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Classroom Activities

English Teaching Materials, Games and Activities

May 04, 2014

Think Read Write

Finally, a copy of Think Read Write by Eric Kane and Christine Graf is in my hands and upon a quick look I like what I see.

Looking at the dictionary section in the back of the book, I see just a few words which I don't usually cover, those being: exit (I will adapt my pronunciation), itchy, stinky, I do "smelly", and t-rex (a good one), there are some others which I normally work with somewhat later but that's no problem.

I'm looking at this cold, not having read the introduction, listened to the CD or to one of Eric's presentations. Oh! The reason I'm using this book is that I have some students who have studied NFO 1 already and they are moving into a class, at their parents request, with some brand new students; we'll be using TRW and BAH here. I have another class where some of the students just haven't got it yet, though they have completed NFO 1 units 1-10. I'll be using TRW, for review, alongside BAH and NFO 1 (units 11-15).

Unit 1 introduces the 5 short vowels, the same as NFO and BAH. I would have been disappointed if the book were in alphabetical order as with some popular texts, so in this sense it is similar to NFO. It starts off with a track game which covers all the vocabulary (pictures) in unit 1, with the words printed below. I'm supposing that this is for pre-teaching the vocabulary, if you are like me and prefer to introduce the vocabulary throughout the unit, then you can save this page for later.


The initial and medial vowel sounds are covered from the very beginning and when applicable the initial and final consonant sounds as well as the double consonant sounds/spelling. There are 7 activities to each single letter sound and a review section to each unit and there are over 90 full color A4 sized pages.

The 7 activities in unit 1
1. The vocabulary for this unit is introduced with "What is it?" and 4 pictures. Phonics purists may not like the fact that each picture is accompanied by a word but the focus is definitely on the target sound/letter. The graphics are all colorful, original and child friendly and having just 4 (common) words to each single letter sound makes this, for me, a great supplementary text as the number of additional words students have to learn will be minimal. For the novice teacher some of the these "What is it?" questions may be problematic, though perfectly acceptable to the native speaker. E.g., "What is it?" "Itchy" or "It's an itchy boy." or "It's a picture of an itchy boy." and so on.

2. /a/ /a/ apple, /a/ /a/ ant, /a/ /a/ cat. "Point and read" or point and chant. This reminded me of the speeds sound chart from a long time past, which I use in a similar manner. Very easy to have students repeat after you, after each other or recite in unison.

3. "Point. Say. Circle" Identify each picture and possibly word and circle the target letter.

4. "Trace the red (letter).) With your finger. The start point and direction of the stroke is clearly marked. E.g., the letter 'a' has a start point set at 2 o'clock. Great, because many students feel 12 o'clock is a good start point. Why??

5. "Write and say." Students trace over or write the target letter (lower case) as they recite the sounds. Just two lines but there is more practice in the review pages at the end of each unit, still you'll need to have students do some extra work in their notebooks or you can use worksheets or other workbooks for this. I have never had much success at getting them to "write and say", some enjoy it but often they end up writing in silence (What are they thinking?).

6. "Write (the target letter)". Not challenging at this stage just writing the target sound to complete each word. I'm okay with it but I wouldn't focus on the word as I am teaching phonics not sight reading. The review section does make it more challenging in that the students have to choose the correct vowel from 5.

7. "Write big (letter)." Same a 5 except we use the upper case letters. Again good clear stroke order.

There is a font bar at the bottom of each target page with the target letter printed in different fonts. Very useful as we need to recognize so many different fonts these days.


There is built in review throughout the book so students should come away with all or at least most of the vocabulary. Whenever a student has to correct a mistake or fill in a piece of missing information, she can do so using the phonics she has learned in the book itself. I like that double consonants (bb, ck, dd etc.) are taken care of, I have posters,

found on BAH 3 CD and Switchit games
that cover these and are available from the author, but most books barely touch them. I also like the fact that most students will understand what is going on in the book without too much input from the teacher and they should be able to do most of the review activities independently and as homework if one prefers, though best do one or two units in class especially with the younger ones.

Though colorful, a new color for each unit, the book is easy on the eyes; I can't take glossy pages myself. Font size in the activity sections is not too big, as we often find in books for beginners. Young children generally have good eyesight and small hands so stubby pencils and a huge tracing font is not the best way to go. I should take a look at the rest of the book and before starting, but I'm eager and almost ready to go.

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April 30, 2014


What do native speakers of English know about pronouns? Very little I suspect and in reality I'm pretty much the same except that I have to teach Japanese students how and when to use them and all done in English.

