Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
The purpose of flash cards is rather simple and mundane; we use flash cards to introduce and review vocabulary or concepts. My first language teacher said, “The only way to learn a foreign language is repetition, repetition, repetition.” Can’t argue with that. Unfortunately, it can be really… repetitious and boring. But, if you watch children playing, they’ll show you how to make it fun.
Here is my list of 41 Flash Card Activities. If you have an activity not on this list, leave me a comment below! I’d love to hear how you use flash cards in your own classes!
When putting together flash card sets, use the clearest, simplest images you can find. As my students range in age from preK thru 6th grade, I don’t want to make flashcards for different age groups. For that reason, many of my cards are age-neutral in design and can be used with any class, including adults.
Double-sided or single sided cards?
You have to decide which is going to be more useful. If you have single-sided cards and you want words and images, you’ll have double the number of cards, double the weight, and need more storage space. If you use double-sided cards, you won’t be able to play some games, like Pairs, Old Maid, or guessing games requiring a blank backside. Large cards that I use for big groups of kids are usually double-sided, just for convenience. Because I like to divide kids up into groups and play a variety of games, I create small single-sided cards, some no bigger than a business card.
Creating multiple sets of cards is a lot of work, but you’ll REALLY appreciate the flexibility it gives you in class. I always have 4-5 sets of flash cards, piled in baskets, ready for any number of activities.
Punch holes in small flash cards and bundle them with metal rings. Rubber bands will rot. And, above all, laminate your cards! Kids bite, fold, and spill on them. The last thing you want to do is have to remake cards every year.
3 Types of Flash Card Activities
Matching is the most fundamental activity you can do with cards. This type of activity is most recognizable as flipping through vocabulary decks as you try to associate a word with a picture or translation.
Ordering and Sorting
Ordering and sorting are basic activities teachers most often do with cards. Ordering can be with an established order, such as the ABCs and numbers, or a directed ordering, like sorting according to color, pattern, big, small, etc.
Discovery, or guessing, is the premise of many games you can play with flash cards. The more you can keep kids guessing, the better you will keep their attention. If you play with a sense of fun, children will WANT to remember vocabulary to keep the game going.
Watching children play, you will see them employing one, two or all three of these modals in just about any activity or game they play. Keeping this in mind, you’ll have an endless number of activities you can use with flash cards.
Remember, cards don’t have to be the primary focus of an activity, as long as they are being employed in one way or another. Use animal cards for team names, numbers, colors and shapes for ordering, or stacks of cards for board games. Importantly, find ways to use the vocabulary you’ve taught!
Flash Card Activities
I call these activities, as opposed to games, as they don’t involve dice or rules of play.
1. Name Cards Make and laminate name cards for your kids. Allow the kids to have these in their possession that they display on their desk. Occasionally, you can make the name cards part of the lesson! Working on verbs or animals? Use their name cards and pair them with various cards! Pull names from a hat or spell students’ names out loud to determine game order or line order. By putting their birthday on their name cards, you’ve successfully transferred months- of-the-year flash cards into their hands!
2. Ordering Ordering students for a game can be just as much fun as the game itself! Challenge students to order themselves according to birthdays, the alphabet, age or grade! Hand out verb cards, animal cards or ABC cards, and have the students line up in alphabetical order. Or have students sound off in order using numbers or abcs. Then, put a stack of the same cards in a hat and have students line up in the order the cards are drawn.
3. Word of The Day Put learned flashcards into a hat and allow a student to choose one from the hat each school day. This is great for review of past vocabulary you don’t want kids to forget! Did you teach patterns and shapes? Take a moment to see who is wearing stripes or all the objects in the room that are square. Try to find a way to repeat the ‘word of the day’ a few times in class. A special action, such as clapping or snapping their fingers can be done if they hear the word.
4. Spell it out! Hand out flash cards to students. The teacher vocally spells out a word. The student with that card hands it back to the teacher. This activity can be used to line kids up or divide kids for games. Variations on this could be spelling out student names, writing the big letter on the board and the student with the small letter brings her card forward. Giving students word cards while the teacher shows the picture cards works just as well.
