It’s been a busy few months with a few thousand more Airmiles added to the tally. If ‘Trainmiles’ had existed, I would have collected a few of those too on the journey back home from Skopje, when a certain geological feature in Iceland kept the planes on the ground…
One of the great things about the Pearson Longman teacher training events is the opportunity they present for teachers to get together and share problems, experiences and ideas, and not just to listen to the presenter! The total experience of all the attendees throughout these tours amounted to several thousand years, so it was little wonder that some quality ‘sharing’ went on at the events.
As usual, the focus of the sessions varied from city to city, but one recurring theme was primary teaching, and it’s an aspect of this area that I will focus on this month. Specifically, how we can use flashcards to help students acquire and practice vocabulary. The pack of flashcards that accompanies many courses is sometimes seen as an optional extra, but many teachers I met consider them to be central to the primary classroom – and I would agree. So here are a few practical ideas we shared in Ukraine, Russia and FYR Macedonia…
Step to the side
The teacher holds up a card and says either the correct corresponding word or an incorrect word. Students move to their left if the word you have said matches the card; if the word does not match, they move to their right. Students can take turns to play the role of the teacher.
Arrange the class in a circle where possible and get them to pass the cards round asking ‘What’s this?’ and answering accordingly for each card they receive. They then pass the card on, asking the next student to name it. As the teacher increases the number of cards in circulation – and moving in both directions – the activity becomes fun and energetic.
The teacher puts the set of cards on the board and asks the class to close their eyes. S/he then removes one or more cards and asks the class to open their eyes and say which is missing.
The teacher puts the set of cards on the board, and points at them one at a time – the class chorally drills the word. The process continues by gradually removing the cards from the board one at a time until by the end of the activity the teacher is pointing at blank spaces where the cards were – the students continue to drill the words, remembering which card was where.
Guess the card
Divide the class into teams. The teacher holds the stack of cards so the students cannot see the pictures. In turns, the teams have to guess which card is on the top of the pile. The team who wins the most cards can play the role of ‘teacher’ for another round.
A fun game best played in small groups, and good for revising vocabulary at the end of term. You will need a lot of flashcards for this – if you do not have enough, get the students to draw some of their own. Each student (or pair) begins with at least five cards, and they take turns to put a card into the centre, face down. They can choose to say what the card really is, or to ‘lie’ (cheat). At any time, another student can challenge, by saying ‘cheat!’. If the challenge is valid (ie the student putting the card down did not tell the truth), then the one who cheated has to take all the cards from the centre. If the challenge is not valid, (ie the student who put the card down did tell the truth), then the challenger has to pick up all the cards. It is not essential to challenge after every turn; the students decide themselves how often and when to challenge. The winner is the first person / pair to get rid of all their cards.
(with alphabet cards)
You will need multiple sets of alphabet flashcards for this game. Divide the class into teams – and ensure that each team has a complete set of alphabet cards – scattered on the floor (or on a desk) at the front of the room. Dictate the letters of a word in jumbled order, and get a member of each team in relay to pick up the appropriate letters from their flashcard set, and to place them on a desk. When you have dictated all the letters, the first group to unscramble the letters they have picked up and to spell the word is the winner. Remember that you may need multiple letters in the flashcard sets if you are going to practice words containing more than one of the same letter.
Put the flashcards up on the board, and put the students into pairs. One student chooses a card without telling their partner which one, and ‘writes’ the word with their finger on their partner’s back. That student must say what the word is. Swap over and repeat.
These activities provide variety in terms of intelligences (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic), energy level (settling and stirring), receptive vs productive, and in terms of pronunciation vs spelling. It’s important to remember that receptive activities should come before productive, and that word recognition and pronunciation should come before spelling. Also worth bearing in mind is to use group or pairwork whenever possible to allow stronger students to support the weaker ones.
That’s all for this month. Volcanoes permitting, I’ll soon be reporting back from meeting great teachers in Georgia, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. Until then, happy teaching!