Subject, object, personal, possessive, relative, reflexive, demonstrative etc., etc. You just can't give a child a list of these and expect him to learn and understand "Girls (and boys) Just Gotta Have fun" and that's not fun, so where to start? Well I'm going to start with Subject Pronouns as that's our first lesson in Doors to Grammar. Now let me be straight with you, I've only ever used this book with an adult student who really liked it and really needed it, but after Golden Week I will be using DTG 1 with a small group of 1st grade JHS students and some of the activities I will be using with younger children. What do I want them to know and understand? Well this much at least:


I like simple and David Paul's song "I'm a cow" found on page 8 of NFO 2 (I've spoken about this song before) is excellent for having children drill their pronouns. The song goes well with "I'm a/an..." and "You're a/an..." using animal sounds and with a little imagination you can have fun using all the "subject pronouns" with this song. I have a set of animals sounds cards, for use with this song, which can be found on BAH 4 CD, they are similar to these except the sounds are to be printed on the backs.


Don't play the following game (scroll down to animal track game) if you want a quiet lesson because students go wild with it (in English). Here is another similar game board I made recently.


What about older children and low level adults? I usually start off simple as one can always speed up the pace or make something more difficult, but the reverse is more challenging for the teacher. I use the following cards as conversation starters and for pronoun practice, though some students get stuck on "What do you do?", which is the equivalent of "What's your job?", which makes more sense grammatically. "Where are you from?" "I'm from Japan." "Where's that?" "Er..."


I produced similar cards for the other subject pronouns and made them into a game "Pronoun Switchit" for practicing Subject Pronouns in a meaningful and "fun" way,


which is available in Japan from myself. Please email
for orders and details. I also use some worksheets from ESLPrintables but these are only available to contributing members. I want to contribute some Subject Pronoun worksheets of my own soon.

Next time I plan to write about the dreaded 'be verb', which so confuses Japanese students, so much so that it is still taught in university classes! Till then. Enjoy your teaching.

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April 04, 2014

Opening Doors

It's been a long time since I've written anything here. I've been thinking about coming back for quite some time and then my login page was gone, wiped out, but it was only renewed and I didn't have the link till now.

Creativity is somewhat of a mystery but it's an innate gift which we all have, though it seems to be more accessible to some individuals than to others, as for myself, it comes and goes, definitely goes in the summer when it's too hot to think. Still, it remains a mystery as to where the next spark that will ignite that fire within is coming from. Certainly I got a whole lot of ideas from using New Finding Out by David Paul but in the end I was flogging a dead horse and coming up blank. Although I'm still happily using Finding Out in the classroom, I'm no longer using it for opening doors in those deep recesses of my mind.

One never knows what will inspire your next big idea, my own recent inspiration came by accident when my good friend Judith Laurel-Nishikawa was selling some teaching materials in support of the victims of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines and I chose to buy some books, which I had never heard of before, from her. I bought some copies of Doors to Grammar published by McGraw-Hill Education. I had always liked this publisher's materials but, having only a small school myself, I didn't have much opportunity for using their textbooks.


Shocking! A grammar book which I actually like. I have had many grammar books on my bookshelves, but usually they have gathered dust until I've given them away or throw them away. I couldn't say it was a weak point for me, rather, in spite of me being an English teacher, it just wasn't part of my life and I found it somewhat, dare I say, boring. Anyway, I plan to start writing in this column again and I want to share with you some of the activities and materials which I have been inspired to create by using Doors to Grammar in the classroom. And I hope that by doing so you too will have some doors opened for you.

For teachers in Japan this coming week is the busiest of the year and totally confusing because it's the start of the new school year, but surviving that we can soon get back to our regular rhythm and it's then that I will start writing in this column again.

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July 21, 2011

Heads and Tails: Hungry Dog

Hello. I was asked recently by Chris Sharp to describe one of the card games found on my new digital data CD-ROM BAH 4, which is available through ELTbooks. The name of the game is "Heads and Tails" (Hungry Dog). I first perceived the game during a discussion on about a "Sound Dominoes" card game produced by Peter Warner, whilst looking at a game on the Genki English website called "shiritori", which is a popular game in Japan.
There are three different sets of cards on the disk, the red, the yellow and the green set and the cards can be used to play two different games. In one game we match the tail of the dog to the nose of a dog by matching the final sound of a word with the initial sound of a word to form a closed loop with the cards. Here's an example of a completed loop using the yellow cards: crab-bed-dog-golf-fish-ship-pen-nut-tennis-snail-lunch-chick and back to crab to complete the loop. No matter which card is played first the loop will always be closed successfully.

Here is a sample from the yellow set:

It's more challenging to move from head to tail as the Japanese game, shiritori, moves from tail to head.
To play the "Hungry Dog" version, place the picture of the hungry dog, with its bowl of food, at the finish. If possible have three teams playing this game together, the green, the yellow and the red. Scatter each team's cards face up at three different start locations and have them (or yourself) choose a start card and place it with the nose of the dog pointing towards the food, as it is sniffing out the food. Now teams race to match the heads to the tails so that the beginning sound of one word matches the final sound of the following word so we may end up with this line: ship-fish-golf-dog-bed-crab-chick-lunch-snail-tennis-nut-and pen which will take you to the bowl of food; it's challenging to turn these words around in your head. To celebrate, with fun, the winning team gobbles the food and points to the other children shouting "Hungry dog!", which I find far more satisfying (pun intended) than "We won!", which you sometimes hear (not in my class). Then they exchange colours and play again. They always want to play at least three games. If one team is always losing, then the balance of the teams is not good, so the teacher perhaps should have the final say on who is in each team.

