Principled Washback – A TOEFL Review Game…with music!

(This post is the third in a series of several posts on “principled washback” which I introduced here.)

This post will deviate a little from my principled washback theme as it is not really focusing on an integrated activity that can be used for both academic study and test prep. However, it is introducing a unique way to do some test review in an extremely fun manner: a TOEFL game…with music!

This is a PowerPoint game I have been using for several years, modified every eight weeks or so. It is easily modified and adapted to suit learner level, class time, skill focus, music preferences, etc. Each game focuses on a specific skill, though it could easily be a mixed skills game. The listening game offers one listening track (or one lecture and one question) and a group of answer choices per slide. The reading game offers one question per slide along with a sentence, paragraph, or grammar problem.


Materials Needed

  • Computer with projector (or smartboard)
  • PowerPoint
  • Optional: mini whiteboards


  1. Set-up
    1. Form groups of three or four and have students decide on team names.
    2. Write these team names on the board in a way in which you can keep score (note: one of the PPT versions has a score keeper on it, but I recommend writing down points – just in case).
  2. Game Play
    1. Students will see numbers.
    2. Each number is a question.
    3. One group will choose a number.
    4. All groups will have 20 seconds to 1 minute (it varies by question) to discuss the question and decide on an answer.
      1. Press the space bar to start the timer.
    5. The answers are multiple choice: 1, 2, 3, 4 or A, B, C, D
    6. When the time is up, all students should either show their answer by holding up fingers (1/A, 2/B, 3/C, 4/D) or by writing it on a mini whiteboard.
    7. Play goes counterclockwise, with one group at a time choosing, but all groups may answer.
  3. Music
    1. If students get a question with a music image, all groups will hear a 30-second song clip.
      1. The first group to guess the name of the song and the artist(s) will get 2 points.
      2. Press the space bar to remove the music icon after the clip has been played.
      3. I try to keep the music clips updated based on what is popular at the moment. I typically use only American music, though I have used Korean music when I used this game in Korea.
        1. If you want to make your own clips, I use the site Clip Converter.
      4. If I realize none of the students know the music, I will let them “cheat” by using music recognition apps. Whoever find the answer first is the winner!
  4. Point Deductions
    1. If students see a specific icon (in the versions below, they may see a zombie or broken heart) they lose a point.
  5. Game Time
    1. Each game lasts about 40 minutes.
    2. If we finish early, I make sure to review all questions.
    3. Sometimes I have students write down the numbers of the difficult questions while playing and review the specific questions afterwards.

The game is pretty simple to play and very fun for students. It gives them direct practice with the TOEFL material, but it does so in a way that involves communication and negotiation while discussing the answer, and it does so in a way that is fun. In my experience, this game definitely lowers affective filters and students get very into it. The game really loses whatever “TOEFLness” it may have and it becomes a meaningful language game instead.