February 28

Flashcard Games

I was feeling a bit uninspired the other day before my S2 and S3 classes (6 and 7 year olds)…I could feel that the learners, especially in the S2 class, were getting a little tired of the same old revision activities with flashcards.  So I went through to Chris‘ class and started thinking about games I’d done in the past to review lexis and then asked him for some more ideas.  This is the list we came up with in a couple of minutes…

Secret Code: put three flashcards on the board facedown and tell the class which lexical set each one comes from.  Learners then guess the code.  With VYLs, I do it like this; with YLs you can give them ticks when they guess one or two correctly…but not say which word was correct.  A disadvantage to this game is that it doesn’t encourage or really allow space for BIG language, just single lexical items.

Board Slap: I still haven’t invested in fly swatters, although I see a number of my colleagues have.  There are a number of varieties for Vocabulary Slaps – again though I feel it doesn’t provide learners with the opportunity for BIG language.

SharkShark: This is actually a favourite in most of my classes…with each incorrect guess the man drops down a step.  Will the class guess the word and save him?  (Although there are groups who actually lose on purpose so the poor chap gets eaten! )

Teacher, stop!: In this activity the teacher shuffles through the flashcards facedown until one learner says, “Teacher, stop!” and then asks, “Have you got…?”  This activity could easily be adapted to allow for a greater range of language.  For example, when working with animals learners could ask a question about the animal such as “Has it got four legs?” or “Does it live in the jungle?”

On your head: VYLs especially like this activity because it shows that they know the vocabulary better than the teacher!  Shuffle through the cards then hold one up (above your head) and make a sentence about it…at the most basic lvel this would be, “It’s a pencil.” The learners then respond either with “Yes, it is” or “Yes, you’re right” or, as is more commonly the case, “No, it isn’t” with varying amounts of laughter followed by a correct sentence about the flashcard.

Describing: Another activity which works better with some lexical sets than others – choose one flashcard and describe it; learners guess what it is from the description.

Circle Drill: Although we often associate drills with phonology, they can be useful with flashcards to help learners remember less frequent or more complex lexis.  Choose the flashcards which learners are having most difficulty remembering and then pass them round in a circle, ensuring the learner says the word as they have the card.  To add a bit of mayhem, have a number of cards going in opposite directions.

Pasapalabra: An activity adapted from a Spanish TV show, both classes really enjoyed playing this on Thursday.  Choose 8-10 flashcards from different lexical sets and then put them in a pile facedown.  This is an individual activity, but it’s important for the others in the group to be attentive as it’s being played.  Choose which learner is going first and hold up the first flashcard; if they say the correct word, move on to the next and so on.  If they say the wrong word, play passes to the next learner and you start from the beginning.  Again, this is good for discrete items.

With all the activities above, after modelling how it is played, a learner can become “Question Master” with guidance from the teacher.

Target: Stick four flashcards to the board, one in each corner.  The first learner makes a sentence about one of the flashcards and if their sentence is correct, they try to hit the flashcard with a ball.  If they hit it, they win the card and play passes to the next learner.  This activity encourages learners to move beyond single words and becomes even more demanding if learners aren’t allowed to repeat the same sentence throughout the game.

This last activity can be adapted to play with higher levels and is especially useful for learners preparing for Cambridge PET in which they have to describe a photo.  For each flashcard, learner must introduce their sentence describing the location of the flashcard on the board.  For example, “In the bottom left there’s a camel.”

February 12

Vocabulary Battleships

What do we do with emergent language?

At the end of every lesson, my teenagers write new vocab on slips of paper and put them into an envelope…but then I wanted to find ways of encouraging them to use and review the vocabulary.  So, yesterday I played “Vocabulary Battleships” with my students.  It’s easy to prepare, provides lots of communicative practice and is an engaging way to review vocabulary.

In preparation, you’ll need to provide two boards – A and B – with the vocabulary you want to focus on.  You can use some of the same vocabulary on both boards or make them completely different.  Then divide the class into As and Bs and instruct everyone to draw 6 ships on their board, keeping it a secret from their partner.

To play, A describes a word on B’s board, hoping there’s a battleship in that square; and vice versa.   I’m going to try it with my adult C1 group in the future as well as they enjoy review activities and we have an abundance of new language coming out of each lesson.Battleships

December 11

Good idea…but no

I’ve come to realise that this is a useful column to have on the board when eliciting vocab from students…especially when you want them to use the vocab in a follow-up activity.

In a recent lesson, which was going to be focussing on comparatives, I first asked students to tell me some different adjectives.  The majority came up with the usual (tall, fat, beautiful) and then a couple of the boys were coming out with some great words (with a little bit of correction/tweaking from me), such as dead, zombified.

However, as they were going to be making comparative sentences in the next stage, I didn’t think “deader” and “more zombified” were particularly correct (as a concept, not grammatically speaking) and so I didn’t want to include them on the vocabulary lists.  But it seemed a shame not to encourage students to bring new ideas into the classroom and so I started a “Good idea…but no” column on the board and titled it as such.

I was able to explain why we couldn’t use the words for the next activity, but students could still see their ideas on the board and so felt encouraged and motivated.

November 27

Phonetic WipeOut!

Going phonetically crazy at the most with a couple of my classes and here’s an idea for students to practise their pronunciation and vocabulary at the same time.

Tomorrow my B1 students are going to be looking at vocabulary to describe people.  I’m going to give them a lot of new vocabulary written on slips of paper and after dividing the language into lexical sets (appearance, positive and negative adjectives for personality), I’m going to put them into three groups and give each a lexical set to play for.  Then they’ll have to look at the Phonetic WipeOut board and correctly identify and pronounce a word for their group in order to win the square.  The first team to get their five words, wins.  There’s also a “red herring” square, child.

I’ve chosen phonemes which I know my students have problems with, as the activity is not only to familiarise them with the phonetic alphabet, but also to encourage them to use it in order to pronounce words correctly.

April 24

Making more of a running dictation

I managed to squeeze in some extra prepositions and classroom vocabulary  practice today – completely unplanned but I was in a rush between classes!  I was late leaving one classroom and had to pick up some students for their lesson and I didn’t have time to stick up the sentences for the running picture dictation.  So instead I asked the students to do it by giving each a sentence and an instruction – there are some great places to stick sentences around the room…

Above the bin

Under the table

Next to the bookcase

On the floor

On the teacher’s back (!)


As well, if there are posters around the room, you can turn it into more of a game by asking them to stick the sentence next to the bus or on the goldfish – they’ll look at you as if you’re crazy at first (“Next to the bus?”) and then it’ll click.