Tournament of Awesomeness revisited

Last year, Nathan turned me on to the classroom version of March Madness. We’re just back from Spring Break, and we needed a way to come down softly, so we spent the period in each class setting up the game. Two of the three classes already had their lists of “awesome” things. (Every kid wrote down one best thing in life, whether in Russian or English. We have a diverse list, from dolphins to green bean casserole, and elders and pink ponies.)

I wrote the lists on the board, and matched them up in pairs in the random order that I wrote them.

For each pairing, the class divided into two teams. We did either two or three contest in each class because I want to have the first part of the tournament done this week. I might have to do more on our blocking days, because we have testing coming up.

The kids had two minutes in their teams to brainstorm everything they could say either in favor of the team they chose or against the other team. The beginner class had the first pairing of guns and a video game. The gun team said things like “Guns are big.” “Guns are real.” Their opposition, trying for the videogame Call of Duty, said “When I play CoD, I don’t die” and “CoD is fun.” Then they had to argue snakes or soccer. The advanced group was arguing things like, “When a boy gives a girl roses with raindrops, she will fall in love with him.” I don’t know how it happened, but roses with raindrops lost out to the word “Yes.” Kids said, “When you say “Class,” we say “Yes”.” They also said, “It’s nicer to hear “Yes” than “No.” The game became a way for me to informally measure the groups’ spoken language ability.

Once they’ve brainstormed, the team gets two minutes to say everything they can. They get a point per idea, or chunk of information, rather than per sentence. That makes them try for longer and more informative sentences, as it turns out. Once their two minutes is up on both sides, they get as many free throw attempts with my little plastic basketball and hoop as they have points. If both teams end with the same number of points, they go into sudden death.

The first time through is hard, because the kids don’t get organized. But the second time through, they’re better. In my intermediate class, we had to impose a new rule, because one group had baseball as their topic, and they kept repeating which players and teams and fields they loved. I topped it out at one per category. They won over four-wheeling in the end, which wasn’t exactly fair.

I can’t remember how I did this last year, but I like this system better because it encourages speaking, and gives them better odds at making the shots if they have more ideas.

Here are pictures of the left and right side of the brackets.


7 responses to “Tournament of Awesomeness revisited

  1. Hi MJ, greetings from Maine 🙂 I’m in my 1st year working w/tprs and I follow your blog with interest, thanks for the great ideas & inspiration! I have a question about this game – – my classes have around 20 – 24 students…do they all pick a side for each contest? Are your groups this large, and if so could you offer any hints about how to have a group of 10-12 students work together? Many thanks,
    Ellen in Maine


    • Hi Ellen!
      Glad to have you! My kids are all picking a side for each contest. My classes are either a little smaller or the same size as yours. The bigger the group, the less useful it is for strategizing. They are unwieldy and don’t organize well at first. That’s why they get only two minutes. This will over time become a brain break, unless they’re talking well. Or maybe I’ll tweak it like Nathan’s, and have the more advanced groups start out in sets of four to debate and then turn it over to the whole class discussion.

      I seem to remember that last year I would tweak procedure in the middle of the experience, just to change up the routine. It depends whether the discussion gets better as they go on. Since all of one class and half of another knew exactly what was going on here from last year, they were pretty much ready for action.


  2. I really like the tweaks! I started up my tournament yesterday and will probably steal your prep area.

    One thing I did with my upper level classes is that I put a few transition words on the board as structures to use. Yesterday we did “On the one hand” and “on the other hand.” Today I’ll put out “On the contrary” and will find something else for the next day. As long as we’re comparing and constrasting anyway, I’m trying to get some mileage out of it.

    So how do you set up your teams? Do people self-select which side to be on for each item and then rush to a different side of the room? I’m playing with the idea of putting people in groups of four and having them debate the issue in their small groups as a way of warming up for the larger group discussion, but not sure yet.


  3. Hi Nathan,

    Love the structures idea!

    Right now, I’m doing the one-size fits all scenario just to get the thing under control. I might follow you and put the intermediate and advanced classes into small groups for discussion later.

    Yesterday, I just pointed to sides of the room and the kids went there, depending on their true preference. I only gave them two minutes to go and to discuss, because especially for the beginners, that’s a lot of time. Later in the contest, things will get very dear to them. In the first days, it’s more about getting the routine down for me! But I did already have huge cheering yesterday from one group. That makes it way more fun! Keep telling us how you’re doing it. And … what’s the timing? How many weeks do we have? I ended up having 26 match-ups, rather than the 32 that we had last year. Having only three groups instead of four makes it a little harder to be even. This time I allowed duplicates.


  4. Today I finally hit a bit of a groove. I did four contests per period over two German II classes and one German III/IV class. I made people go to each side of the room to argue a point. I gave them two minutes prep, and then took arguments. The first round, people from one side could only speak once (to stop people dominating), and only in favor of their side (not against other side). Then after that I took rebuttals against the other side where they compared and contrasted. If an argument had legs, I strung it out. If it was dead on arrival, we skipped it and moved on.

    The biggest argument today came down to “shopping” vs. “custom semi-trucks.” One side argued that you have to shop to get a custom semi-truck, and you can do it often and with friends. The other side argued that you need semi-trucks to stock the stores for shopping, and you can earn money to shop by having a semi-truck. In the end it was a tie, so we decided it through rock, paper, scissors.

    My favorite argument this week is still on “Turtles” vs “Orange tic tacs.” They favored turtles because you can’t have a Teenage Mutant Ninja Tic-Tac.


  5. This was cool to read about. I am going to work the compare/contrast stuff into my advanced class tomorrow. I’ve tweaked so that my level 1’s have only to say something positive on the topic, the intermediates have to give real reasons (or false ones; today, when “dolphins” came up against “food,” one of the folks on the dolphin team said that they are tasty, taking everyone’s breath away).

    How are you awarding a “win”? With points? Having the basketball part of the tourney means that it’s very possible for even a team with many more points (and thus chances to hit a basket) to lose.


  6. Oooh. Thanks for the reminder about the basketball part. I’ve just been having them vote, but that leads to mob mentality sometimes. I’ll pull out the recycling bin and wad up some paper to mix it up today.


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