They say that applicants for membership in secret societies in ancient Greece were voted upon by having the existing members drop beans into a pottery jar. Those who approved of the potential new member would signal an affirmative vote by adding a white bean to the jar. A black bean indicated a negative vote. The story goes that on occasion, when the jar was accidentally knocked over, the beans would pour out and the vote would be revealed prematurely.

Today I’ll describe a conversation game that gets students to ‘spill the beans’ and brush up on both grammar and vocabulary – asking and answering questions and revising set expressions, including proverbs and idioms, and slogans (if you teach business English).

The Secret Keeper

The aim of the game is to guess a set expression by the clues given in the conversation.

The game can be played in small teams or between two teams competing with each other.

Players in each team assign a Secret Keeper (or one Secret Keeper if there are two teams). The Secret Keeper thinks of a proverb, or an idiom, or a famous quote (* if you teach business English, you can use slogans), and tells the number of words in the phrase (*notional words only), or writes it in a row of dashes, representing each word, giving articles and prepositions (if any).

The players can ask the Secret Keeper a question (the number of questions corresponds to the number of words in the phrase) to which the Secret Keeper should give an answer in one sentence with one word from the ‘secret’ phrase.

For example, the Secret Keeper thinks of the saying ‘Practice makes perfect’.

There’re 3 words in the ‘secret phrase’.

_________ _________ _________

So the players can ask the Secret Keeper 3 questions.


Player 1: What did you have for breakfast today?

Secret Keeper: I had practice and ham.

Player 2: Do you like cooking?

Secret Keeper: Well, I don’t, but my mom makes great food.

Player 3: How do you find this game?

Secret Keeper: I find it just perfect.

Similarly, if the phrase is ‘Don’t spill the beans‘, it will look like

Don’t _________ the _________ 

And the players will ask two questions to guess the secret phrase.

The players are allowed to record the answers using their cell phones or jot them down on paper (in full, or just the clues if they are certain about them). Then the players are given a certain time – you can decide on the thinking time before you play the game depending on the length of the phrase – to review the answers and try to guess the secret phrase.

In some cases, it might be easier to guess where the clue is (e.g. I had practice and ham), while at times it may pose quite a challenge.

After the players have guessed the ‘secret’ phrase, or their time is up (if the time is up and the players cannot come up with any phrase, the Secret Keeper tells them the phrase), they appoint a new Secret Keeper.

The level of difficulty depends on your students’ language level and can be adjusted appropriately.


  • If you’re planning to use this game to revise set expressions that your students have already learnt, prepare cards with these expressions.
  • If you’re planning to use the game to revise/consolidate the material, try to build the game around conversations or texts from your students’ coursebook, etc.
  • You can also add an extra challenge (and revise different types of questions) – have each player pick a question card before they ask a question. See the template CARDS.

Happy Teachers’ Day to all my fellow teachers!

(Image: Andy Langager,, Creative Commons)