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ESL teachers are always trying to find materials that take a minimum of preparation and provide the greatest possible number of applications, and I'm no exception. I'd like to share a couple of activities based on vocabulary cards that I've found very successful in both Canada and Brazil with many levels of students and that allow everyone in the class to participate at the same time. In saying that, I should also mention that the maximum number of students I've worked with in one class was 20.

The Cards
The cards can be done by hand or on the computer, but I make mine on the computer now that I've learned how. Either way, the activities have been a big success.

Since I use my cards for a variety of activities and tend to keep them for a long time, I like to set them up carefully to begin with. I make the cards in either Word or Word Perfect using tables, with the inside lines double so that they can be cut apart neatly. The size of my cards is usually 2 to 3 inches in height and about 3 to 4 inches wide with an appropriate font type and size - the largest that the card will accommodate. If some of the words are too large for the cards, I change the font size for that card rather than reduce the font size overall. Black is always easier to read than colors, especially from a distance, so that's my choice for color. If your printer will support card stock or heavy paper, your cards will certainly last longer, but after a year, I'm still using a set printed on normal bond paper. You may also want to laminate them, but I find that it makes them too bulky and doesn't allow for easy shuffling/mixing.

When coming up with the vocabulary for the cards, I use a wide variety of words: animals, furniture, adjectives, verbs, places, holidays, almost anything that my students will recognize. The cards should have vocabulary that most students will know by sight so that you can use the cards with multiple levels. I use them for all levels except absolute beginners, for obvious reasons, and none of the activities is aimed at teaching the vocabulary on the cards. The more cards you have, the better, though! That way, when using the cards with lower levels, I can always reject cards that will be too difficult for them.

Activity 1
While the game Password was always a fun game, one of the drawbacks of the original is that only a few people could play at one time. My ESL improvement was to allow the whole group to play. The students pair off as they wish, or you can assign pairs. If there is an odd number of students, there will be a group with three people - no problem. Chairs are lined up in two rows in the centre of the classroom so that the pairs of students are sitting facing one another. This also allows the teacher to walk behind each line of chairs. I find it best to play a practice round to work out the rules and the objectives first. The game begins when one row of students (Partner A's) is shown a word. Their task is to prompt their partners to say the word by giving them clues. The clues can only be one word, and there can be no sound effects or gestures. If one student doesn't understand a word, the word can be discarded after being shown to everyone and explained, or you can whisper a clue to prompt the student, or another student can whisper a clue. Conversation between partners is not allowed, but teams generally monitor one another. For the first round, I begin with the team at the beginning of the line. Standing behind the person who is delivering the clue, I say, "Go." Then I silently count to ten while holding up my free hand to show the count on my fingers - approximately 10 seconds. The person must come up with a clue before I count to ten. When Partner A says a clue, the count begins again for Partner B to come up with the answer before the count of 10. If Partner A cannot come up with a clue by the count of 10, I make a "bing" like a bell and move to the next team. Standing facing the players who are answering allows me to hear their answers clearly. Also, as I move along behind the line of A's, I touch each person's shoulder as his/her turn comes to indicate the start of the timing. This works for me but of course can be adapted as necessary. In the case of a small class with only a few teams, you will start over with the first team if no one has guessed the word by the time you get to the end of the line. If a student inadvertantly gives a two-word clue or uses a gesture or commits some other infraction, I make a buzzer sound, say, "Two words" (or whatever is applicable) and immediately go to the next team. If necessary, penalties can be explained at the end of the round. Scoring: 10 points if the first team comes up with the answer, 9 points if the second team comes up with the answer (since they have had the clues of the previous teams to help them), and so on until it reaches 5 points. I don't allow it to reduce to any lower than that. At that point, I show the word and we start over with a new word. I don't change from A's to B's until a point has been scored. For Round 2, the team who scored last will begin. Set a time limit, and the team with the most points at the end is the winner. As you work with this activity, variations will probably occur to you to make it work better for you. This activity has always been a hit that students have asked to play again and again.

Activity 2
Based on the game Telepaths, this activity doesn't require a board. Once again, the students are paired. If there is an odd number of students, the good news is that the teacher gets to play! If you have a very large class, you may opt for three-player teams, but this makes the game more challenging. Partners in this activity must not sit beside one another. We play in a circle, either around a table or with our chairs/desks in a circle. Besides the vocabulary cards, you will need a paper and pencil for each player. You will also need something to time with. The object of the activity is to match your partner's word list. Again, a practice round clarifies things. The round begins when the teacher shows everyone a card with a word. Everyone then has one minute to make a list of words that they associate with that word. The words in the list should be written in English, if possible, but don't have to be. Coming up with the English equivalents can be sorted out later. That way, lower level students aren't daunted by the task. Spelling doesn't count. Any word is valid - individual students will make their own associations. Part of the fun in the activity is to predict what your partner might say. Depending upon the level of the students, you can set the number of words for the list to be anywhere from as few as 4 or 5 to as many as 7 or 8 words. Everyone writes and thinks furiously for one minute. At the end of the minute, everyone should put down his/her pencils. Team by team, first Partner A and then Partner B reads his/her list. I write each list on the board in collumns under the teams' names/numbers, circling any words that they have BOTH given me. You can be as flexible as you want on variations (i.e. swim/swimming), and this is the time to find English equivalents for the words that the student didn't know. When I have all of the teams' lists on the board, I go back and begin to count the number of circled words in each team's list. I mark one point for each circled word that a team has. When students see how it works, they easily understand the scoring, and they realize there is an element of competition. For subsequent rounds, I choose teams at random to read their lists to me to keep students attentive, as they never know when they'll be called on to give their lists. Again, set a time limit and the team with the highest number of points at the end wins. I find that it generates a lot of vocabulary and discussion about why certain words were associated with one another.

Another suggestion:
For upper level classes, cards can be clipped together in groups of seven or eight. Students are paired and one student becomes the listener while the other is the speaker. The listener takes a packet of cards, and reveals the first word to his partner. The speaker's task is to create a story or some kind of narrative that will include the word on the card. As soon as the listener hears the word used, he/she reveals the next card. Listeners need to stay on their toes. WITHOUT STOPPING, the speaker will continue with the narrative and will incorporate the next word. The challenge for the speaker is to continue speaking while thinking of a way to use the next word. The speaker is not allowed to just make one sentence with each card that comes up. The idea is to tie everything together into an expanded story, which includes an appropriate ending. As the words are in no particular order, this activity can be very challenging. I never make corrections while the students are speaking and frequently do none at all. My aim is to have the students speaking in an uninterrupted flow. Partners then switch roles and take a new packet of cards. You may want all the pairs to be working on stories with their partners simultaneously, or you may want to have the class listen in turn to each student. Students generally enjoy the challenge and like to at least hear one or two other students, so there are any number of variations to make this an enjoyable fluency activity, but this is definitely not an activity for lower level students.

When you have your set of cards, you'll find other ways to use them again and again, I'm sure. Next time you're yearning to play Pictionary, you'll already have the cards made!

Linda Rayner
[email protected]
Santa Cruz do Sul, Brazil

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