ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

Month: May 2014

Flashcards in the Classroom: Ten Lesson Ideas

The other day, I was preparing a lesson with an intermediate group of young learners and getting my flashcards printed and laminated.  However, when chatting to some other teachers in the staffroom, with myself behind the laminating machine, there was a brief comment that flashcards are more suited for beginner or elementary learners and more appropriate for young learners.

Flashcards are really good but more suited for young learners or really low levels of students.

Unfortunately, I really have to disagree with this sentiment as I have used flashcards with many different levels as well as ages of learners.  With this post, I really would like to push the boundaries of what is considered suitable for learners and offer teachers practical ideas on how they are able to incorporate flashcards into lessons with more than just young learners or beginner/elementary classes.  With this post, you will find 10 practical ideas for including flashcards in the classroom.

1. Circle Drilling

The most common use of flashcards in the classroom is for drilling and checking pronunciation with the class.  You can either nominate individual students or get whole class drilling organised with the use of flashcards.  However, when doing the Young Learner extension course at the British Council in Bucharest, I was introduced in how you could add a bit of a competitive element to drilling and pronunciation.  Get students to sit in a circle – get learners to place their desks to the sides of the classroom – and then they all sit down.  Introduce the vocabulary to the learners and drill pronunciation.  The next step to circle drilling is to hand one flashcard to a student to your left or right and then get them to pass the flashcard to the next student.  You can speed up the drilling by handing more and more cards to the students next to you and then watch the chaos ensue.  The students will find it incredibly enjoyable and highly competitive.

Drilling and Repetition in the ELT Classroom

Everyone enjoying circle drilling.

2. Pelmanism Flashcards

Another popular activity with flashcards, particularly if you have a picture and corresponding text, is to play a game where you match the picture with the correct text.  It is recommended that you demonstrate this activity to the learners so that they are able to pick up the rules of the activity.  Basically, you get place all picture and corresponding text flashcards face down and shuffle them up.  One student picks up two cards and if they pick up a picture as well as a corresponding word, then the learner will get one point.  It is best to get students to keep their pair of flashcards so that they are able to count up how many points they have achieved.  Young learners and adults alike enjoy this game in the classroom and is a wonderful memorisation activity.  If you have a large class of students, it is best to ensure you have at least four sets of picture/word flashcards for this activity, and share one set of flashcards among a small group of two to four students.  Therefore, if you have nine students, group them into three groups of three students and give each group a set of flashcards for the pelmanism game.

Pelmanism Flashcards

Grouped flashcards at the ready for possible lessons.

3. Bingo Flashcards

If you don’t have two sets of corresponding flashcards (either a set of pictures or a set of words), you can still use the one set of cards for a similar pelmanism game.  I developed this bingo flashcard game with a small group of elementary learners and we were looking at hobbies and interests.  I created my own set of flashcards, laminated these and then used them in the classroom to review the language from the previous lesson.  We reviewed the language by drilling and checking pronunciation (similar to the first flashcard idea) and then I shuffled them all and then placed them face down nicely on the table.  Then I called out one vocabulary, and one by one a student turned one card up.  If the card was the one vocabulary that I called out, that student would gain a point.  If it was not the vocabulary which I called out, then the student would turn the card back down and then the next student would turn up a flashcard.  The turn goes round student by student.  The student with the most flashcards at the end of the game wins.  You could get students to play this with one set of flashcards or you could group students into small groups each with their own set of cards, you call out the corresponding word or picture and then each group try to guess the correct card.  It is very similar to bingo but with flashcards.

Flashcards available for a bingo-style game.

Student made flashcards available for a bingo-style game.

4. Flashcard Whispers

The other day, I wanted to review vocabulary with a group of Chinese students and rather than naming the game “Chinese Whispers”, I decided to call it “Flashcard Whispers”.  I would use the flashcards to prompt the word/picture and students whispered the word/picture to the front of the group and the first group to write up the word or draw the picture would gain a point for their team.  It is a lively activity for students and gets them up and out of their seats during the lesson.  It is best used at the end of the lesson as a review and they leave the classroom with a smile on their faces.  Try it out and be creative with the points – the teams will be very competitive.

