Have you ever played Mafia?

Mafia (also known as Werewolf) is an extremely engaging and fun game that can be used to practise group decision making and communication. The idea of using the game in the classroom is not new (you can find it here  or here – Dave’s Café). However, its value in the classroom may be enhanced further by guiding interaction at every round of the game and focusing on a particular language component.

I use the simpliest version of the game, with mafia members and citizens (or villagers) only. With more advanced students, you may introduce other characters such as the doctor, policeman (sheriff), barman or vigilante.

If your students have never played Mafia before, play the following video to explain the rules.

Steps in brief:

Select a moderator (or you may wish to act as the one).

There should be at least seven players with 1 mafia member per 3 citizens.

Split up a deck of playing cards equal to the number of the people playing. Suits and ranks are not important, only the colour (red or black) is relevant. The red cards indicate citizens, and the black ones – mafia members. Shuffle the cards and hand them out, face down. Each player looks at their card, but keeps it a secret.

The game proceeds in alternating night and day rounds.

Begin with nighttime.

At night, the moderator tells all the players “Close your eyes.” Then the moderator says “Mafia members, open your eyes.” The mafia do so, and look around to recognize each other. The moderator should also note who the mafia members are.

The moderator says “Pick a citizen who will leave the game.” The mafia members silently agree on one citizen. The mafia members should be silent not to give themselves away (just pointing, nodding or raising eyebrows).

When the mafia members have agreed on a victim, and the moderator understands who they picked, the moderator says “Go back to sleep”, and then wakes everybody up.

Daytime is very simple. Entire community (including the mafia members) try to identify who the mafia members could be. When a majority of players vote for a particular player, the player leaves the game whether she/he is a mafia member or not. Then night falls and the cycle repeats. The game continues until all the members of the mafia have been eliminated, or until the mafia outnumber the citizens.

In the usual scenario, there are no restrictions on speech. Any player can say anything they want – truth, misdirection, or a barefaced lie. However, if you want to use the game to practise or consolidate particular language patterns, it might be a good idea to build conversation around certain topics or conversation questions.

Here’s a scenario of the game I’ve used for my 12 students – 3 mafia members and 9 citizens. It has 7 rounds consolidating the language material learnt:

Day 1Introduce yourself (have everyone introduce themselves). [Language focus: introductions, non-verbal means of communication]

Day 2Describe your character. [Language focus: adjectives describing personality]

Day 3Interests and hobbies. [Language focus: CAE phrases; intensifiers]

Day 4Achievements. Describe what you’ve accomplished toward reaching a recent goal for yourself. [Language focus: present perfect forms]

Day 5Bill was killed yesterday. Did anything unusual happen to you yesterday? What were you doing at the time when Bill was killed? [Language focus: past forms; narratives]

Day 6What would you do if you had a million dollars? [Language focus: conditionals]

Day 7What do you think you will be doing five years from now? [Language focus: future forms]

You can add more rounds to the game depending on the number of players and time available.

After each ‘day’, hold a plenary session to identify who the mafia members could be (encourage your students to use modal verbs of deduction). When a majority of players vote for a particular player, the player shows the card and leaves the game.

Will the mafia win over the citizens this time?

Have fun!

Image credit: Eneas De Troya,, Creative Commons

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