5. Circle Pass The students and the teacher sit in a circle. The teacher starts by passing a picture card to the student on his left, saying, “This is a horse.” The student takes the card and passes it to the next student, saying, “This is a horse.” The card is passed around the circle. When the card returns to the teacher, the teacher puts that card aside and introduces a new card in the same manner. To up the challenge: a) wait until a card has reached the halfway mark, then introduce a second card going in the same direction; b) introduce cards at the same time going in opposite directions; or c) send 3-4 cards around the circle in the same directions with little pause between each.
6. Discovery Slowly uncovering a picture or letter for students to guess what you have is a classic activity. You can uncover the picture from different sides or even have an envelope with a hole in which students see only a part of it. Try this game with words, slowly uncovering the front, back or both sides of the word.
7. Match! The teacher shows a flashcard and calls out a word. If the spoken word and the card match, students must say the word.
8. Story Time! Distribute one card per student and tell them that you will tell a story. Each time they hear their word they have to clap. Make sure you have a list of the words or that you write the story beforehand in order to make sure that each word is said several times.
9. Hide n’ Seek Have one student go out of the room and hide flashcards in various locations. Have the student come back into the room and look for the cards. As she finds each one, she must tell you the name of the card.
10. Missing Cards Place three cards face up in a row. Turn around or close your eyes and ask the students to turn one card over. You then try to guess the ‘missing’ card. Up the challenge by adding another card and repeat. Then, turn two cards over. If you’re working with ABC cards, you can keep the order or mix the cards up. If you play this with 10 or more cards other than alphabet cards, put the cards in alphabetical order. Students have to think of the missing card in relation to the ABCs. This game works well as a whole class activity or in small groups.
11. Guess! Put three picture cards on the board, and label them A, B, & C or 1, 2, & 3. Give hints as the students try to guess the card you are describing. Try this by acting out a verb or animal. Use color cards and call out things in the room that are all the same color.
12. Q&A A student chooses a card and places it on the board behind the teacher. In a ‘20 Questions’ fashion, the teacher asks the students questions like, ‘Is it blue?’ or ‘Is it big? This works well with clothing, food and animals. If working with words, ask questions like, “Is there an ‘a’ or a ‘z’ in the word?
13. Stacked Adjectives Start early teaching kids by example about stacked adjectives by combining several sets of different cards. Make phrases like ‘one black cat’ or ‘two happy elephants.’ As kids become familiar with this activity, you can slowly add adjectives, like ‘three angry striped black cats.’ Once kids start learning to put words together to create larger concepts or sentences, keep words and pictures on a board so that students can play and arrange the cards themselves.
14. Alphabetize This seems rudimentary, but it works really well for early finishers, or when you have time after a lesson. Simply have kids put a set of flash cards in alphabetical order. Later on, dictionary practice is a vital part of my older kids’ work. Start getting them ready as soon as they understand the ABCs and order.
15. Write Around The Room Put cards around the room, give students a blank piece of paper on a clipboard, and have them search around the room for cards to write on their boards. Once all the words are ‘found’, students then have to write the words again in alphabetical order. This is a classic ‘Write Around The Room’ activity and good for getting kids out of their seats.
16. Write on it! Laminated flash cards can be used to write directly on the cards with a white board marker. Hand out markers and stacks of cards to practice writing in an unusual way.
17. Notebooks Give students stacks of cards to write the words and draw pictures in their notebooks, creating their own pictionary or to add to their interactive notebooks.
18. Silly Fun, show a picture like ‘apple.’ Then, every sentence that you say has to contain the word apple! You say: “How apple are you?”, the other person says “I’m apple fine.” Small children especially love these kinds of word games.
19. Relay Play a relay game to match the upper and lower ABCs. Place upper ABC cards on the board and students must write the lower case letter below each card. Place images on the board and students must write the words below the cards.
20. Relay II Write 5-6 letters on five large cards in random order. Set the cards in a spaced row with a basket in front of each card. Put stacks of ABC cards in front of two teams of students for a relay race. On start, students must take a card and put it in the basket that matches their card. The first team to finish all their cards wins.
