January 27, 2009
January 27, 2009
It was New Year's Eve and my family were all sitting in the living room watching the television and killing themselves laughing. I sat for awhile, but for some reason I couldn't get excited about old men singing karaoke and young men getting dressed up as old women, so I sat at my computer trying to think up a new game or activity.
I like making track races, but it's really difficult to make all those curves and bends, then I thought about the number eight. I opened a text box and created a full page outline of number '8' using Jester font, then I saved it as a PNG file, opened it in Paint, put lines in it and then coloured it. Here's what it looks like so far.
It's not a bad track, but I couldn't think what to put on the track; pictures, words?, it seemed lacking in purpose so I abandoned it.
Back to the TV, but after 10 minutes I thought I had totally lost my sense of humour, so I went back to the computer. Revitalised after my television break, I began to think of how I might use other numbers to create tracks, then it dawned on me that if I used lowercase letters, then I would have 26 Alphabet Tracks at my disposal.
When I get a new idea, then I race to completion, it's almost as if someone else has got the same idea and I'm going to be accused of plagiarism, somehow these thoughts help me focus. Anyway, I set to it right away and before the end of the year I managed to create my first three alphabet tracks. Over the next few days I would enjoy making the next 23.
Many creations end up in the trash can, but Alphabet Tracks will end up in many a classroom. How can I claim such a thing? Well let's look at some of the good points about them. They are very easy to make, just print them out and laminate them. They are affordable; 26 sheets of high-quality inkjet paper, 26 laminating sheets and ink, which does push the price up by a little. They are attractive, colourful and full of interesting pictures. They have a long shelflife and are easy to store. The rules of play simple and you don't need any special equipment to play.
That's nice, but what about their educational value? Well, children will review or learn a lot of interesting words, they will take a greater interest in stroke order and letter formation, and phonemic awareness is built into the boards. For all the consonants, apart from 'X', all the vocabulary items begin with the sound/letter which any particular alphabet track represents. For the short vowels, I decided to use the vowel mostly in the medial position, because of the lack of suitable vocabulary beginning with short vowel sounds.
Let me tell you how I first introduced the tracks to my students. Before class proper began, most of the children were busy doing crossword puzzles, word searches or other worksheets and when it was time to start the lesson they left the writing area and came to the 'play' area of my classroom and took their seats. In front of them, on the carpet, were several alphabet tracks. Now I'm sure the children could have just began playing without any assistance from me, but I wanted them to get the best out of these materials, so I asked them if someone would like to play a game with me. Hands shot up and one child was chosen and I asked the others to watch while we played.
We used two dice and two small counters. I began. I rolled both dice and moved forward according to the lowest number, identifying each picture as I went. I wanted the game to move slowly and I knew that some children would be happy just to count out the numbers and then identify just the one picture on each roll, this way they would move leisurely around the track and be encouraged to name each picture. By the time we finished this first game, all the children were eager to play. They play in pairs or a group of three if we have an odd number of students. Of course the teacher could pair up with one of the students, but I prefer to stay in the background and make myself available, should anyone need assistance. I told the students to ask me "What is it?", if they came across words they didn't know.
It was interesting to watch them play, wondering the best way to use the 't' track and to see them tracing their fingers around the boards without any encouragement from myself. They also began to notice how each track used vocabulary beginning with the same initial sound as in the playing letter. They noticed that the short vowel boards didn't use vocabulary using the initial sound of the playing letter and their asked my wife why this was. We told them that there wasn't many interesting words beginning with these sounds, so we put the sounds in the middle of the words. They noticed it and were quite satisfied with the answer. Most of them were quick to ask me "What is it?", when they came across new words. I used the cards with elementary school students (first-sixth grade), junior high school students, high school students and adults, who happen to be preschool teachers. Everyone, without exception, enjoyed playing.
Now available on CD. Contact me for further information or for a sample puzzle.