Man Bites Dog

No animals were harmed in the typing of this post.


  • passive forms
  • vocabulary (the kind of slang you see in tabloids)
  • sentence structure and word order
  • narrative tenses
  • sensitivity to formal and informal register


  • Advanced to Proficiency (CEFR C1-C2)
  • Ages 12+


Tabloids are fascinating.  It’s extremely interesting how most are specifically written in order to be easily understood by the average native speaker, while at the same time remaining almost completely incomprehensible to most high-level learners.

In Man Bites Dog, players compete to create the most high scoring headline.  There are two decks of cards: blue (nouns and adjectives) and red (verbs).  Players are dealt a number of blue cards and they can choose to use one or more of the three red cards which are available for all players.  Each card is allocated a number of points and the players need to do the best with their available cards. The only rule is that the headline has to make sense.  As you will discover, you can frequently by surprised by what can be made to make sense in this game.

Source: (University Games)
Source: (University Games)

Before using Man Bites Dog with a class, it’s worth pulling out some of the more pop-culture related cards from the blue deck, such as “quarterback” and “350-pound”.  Play runs more smoothly if you focus students on the more tabloid-y words and phrases, without having to go into too much additional explanation.

Take a few minutes to do a quick bit of pre-teaching of some of the vocab where students match cards (materials below) with the tabloid language (more informal) with the more everyday, formal version.  If I’ve got a class of 12 then I’ll split the vocab cards into two sets and have 2 “A” groups and 2 “B” Groups – each group gets half of the phrases.  After a few minutes of matching, I move the students around to the next groups table and they correct/change things.  After doing this a couple of times and monitoring, they are usually there.  They then get the glossary and I quickly review the words that I’ve heard cause pronunciation issues.

  • ASIDE: There are some interesting examples of clipping here; where words are shortened by dropping syllables (fave=favourite, hubby=husband, etc.)  This is actually quite common in natural speech, so it’s a nice little eye-opener for students and not the kind of thing which tends to pop up in may textbooks.

Once the input is dealt with, place the students into equal groups and put them in pairs (i.e. 1 group = 6 students = 3 pairs).  Then the fun begins!  Instead of playing individually, each pair draws 6 cards and then all pairs have 60-90 seconds to create a headline and prepare the outline the story.  Then they place their headlines in front of them and tell the story. The students often get quite creative.  One genuine example from the classroom:


“Well, there’s this guy who wasn’t having any luck in his love life, and he had ordered a mail order bride from Thailand.  But when he went there to meet her, it turned out that he’d been tricked and his new wife was actually a chimpanzee.  He actually fell in love with her, and they tried to return to the US, but the border guards wouldn’t let her in.  He is now heartbroken and campaigning for his beautiful wife – Coco – to be let into the country.”


Once all pairs have presented, each pair then total the number of points on their cards and the pair with the most points wins the round.  Pairs draw up to 6 cards, the 3 red cards are changed and another round is played.

  • VARIANT: If you will have time, encourage students to write down the best headlines that come up in their group.  Then you can do a final stage where you mix up members from different groups and they report the best stories they heard.  For an optional homework, students can write up some of the stories.


  • Because of the vocabulary input, there is a slight disconnect between doing some more restricted language practice and then playing the game.  I’d suggest doing this as a review activity after having done passives and narrative tenses in previous lessons.
  • You can squeeze the vocabulary input and a few rounds in about 25 minutes minimum, but 35 mins. is more comfortable.
  • Some students just don’t have a creative muscle in their body and they will struggle with this game. To some extent, this is mitigated by putting them in pairs, but not completely.
  • If you are playing with particularly young learners, you might want to carefully vet all the cards.  There are some words which aren’t really appropriate.  I could scarcely contain my blushes when I had to explain “stripper” to a 12-year-old.


Man Bites Dog is simple and it works a treat.  It forces students to use the target language and they will have lots of laughs doing it.  The only problem is that it seems to be a bit tricky to track down at the moment.  If you can find it, then definitely buy it.


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