21. Race Place two cards on the floor at the front of the classroom. Divide the class into two teams and have them line up. Give the two students at the front of the lines one eraser each. When the teacher calls out one of the cards, the two students race to put their erasers on the correct card. The first student to do so wins a point for his team. Repeat several times, and then add a third card. Play with three cards for several turns, and then add a fourth card, a fifth card, and so on.
22. Pairs/Concentration This is a game that will work with any type of cards. With two sets of the same cards, lay them face down in a grid. Depending on the age and skill of the students, you can work with 4-12 pairs. Students take turns flipping over two cards looking for a match. The student must say the word before taking the cards. This game can also be used to match two cards, e.g., big and small letter, opposites, or a picture and word cards.
23. Go Fish or Old Maid This is another pairing game where students are looking to match two of the same cards. Use language like, “Do you have a….?”
24. Bean Bag Toss Place cards face down on the floor. Students toss bean bags on a card and must be able to say the word or letter to keep the card. If she can’t say the word, it gets turned over and another student gets a try.
25. Point to it! Place 6-9 cards on the board. Using a pointer or long stick, a student points to each card as it is said by the teacher. This same activity can be played in pairs amongst students. This is also a great warm up to the next game.
26. Slap Game/ Karuta Spread cards out on a table face up. The teacher or designated student says a word and students try to be the first to grab or slap the card. Try this game using fly swatters! To be sure there is no random slapping of cards, make the rule that if students make a mistake, they lose a turn.
27. Fishing! Virtually any (small) flash card can be made into a fishing game. Fix large paperclips to the flash cards and fashion a fishing pole with a magnet tied to the end of a piece of string. This works well in teams as the fishing pole is traded off and students try to ‘catch’ the most cards. Once all the cards are ‘caught,’ they must be able to say all the cards or give them up to the teacher or the other team.
28. Hopscotch Arrange a hopscotch board on the floor. Students throw a beanbag on a card and then must hop to the card and say the word to pick it up.
29. Race Track Set up a large oval shaped ‘race track’ on the floor. Students roll a dice and go round the track with their favorite object just like a regular game board. Insert special cards for losing a turn or getting an extra turn.
30. Crash This is a favorite amongst my students and great for repetition. Place 10-15 cards in a line on the floor. Two students start at either end of the line of cards. On start, the students say the names of the cards as they move toward the each other. Upon meeting, they play ‘rock, paper, scissors.’ The winner stays in place and the loser goes back to his start position and the game begins again. The first student to reach the other student’s start position wins! This game will work equally well with small cards on a table where students point to their card as they say it.
31. Tic-Tac-Toe You can create a tic-tac-toe game putting flash cards in a 3×3 square on the floor. Make two teams each with different colored bean bags, cards or other type of marker. On ‘Start,’ students race to win the game by getting three in a row.
32. Bingo If you have a card set with at least 25 cards, arrange the cards in a 5×5 Bingo card. As cards are pulled from a hat or basket, students place a marker on their cards. Five in a row wins. This will work with even two students. It’s fun on the floor with big cards or on a table with smaller cards.
33. Draw it! Divide the class into two teams. One student from team A comes to the board, picks a word flashcard, and draws the image on the board. The team has 30 seconds to guess the picture. If they can name it, they get a point. At the end, the team with the most points wins.
34. May I? Have one student stand across the room while another student holds up flash cards. Each time the student says the correct word or letter, she gets to take one step or a hop toward the other student, but only after asking, “May I?” When the student gets close enough to touch the other student, the game is over. This is an excellent game for ‘this’ and ‘that’ practice.
35. Roll the Dice! Choose six picture cards you would like to introduce and place them on the board. Give each card a number from 1-6. Divide the class into two teams. Have one student roll a large dice. The first student to say the name of the vocabulary card with the same number as the dice wins a point for her team. If nobody knows the vocabulary word, introduce it and have the students repeat it. They’ll try hard to remember so they can answer it correctly the next time. Play until one team reaches a set number of points.
36. HangMan Spread cards with words or pictures on the floor. Play hangman with one of the words. Be careful that all of the words have the same number of letters! Children ask the question, “Is there a ‘b’?” or “Is there an ‘f’?” If the image of ‘hangman’ is a bit too brutal, use simple lines to draw a house, an animal, or other simple image.
