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Classroom Activities - Kids Archive

English Teaching Materials, Games and Activities

January 27, 2009

Alphabet Tracks

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.


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August 17, 2009

I'm David. Nice to meet you.

Hello, I'm back! I've been very busy since the beginning of April and haven't had time to do this column justice, but now I'm back and have time on my hands, time which I hope to put to good use.

As some of you know, I'm busy developing Blending a Hand 4, a digital data disk full of support materials for New Finding Out 2 (NFO2) by David Paul, which I hope to publish before the end of this year. I have already created many of the materials, but have yet to sort them and write about them. Perhaps writing about them in this column will be beneficial for us all.


Let me start off in unit 1 of NFO2, where the main targets are "I'm..." and "Where do you live?" To teachers who have no experience with these books, then the targets may seem a little sparse, but after NFO1, then on your students should have some good reading, writing, pronunciation and spelling skills and be ready to tackle NFO2 with gusto.

The pronunciation "I'm" or "I am" is usually not easy for Japanese children as they often don't touch their lips together when speaking these words. I will help the children practice by using songs such as "I am five." from (American) Get Ready! published by OUP. My version of the song goes like this:

I am five. Yes, I am. I am.
I am five. Yes, I am. I am.
I am five. Yes, I am. I am.
I'm a little (big) boy (girl). I am five.

We also sing a version of the song "Are you hungry?" from Super Simple Songs.

These songs really help the children focus on the pronunciation of "I am". Page 5 of NFO2 has the children doing simple introductions such as "I'm David." I like to expand on this and have the children do some easy introductions using "I'm...". For example:

I'm Mayu.
I'm seven.
I'm from Japan.
I'm happy.
That's me.

For older or more experienced children then I have them fill in a worksheet and practise self introductions. Here is the worksheet:


This can also be used to introduce a classmate and for pairwork when one child asks the questions and the other answers. I sometimes have the children memorise and practise their introductions; this is great for impressing parents or surprising ALTs.

NFO2 is designed as a student centered course, so you'll find very little overt drilling and repetition. The "drilling and repetition" is built into the many games and activities which David Paul writes about in the Teacher's Book. So, in developing support materials I also try to look at the book from a child's perspective and create materials which children will enjoy. If they only want to play the game once, then the game needs scrapping or redesigning. A game or activity needs to be fun, every time it is played, and needs to practice or review/preview target language.

There is one more game from my up-and-coming disk which I would like to share with you, today. It is the "I am track.", which can be done competitively or cooperatively. Here is the game:


1. Played competitively
There are two tracks, the blue track and the red track, and the target is to be the first one to reach the end of your track. The two players start in the bottom left and right hand corners and say:

"Hello! I'm Takashi." (or "Hello! I'm a boy.")
"Hello! I'm Satoshi."

Then they each race along their tracks saying "I'm a cat. I'm a rabbit. I'm a cow. Etc. (I'm a dog. I'm an ant. I'm a mouse. Etc.). When they meet in the middle, they 'jan-ken' by saying "Nice to meet you." and the loser goes back to the start. Once someone wins the game, they reverse positions and play again.

2. Played cooperatively

"Hello! I'm Takashi." (or "Hello! I'm a boy.")
"Hello! I'm Satoshi."
"Woof! Woof! I'm a dog."
"Meow! Meow! I'm a cat." Etc.

You can of course throw in "Nice to meet you." If you like. When they meet in the middle, they reverse positions and do the activity once again. You and your students can probably think of other valuable ways to use these materials.

If you want a full size version of the board or worksheet, then please make a request in your comment. Otherwise wait for the disk.

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August 24, 2009

I don't like cucumber!

Long ago I attended a weekend seminar for teachers and remember distinctly being pulled up in front of all the other teachers for saying "I don't like cucumber." I should have said "I don't like cucumbers.", but the thought of just a few slices of cucumber in a sandwich makes me feel ill, then when I imagine cucumbers sticking out of my sandwich, I almost die.

Japanese students of English often have difficulty expressing plurality in English. For them there is usually no difference between "I like chicken." and "I like chickens." Not a huge problem, but when they start saying things like "I like dog." and "I like cat.", then some people may begin to have misconceptions about Japanese culinary tastes.

New Finding Out 2 introduces the concept of plurals, orally, in unit two through games and song, but does not actively teach it until unit six. The game which specifically uses plurals is a chain game which focuses on the words "like/likes". Here I quote partially from the teacher's book:

"Get her to throw the stuffed animal to another child, who says I like (bananas), Maria likes (dogs) and (David) likes (rabbits). Encourage the other children to help the child who is speaking, or get them to say all except the first sentence together. It's fun to make the sentence longer and longer."

