Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Passing pens

I learnt this during a conference at the Park School in Brno, Czech Republic. As will become a theme in these posts, I don’t remember whose session it was, but if it was you, please let me know!

Coloured pencils (bird's eye)

All you need is one of these (photo by @aClilToClimb on

All students require to play this game is one pen or pencil each. If you can, push the furniture to the side of the room and have everyone stand in the middle holding their pen. I normally join in the game and demonstrate it at the beginning.

Think of a vocabulary item you have recently introduced to the class. For example, we have looked at verb + noun combinations like “make a sacrifice” or “overcome your shyness”. Your pen ‘becomes’ that vocabulary item. Every student thinks of  a vocabulary item but does not say it yet (this is important!)

As an example, pass your pen (A) to a student and say your words. They should give you their pen (B) and say their item. Then repeat this with another student, giving them your new pen (B), with them giving you their pen (C).

Generally this is enough for my students to get the idea, but you could continue to repeat the demonstration if they are having trouble. When they understand how the swapping works, return the pens to their original owners and ask everyone to think of a new vocabulary item.

Everyone mingles, swapping pens and passing on their vocabulary items. If someone forgets the item attached to the pen they have (very easy to do!), they should just pick something they know is going round and continue the game. If they get their own pen with a different item attached to it, they shouldn’t change it back to their original phrase, but should pass on what they got. They can swap with the same person more than once, as it will be with different pens.

After a few minutes stop the mingle, and get everyone to stand in a circle with the last pen they got.

Starting with the pen you have (if you joined in), tell the students the phrase you ‘received’ with it. Then find out whose pen it is and what phrase they attached to it at the start of the game.If the two are the same, give the class a point. If they are different, no point. Continue round the circle, giving one point for every pen which finished with the same phrase attached to it.

Give the pens back to their original owners, everyone thinks of new collocations and repeat the game. As a class, they shold try to get more points by keeping pens with the same vocabulary items when passing them on.

It’s loud, fun and quite challenging!

Comments on: "Passing pens" (5)

  1. What an intriguing idea! One thing I’m not clear about – surely you must ensure that no two people in the class have the exact same pen, right? can’t this be problematic? Here there is a type of pen which is currently wildly popular and students and I are forever getting confused whose pen was left on the table!
    I guess it would work with any object though and that would solve the problem!


    • Hi Naomi,
      You’re right! I didn’t think about that, but since I normally have a very full pencil case with me, I would hand out pens/pencils to those who have the same one. Most of them were left behind in class by other students, so I’m not too worried if I lose them!


  2. I am sure the problem Naomi brought up can be solved by using multi-coloured pencil set like in Chiew’s picture above 🙂
    I like this idea, especially since the vocabulary items you’ve chosen are collocations and not individual words, and will try it with my students one of these days.


  3. I’ve tried this out four times now, and it’s been a hit every time. Have decided it’s my new favourite warmer/ filler/ cooler 🙂


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