37. Board Games If you regularly play board games in class, simply put a stack of flash cards next to the board. Before taking a turn, the student must choose a card and correctly say the word before taking her turn.
38. Musical Chairs Fix cards to chairs and then play musical chairs! Children must be able to say the card or they give up their chair! Remember, the cards don’t have to be the primary part of the game!
39. Touch! This is another basic game, but it works well. Place cards around the room. As the teacher says the card names, students go to that card. I use this often with color flash cards! As the kids get older, I put place name cards like ‘post office’ and ‘supermarket’ around the room and send students with a variety of ‘Go to the…’ commands.
40. Four Corners Place one flash card in each corner of the room. One student is ‘it,’ closes her eyes and counts to ten as the rest of the students go to any of the four corners. At the count of 10, the person who is it says one of the words in the four corners. The students in that corner must sit down. Play until there is only one student left. The last student then becomes ‘it’ and the game begins again.
41. Blind Man Divide students into two groups and prepare two sets of the same cards. Hand out the cards to each group, one student taking one card. Blindfold one set of students. The non-blindfolded students stand in a well-spaced line and begin the game by calling out the name of their card. At first, nobody knows who has the same cards. Students can only RESPOND if they hear the name of their card, and only by saying the name of the card in a back and forth fashion. The winner is the first pair to touch.
42. This classic game is great for practicing grammar structures, vocabulary or topics. Put students in pairs or small groups. Display a copy of a text or topic you want your students to revise on the wall at one end of the classroom or outside the classroom if you have the space. One student from the group has to run up to the text and read and memorize a sentence and then return to their group and tell the others what he/she read. Then the next student goes and reads the next line. Students continue until the text is completed. Then, groups swap their dictations and check how many errors have been made.
So that’s the whole list! Help me add to it by responding below. As always, best of luck in your classes!
Think UNO is just a quiet game of number and color matching? Think again!
UNO is a great game for getting your students speaking! I use it to get my students to practice all of the following language:
- This is a…
- That is a …
- These are …
- Those are…
- What is this?
- What is that?
- What are these?
- What are those?
Here is an example of how I use it in a class where students are learning to use the basic sentence structure, “This is a …”:
Deal out seven cards to each student and play the game as usual, only students must say what they are laying down. For example, if a student is going to lay down a yellow 2, she must say, “This is a Yellow 2.” The play then goes to the next student. Let’s say he lays down a Green 2. He must say, “This is a Green 2.” Play the game in this fashion until one of the students lays down all of the cards in her hand and wins.
The special cards in the deck are as follows:
- This is a Wild Draw 4
- This is a Wild card
- This is a Green Draw 2
- This is a Red Skip
- This is a Blue Reverse
When the students start contrasting ‘this’ and ‘that’, bring that to the game. Now, students must say what the previous student laid down before saying what they are about to lay down: “That is a Yellow 2. This is a Blue Skip.”
As the students progress further, the expectations for play expand as well. For example, when the students are learning plurals, and the contrasting words ‘these’ and ‘those’, support this by incorporating them into the game. When a student has two or more of the same card in his hand, he can now lay them all down at once, saying, “These are Red 7’s”. The next student must then say, “Those are Red 7’s before saying what he is about to lay down. In this game now, students are contrasting ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘these’, and ‘those’.
Have your students learned ‘not’? Throw it in! Now when a student lays down a card, she must first say what it is not, and then what it is: “This is not a Green 9. This is a Blue 4.” And for added fun, the students can be allowed to say anything that their card is not: “This is not a gorilla! This is a Blue 4.”
And of course, you play the game in which students ask questions too! In this case, the student would lay her card down and ask the next student, “What is this?” The next student must answer, “That is a Green 8,” before laying down her own card and asking the next student the appropriate question.
As you can see, there are a lot of options for using UNO to support the language you are teaching. Give it a try, and let us know how it goes, and how you might have used it differently! Or maybe you have another card game that you like to use to get your students talking. Please let us know. We’d love to hear about it!