5. Student Created Flashcards

Why spend your own time making flashcards when students can be quite creative and make suitable flashcards for the classroom?  One way I do this is with idiomatic language.  For example, money related idioms are very visual and students could be quite creative by drawing suitable pictures for idioms.  You could use these pictures to supplement or review idioms at the end of the lesson/week.  If students make their own flashcards, which are then laminated, they could be used again and again.  Students also have a sense to own the language that they are learning and it becomes more memorable.  You could then use the student created flashcards for various games suggested above.

Student Idiom Pictures:

Student Idiom Pictures: “To make ends meet” and “To cost an arm and a leg”.

6. Flashcard Sentences/Questions

A really quick and easy way to get students up and about is to create sentences on each piece of card (laminating is an option) and cutting up pieces of paper.  Write up a word on each piece of cut up paper, and then students have to rearrange themselves in order, so that they are able to create a sentence or question.  I was introduced to this activity in the wonderful “Five-Minute Activities” which I would recommend any teacher to purchase as there are also a wonderful range of ideas for lessons.  I have used this activity successfully with both adults and young learners alike.  When you check, you could get students to say the sentence/question one word at a time to check understanding or whether they are correct.  Students then start to recognise patterns in English and, as like the previous activity, it is more memorable for learners.

“Five-Minute Activities” (p.96 Ur & Wright, 1992).

7. Pronunciation Checking Drills

A few weeks ago, I decided to create my own pronunciation flashcards for a lesson to review vowel sounds.  I printed these out and then laminated the pronunciation cards.  I visited Cambridge English Online Flashcard Maker and then created, printed and laminated the flashcards for use in class.  In fact, this free Flashcard Maker is very useful and I would recommend this website for all your flashcard making.  There are numerous pictures which you can embed in the cards, or you could draw your very own images for your flashcards.  You can create flashcards at any size (A4, A5, etc) and then print out when they are ready.  In fact I made these flashcards by inputting the text into the flashcard template.  So give the website a try.  Anyhow, once I created the phonemic vowel flashcards, I used them to elicit the corresponding sound from students as well as drill sounds – the students loved this activity.  After this activity, I got students to make their very own words using the corresponding vowel sound.  So a vowel sound with /e/, students could suggest: reset, bet, test, etc.  It was a great activity and got them to think outside the constraints of spelling particular topics of words.  We looked at the words the students created using the vowel sounds to help and it really made the students aware of their own pronunciation and how it also impacts on particular words.

Vowel phonemic flashcards ready for class.

Vowel phonemic flashcards ready for class.

8. Flashcard Hitting

When I was observing a fellow young learner teacher a few weeks back, he decided to use flashcards for his group of very young learners.  I was really impressed at how much he was able to incorporate them in his lesson.  One game which I particularly enjoyed was where he got two teams of students lined up and rows, with the learners facing the board.  He gave each pair of students at the front of the row a folded piece of paper – much like a ruler – and then called out a word.  The students then had to hit the corresponding picture.  The first student to hit the correct picture, their team was awarded a point and at the end of the activity, the team with the most points won.  The students rotated after each turn so all students had a chance to play the game.  He obviously spent a little time sticking up the flashcards upon the whiteboard in preparation for the game but the students loved it and I could see it being adapted for teenage or adult classes.

9. The Missing Flashcard

Another memorisation game which I used in class is whereby I bring in a set of objects and students close their eyes and I remove one.  One by one, the students have to remember the objects removed from the table.  However, these are with physical objects and young learners really enjoy this activity.  Nevertheless, you can use this with flashcards.  If you stick up a set of 10-12 flashcards up on the whiteboard and draw a small border round each, you can do a similar activity.  You drill all vocabulary from the flashcards with the learners and then you ask students to put their heads down on the desk.  Quickly remove one flashcard and then get students to put their heads up again.  Ask students which card is missing.  You point to each flashcard and elicit the vocabulary and then point to the missing flashcard and hopefully students remember the missing flashcard.  As more and more flashcards are removed, when you point to the blank borders on the whiteboard, the students should be able to remember the missing flashcard.  When you have a blank whiteboard and you point to the non-existent flashcards, the students will then feel a sense of achievement if they are able to remember the missing flashcards.  Try this activity out and is a really good 10-15 minute filler at the end of the lesson.

