Have you ever seen those lists that go something like “You know you’re a teacher when…”?
My personal version is “You know you’re a languages teacher when you can think of a way to turn any kids’ game into a vocab or grammar game.” Scrabble is a no-brainer and Simon Says and What’s the time Mr Wolf? are part of the core repertoire. But this habit, which makes my kids and husband roll their eyes, goes further. A year or so ago my then 4 year old borrowed the “Cat in the Hat” board game from our local library. Two turns in I had the epiphany that I could adapt it for use with beginning students of Japanese. Instead of the English alphabet, the Hiragana script became the key learning. And yes, I got really excited by the idea… That’s probably the real reason for the eye rolling!
This evening it happened again… I was watching from the sidelines of his Aus Kick session, a beginning into the skills and rules of Australian Rules Football. Towards the end of the session the motley crew of 5-8 year olds was divided into 4 teams. Each team went to their corner of the allocated playing space. In the middle was a huge tub of footballs. They were to “rob the nest”… One person at a time from each time had to run to the middle and take a single ball back to their team as quickly as possible. When they got back, the next person ran and so on. When there were no balls remaining in the middle, they had to run to another group’s pile and “rob the nest”. When the coach called out to stop, whichever team had the most balls was declared the winner.
Needless to say, my language teaching brain started to tick over, “How can I use this? I reckon it could work…” The first question was vocabulary, script or grammar. So tomorrow I’m going to start with vocabulary for a Year 9 class. Four vocabulary categories, 6 words in each, a word per card. The cards are in a pot in the centre of the room. The aim of the game is to be the first team to get a full category set, firstly running to the middle, then robbing from other groups. They love anything competitive, they’ll need to be fast and thinking on their feet. I won’t tell them category headings, they’ll need to think through their words… Will it work?
To be continued…
Where would we be without the post-it note? Since reading a number of blog posts by other teachers about how they use these simple little gems in their lessons, I too have been using them much more often. Student feedback at the end of lessons stuck on green or red ‘boards’ on their way out the door; jotting down a word they find hard to remember then moving around the room at the start of the next lesson finding someone with a good strategy for remembering it; the Particles of Japanese sentence structure easily moved around in structures.
This week in a moment of panic that I didn’t have the questions ready for a game, what should come to the rescue? Post-it notes! My Year 9 classes are your typical bunch of chatty, energetic, competitive 14 and 15 year olds. They enjoy team games and request them, even without the presence of a prize, except of course team pride or being first out at lunch time. With the convenience of being ready to use, the pre made PowerPoint game templates like Align the Stars or The Big Wheel are saved to the network and ready to go in an instant. But when you look at your lesson notes part way through class and realise you didn’t get around to writing up the list of questions… Panic stations… Deep breath, come up with plan B…
2 post-it notes per student, the instruction that students were to each write 2 questions about anything we’ve covered so far this term led to a perfect opportunity for revision that didn’t seem like hard work. Heads were quickly down, teams whispering excitedly as they realised that writing a harder question could give them an edge in the game if they could answer it and other teams couldn’t. Lots of looking back through notes, asking could they use things we learned last term, some writing things they were having trouble remembering, seeing it again in their notes while doing so, processing it as they thought about how to word their question, hearing it again as someone else answered it. Creating all the questions for the game proved to be a learning experience in and of itself. When I had all the post-it notes back I quickly numbered them ready for the game and flicked through as numbers were called in the game itself.
Come the second Year 9 group, I was once more minus questions, but this time by very deliberate choice. I didn’t reuse the first group’s questions either! So here’s a Friday ‘cheers’ to the post-it note!