Next to looking at maps, I love looking at flags! International flags display many of the best devices and some of the worst transgressions of flag protocols with some surprising genius in the mix! U.S. state flags are mostly dreary, but a few stand out with pretty stunning designs. What makes for a quality flag design and why do some fail so badly?
This is one of my favorite TED talks. Roman Mars is obsessed with flags; a true vexillologist. He clues you in to the most sublime and some of the worst crimes in flag design.
With Flag Day coming in June (6/14), I put together a lesson in flag design. From hoist to fly, canton to saltires, the vocabulary of a vexillologist illustrates the construct and the details of flag design. See why New Zealanders are so vexed about their own flag or which country’s flag has three flags all combined into one! Do you know which canton is the upper hoist side? This lesson ‘splains it all! Check out the preview here. Then download the lesson!
Time for you to be the judge. Does your state or country have a flag worth sending up the pole or does the sight of it flapping overhead ruin your day? Download this file so that the next time you’re looking at a flag waving in the wind you can decide for yourself if it is a rocking design or something best forgotten. And better yet, wake up the budding vexillologists in your classroom and give them a Flag Day they’ll never forget!
If you’re interested in more flag fun, check out all the flag games and pennants in Donald’s English Classroom!
Happy Flag Day!
One of the schools I taught at in Japan was an intensive academic prep program for students getting ready to study in universities abroad.
In the speaking and listening courses, my job was to get the students talking as much as possible, to work on group tasks, and give presentations. One of the best tools I had for this was our textbook, Trends, Business and Culture Reports, as it allowed me to have the students run their own lessons. Here is an example of how I would do it (or rather, how the students would do it) using the reading and exercise pages The Oasis of the Seas.
The day before class I would choose one student to be the “Teacher,” and give him or her the first page of The Oasis of the Seas. The student was to read the story and prepare to lead the class through the reading and exercises on the page.
Before class the next day, the “Teacher” was to write the questions from the Discussion Questions section on the whiteboard.
He or she would then greet the students and make small chit-chat with them for a minute or two, asking them how their evening was the night before, etc. The teacher would then introduce the topic for the day – Traveling – and explain that they were to start by discussing the questions on the board. He or she would then read each question in turn, and ask the students if they have any questions about them. If yes, the teacher would answer the questions, and then say, “Okay, let’s go, up, up, up!”, to which the students would stand up, get into pairs, and discuss the questions, the teacher changing the pairs every 10 minutes for a total of 30 minutes discussion time.
The teacher would then have the students sit down and take out a notebook and pen for dictation. He or she would then ask the students to write the questions as he or she spoke them from the Comprehension Questions section. The students could ask the teacher to repeat the questions as necessary until they had all of the questions written in their notebooks.
Then, the teacher would explain that he or she was going to read twice the story called The Oasis of the Seas, and that they should listen and take notes on a new page in their notebooks. The teacher would then read the story twice while the students listened and took notes. When finished, the teacher would ask the students to get into pairs and work to answer the questions from their notes, stressing that the answers must be complete sentences.
When the students were finished, the teacher would ask the pairs in turn to read and answer the questions. The teacher would not let on whether the answers were correct or not, but respond with, “I see,” or “Really?” or “Okay, interesting.” Then, the teacher would hand out the two pages of The Oasis of the Seas, and ask the students to check their own answers with the reading. Once this was finished and the questions gone over again to make sure of the answers, the teacher would then ask the students to practice the reading aloud in pairs, working on fluency and pronunciation.
By this time, at least half of the 90-minute class period would be finished, and I would then take over, thanking the “Teacher” for his or her work.
I would then move the students through the rest of the exercises in The Oasis of the Seas and end with setting up the Presentation Task section, giving them one week to research one of the famous buildings listed in the section, or one of their own liking (no two students could do the same building), and prepare to give a presentation to the class, covering the information asked for, and other information they think is interesting.
If you try this in class, let us know how your students responded. We’d love to hear from you!
Health and medicine are major topics in our social and media discussions. How well your students understand the news articles and conversations happening around them determines the extent to which they can make informed decisions about their well-being.
Of course most beginner-intermediate ESL students have learned about the body, and how to talk about simple ailments, but Selling Wellness, from Trends, Book 2, challenges students to take their skills in reading, listening, and discussion around health and medicine to the next level. Starting off with a short paragraph on prescription drug sales in the United States, Selling Wellness engages solid intermediate-level students with reading and discussion exercises that center on health and exercise, taking medicine, pharmaceutical advertising, and the growing epidemic of pharmaceutical drug abuse and unintentional deaths by overdose.
Selling Wellness also includes a simple review of body part vocabulary, commonly-used idioms dealing with illness, and a survey exercise that can be used either in-class, or as a homework project.
The way I run this lesson…
I start off with writing the questions from the Discussion Questions section on the board. Students stand and discuss the questions in pairs, changing partners every five or ten minutes.
Next, I tell students to take out a notebook and prepare to write the questions from the Comprehension Questions section. I then dictate the questions, which the students write in their notebooks.
After this, the students turn to a new page in their notebooks. I then read the report twice, and the students take notes. Then, students pair up and work out the answers to the Comprehensions Questions.
Finally, I hand out the two pages of Selling Wellness to the students, and the students work to check the answers to their questions, and practice reading the paragraph for themselves out loud.
From here I have the students drill each other using the Selling Wellness Drill section. With this, students change pairs, with one student turning his or her paper over, and the other student asking the questions. The partner listens closely to each question and gives a full answer. For example, if the question is, “Are Americans taking less medicine?”, the student should answer, “No, Americans are not taking less medicine. They are taking more medicine.” This is a great listening-and-response drill, and it further reviews the information given in the reading.
Next I have the students work out the Identification: Body Parts section, and then move on to the Discussion Exercise 1 section. For this discussion section, I give the students five or ten minutes to write out their ideas on their own, and then I put them in small groups for discussion.
Finally, depending on the amount of time left in class, I either set the students off to survey each other using the Survey Exercise section, or I assign the Survey Exercise as homework, giving them parameters on how many people they must ask, etc.
Another option for teaching this lesson would be to make it even more student-centered by having the students themselves run the class! See my blog entry titled, The Oasis of The Seas.
Please share your ideas…
Or maybe you have your own ideas on how to run this lesson. Please share your ideas! I would love to learn about any other ways you get your students talking and learning about health and fitness.
On the lookout for games…
In my kids classes I am always looking for ways to anchor the question and answer dialogues they are learning with ‘real world’ application. Of course, there’s only so much that the ‘real world’ actually enters the classroom to allow repeated practice of such basic dialogues as What’s your name?, How old are you?, Where do you live?, Do you like…?. Do you have…?, What’s this?, and What’s that? So I’m always on the lookout for games that can serve this purpose. Swimming with Sharks is one that I regularly use, and that the students really love to play.
Swimming With Sharks is a game that is introduced in Phonics & Spelling, Book 2, and is designed to get the students to practice reading and speaking the three-letter words they are learning. The game is very simple. Students place a game piece (an erasure, or some other small personal object) on Start. Then, each student takes turns rolling a die and moving their game piece that many places on the board. They have to then say the word they land on out loud. If they land on “net”, they can climb over the net to the next space, thereby getting further along on the board to the goal of reaching the safe space of the ship. If they land on “red”, they must go back to the previous “red”, or back to start. And if they land on the “shark’s nose”, they must go back to start.
To use the same game to practice dialogues, I use a separate Swimming With Sharks game board that has blank spaces along the board instead of words. When students land on a blank space, they must ask another player a question. If the student cannot think of a question to ask, he or she must go back the same number rolled on the die. Likewise, if the student who is asked cannot answer the question, he or she must move their game piece back that many spots on the board. The same rules apply for landing on “net”, the color “red,” and “shark’s nose” as in the game in Phonics & Spelling, Book 2.
What games do you use to get your kids talking?
This “blank” version of Swimming With Sharks can be used with any set of questions-and-answer dialogues you want your students to practice. Download it! It’s on us. Let us know what games you use to get your students talking!
If you like to play board games in your classes, take a look at this Blank Game Boards Bundle from Donald’s English Classroom. It includes Swimming With Sharks and a whole lot more!