10. Flashcard Chunks

If you have two themes of flashcards and you would like to combine them, then this final idea might help.  For example, if you have a set of pictures of sports organised for flashcard use as well as set phrases to practice the Present Perfect Continuous, then you could elicit/drill lexical chunks with all ages.  Put the pictures on one side of the table and the corresponding set of time reference markers (using “since” or “for”) face down and pick up randomly a picture as well as a corresponding time marker and elicit from a student a suitable sentence.  So for example, if you pick up a picture of someone ice-skating and a chunk “2006” students could create a sentence such as: “I have been ice-skating since 2006”.  Check suitability with the other learners in the classroom and then drill the chunk of language with all other students.  It is a useful activity to focus on a particular grammar structure and does require a little more preparation than the other flashcard lesson ideas.  However, it does require a little more from the students and they will be able to find their way around the language with the required flashcard prompts.  This is possibly my favourite idea and have left this for last.

Using references of time for drilling.

Using references of time for drilling.

These are a range of ideas you could incorporate in class and you can see that flashcards are suitable for a range of levels as well as ages.  So please stop with the idea that flashcards are best suited for elementary and/or younger classes.  I hope that I have inspired readers to use flashcards more creatively in their lessons and that learners enjoy the use of the flashcards.  Just a few quick tips for managing flashcards:

  • Make flashcards large enough so students at the back of the class can see what they are.
  • Laminate the flashcards so that they can be reused in future lessons.  It will save you time in the long run.
  • If you don’t have a laminator, you can Sellotape the pictures/words onto card or use a plastic envelope to protect them.
  • Make your own library of flashcards and keep them in either a folder or within envelopes so that they are easily accessible.
  • Create a magazine drop-off box in the staffroom so that teachers have ready access to a range of magazines for pictures, text, etc for flashcard making.

Finally, I leave this post with a few questions for you to consider:

  • How do you use flashcards in lessons?
  • Do you use flashcards at all with your learners?
  • What is your favourite activity?
  • Do you have an activity to share with our readers that is not mentioned here?

Surviving The Summer School

Surviving A Summer SchoolYou have completed your CELTA course and you are now on a mission to start teaching.  In all likeliness, most trainees from the CELTA will start their career as a young learner teacher – whether in the UK or abroad.  When I returned from South Korea, back to the UK, I was thrust into a new teaching environment and I felt very much inexperienced again – as if I had completed the CELTA a few weeks previously.  To be thrown back into the deep end was incredibly challenging and was also such a wonderful experience.  For those that have completed their CELTA course or those that would like to teach during the summer, there are ten points to help you survive the busiest period in the EFL industry in the UK known as the “Summer School”.

1. Be Friendly

The first piece of advice I would recommend any would-be summer school teacher is to be friendly to all staff, and I don’t just mean the teaching staff.  There are a lot of roles at work at the school during the summer period and it helps if you can get on well with all members of staff – the social staff who take the students out, the administration department who help with everything behind the scenes, the management who really bust a gut to provide a quality experience for the students as well as the accounts department who pay you.  It is so important to build a good working relationship to all members of staff, co-workers and line managers, if you are to be considered for the following year.

2. Time Keeping

You are employed to teach as well as prepare lessons for your classes.  Please do not stroll in 2 minutes before you are due to teach and then pop in and out of your classroom back to the staffroom when you haven’t photocopied enough worksheets for your class.  It just looks unprofessional in front of your peers and students.  If you turn up to school on time, everything else will fall into place – lesson planning, observations, etc.  If you are a residential teacher at a summer school, you will find the experience of being onsite at the school for 24 hours a day challenging and you will have more responsibilities once other non-residential teachers have returned home.  If you plan your time well, you will find yourself having more time to switch off, rather than chasing your tail.

