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Exploiting hand-held flashcards with beginners

Here is a draft extract from a new book I'm working on. An unusual feature of the book will be its focus on the detailed nuts and bolts of lessons.



Suppose that your aim is to introduce the vocabulary associated with places around town with beginners. Your target vocabulary might be 12 items in the first lesson – you can adapt this number depending on the class’s ability: swimming pool, supermarket, town hall, park, car park, cinema, museum, theatre, bank, restaurant, café, market. I’ll lay out one approach below.
For each of the vocab items you have a large, clear hand-held flashcard with the word spelt out at the bottom so that students can immediately associate the picture with the sound and the spelling of the word. You separate out the items by gender, teaching items of the same gender together. Here’s a suggested teaching sequence with commentary. Target language is italicised.

Teacher
Student(s)
Commentary
Here is the cinema.
Here is the park.
Here is the market,
etc – all 12 items.

Do this twice.


Students just listen as you just say each word. Students need time to just hear and take in the new sounds. No need to force any repetition.
The cinema.
The park.
The market,
etc – all 12 items.
The cinema (x2).
The park (x2).
The market (x2).
Group repetition, focusing on accurate pronunciation, exaggerating vowel and consonant sounds a little. No need to rush. You could vary the repetition style with whispering.
What’s this? It’s the cinema (x2).

Allow students to hear the question and the answer.
What’s this? (show a card) (x12).
(Hands up) It’s the cinema, etc.
Elicit answers from volunteers with hands up. Get other individuals to repeat the correct answer. Get the whole class to repeat correct answers.
Either/or questions,
e.g. Is this the cinema or the market?
It’s the cinema.
You can create a comic effect by stressing the right answer in each pair or by refusing to accept their option, e.g. No, it’s not the cinema!
Hide all the cards.
Ask in English how many the class can remember.

Elicit suggestions with hands up – try to get all 12 items.
Ask in English who can list all 12 on their own.
The cinema, the park, the café etc.
You can prompt the student by giving the first sound or syllable of a word. If a student is struggling encourage others to help out.
Play ‘hide the flashcard’. Tell the class they have to guess the hidden card.
Hands up. Students make guesses.
You can add comic effect by pretending with a facial expression that they have got the answer right, then say no!

By this stage the students have heard each item numerous times, you’ve been speaking almost entirely in the TL and every student has uttered the words repeatedly, either individually or with the whole class. There’s been some fun and amusement along the way. The class has heard accurate and clear models of each word. A sequence such as the above would take at most 15 minutes, at which time a release of tension or change of direction is called for. You could have five minutes of quiet time, getting students to copy down the words with their definite articles in their books. You may have prepared a simple set of the similar pictures for students to copy the words next to.
In the following lesson you could practise a pared-down version of the above sequence, allowing students to show off what they’ve remembered. To add interest you could vary the interactions a little, e.g. you could hide a card and offer students a choice of three, thus speeding up the process while allowing them to hear the words again. You could then do a moving around task where you pin on the walls around the class numbered pictures, supply students with a written, lettered list of the items. To a time limit students have to move around and find which letters match each numbers.
Once you feel the students are ready to move on, you can then add a little more challenge by introducing the phrase there is (i.e. in my town there is a cinema).

Teacher
Student(s)
Commentary
You list a few items (maybe invented) of places in your town.
In my town there is a cinema
In my town there is a swimming pool, etc.

Students listen.
Students listen in silence, taking in the new sounds for “in my town” and “there is”. Stress the difference in sounds between the different indefinite articles.

Note that students will now be hearing the indefinite article, not the definite article they heard previously. This is fine, since at this stage they will be starting to work out the difference between definite and indefinite articles.
You ask What’s in your town? You can try this in TL, hoping students get the idea, or briefly say it in English first.
A cinema.
A park etc.
If there are errors of pronunciation or gender you can recast responses with the correct gender, making little fuss. The more you repeat them the more students will use the right gender instinctively. Compare with how toddlers pick up the gender of their first language.
Is there a cinema?
Is there a restaurant? etc.
Yes/No.
Ask yes/no questions to allow students to hear the items again. At any point you can always check understanding by asking students to translate a simple TL or English statement. You have to keep everyone on board.
What’s in your town?
There is…
Now try to elicit longer answers, including more than one item. Help the process along by offering the first sounds to get students going, e.g. there is…

Who can list five things in their town?
Hands up – there is
Offer prompts if needed, then ask if anyone can do more than five, more than six etc.

At this point a transition might make sense and it would be logical to display a brief description of a town on the board, including the items you have practised and a few more, preferably cognates. You could read aloud the description. Then get the whole group to repeat a few words at a time after you. You could then put the students into pairs and tell them to read aloud the paragraph to their partner, encouraging partners to offer positive feedback on performance. Then give the opportunity for a few individual volunteers to perform their reading aloud in front of the class.            

I’ll go no further with this for now, but you can imagine that a range of further reading and writing tasks could ensue, including ones that get a bit closer to the way the language is used in real life situations. The point has been to demonstrate how you can introduce and practise items repeatedly, with little pain, almost all in TL. Outstanding teachers are thorough about this type of activity, making it a positive and fun experience while making the most out of TL input and practice activities.

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