Family Fortunes & The Collective Unconscious

February 2012

Along with debates and drama, game shows are the third pillar in what I consider to be the true essence and art of student-centred communicative language learning. In this respect, Family Fortunes is a perfect game for groups, engendering whole class focus and synergy.

On the tip of my tongue. You don’t
have to be Einstein to play this game.

As much as I dislike single word, non-phrasal use of vocabulary in class, the long-running formula of Family Fortunes — or Family Feuds in the United States — is a highly adaptable formula for ESL purposes because it serves as a very good test of students’ vocabulary and it gets them making suitable associations. The game is an exercise in elicitation and therefore extremely helpful for learners.

The other good advantage of Family Fortunes is that everyone can play it. No one is left out. There are two teams competing against each other on stage, but everyone else in the audience can still play in their own minds. Everyone has their own slightly diverging opinions, because we all share the same world and its archetypes are organized in similar, but not identical, schema. That’s why the answers don’t have to be perfect, they must simply fit the semantic niche required.

Carl Jung described an iceberg floating in the ocean to show how the vast unconscious that humans share is related to an individual’s conscious mind — the tip.

In compiling the quiz, you can choose between convergent and divergent questions. In other words, you can ask very obvious questions which need little thought in terms of quick answers but in which strategic thought and searching is needed to second-guess both the quiz master and the opposing team. Or you can ask questions which may be less obvious and more cryptic or pragmatic. This elucidates both their English language contextual map of the world and to an extent, their deductive skills.

Here’s a powerpoint (download the file to enable the functionality) with which you can conduct a very crisp activity with two teams of threshold beginners. When the teacher unveils each answer, get the audience into the practice of yelling the words on screen in choral response just as they do in the studio.

The teacher’s job is partly to drag out the tension with pauses. The teacher’s role in this context is to be a front man / woman and get the people in the teams to express themselves, while communicating that to the audience. You can ratchet up the pressure by adopting some of these rules:

  • Team members may not confer with one another while in control of the board.
  • The team gets a “strike” if a player gives an answer that is not on the board.
  • The team gets a “strike” if a player fails to respond within a given time limit — say four seconds.
  • Three strikes causes the team to relinquish control of the board.
  • If the board is relinquished, the other team gets one chance to steal the points the other team has accumulated in that round by correctly guessing one of the remaining answers.

Hope you have fun with it.


Sound effect: