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Classroom Activities - In My Book Archive

English Teaching Materials, Games and Activities

December 22, 2008

Working with Workbooks

Almost all children's course books have a workbook. Workbooks, also called activity books and home books, are basically collections of worksheets related to the course book, so it's important to understand what makes a good worksheet and conversely, what makes a bad one. How a workbook is used, both inside and outside the classroom, can have a major impact on the success of your class.

Let me give you some suggestions which may help you decide whether or not your workbook is well thought out and a valuable part of your curriculum.

1. The workbook should not only engage the child visually but also mentally. So often there is an information gap which can only be filled from the child's own knowledge. If the page can be completed using purely visual clues, then, unless it's practising hand-eye coordination, it's probably a waste of time and paper.

2. If you are to have a child-centred classroom or/and if the child is to work independently at home, then any instructions on how to complete a particular page in the workbook must be comprehensible to the child. Many workbooks do not fulfil this requirement so the teacher uses up valuable time in order to explain the page to the children. My personal preference is to do an activity in the classroom which will lead naturally into the workbook. I have found that the vast majority of children are able to make the link between activity and workbook page, without major intervention from the teacher or parent.

3. It is related to what you're teaching in the classroom and consolidates what you are teaching or prepares the child for the next step as well as integrating easily into your curriculum.

4. It is easy to check and provides useful information to the teacher in the form of evaluation.

5. A good design will require a number of skills to complete the page.

Going back to point 2 above, I should say that the activity should provide a clear link between the course book and the workbook. Often times you can find such an activity in your teacher's book. I find that this point of contact, between course book and workbook, to be inspirational in creating materials, games and activities, and I'd like to share with you some of these "materials, games and activities" in the hope that they assist you in the classroom.

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February 07, 2009

dog dog dog


Today I want to write to you about the development of some new materials and their usage. How does something move from concept to product to customer, what steps are needed, how do we know it's good material and how long does it take? Let me start with where the idea came from.

I have a friend in New Zealand, with whom I share teaching materials, please feel free to check out her web site here:, last week she sent me a PDF file containing her "The Small Sentence Game", which she describes as "a fun way of getting some fluency with small sentences". Initially, I couldn't play the game because I was having trouble aligning the backs of the cards with the fronts when printing and then, as so often happens, I decided the game wasn't entirely suitable for an EFL situation. Basically, in her game, a child chooses one of his cards, unrelated picture one side, sentence the other, and reads the sentence on the back of the card: "I am a dog", then a child with a picture of a dog reads her sentence. Each sentence has a direct or indirect link to a picture. Played competitively, then it's a race to see who can get rid of his or her cards first.

I really liked idea of using sentences in a game instead of just words, so I was inspired to try and create a new "small sentence game" for myself, now called 'dog dog dog', the title of one of my StoryCards, which are published on the digital data disk Blending a Hand 2. Since I've mentioned it, then here's the story in its new format.



I wanted to produce a game that would be as interesting and addictive as the highly popular Switchit game, which concentrates on sounds/letters and words, but this time I wanted to use sentences, but I didn't want to use the same design as Switchit. When I first designed the game I had 8 main characters: an ant, a frog, a rabbit, a hippo, a fox, a pig, a dog and a cat. The game had and continues to have:

60 sentence cards
10 dog dog dog cards (for use with the sentence cards)
60 picture cards

I first made the game a couple of weeks ago and tried it out in three different classes, but there were some problems. It was difficult to find suitable graphics, especially for the 'ant' character and the game was too slow to play out, so I redesigned it, with just six characters and was confident it would work just fine. I then printed out two more sets of cards, laminated them, machine cut them, rounded the corners and put them in labeled boxes ready to be used. But the game wasn't balanced, the dog had 15 sentence cards, whilst other characters had either 5 or 10 cards each. So once again I went in search of suitable graphics and didn't stop until I had 10 pictures of each character.

The keywords are now "dog", "cat", "hippo" (there wasn't room to put the word 'hippopotamus'), "fox", "rabbit" and "pig". The irregular word "I", is also used and the word "hippo", which has a long vowel, is reasonably easy for students to decode as the stress falls on the first syllable. For all the other words, students just need the single letter alphabet sounds.

Let's have a look at some of the graphics. These are the 'cat' pictures and have settled on.


There are actually two games, the sentence card game and the picture card matching game. The sentence card game focuses on decoding skills and the matching game focuses on decoding skills with comprehension.

Here are the rules for the sentence game.

1. Shuffle the cards and deal 7 cards to each player.
2. Place the pack facedown, turn over the top card and place it by the pack.
3. Each player in turn plays a card, reading their sentence card, which must match the enlarged key word of the previous card.
4. A 'dog dog dog' card changes the key word of the card to be played.
5. If a player cannot play, then he or she must take a card from top of the pack.
6. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards.

I went through the whole process of making new sets of cards and trying them out again, but I still wasn't satisfied because the game seemed too focused on the reading rather than on the game (I wanted it to be like driving a car where the main focus of the driver is on the road and what's happening around him, not on the actual driving.) so I decided to increase the randomness of the game by adding a small animal picture to each sentence card. Now a word could be changed by either playing a 'dog dog dog' card or by playing a matching animal card. Perhaps it's difficult for you to imagine so I'll show you. First, the 'dog dog dog' card.


And now some sentence cards with the small animal icons.


More printing and laminating, but confidence was growing that this was one game which would not end up in the rubbish bin. Now it was ready for more testing in the classroom. First I would play the matching games, focusing on decoding with comprehension.

With my beginner students, who haven't yet tackled double sounds, I gave 10 picture cards of the same animal to each pair had them lay the cards in a column and then search and find the related sentence cards and match them. Once they had done that, they called me to check their cards and then started on another set. They all thoroughly enjoyed the activity. With other classes, I just scattered the picture and sentence cards on the carpet and had them match the cards, bring them to me, read the sentence, get a chip and then match another two cards. A little like Kim's game or concentration, except faster and more involved. I can think of many games we can play with these cards.

After playing the matching games we were ready to play 'dog dog dog' with the additional rule.

7. A matching picture can be played instead of a matching word.

In other words, if someone plays the word "dog", with a picture of a "fox", then the next player can only play a 'dog' word, a 'fox' picture or a dog dog dog card.

I played the game with elementary school students from first to sixth grade, then junior high school students, then high school students and finally adults. Everybody enjoyed the game and wanted to play more. Still, I wasn't entirely satisfied and I didn't like the small animals on the sentence cards. They looked like an afterthought. So I changed the design again and made another printing. How many is that? Here is the new and final design.


There was one final touch before making the game available to customers. Some of my students had suggested that I call the game "hippopotamus, hippopotamus, hippopotamus", but I hadn't called out that because I was using the word "hippo" in the game, when I mentioned it to some other teachers, one teacher thought that I should go ahead and changed the name. I didn't want to do that because it would mean changing the design of the backs of the cards and I quite liked the present design. Let me show you the backs.


Anyway, I made a 'hippopotamus hippopotamus hippopotamus' card which acts in the same manner as a 'dog dog dog' card and gives the teacher the option of replacing the dog dog dog cards, with the hippopotamus hippopotamus hippopotamus cards. Now the children have fun changing the target word by saying "hippopotamus, hippopotamus, hippopotamus; hippopotamus". Now I'm having fun. And here are the 'hippopotamus hippopotamus hippopotamus' cards.


Now the product was ready and all I needed were some customers. I wrote to several teachers whom I thought might be interested in the cards, describing the cards and how to use them, then I had to put a price on the cards and I came up with this for the boxed sets:

Dog dog dog sentence cards, ¥1200 per pack. Contains 60 and 10 'dog dog dog' cards AND 10 'hippopotamus hippopotamus hippopotamus' cards.
Dog dog dog picture cards, ¥1200 per pack. Contains 60 picture cards.

The sentence cards don't use a lot of coloured ink, so both packs cost me about the same to produce.

Three teachers responded and each ordered both packs. So how long did that all take, well, I didn't calculate how much time I put into this endeavour, but from receiving the idea from New Zealand to getting the first packs into my customers hands took just 10 days, including a public holiday. Now I can tell you that it's a great game, but what about the reaction from those teachers?

Janina Tubby has kindly given me permission to quote her and here I do so:

"Love it! Actually much prefer it to Read! Spell! Do! which we don't use that much relative to Switchit. We were able to use it at a number of different levels, too. From the five-year-olds to the eight-year-olds who are reading well.
We get them to choose a tense card and they have to change the sentence they read to the past tense or whatever, or make a sentence using past tense. Actually I'm not sure we're playing it "right". No idea what to do with the hippo cards and I ended up taking out most of the 'Dog' cards because the game finished too quickly. Maybe it's because they read well. I'm also thinking of adding a '+' card in a separate pile so they have to continue the sentence or maybe 'because', 'and', 'or' and other conjunctions, also.

The five-year-olds also use it as a memory game, which works well. we take out a few cards and they read and match with the picture. So we've color coded the packs to enable us to find the cards quickly. It's fun fun


Janina has exceptional students. She made a good point about the "Dog" cards. There are 10 cards in the pack and this, together with the animal pictures, adds a lot of randomness to the game. Removing some of the "Dog" cards is like taking out the jokers, it increases the level of skill needed to win the game. I recommend playing it with six 'dog dog dog' cards. I will talk about "Read! Spell! Do!" and Read! Spell! Say! at a later date.

I like the way Janina experiments with the cards. Some teachers prefer to have exact instructions, I'm a bit like that myself, but I don't like giving exact instructions as teachers and students can often find more and better ways to use the teaching materials, games and activities.

Thanks for staying with me right to the end.

For anyone who is interested, the cards are for still for sale at the prices above, you can contact me by email or through the comments. I promise not to publish your order if you choose to order that way. Who wants to be first?

Watch out for Pack 2!

David Lisgo

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April 04, 2009

Blending a Hand: Introduction


What is Blending a Hand? Well, it's a huge collection of work which includes the digital data CDs, Switchit, Switchit Junior (the game has since been updated and expanded), Read! Spell! Do! (you can download the board for free, but you have to get the playing cards from me) , Dog Dog Dog and BAH Workbooks (these are just the front covers) plus much much more. I started work on the materials long before I ever got a computer, which was in 2001, in fact I started work on it in 1986 when I created my first phonic posters by cutting out pictures from a children's encyclopaedia and pasting them onto card for my then young children. That was before I started teaching. I would like to do a series of low key articles writing about some of these materials and how they are used. If anyone has any questions about Blending a Hand, you can always e-mail me or leave a comment; this would help me get going.

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April 07, 2009

Blending a Hand: Switchit Junior

From time to time people asked me to create Switchit for younger children and this thought had been in the back of my mind for some time, then last December whilst attending the Fukuoka ETJ Expo, I met up with Tristan Scholze and David Borgeson. David and Tristan are fans of Switchit, a game they often play with their students. Well, David also asked me to create a Switchit game which could be used by kindergarten children. When I got back home to Shibushi, I was consumed with the thought of creating such a game and had the irrational fear that someone else was going to create the game. This somehow knocked me into a creative mood and within a day of returning from Fukuoka, Switchit Junior had become a reality. You can see the first edition cards here.

First edition? Second edition? The first edition cards are designed to be printed on A4 sized paper or card, laminated, cut to 10 by 7 centimetres and the corners rounded. Pack 1 (level 1) has 104 picture cards and 15 SuperSwitchit cards, Pack 2 (level 2) has 64 picture cards and 10 SuperSwitchit cards. A number of teachers asked me to make the cards for them and I was happy to do so, but the cutting of the cards was being done by a rotary paper cutter, guillotine and corner rounder. I would have eye strain after making each pack. So I decided to make a set which could be machine cut, so I redesigned the game. Level 1 now has two packs of cards, with 65 picture cards and 10 SuperSwitchit cards in each pack,


level 2 has 80 picture cards and 10 SuperSwitchit cards.


How is the game played? Well, it's an Uno type game and the rules are very similar to regular Switchit. Here are the rules:

1. Deal 7 cards to each player.
2. Place the pack facedown, turn over the top card and place it by the pack.
3. Each player in turn plays a card, when playing a card, the letter/s must be sounded out and the picture identified.
4. A 'SuperSwitchit' card, which can't be your last card, changes the color of the card to be played.
5. A player who cannot play takes a card from the pack.
6. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards.

How long must children study before playing the game?

I've been playing the game with a group of students who have only studied the short vowels 'a-e-i-o-u'. We used three sets of the short vowels cards (first edition), 70 cards in all including the SuperSwitchit cards. We started off by playing concentration (Kim's game), then snap and finally Switchit Junior.

I don't like playing the traditional game of snap as it is often highly competitive and there's always the possibility that fingers may snap instead of cards, so we played it this way.

All the cards were dealt out, face down, evenly among the players and surplus cards were scattered in the centre face up. Each child picked up the top card from his or her pile, looked at the card and then in unison they counted 1, 2 ,3 and placed the cards down in front of themselves, identifying the target sound and picture, saying "/e/ elephant", "/u/ umbrella" etc. When they couldn't identify the picture, then they said "I don't know. What is it?" and I told them what it was. When two of the same cards were displayed, either player to player, or player to centre, then the children called out "Match!" and the players with the "match" then did 'jan-ken' by saying "My cards." and the winner took the cards and placed them under his or her pile, all other cards were left in position. And so the game went on.

What do other teachers say about the game?

I haven't had any negative feedback concerning Switchit or Junior Switchit from teachers or students. Two teachers, Janina Tubby and Leonard Crawford-Goto have given me permission to quote them. Leonard helped me to finalise the vocabulary, he's always helping me with that, perhaps he's a dictionary in disguise. Here's what Leonard had to say:

"A quick word on the two new Switchit packs I've been using recently -
the Junior a-z and double sounds.

First - the students seem to like the bigger size cards as they are
easier to use. Having said which, I personally don't mind the smaller
ones either, plus the boxes are very handy!

I've been doing the usual format game, except that rather than stopping
when one student gets rid of their cards, I give that student a coin and
another card. That way we play until the whole pack is used up or no
one can play any further cards. In addition, I've been using double
sets of the double sounds - so 144 cards total. You get a longer game
plus the chance to get a bonus point if you play the same card directly
after someone else i.e. Taro puts down 'sea' and Hiroko follows that
with 'sea'."

Using a coin (or chip) is a great idea, which I've been using regularly, especially with Switchit Junior.

And here's what Janina had to say:

"Hey David

Thank you thank you for my early Christmas present. I love it. I've played with everyone from my four-year-olds up. It's very useful even for my older reading well students.

With the younger students we have used the cards for identification, snap type games, memory and Switchit as you have explained more or less. The younger kids love it especially because there is usually one or more child who has an older sibling who loves the real Switchit and they have anxiously been awaiting their chance to play. So they are thrilled, which raises the energy and expectation level for everyone.

With the older kids we have used it to review pronunciation in a Go Fish game. "Do you have b?" (not allowed to say "book") and the advanced version, "Do you have "b" with b mouthed silently (i.e. no sound) thus really forcing the students to pay attention to lip and teeth positions. "Well, you have to pick up" rather than "Go fish". For the less able "Pick up please". When they collect a set, they say "I have buh book, bag, bat and..." whatever the words are, I can't remember now, and then put the set down.

The cards themselves are very appealing for the youngest kids. The choice of graphics and the design are great. It's so smart to have the anchor there at the top and the vocab choice is excellent since knowing these words ahead of reading will help them understand what they learn to read (of course you know that but it's a great realization). All in all, it really fills a hole in my curriculum and I feel it requires no feedback for modification. Reading your mail (it arrived after I had written most of this) I agree there might be one or two words that could be replaced but I'm very happy more or less.

Thank you very much!"

What can I say, Janina says is all.

How can I obtain the cards?

You can get ready-made second edition packs from me. Here's the price:

Switchit Junior 1 Second Edition ¥1400 per pack
Pack 1 Aa-Mm
Pack 2 Nn-Zz

Switchit Junior 2 Second Edition ¥1700 per pack
Pack 1: sixteen double sounds

If you are short of money, have access to a printer and laminator (and a pair of scissors) and have a lot of free time, then I can send you the first edition. Just e-mail me for further information, or orders.

Enjoy the game.

David Lisgo

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May 15, 2009

Read! Spell! Say!


Today, I want to talk to you about a new game which practices reading, spelling and pronunciation skills. I am indebted to Kelly Rowlingson who supplied me with the name of the game and the original idea. To learn more about Kelly and what she does, then please visit her web site here.

Here's what you need to play the game.

1. Base board
2. Playing (or Star) board
3. Stars
4. Task cards
5. Read!, Spell! and Say! cards
6. A dice
7. Some great students

Note: all the printing is A4 size.

Here is the base board.


You need to print it out and preferably laminate it. The base board is just a place to hold your Read! Spell! Say! cards and keep them tidy whilst playing.

Here is the playing board.


Print it out and laminate it, then take self-adhesive Velcro dots or strips and stick a dot (hook) in the centre of each square. One board for each student, though it is possible for students to share a board.

These are the stars.

If you want to use more than one colour, then just fill each star using MS Paint or some similar software program. Print out the stars, laminate them, cut them out individually and, if possible, round corners of the stars. Then take your Velcro dots (loops) and stick one on the back, in the centre, of each star. The Velcro dots need to be pressed down firmly, use some kind of tool to do this otherwise you will end up with a very sore thumb. The adhesive on the backs of the dots usually needs to cure for about 24 hours to reach full strength, so make your materials today and play tomorrow.

Next are the task cards.


Print them out, laminate them, cut them into individual cards and round corners. I usually give four of each (12 cards in all) to each pair of students or group of three.

The Read! Spell! and Say! cards.

I use the Read! and Spell! cards from Read! Spell! Do! This way it's easy for me to quickly select Read! (sentence) cards and Spell! (word) cards of a suitable level for each class of students. It's also possible to use Switchit cards in place of the Spell! cards. Here's a little more information on some of the Read! and Spell! cards:

Level 1 is for students who are able to use the 26 single letter sounds of the alphabet to successfully read and write words.
Level 1 Pack 1: 80 'spell' cards (single syllable).
Level 1 Pack 1: 80 'read' (sentence) cards.

Level 1 Pack 2: 80 more (all different) 'spell' cards (mostly multisyllable).
Level 1 Pack 2: 80 more (all different) 'read' cards.

Level 2-1 is for students who are able to use the 8 double letter sounds below.
Double Sounds: ee-ea-ch-sh-oo(spoon)-oo(foot)-ou-ar
Level 2 Pack 1: 80 'spell' cards.
Level 2 Pack 1: 80 'read' cards.

Level 2-2 is for students who are able to use the 8 double letter sounds below.
Double Sounds ow(cow)-or-oy-ir-oa-ow(window)-ai-ay
Level 2 Pack 2: 80 'spell' cards.
Level 2 Pack 2: 80 'read' cards.

Levels 3-1 and 3-2 are also available.

I use Switchit Junior for the Say! cards.

Sorry. You will have to supply your own dice and students.

How to play.

The game itself is very simple. Place the Read!, Spell! and Say! cards face down on the 'base board'. Shuffle the 'task cards' and put them in a pile. They will fit on the base board, but they are passed back and forth among the students. A child rolls a dice and then the other (another) child counts off the number by taking cards from the top of the 'pile' and placing them at the bottom. After the cards have been counted off, the top card is turned over and then the child is asked to read, spell or say one of the target cards. If the task is completed successfully, then the child takes a star and places it on the appropriate place on his or her playing board. If a 'read', 'spell' or 'say' row is already full, then no star is taken or given. The winner is the first person to fill his or her board with stars.

The dice adds randomness and so it's not always the most knowledgeable student that wins. Also, if there is a great disparity in the levels of the students, then you can have different levels of Read! Spell! Say! cards for each student. The game can be played cooperatively simply by giving each pair of students a single playing board and letting them use a single colour of stars. This way there is no physical record of who was most successful. I'm sure that you will find this a great resource, very versatile and able to be used by all ages, from preschool to adults.

Let me introduce you to a couple of other ways of using these materials.

Star Boards: for use with preschool and elementary school children

Preparation: Scatter a lot of of picture cards or picture/word cards, if the children are reading, on the floor, carpet or table. When using picture cards, then your pupils should be familiar with all of the pictures, if using picture/word cards, then use mostly familiar pictures, but throw in some unknown or relatively unknown cards so that the children have to use their word attack skills to decipher the word. Place a number of base boards around the room.

Play: Children pick up individual cards, bring them to you and identify the picture. You give them a star which they place on any base board and then they get another card. This is a great opportunity to check and help with individual pronunciation. You can also use Say! (Switchit Junior), Spell! or Read! cards for this activity. At the end of the activity see how many base boards they were able to fill and give some lavish praise.

Read! Spell! Ask!: can be used all the way from elementary school students to adults

Preparation: if you don't have Read! Spell! Do!, then you'll have to make your own Read! cards. You can take sentences from whichever textbook you are using. The Spell!, as I've said, can be Switchit cards or you can make your own or use 'student cards' if available. I have made my own Ask! cards. Some of my Ask! cards are for asking student to student and other cards for asking student to teacher. I find the student to teacher cards particularly useful for senior high school students, university students and adults as they tend to have a greater personal interest in their teacher.

Student to student questions and backs.



Student to teacher questions and backs.



If you want the files for Read! Spell! Say! and the all the Ask! question cards, then please e-mail me or make your request through the 'comments'. I will send you the files together with further information on Read! Spell! Do! and Switchit. To learn more about Switchit Junior, then please read my article.

I originally made this game so that I and other users of Read! Spell! Do! could get more and better use out of the game. I hope that it serves its purpose well.

Thanks for reading; hope you enjoy the activity.

David Lisgo

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December 22, 2009

ESL printables


Where do ideas for creating teaching materials come from? Sometimes they seem to come from thin air, they just appear in your consciousness as if they've been there, hiding away in some dark corner, all the time. These ideas I like very much as they seem to take so little effort. Most of the time creating new materials is more akin to writers block, so when this happens to me I visit my favourite web site, ESL printables, and gain inspiration from the thousands of creative teachers who inhabit this wonderful online world. I've been an active member for over a year. It has over 280,000 members and there are a little over 6000 members in Japan, but less than 10% have ever uploaded a worksheet and probably only 1% could be considered active; the rest of the world membership is similar.

ESL printables is a site set up by a teacher for teachers. We share our materials with each other. These materials always remain the property of their creator, but by putting them up on the website we give permission to other members to use them freely with their own students. This means they are welcome to use them in their own schools but since the material is not shareware, it should not be distributed, nor sold, to anyone else. If used in the classroom, they should be given to the students (the students shouldn't pay money for them).


Many people join and find that they don't have the ability to create their own materials so they steal materials on the Internet and from fellow members and upload those in the hope of gaining some miserable points, which will allow them to download materials. This is a big problem for this site and there is an active moderators list of volunteers to help deal with this daily and growing problem.

More recently a bigger problem arose. A member of ESL printables a publisher for a publishing company (AFS Yayincilik, also known as AFS English) in Turkey has illegally published some books full of worksheets belonging to ESL printables members. He even invented some fictitious authors and illustrators to make his books seem genuine. The owner of the ESL printables site, Victor Gayol lives in Spain, he reminds me of David Paul somewhat in that he doesn't usually get involved unless absolutely necessary, and now he is trying very hard, along with many other members of ESL printables, to right this wrong. He recently started a Blog to campaign against this "illegal and unethical behaviour". I have great respect for his efforts because the individual teacher can do so little when the problem lies on the other side of the world.

I write about this problem in my column in support of teachers around the world. Please visit Victor's Blog to read more about this problem.

David Lisgo
ESL printables member

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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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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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