I remember the first time I introduced my students to a story from Stories for Young Readers, Book 1. It was a private class of 6 fourth graders that I had been teaching once a week for about three years. I had followed the Phonics & Spelling series from ABC & Phonics, Book 1, and they were now starting Phonics & Spelling, Book 4. I decided to introduce the story, Valentine, from Stories for Young Readers, to see how they would respond.
I handed out the first page, which includes a picture of Valentine and her sister, and the passage about them. Before I said anything, I just let the students look at the page. For a few moments they talked amongst themselves about the picture, smiling and wondering what it was all about. And then naturally, knowing that the words above would tell them about the image below, they moved to the passage and started reading!
It was slow for them, yes, but they were doing it, saying with confidence the words they knew (which were most of them), and working out those that were new. I simply walked around helping as necessary.
I asked for volunteers and six hands shot into the air!
After they had worked on the passage for a while, I told them to follow the words on the page as I read it. I read it twice, the second time a little faster than the first. I then asked for volunteers to read, and six hands shot into the air! They all took turns reading the passage, and I could see that they were all so proud of themselves!
I then handed out the second page, with the questions and puzzle. Each student got a chance to read one of the questions, and everyone would work out the answer together, and then write it on the line provided. Once this was finished the students dived into the puzzle, racing to see who could finish it first, and yet helping each other as they went.
From that introduction I knew I had the perfect supportive material for what the students were learning in the Phonics & Spelling series. Every story sparked interest, and engaged the students with exercises that were useful and fun!
Because I’ve mentioned the Japanese kindergarten where I taught in several posts already, I think it is time to do a little explaining. This will be helpful in understanding the environment I was teaching in and, if you are planning to teach in Japan, the kind of classes you may be expected to teach.
First, a Japanese kindergarten is not connected to the public school system. Kindergartens are often one of several types; privately owned, affiliated with a local temple (or church), affiliated with a university system (where kids are on an educational track), or city/prefecture owned facilities. Kindergartens must follow guidelines outlined by the Ministry of Education whereas daycare centers offer no academic curriculum and simply provide baby-sitting services.
I taught at a family-owned, private kindergarten on the outskirts of Omiya City in Saitama Prefecture. It held close association to the elementary schools of the city, the Omiya City Hall, as well as various civic organizations. The kindergarten was seen as a cultural and educational hub for young families and held many long-term business alliances that went back to the post-war era.
Japanese kindergartens would probably remind most westerners of daycare centers, if for any reason, the population size. The average kindergarten is a three-year program where students enter at three years old and graduate at six years old. At the kindergarten where I taught, there were between 275 and 300 students enrolled with about 100 students in each of three levels. (Those numbers are quickly going down with the decrease in the population.)
Besides the usual Japanese activities like sports events, holiday shows, entrance and graduation ceremonies, competing kindergartens offer a variety of extra-curricular programs that can include music classes, art classes, English classes, swimming and sports clubs, field trips, and even overseas travel experiences. Imagine a summer camp that lasts an entire year and you get an idea of the kind of hectic schedule these institutions are expected to maintain.
I was the director and only teacher in the English program. My classes started at 9:00 in the morning and ended at 8 or 9:00 at night. I taught all of the kids at the kindergarten in rotating morning classes that ranged in size from 30-60 students. I also taught extra-curricular classes in the afternoon to not only the kindergarten students, but elementary school students who graduated from the kindergarten as well . On average, I taught 250 kids per week in the afternoon/evening classes with about 15 students per one-hour class. My day started with three year olds and ended with twelve year olds. My Japanese language ability was more about crowd control but was absolutely required as nobody, and I mean NOBODY, spoke English. Ever.
I worked at the kindergarten for 16 years, but really, I think I had one year of experience that was repeated 16 times. Though I got better at it, I had no idea what I was getting into when I started. That first year, nobody explained any of it to me, if for any reason, it was simply assumed I already knew – just like we in the U.S. have a preset idea of what a kindergarten is. What’s to explain?
I’ll talk more about teaching at the kindergarten. It was an amazing experience that changed my outlook on Japan, my outlook on my own American-ness, and how I approach teaching.
OK. Now you know.