Here is the "hungry dog".

If your students are used to playing phonic games or have used the loop cards which are found on the disk, then you probably don't have to give them any instructions or help for the first game, though with this second game they could very well need help. I sometimes race against them, and of course win, without giving them any instructions when we play "Hungry Dog", there always seems to be a perceptive child who works it out without any help and I usually ask that child to keep it a secret as I want the child to think about initial and final sounds of these target words or by himself/herself. Whenever a child doesn't know one of the target words, then they just ask "What is it?"

Here is a sample from the English Land set, which is found on my disk BAH 4:


The example loop card uses vocabulary from English Land by MariNakamura 

If you don't have the disk and want to try out the game (Heads and Tails), then I'm happy to send you one of the colours.
David Lisgo

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June 16, 2011

Let's Take A Walk

It's an awful long time since I wrote anything in this column and for that I apologise. I was so busy renovating my house and then moving into it and into a new schoolroom that almost everything was forgot about. We are now living here.


And teaching here.

'Go for a walk' or 'take a walk'? Well, I'm very comfortable with using either of these phrases in my everyday speech and writing but in the classroom they are different because one is a book and the other is a CD. Perhaps my favourite book for using with young children is "Going for a Walk" by the late Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, which is sadly out of print. It's beautifully illustrated by Robert Knox and the story within it is simple and lovely. Let me quote a little from the book:

"The little girl goes for a walk.
She sees a cow.
The little girl says Hi!
The cow says Moo.
The little girl walks on."

And so the story goes on with her walking past various animals until she meets up with the little boy and off they go to play in a sandbox together. My young students love to shout out "Hi!" together with the girl and of course make all the necessary animal sounds. It's also easy to role play this story by having the children play the various parts, for example one child will play the little girl and she will take a walk around the classroom meeting up with the various animal characters who are now played by other students. It can be freely done or the teacher can use it as a listening exercise so that the child follows the order spoken by the teacher.

A confession. I have no musical ability and find it extremely difficult to keep any kind of rhythm and when I hear a familiar tune I will sing along "It's been a hard day's night..." or "I can't get no, no satisfaction..." and the words of the song fail to materialise, so how could I ever be someone who teaches children's songs and music. Often I would go to meetings and find that I was the only native speaker of English apart from the presenter, all the other participants would be female Japanese teachers of English and certainly they could all hold a tune and all play the piano. I dreaded it when the presenter decided to introduce some kind of chant or song which involved some kind of clapping and slapping of the hands whilst singing at the same time as I would be the only one unable to keep the rhythm going.

Perhaps there are other teachers out there who like myself have been hiding their impediment and avoiding public situations where one has to carry a tune and rhythm. Well, I have to tell you that all is not lost and that a great new resource is now available so "Let's Take A Walk". That is the title is of a new creation is from EFL Learning.

I only got my CD last week and already the class I'm using it with is able to sing along easily with two of the songs. I went to their primary YouTube address and together with my students we watched the "Hello Song" twice and then we sang and danced the song whilst listening to the track on the CD. After class we met with each of parents and gave (they are not so expensive) them a CD and asked that they play it in the car and at home for the children to listen to. For me the beauty of the song is its simplicity and its catchy tune, let me quote it:

Now, it's time to say hello, say hello, say hello.
Now, it's time to say hello.

Hello everyone.

And the second verse...? Well it's exactly the same. Great for me and easy for the kids.

Today, we learned another song and again success, though I must admit I had some difficulty with the clapping. The title of the song is "0 5 10". I have to say that I was surprised at how quickly the children learned to sing the song. Here is how I used it:

First we listened and watched the "fast" version of the animated display on YouTube and some children, who must have been listening to their CDs, began singing along, then the children laid two lines of large number cards from 0-10 and we listened and sang to the "slow" version of the CD whilst pointing to the appropriate cards. After that we moved onto the vast version, though I was avoiding the clapping which could be heard in the background until one perceptive child began to clap along impressively, soon we were all giving it a go and enjoying singing the song.


You can find more videos from elf learning here and become Facebook friends with them.

I look forward to next week's lesson and another new song, though I will have to practice my clapping somewhat. If you want to give your young charges a love of music and song, then this is an ideal starting place.

EFL Learning have decided to donate 5% of their proceeds from the first 1000 CDs to assist with the tsunami relief effort. A good cause for us all. You can order the CD version here or you can download from CDBaby.

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