It is fun, but many children will make mistakes and say "Maria likes dog." and "David likes rabbit." And in Japan, neither dish is eaten. How do you get around this problem? Well, you could pull up the child and say, "No! Not 'dog', but 'dogs'". But all that will do is take the fun out of the game and upset the child. Let's consider a few alternatives.

1. Do nothing. The focus is on "like/likes" and the minor problem of plural endings will be sorted out in units 6 and 7 where the emphasis is on plurals.

2. Use plurals cards which have words and pictures. Each time a new 'like' is expressed, a child takes a card to match that expression. If a child makes a mistake and says the singular instead of the plural, then encourage him to read the word on his card as he expresses himself. There is a set of NFO flashcards, which includes plurals that the children are quite capable of reading. Initially, all the cards can be kept in view, but once they get used to the game, then cards may be hidden in order to make the game more challenging. Later, you can do the activity without cards.

3. Play the "I like/I don't like..." track race from BAH 4 (not yet published). The focus is now on expressing likes and dislikes of animals, fruits and vegetables.


Here's one way of playing (usually played in pairs):

You need a dice and counters. Jan-ken by saying "What do you like?" The first player rolls the dice and moves forward that number. If a 3 is thrown then she says "I like peas." or "I don't like peas.", whichever is true. If a 4 is thrown, then the dice is thrown again and the child moves forward the number thrown and expresses her like or dislike (unless she lands on the "I don't like..." place). If a 6 is thrown, then she throws the dice again and moves back the number thrown and expresses her like or dislike (unless she lands on the "I like..." place. The winner is the first child to reach the end with an exact number.

The 3 "I don't like..." and exact finish means that there is a good chance of moving backwards in the game, therefore heightening the suspense and giving more practice.

The "song" which is used to practise plurals is a version of an old favourite "Old Macdonald", which David Paul cleverly simplified. The teacher's book has a number of tips and suggestions for its use.

Children love learning animal sounds so I've made some animal flashcards (20 in all) to go with the song. These cards are also useful for practising the expressions "I'm a..." and "You are a...".


Let's play with 'I'm a dog.' and 'You are a dog.'

1. I'm a dog (double chip).
Lay the cards face down in a 4 x 4 grid. The first child says "Quack, quack. I'm a duck", turns the card over, confirms that it's a duck and puts two chips on the card. The next child goes "Cluck, cluck. I'm a frog.", turns the card over, sees that it is a chicken and puts one chip on the card. Played competitively, then the child with the most points is winner. You can also record the individual scores and have them compete against themselves the next time they play.

2. You are a dog.
The game is usually played in pairs. Lay the cards face down in a 4 x 4 grid. The dialogue goes like this:

"Quack, quack."
"You are a duck."
"That's right!"

Or like this:

"Squeak, squeak."
"You are a bird."
"No, I'm not. I'm a mouse."

In both cases, the card is turned over and a point claimed. If the pair get it wrong, then the card remains in play.

Here are some backs:


If you want a full size version of the "I like.../I don't like..." track or the animal sounds flashcards, then please make a request in your comment. Otherwise wait for the disk.

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September 23, 2009

Rainbow Colors

Just when I thought I had taken care of likes and dislikes, I reach unit 4 of New Finding Out 2 and find that I must now combine 'I like/I don't like...' with colours and plurals. I had this brief inspiration and wrote some notes on a scrap bit of paper and then yesterday I began developing this game not knowing how it would end up. I worked on it for about four hours yesterday and again today, making many changes and adjustments until I was satisfied. I played the game with two classes this evening and it was great, just what I worked and hope for. Here's a picture of some of the finished cards.


It so difficult for Japanese students to grasp the idea of plurals and the idea of countable and uncountable nouns. With this game they get lots of practice with colours, simple expressions of like and dislike and a lot of repetition regarding plurals. This will certainly help them to gain a natural grasp of the language instead of trying to understand everything through a grammatical sense.

Here are the "Rainbow Colors" cards, which are the equivalent of special Switchit cards or jokers.


Individual cards can be used for pairwork in large groups and writing activities, but if possible play the game in small groups. I will describe how to play in groups of 3-5. You need eight of each card, preferably with the backs printed.

