What a difference a Challenge makes

I noticed my students falling asleep when we were learning new vocabulary from flash cards. I thought, “I know this can be boring, but come on! is it really that boring?”

So I started experimenting with different methods. Here’s what I found.

  • Reading the words slowly at first and checking pronunciation is good for students to catch “how to say the words”. However, it is a pet peeve to many students when teachers harp on the pronunciation (e.g. checking the pronunciation of one word like 10 times or having them repeat each word 3 times and running through the cards twice. Just to give you a sense of what that really means, 10 words at 3 times a piece, going through the cards twice, means the students are repeating what you say 60 times!!! Yawn.)
  • Many students like the challenge of trying to say the words quickly, so after running through the pronunciation, I like to run through the cards fast, getting the students to repeat each word about once at a quick speed.
  • After that I like to tell the students, “Quiz time!” and I ask them to read the words themselves. Again, I run through the cards rather quickly, keeping a steady pace.
  • Then it is fun to do a little “sneak peak” of the card and ask students to guess what they saw. You can quickly flash the card and ask them to guess, or you can pull out the card slowly and try to get the students to guess the words based on just a small fragment of the word (e.g. just the “h” from the word “host” or just the “and” from the word “understand”. As far as I know, it works wonders for all levels of JHS. However, it does also depend on the mood of the class.
  • When you go down the lines, and ask each student to read one word, that can also be boring, since the challenge is so minimal. It is good to up the ante from time to time. For example, have the first line of students read one word each. But then the next line has to read 2 words each. For the final student you can ask the students how many cards the last student should read. If it is a high level student, encourage them to do all the words.
  • I am also a fan of kinetic learning, so for each of these steps, I like to change my position in the room. Usually it looks like this: Step 1 (pronunciation) front left hand side of the room; Step 2 (speed drills) front right hand side; Step 3 (quiz time) middle of the room, behind the teacher’s desk.

In conclusion, a fast pace and a little challenge can wake your students up and get them to learn more. If you see many sleepy students during your vocabulary drills, you might want to reflect about your pace and how much of a challenge you are presenting the students.

This method only reflects the procedure for teaching the English side of flash cards. I usually leave it to the JTE to run through the Japanese. I wonder, what techniques do you use for flash cards?

KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid)

It seems every time I teach something I have to fight the urge to give too many examples. The temptation is great, after all it seems that examples form an elixir to quickly understanding something. The truth, however, is that too many examples can be overwhelming.

The 2nd grade students are about to learn “if” statements now (as in, “If it’s sunny, I want to play baseball”). This grammar is very useful, and of course there are many examples and variations. Let’s take a look at some:

If I were rich, I would buy a house,
I would buy a house, if I were rich.
If I had money, I would buy a house.
I would buy a house, if I had money.
I could buy a house, if I had money.
If I had money, I could buy a house.

The list goes on and on, with various constructions, verb and tense uses and so on. To native English speakers, the list is easy to follow. Perhaps it’s even interesting to see the possibilities.

But to people learning this for the first time, too many examples can be like pouring too much water in a cup. The water spills out and makes a mess.

So I have a mantra for myself. Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS). Simple examples and few of them are essential to people grasping a concept at first. After that, more examples are the essential building blocks of learning.