student to be the playmaster; have him/her read the questions and click on the chosen answers
– only help or intervene if students get stuck, switch back to their native language, or if something is unclear (for example, during our “Hexe” session, the computer asked if the object had a beak (Schnabel), a word not known by anyone
– after students know how it works to play against the computer, have them play against each other.

It’s a great communicative exercise because it gives learners a concrete task and because it is very motivating and challenging. It also neatly fits into part of a class period or even a whole one. It’s also adaptable in that you can designate certain word categories, for example those words and word fields currently studied (e.g. characters from a certain novel, or animals, etc.).

Link: http://www.20q.net/

Answer choices for the German version:

Ja – Sie sind sicher, dass die Antwort Ja ist.

Nein – Sie sind sicher, dass die Antwort Nein ist.

Irrelevant – Die Frage hat mit dem Thema nichts zu tun.

Unbekannt – Sie kennen die Antwort nicht oder wissen nicht, was die Frage soll. Diese Frage wird nicht gezählt.

Manchmal – Manchmal Ja, manchmal Nein.

Vielleicht – Vielleicht richtig, doch Sie sind nicht sicher.

Vermutlich – Sie sind nicht sicher, glauben aber, die Antwort könnte Ja sein.

Eher nicht – Sie sind nicht sicher, glauben aber, die Antwort dürfte Nein sein.

Gewöhnlich – Meistens dürfte die Antwort Ja sein.

Kommt drauf an – Ihre Antwort hängt davon ab, wie man die Frage auslegt.

Selten – Meistens dürfte die Antwort Nein sein.


Leave a Reply