Righting Writing #5.2: Another 5 Techniques for Vocab Cards

Now, where were we? (Click here for last week’s post)
  1. Anagrams
    The vocabulary is written on one side of the card and on the other, the same word, but all the letters are jumbled up.
  2. Jumbled sentences
    The same idea, but with whole sentences.  The words are complete and correctly written, but the sentence is jumbled.  The longer the sentence, the more tricky it is, of course, but if your aim is to help pupils to memorise sentences here, shorter ones often work better.  An activity like this is great for grammar and for building up their sense of what looks right in the foreign language.
  3. Definitions
    This time there is a full definition on the back of the card, in the target language of course, and at a language level appropriate to the class.  Whenever I do this with a class, I provide the definitions, for accuracy’s sake!
  4. Writing in the air
    No cards needed for this one and it’s the only technique here which must be done with at least one other person.  One pupil writes the word in the air with their finger, the other one has to guess which word it is.  If they can’t write backwards, they’ll need to turn round so their partner can watch over their shoulder, otherwise they’ll see a mirror image!
  5. Slow-reveal
    This can be done with or without cards, (a text on paper if no cards are used), with single words or whole sentences.  When using cards, flip one card face down to use as a cover and put it over a face-up card.  As you move it to the right (or to the left if you start at the end of the word), the other person has to guess the word before it is fully revealed.  If you use a text on paper, you need two cards to cover the text.  One is moved down (to just below the words) and the other is moved slowly to the right.  Again, the other person has to guess the words before each one is fully revealed.  The ‘revealer’ can speed up and slow down as they wish.  The guessing pupil can be encouraged to look back at earlier words if they begin to find it difficult in order to refresh their sense of context. 

Notes (these notes also refer to last week’s post):

  • Wherever possible, I dissuade pupils from writing in their native language on their cards.
  • Make sure everyone checks that they’ve spelt the vocabulary correctly before they start using the cards.  These are effective techniques, so you don’t want them learning msitaekes!
  • For languages which distinguish between the gender of nouns, colour-coding words can be very helpful.  I’ve always used blue for masculine, red for feminine.  It doesn’t matter which colours you use, as long as you stick to the same ones.  All the words can be on the same colour of card, it’s just the pens they use that need to be different!
  • For the techniques which use words on both sides of the cards, as they go along, they put their cards in two piles, one of correct guesses and one of incorrect.  At the end, the incorrect ones are shuffled and they keep going until they have got them all right.
  • An obvious point, perhaps, but one worth making: they must spell the words they guess!  Given that most speaking activities can also be writing activities, they can give their response orally (much faster, maintains pace) or in writing.  You choose.
  • Words should be written in lower case letters rather than all capitals so that the shape of the word is retained.
  • Most of these activities are particularly appealing to visual and kinaesthetic learners.  There is not much here for auditory learners, so take a look at How do you spell…?, a visual, kinaesthetic and auditory spelling activity where pupils can associate the sounds they hear with letters and combinations of letters.
  • I encourage pupils to keep the boxes their new shoes came in and to use these for languages!  Every time some vocab cards are made and used, they go into a small (dinner-money) envelope, labelled with the topic, and these are kept in their shoebox.  As the year goes on, the box gets fuller.  By the time they reach KS4 they’ve already got lots of revision materials they can still benefit from.  I tell parents about this on the first parents’ evening, mention it in reports and every now and again I encourage the pupils to bring their boxes in to school so they can run a few games with their partners (or rather, so that I can see if they are still keeping their cards).
  • Pupils will only use these techniques on their own if they are also using them in class.  I encourage them to walk around with an envelope of cards in their pocket for a couple of days and flip through the cards at odd moments.  They often find this is much more effective than sitting down for a while with them.

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