Deal seven cards face down to each player, put the remainder of the cards face down in the centre and turn over the top card. If, for example, a card with a red border is turned over, then the player to the left of the dealer must place another red card on the open card and make a suitable sentence, such as "I like purple grapes.", then the next player must play another card with a red border or a "grapes" card If the player doesn't have a card with a red border or picture of grapes, then he can play a "Rainbow Colors" card and change the colour by saying "Rainbow (orange)." And play then passes to the next player on the left who must now play a card with an (orange) border. When a player cannot play a card, then he or she must pick up a card from the face down pile. The winner is the first player to get rid of all of his or her cards.

This is another brick laid in my task of producing another Blending a Hand CD in support of Finding Out and all the teachers who use it.

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November 03, 2009

I'm an Alien Zookeeper

Try asking your students are a few simple questions such as "What's an elephant?", "What's a table?" or "What's a cat?" Last week I asked several university students the question "Where is Japan?" before someone answered "It's in Asia." and that was after we had reviewed continents. How did your students do? Were they shouting out the answers eagerly or perhaps they didn't know how to answer. I have a seven-year old student who will stop me occasionally whilst I'm speaking and say "David, what is a (polar bear)?", then I have other students who would rather give me a blank look than ever ask me such a question.

If you have heard David Paul's story, then you might know that Finding Out was published because one of David's students asked two simple questions of some visiting dignitaries, "What do you do?" and, to the answer "I'm a publisher.", "What is a publisher?" David has incorporated both of these questions into it's Finding Out book 2.

I'm going to look at the second question which is found in unit 5 page 32 in the activity "Aliens", here I quote from the book:

(Alien) "What's an elephant?"

(Boys) "It's gray." "It has a long..."

It doesn't seem like much, but it has great potential.

Unit 5 concentrates on "this/that" so I wanted to create something that would practice these targets as well as the more difficult descriptive language and so I decided on the game "I'm an Alien Zookeeper". Of course, to my knowledge, there was no such game. First of all I created 40 question cards featuring an alien zookeeper asking questions about the animals of this planet. Most of the vocabulary (animals) is taken from my 'animal habitats' cards.

Here you can see the poster from this set.


Then I wrote a simple description for each of the animals using this pattern:


It has...

It eats...

It lives in...


Notice that a boy or girl gives each description. Initially I wasn't going to put a picture of the animal on the card, but then I thought that the students would take too long in finding the correct card and then everyone would get bored with the pace of the activity. Then I made a set of small flashcards featuring each of the animals.


All these cards have the same backs, which I hope you find interesting.


Here are a few activities which the cards can be used for.

1. Scatter card
Language target: "What is a...?" and "This is a..."
Material: animal flashcards and alien zookeeper question cards.
Procedure: scatter the flashcards on the floor or table, pretend to be an alien and ask the students "What is an elephant?", then try and elicit the answer "This is an elephant.", whilst holding and showing the picture, also have the children use the answer "I don't know.", when they don't know. Do this until the students have almost got it and then break them into small groups and one student from each group pretends to be an alien for a set number of questions before passing the question cards to another student.

Alternatively have the children sit around the cards holding fly swatters, then one child, acting as caller, asks the question "What is an elephant?" A child covers or slams the correct picture saying "This is an elephant." and receives the calling card as a reward. Children take turns as caller.

2. Animal mimes
Language target: "What is a...?" and "That is a..."
Material: selected animal flashcards and alien zookeeper question cards.
Procedure: limit the cards to known easy to mime animals. Select someone to be an alien and another person to answer the alien's questions and then deal out the flashcards (face down) to the other students, then the alien asks the question "What is (an elephant)?" All the other players mime an animal, but the player holding the elephant card must mime an elephant. Then finally the student answers the question by pointing to the player who is miming an elephant and says "That is an elephant."

This sounds like an interesting game. I must try it myself.

3. Scatter card: animal descriptions
Language target: "What is a...?", "This is a...", "It's...", "It has...", "It eats..." and "It lives in...".
Material: animal description cards and alien zookeeper question cards.
Procedure: scatter the animal description cards on the floor or table, a player is chosen to play the part of the alien and asks the question "What is an elephant?" A student finds the right card and answers the question using the information given on the card. Play proceeds as in the first "scatter card" game.

After playing such game you should find your students more open to using 'this/that', when asked "What is a...?" and more open to using descriptive language.

"I'm an Alien Zookeeper" is available directly from myself for ¥1500 plus postage; please e-mail your order. The pack contains:

30 picture cards
30 question cards
30 description cards

The cards are the same size and quality as Switchit cards. That is, printed both sides colour, laminated, machine cut and corners rounded, then packed in a sturdy box.

If you want to make your own, then you can either design them yourself or wait until the materials come out on a new Blending a Hand CD. I'm hoping to have a CD covering units 1-7 of Finding Out book 2 available in December.

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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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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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