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Fun with flashcards

Ahead of her workshop at IATEFL 2012 about engaging students with flashcard games, Weronika Salandyk talks about some methods she uses to teach with flashcards in the classroom.

Flashcard games belong to my favourite classroom activities with young learners. Kids love them, I love them and they seem to help my students remember the new vocabulary. When teaching a class of six- or seven-year-olds I try to stick to a few rules: remember about classroom management (otherwise these lessons would be a mess, not fun), reduce the amount of materials I use (why should I waste time copying and cutting if I can use a pile of flashcards and a few everyday objects?) and mix new activities with my ‘tried and tested’ favourites.

When I introduce new material I show students flashcards and ask them to repeat the words a few times. To keep this activity more lively I make funny voices or ask children to speak as if… they were eating hot soup, chewing bubble gum or sitting in the dentist’s chair with their mouth open. In this way students repeat the same words many times without realising it. They practise pronunciation and begin to remember what each flashcard presents. And what’s more, they’re having great fun!

After a few revision activities we play games based on associating the word with the picture. At that point students don’t feel perfectly comfortable with the new words so I make sure they get plenty of practice in the safe and entertaining environment. Slap the card is one of the games my kids want to come back to during every lesson. I divide the class into two teams. We sit on the floor in two rows, one team opposite the other. I put flashcards face up between them, usually in a single or double line.

The games starts when I say a word and children who sit near that flashcard must quickly slap it with their hands. The first team to do it get a point. Actually the points are not important at all, the kids just love the tension the game involves. It is a very dynamic activity which wakes the sleepy ones up but also allows the over-energetic children to work off their energy surplus a bit.

Finally, we play flashcard games which make children say the word or use it in a sentence such as pass the bomb. Students sit in a circle and I give one child a bomb which is a ticking egg timer. At the same time I show him/her a flashcard and the student must say what is in the picture or build a sentence with the word according to a pattern we practise (I like…, I have got…, I can….). Then s/he passes the egg timer to the next person and I show a different flashcard. The person holding the bomb in the moment of explosion is in real trouble!

With the rest of the class we prepare a special task for this person (e.g. s/he has to name three words that come next in the pile of flashcards). Pass the bomb is a great activity as it gives you a chance to check every student’s progress – but you need to be careful not to scare anyone. With my youngest students we call it buzzer and I give them funny tasks at the end, so the result is that everyone wants to hold the timer when it buzzes!

Do you and your students like using flashcards? What are your favourite flashcard games?

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Party Mix: Engaging teenage learners

Group of teenagers at a partyIn this guest post, Anna Musielak, a Gimnazjum (Lower Secondary) teacher and teacher trainer from Poland, tells us how she coped with teaching teenagers and gives her tips for how to engage this troublesome age group. Feel free to follow Anna on Twitter (@AnnaMusielak).

Teaching teens is a very challenging job. They are extremely hard to please and it is our role as teachers to provide them with tasks and activities that will be interesting, motivating and effective. Of course, our teenage students very often decide to make our life, well… living hell!

When I taught Gimnazjum students I very often felt like screaming. There were days that I could (literally) stand on my head and they would still say the lesson sucked… But there were those precious moments when I got to them, when the lesson was so interesting that they forgot to moan and complain and just took part in it!

The key, in my opinion, is to introduce a variety of animated and efficient exercises that motivate students of mixed abilities and help them learn and reinforce the material. The activities have to be engaging and directed to all students – those better at English and those who struggle with it.

Of course, it helps a lot when we have an idea what our teenage students are into. For some it will be the Twilight Saga, for others Facebook, and for some, playing Guitar Hero. It is our role to find out about their passions and hobbies – by doing so, we prove to our students that we are genuinely interested in their lives. Obviously, I don’t mean channeling your inner rock star or coming to the classroom plugged into your iPod. I just think that knowing a bit about our students’ activities outside school gives us a perception of their temperamental life and, what’s more, helps us understand them better.

There is one activity that always works with my Gimnazjum students – I call it Party Mix. It does not require a lot of preparation from the teachers (one of the biggest advantages when conducting a lesson) and gives freedom to the learners.

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A magician’s hat – a piece of string

Ball of stringIn this guest post, Weronika Salandyk, a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer from Poland, introduces some very simple games that can transform a language learner classroom into a vibrant place of learning, as if by magic! Feel free to follow Weronika on Twitter (@weronika_sal).

Don’t you think that a teacher is sometimes like a magician who performs tricks and illusions? In my school I have my own magician’s hat. It is actually a big blue box which I carry from classroom to classroom. It is loaded with books, flashcards and … a few unusual objects such as a piece of string.

Young children playing the fish gameA piece of string is the basic prop in the fish game. You also need a few colourful paper fish. Two teams sit on the floor in two rows, each player opposite his/her opponent from the other team. Exactly in the middle place the paper fish, one between every competing pair, and a piece of string along each team. Show students, one by one, flashcards or ask them questions, and if they answer correctly they can blow the fish. This is the most awaited moment of the whole game! If the fish touches the opponents’ string the player scores one point for his/her team.

Knotted string and penMake a few knots on your string and you are ready for the tug of war tournament. Put the string on the desk or on the floor and place a pen next to a knot in the middle. It will indicate where the middle of the field is. The number of knots on each side should be the same. Prepare a pile of flashcards and a black sheet of paper to cover the picture. You may use it to uncover the flashcard fragment by fragment or cut a hole in the middle and move it around displaying parts of the picture. Divide the class into two groups. Explain that children must quickly guess the picture. The team who say it first gain one knot. Move the string in such a way that the winning team gets one knot more on their field and the pen stays where it was. The winner is the team who gain all the knots on their side.

Hedgehog and balloon attached with stringHow about using string to deal with classroom management? Inspired by the idea of Rudolph and his red nose, I have hung a drawing of a hedgehog and a red balloon at two ends of the string. The balloon is an apple which the hedgehog wanted to eat. At the end of each lesson it makes either a tiny or a huge step towards the apple depending how nicely students behave. It is quite easy to move the hedgehog because it is attached to a string with a clothes peg. Children always hope it will take two or three steps forward. Why? The secret of the activity is the apple. Inside the balloon there is a piece of paper which says what reward students will get when the hedgehog reaches the apple. It works like magic. They can’t wait to burst the balloon!

A ball of string is just one of many things I take out of my magic box during the lesson. They make children’s eyes open wide with amazement and joy. They make me believe I do the right thing. Have you got any seemingly useless objects which make your lessons magical?

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