IATEFL 2015 Getting your students to lie

Some of the most practical ideas I got from IATEFL 2015 involved encouraging students to lie…in order to get them speaking.  Jamie Keddie presented an idea for getting students to record a video telling a personal anecdote but either telling a true story or lying so when their classmates watch, they have to guess if it’s true.  Jason Anderson presented a whole talk entitled ‘Lying is the best policy…to get students speaking’ and I’m convinced.  Jason explained that lying encourages higher-order thinking because it involves learning at the top Bloom’s taxonomy like creativity and evaluating, allowing learners to process language more deeply.  In addition to this, lying encourages imagination and gives students practice in the interactional function of using language, as opposed to functional.  The one thing I really noticed in his workshop was how motivating these activities were not just for the speaker but for the listener.  You have to listen really attentively to work out if they are lying or not.   Here are some of the ideas he presented that are also in his fabulous new book ‘Speaking Games.’

Question Taboo

Students are given a card with a question and a taboo word.  They mingle trying to answer the question without saying the secret taboo word.  They have three chances and if they answer without saying the hidden word, they get 3 points on their first attempt, 2 on their second, 1 on their third.  Obviously the goal is to collect the most points.


The teacher tells two stories, one true and one a lie.  Students have to listen and decide which one is true and which one a lie.

Secret Sentence

During a discussion activity students have to smuggle in a secret sentence and try to make it sound so natural the others don’t guess that is their secret sentence. 

Truth or Lie

Any discussion board game or list of discussion questions can be adapted to this.  Instead of answering the questions truthfully, the speaker secretly flips a coin, and if it is heads, they tell the truth, but if it is tails, they have to lie.  The listener(s) have to determine if what they are saying is the truth or a lie.  

The most common white lies

Students are given a list of the most common white lies.  They listen to each other saying them and notice intonation, facial expressions and gestures.  

Kangaroo Court

In groups of 3-4, one student is told they are caught red-handed committing a soon-to-be revealed crime and must justify their actions.  (Such as breaking into Jeremy Harmer’s hotel room and getting caught going through his underwear drawer.)  The others must interrogate and sentence them.  

Two Truths and a Lie

This is a well-known TEFL activity and one that I was inspired to use the day after IATEFL because it’s easy and requires no prep.  Students create 3 sentences, two true and one lie, and the others have to guess which one is the lie. It can be used to practise whatever grammar or vocabulary is being covered.  


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