3. Continuing Professional Development

I cannot stress enough the importance of continuing professional development (CPD) in your teaching career.  If you put in the effort to attend regional ELT-related workshops or training days, you will return to your class with so many more ideas to incorporate.  You will be able to meet other like-minded individuals at these events and you will also be able to share your experiences with them as well.  ELT is a wonderful profession but you will start to make good contacts at other schools and perhaps discover future opportunities.  Try to attend workshops which will assist you during the summer school period.  There are many locally organised teaching associations so just check with your Director of Studies for more information and whether you are able to attend any workshops or training sessions.

4. Don’t Get Stressed

We have all taught students who make our lessons, well how can I put it … less interesting but do not beat yourself up over a few rotten eggs in class.  You have a difficult task ahead – you have to motivate and engage young learners who have been sent to the UK possibly with no interest in English and then thrown into a class who then meet other similar students.  This sort of situation could breed problems for language teachers.  It is not easy but the best piece of advice I would recommend is not to worry for how students are in the classroom.  You cannot work miracles.  Speak to other teachers, share your experiences (don’t feel as if it makes you any weaker as a teacher) and seek advice from management.  Perhaps a little suggested change incorporated in the classroom could work wonders.

5. Consider Your Weaknesses

You are expected to teach Monday to Friday but take ten minutes out after class to reflect and consider what worked well and how you could improve for next time.  A little bit of reflection works wonders and as teachers it is invaluable for us to consider our weaknesses.  For example, a number of years ago I was very worried about incorporating the Phonemic Chart in the classroom.  I tried very hard to improve my knowledge of this chart.  As recommended in number three, I attended a weekend workshop organised by a local language school and saw Underhill showing how the phonemic chart could be used in the classroom.  This motivated me and developed my confidence of the phonemic chart in the classroom.  If you show a keen interest in developing yourself as a teacher, you will be noticed and possibly find yourself being asked to return the following year.

6. Share Your Future Plans

English Language Teaching (ELT) in the UK can be a turbulent affair with demand for teachers rising and dipping from week to week depending on the number of students that are attending.  This sort of uncertainty creates for a stressful environment for some teachers.  However, schools will be keen to hear your plans after the Summer School.   Try to be honest and share your plans for the future in ELT.  If you are keen to continue teaching in the UK, tell the school that you would like to gain more experience after the Summer School.  If you are likely to head back out to another country after the summer, it might be likely that the school that you are working at could provide some assistance in securing employment abroad, either in the form as a reference or knowing a contact in another country.

7. Switch Off

You have taught a full-day and you are now planning your lessons for the following day.  Remember not to over-plan!  If you are spending about 3 hours to plan a 45 minute lesson, it is probably best to switch off, turn on the TV and grab a beer or a glass of wine.  As much as it is important to attend workshops or training sessions out of normal working hours, it is also important to get time to relax and switch off.  If you relax, you will sleep better and return to the classroom feeling refreshed and energetic.  Make sure you get some ‘me’ time and that teaching does not take over your life.

8. Recycle Lessons

You might be teaching a different group of learners each week.  If your school does not have a set curriculum, you could look at developing your own curriculum for the summer.  Keep a folder of daily lesson activities/tasks which you could return to each week.  We all have our favourite lesson(s) which we like to incorporate into different classes.  It then makes sense to build up your own library of lessons which you could dip in and out of, then recycle with different classes each week.  Make your life easier by recycling popular lessons with new groups of students rather than reinventing the wheel.  Soon you will find yourself developing and trailing lessons with new groups each week.  Plus, recycling lessons will help you save much needed time for lesson planning.  However, try to not incorporate a hodge pot of lessons in a day moving from one topic to another.  This will destabilise the day of classes and young learners need familiarity and the best way to include this is set a topic per day and then incorporate your best lessons for these topics.

