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Games, Gags, and Gangs
@The Wednesday English Conversation Club

Bethesda Library, Montgomery County, Maryland, USA

Let's get started…
With nothing more than a stick or a stone, children invent games and find companions to amuse themselves for hours, days, weeks, months, even years! Remember when you were a child, how you used to...?

Our Gang or Hal Roach's The Little Rascals was a series of American comedy short films about neighborhood schoolchildren and their adventures. Mirroring real life, the majority of the kids were poor and the gang was often at odds with snobbish rich kids, officious adults, anxious parents, and other natural adversaries. Begun in 1922, the series included blacks and females in leading roles at a time when discrimination against both African-Americans and women was commonplace. (Source: Shown regularly on TV, American children of all ages continue to identify with the little rascals' timeless childhood games, gags, and gangs.

In pairs for 5 minutes, ask and answer these questions.
" What was the first game you remember playing as a child?
" Whom did you play with?
" When did you start playing games?
" Who was the leader of the pack?
" Where did you play?
Listen and share your partner's answers with the group.

Group Discussion Questions:
Think about your childhood neighborhood or school. Was it rural, suburban, or urban? Were there many children in your neighborhood or school? Were there any large families? Did you have brothers, sisters, or cousins to play with?

What was your neighborhood or school's name or nickname? Were all the families from the same economic, social, religious, racial, or ethnic group? Was it a stable neighborhood or school OR a mobile neighborhood or school? Did new families move in and old families move out of your neighborhood or school?

What language did the children speak in your neighborhood or school? Did any of your friend's parents or grandparents speak another language? Was your neighborhood or school culturally diverse? Were there migrant workers or immigrants? Was there any discrimination?

Did most of the children live with a mother AND a father? Were there any non-traditional family structures? What blended/extended families did you know? Was there any discrimination?

Where did you play in your neighborhood or school? Was there an official or special area for child's play? What was it called? Did it have a nickname?

What was off-limits in your neighborhood or school? Did you ever play there? Were you ever caught? What happened to any child who was caught trespassing?

Did boys and girls play together in your neighborhood or school? Were you separated at all by age or by gender? Who separated you? What separated you?

Did girls have different games from the boys in your neighborhood or school? What kind of games were girls-only games?

Did any child sing, dance, or do gymnastics? Pull faces? Are you double-jointed?

Did you play any ball games? What were they called? What were the rules? Where did you play ball? Describe the kind of ball you played with.

Did you hit a ball with a stick, a bat, or your hand for any games? Did you buy or make the sticks/bats? Is any game like that played professionally or internationally by your home country?

Did any game need a wall to work? Where was the wall? What did you do to the wall?

Did you ever collect bottle caps or any small objects? What did you collect? Who had the biggest collection in your neighborhood or school? How large was it?

What was your most prized possession as a child? Did anyone else have one? What did you want that everyone else but you had? Do you have one now?

Did you belong to a club or a gang as a child? What was it called? Were there any passwords, secret codes, or colors? Was there a rival club or gang? What was it called?

Who was the neighborhood or school bully? (Was it you?) What was the worst thing the bully ever did or threaten to do? Did you ever dare anyone to do something?

What was the worst gag you remember? The best prank you ever pulled? How did adults react to your antics? Who was sympathetic? Who was the neighborhood or school grinch?

Some children have imaginary playmates. Were you a solitary child? What did quiet or shy children do in your neighborhood or school?

Some children are not able to go out and play. Did any children in your neighborhood or school have to work to help support their family? What kind of jobs did they have?

How did you get money as a child? Did you get pocket money? Who gave it to you, why, and how often? What could you buy with that amount in your home country?

How did the games change with the seasons? What were winter games and what were summer games? Did you ever set fire to anything? Is anyone from your old neighborhood or school famous or infamous nowadays?

Fire hydrants and swimming holes let you get wet in the heat. How did you cool off as a child? Can you swim? Did you wear a bathing suit or did you go skinny-dipping?

Lastly, when did it all end? How old were you when you stopped playing games? Or do you still?

New words and Idioms:
To pull a prank, swimming hole, to skinny-dip, bully, blended families, The Grinch, antics, infamous, to dare someone to do something, to set fire to something, pocket money, to pull a face

Visit NYC Street Games at the 2001 Smithsonian Folklife Festival for more English Learner information

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