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Teaching Through Famous Quotations


  • Foreign Language
  • Language Arts
  • EFL
  • ESL


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

Students study, then play a game with, 100 famous quotations.



  • learn/study 100 famous quotations.
  • follow the rules of a game.
  • work as a member of a team to learn the quotations and play the game.


quotation, quotes, sentence, vocabulary, history, perspective, character education, culture, multicultural, reading, listening, research, comprehension

Materials Needed

  • index cards (200 or more)
  • 100 famous quotations (source listed below)

The Lesson

This activity/game is adapted from a Japanese game called 100 People -- 1 Poem. The activity helps ESL students develop English skills as it teaches about cultures and perspectives via the memorization and study of famous quotations.

Activity Preparation
Prepare a handout on which 100 famous quotes are typed. In addition, gather 200 index cards. On one card write the first half of one of those famous quotes, for example,

“These are the times...,” “...that try men's souls.” (Thomas Paine)
“A man of words and not of deeds…” “…is like a garden full of weeds.” (Mother Goose)
"Like a ten-speed bike… “…most of us have gears we do not use.” (Charles Schulz)
"Thinking is the hardest work there is…” “…which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.” (Henry Ford)
Do the same for the other 96 quotes…  
For additional quotations you might use for this activity, see the Education World article A Quotation-A-Day From Education World, Famous Quotations at Bartleby.com, The Quotations Page, or Brainy Quote.

You might want to make two or three sets of cards on which the second half of each quote is written, depending on your class size and how you set up the game. (See Game Rules.) You will only need one set of cards on which the first half of each quote is written.

Introduce the Game
Arrange students into teams; a team for 4 or 5 is ideal. Give each student a handout on which is typed 100 famous quotes. Challenge each team to work together to memorize the famous quotes. They might read them aloud, talk about the meanings of the quotes, quiz each other


Let students know that they should do anything they can to ensure that they and their group mates memorize the quotes because there will be a quiz/game associated with the memorization activity. The group that works hardest and most seriously to memorize the quotes will likely win the game.

Game Rules
Arrange students into an even number of teams; four teams is ideal for a class of 20 (5 per team) or six teams for a class of 30.

If you have four teams, you will need two sets of cards on which is written the second half of each quote; if you have six teams, you will need three sets of those cards. (See Activity Preparation for further explanation.)

Line up members of a team shoulder to shoulder; they should directly face the opposing team. On the floor or a table between them are the 100 cards that have on them the second half of the 100 quotes. Arrange 50 of the cards facing Team A and the other 50 cards facing Team B. (To help the teams distinguish between their sets of cards, there should be a space between their respective rows of cards. The fact that the opposing team's cards will be upside down to the other team will also help students distinguish their team's cards.)

The teacher holds a stack of 100 cards on which is written the first half of each of the 100 quotes. Play begins when

  • The teacher picks the card at the top of the stack and reads aloud the first half of the quote. The teacher allows a set amount of time for students to respond. (See A Note About Timing below.)
  • The students scan the cards looking for the card that has on it the second half of the quote the teacher read aloud.
    --- If a Team A player correctly touches a Team A card, then that card is simply removed from the game.
    --- If a Team A player touches a Team B card before a member of Team B touches it, that card stays in the game and the player who touched it gives Team B one of her/his Team A cards that is still in play.
    --- If someone makes a mistake and touches the incorrect card, then all cards stay in the game and the opposing team gives two of their cards that are still in play as a penalty.
    --- If a Team A player and a Team B player touch a card correctly at the same time, the tie goes to the team whose card it is.
    --- If no player touches a card within the set time limit, all cards stay in the game and no penalty cards are exchanged.
    If the second half of the quote was correctly identified, then the teacher sets aside the card with the first half of the quote on it. If the second half of the quote was not correctly identified, then the teacher moves the card with the first half of the quote to the bottom of the stack s/he is holding. If time allows, it will come up again later in the game.
  • The first team to remove all of its cards from play is the winning team. If time is up before either team has eliminated all its cards from play, then the team with the fewest cards remaining is declared the winner.

A Note About Timing
How much time should teachers give students to respond by pointing out the second half of the quote s/he read aloud? The amount of time allowed is at the teacher's discretion. For younger students, the teacher might allow 10 seconds or more; for older students the teacher might allow 5 seconds or less. Once the allowed time lapses, the teacher will simply start reading the next first-half card in the stack. Once the teacher starts reading the next card, it's too late for a player to touch the card on which the second half of the previous quote appears. If a player touches a card after the teacher starts reading the next quote, the the opposing team gives two cards still in play as a penalty rule applies.

Approximate time needed for the game to be played: 35-50 minutes.

Variations on the Game

  • Use fewer cards per game.
  • Use idioms, compound words, or proverbs instead of quotes.
  • Use Shakespearean quotes exclusively.
  • Use quotes pertinent to a particular subject; for example, all history quotes.
  • Students write a report on the meaning of the quote and/or the author.
  • Students arrange quotes in a timeline.


Students should be able to finish the game in a timely manner. They might be assessed at a later time in quiz form; they might do a matching quiz that challenges them to

  • match the first half of some quotes with the second half of those quotes;
  • match a quote with its author; or
  • match a quote with a statement that explains its meaning.

Submitted By

Doug Evans, Nagoya International Junior/Senior High School in Nagoya, Aichi (Japan)

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