(By Gillian Young, teacher and teacher trainer, in the Macmillan ELT web)
Word cards make a fantastic resource for organising and recycling vocabulary, says Gillian Young. Here she suggests different ways for using them in pairs, groups or as a whole class.
Children love bits of paper and card to move about. I like to encourage my pupils to organise their own work, particularly vocabulary, by asking them to make their own word cards: writing the English word on one side and drawing the word or, if that’s difficult, writing a translation of the word on the other side. Making the card helps them think about the word, anchors it in their memory and requires them to store it in a specific place, allowing for later recycling. The cards can be kept in a box, one for each child, or joined together on a loop or an elastic band. They can then be used to play the following games:
Once the children have several lexical sets on their word cards, they shuffle them, and in pairs they take it in turns to lay down a card each. When the category coincides, ie two animals, the children say SNAP! and the first one to say it takes all of the cards. When one person is left without any cards the game is over.
This can be done individually or in pairs with one set of cards. All the cards should have the English word face up and the idea is to put all of the nouns in one pile, discarding anything that is not a noun. The teacher must check at the end of the activity or the children can check themselves by looking at the other side of the card when they have finished.
Make a list of actions (verbs)
The same as above but with verbs instead of nouns.
Make sets of words with the same number of syllables
Again this can be done individually or in pairs with one set of cards. All the cards are placed with the English word face up and the child/children makes piles of words with the same number of syllables. For example, one pile might have the words: tiger, lion, monkey, giraffe, spider, pizza, apple, shoulder. And another pile might have the words: mouse, cat, dog, milk, cheese, leg, eye, book. Whereas the third pile could be: banana, hamburger, tomato, anteater, Portugal, underground.
This is a little bit more complicated, but the children can find it great fun and it gives them a marvellous opportunity to experiment with the language. Three cards are chosen at random from the pile of shuffled wordcards, the words may be blue / in / pizza and using these three words the pupil can invent a silly (or serious!) sentence using all three words, which may be something like There is a blue eye in my pizza or I’ve got a pizza in my blue bag. This can be followed up by a drawing to illustrate the meaning of the sentence, and again this can be displayed on the wall with the sentence.
Follow the letters (Dominoes)
This can be done individually or in pairs. This game only works if the reverse of the word card is a drawing. The cards are placed with the drawing face up and the pupil puts one card after another so that the last letter of the word is the same as the first letter of the next word. The cards can then be turned over and the pupil can check that it is correct or not.
Trivial: How do you say/spell …?
I have always called this game ‘Trivial’ although it has little to do with the well-known game. In a whole class the children can be divided into two teams. Each team has a set of word cards – the more cards the better, and for this reason it is advisable to keep the sets of cards from one year to the next. The teams take it in turns to ask the opposite team questions about the different words. There are two options for the questions (both questions are very useful as classroom language): How do you say (the word in L1) in English? / How do you spell (the word in English)? If the opposing team answers correctly they gain one point, if they do not answer correctly, or do not know how to answer, the point goes to the other team and the opposing team must ask the next question. This game can also be played in pairs once the children are used to the rules.
One child chooses a word card and another child has to guess what the word is. The child who has chosen the card can give clues. For example It’s an animal and the other child asks questions, such as Is it brown? Has it got a tail? Is it a bird?
Guess my pile
This game can be played in pairs or in teams. Each partner or team chooses a lexical set and makes a pile of three to five words from that lexical set. They take it in turns to guess what words are in the other’s pile. The one that guesses all the words in the other’s pile first is the winner. Imagine that A has chosen clothes and B has chosen parts of the body:
B: No. Trousers.
A: Yes (and the card is placed on the table).
A: No. Arm.
B: Yes (and the card is placed on the table).
If you’re interested in reading more about Learning to learn, look at this article by the same author Learning to learn in the Primary classroom.