9. Flashcards

If you are teaching young learners, it is incredibly important to include flashcards in your lessons when introducing and developing vocabulary in the first part of your lessons.  I have not seen flashcards used enough in lessons and not every school will hold a library of flashcards or other materials so it is important to keep a stock of your own.  You can make these in the staffroom which could then be laminated so that they to do not wear and can be recycled for future classes.  There are a number of websites which you could consider viewing, such as the British Council or Cambridge English Online, to create and print out possible flashcards.

10. Know Your Students

Finally, in all likelihood, you will be teaching a different group of students each week at a Summer School, but it is also important to get to know these students as they may return again the following year.  I have bumped into returnee students who were studying at our school and they do not forget their teacher.  So, get to know your students, prepare lessons on their interests and help them get through the week.  They will appreciate having a teacher who considers them more than another student in the classroom.  Remain positive with the students and they will thank you for it when they are to leave.  At the end of the day, the experiences you have at the school in the summer, with your students, will make such a positive impact on you.

Japanese Inventions: Lesson Plan

It has been a while since I have written a lesson plan for ELT Experiences and I thought I would share a wonderful picture dictation activity that is very popular for young learners.  I have used this lesson numerous times with different nationalities and they all seem to enjoy the picture dictation and the extension.  It gets students to practice describing objects but in a fun and humorous way.  This lesson could be geared towards adult students.
Aim: By the end of the lesson, students will have practiced listening to and providing descriptions of pictures.
Level: Pre-Intermediate or above
Topic: Inventions
Focus: Dictating and drawing pictures from descriptions
Timing: 60 minutes or more
Context Builder:
  • Ask students what inventions they consider important and board these up on the whiteboard.  Try to elicit and write up at least 10 important inventions.
  • When you have elicited these different inventions, ask students to put them in order of importance (1 = very important and 10 = not important).  Students should do this by themselves.
  • Once students have finished the order of importance of inventions, get students to compare in pairs or small groups and prompt discussion.
  • After discussion, elicit a class order of importance and put this up on the board for all students to see.
Main Activity:
  • Tell students that you are going to describe an important invention (as a demonstration) and students should try and draw the invention from the description,  You could choose a suitable invention (lightbulb, airplane, etc) rather than the Japanese inventions and try to find a corresponding picture for this demonstration activity.
  • Show the invention to the class (airplane, lightbulb, etc) and compare this to what they have drawn.
  • Next tell students that one learner will describe a picture and the other students have to draw the invention in their notebook or on a piece of scrap paper.  Students could work in pairs to help each other.  Nominate one student from a small group or pair of students and that student has to describe the picture to the rest of the class in English.
  • You could get students to self-nominate after the first learner has been chosen by yourself and you could bring the nominated learners to the front of the class and handing them a Japanese invention flashcard (please refer to below for recommended pictures – it is sure to bring some laughter to your class).
  • Ensure that the student describing the picture is not showing this to the rest of the class and keeps them secret.
  • Students could number the pictures that they are drawing and try to keep the inventions in order so you know which is described.
  • The next activity could be getting students to choose a name of the invention (please refer below for suggested names for these Japanese inventions), so “The Baby Mop” could also be named “Baby Cleaner”, etc.  Again students could be working in small groups for this activity.
Final Activity:
  • To finish off with, you could review descriptive language or prepositions of place.  You could also scaffold any language which emerged during the dictation activity.
  • A possible extension could be getting students to create an advertisement, poster or write a review for a Japanese Invention.  Students could work in small groups to complete a selected task.
Shoe Umbrellas

Shoe Umbrellas

Butter Stick

Butter Stick

Solar Powered Lighter

Solar Powered Lighter

Toilet Roll Head

Toilet Roll Head

Umbrella Water Collector

Umbrella Water Collector

Eye Drop Glasses

Eye Drop Glasses

Daddy Feeder

Daddy Feeder

Noodle Cooler

Noodle Cooler

Body Umbrella

Body Umbrella

Baby Mop 2

Baby Mop 1

Baby Mop 1

Baby Mop 2

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