Of course, flashcards and drilling are not terrible things, and used in moderation, can be a useful way to introduce and practice vocabulary. With a school like mine, where students come for, at most, one to two hours a week, flashcards have become integral to the reviewing process. However, it is essential to not to let the fact that they are “convenient” lead to overuse. Why? Young learners crave diversity. They want to move, and to take part in activities that engage every sense possible. They want to play!
I began brainstorming ways to make the classes more entertaining for them. After all, what isn’t fun for me isn’t fun for them. My school is quite small, so anything that I wanted would need to be either paid out of my own pocket or handmade. Eventually, I settled for handmade. The school had lots of craft supplies, as well as a laminator. Also, since I live in
One of my first projects for the kids was to build a crepe shop out of cardboard and felt. I simply covered an old cardboard box with colorful paper and made a felt burner, with a set of felt yellow “crepes” and laminated slices of fruit for the children to build crepes “to order.” This worked out surprisingly well, and the kids adored it. The situational vocabulary and grammar was simple enough that I could explain it as they played.
This time, the grammar focus of the activity was “Do you want....?” The chef would ask “Do you want tomatoes?” and the customer would reply “Yes, please.” or “No, thank you.” If they said yes, the chef then asked “How many?” The children have mastered this grammar far more quickly than they would have through flashcards! I consistently have my kids running up to me at the beginning of class saying “I want to play burger shop!”
I made a felt board with felt face pieces so children could practice all of the different emotions they were supposed to learn. I would have the children start with a blank face, and instruct them to make “happy” or “sad” or “scared." The children when then take variously shaped mouths, noses, eyes, ears and eyebrows to make that emotion. Naturally, their favorite part was when I would tell them to make “silly!” You’ll get all kinds of ridiculous faces that way. If felt is too hard to come by, you could also laminate pieces of a face and have the kids shuffle the pieces around a larger blank head to make the emotions you call out.
I even created brand new board games to help the children learn new vocabulary. Below is an example of one of them, Little Red Riding Hood, with one of the vocabulary items from the story in each space. The children roll a die, and rather than count the spaces, say the vocabulary on the space before proceeding (I don’t suggest having them say the vocabulary as they go as they will lose count of the spaces they are allowed to move.) If they land on a flower space, they lose a turn and take one of the laminated flowers from the board, but, if they land on the wolf and have at least one flower, they’re safe. If they don’t have any flowers, they must return all the way back to the woodcutter space (about a third of the way from the beginning of the path), as he was the one that saved Little Red Riding Hood in the story. The children love this and frequently request to play it again and again. Unfortunately, I did have to use some L1 in a few classes to have them understand the rules- but if you have a native speaker teaching assistant or a particularly bright student, it will be easier to explain the rules. One of our other kindergarten teachers had a student’s mother explain the game.
There are games that require no props, though props always help, as your students are more likely to remember something when they have held it than through a chant or even a song. The key lies in the teacher’s own imagination and willingness to commit the time. You need not be a great artist- clip art and a printer will do. Simply remember back to your childhood days- what do you remember about your earliest school experience? What did you remember as fun or boring? What did you wish you could have had, or made for yourself, back then? Then, remember that your own children are in a different generation, a different generation with new interests and emotional triggers, and work with that, to engage them in a way they can enjoy and use- in play. If you are feeling short on ideas, visit online forums for help, or browse your local toy store to brainstorm on how you can create something similar for your classes. All of your efforts will pay off- your children will come into your class ready to play… and by play, I mean learn.