Learning Names

How’s it going with learning all those names?!  If you’re in a single-sex school it’s even harder – 10 Jessicas in one room?!  How on earth do you distinguish between them all?  Here are a few tips to help you:

  • Tent cards  Bit of  an obvious one this one, but here goes anyway: A4 paper folded so it’s long and thin, pupils write their names on them and stand them on their desks.  Resist the temptation to smack the ones who write so small only they can read it.  I’ve never used this, incidentally, as I always suspected they’d swap name cards and I wouldn’t know, and once I make mistakes with names, that’s it for the rest of the year.  It also doesn’t make my memory work very hard.  So, some alternatives:
  • Seating Plan  You must have this anyway.  Keep it somewhere where you can see it when you really need it, and at the end of the school day look over it again and try to visualise the pupils.  If I have two pupils with the same first name, I put one on each side of the classroom, in alphabetical order of surname, so Joe Bloggs is on the left of the classroom, and Joe Smith on the right.
  • Use their names!  The more you use their names, the easier it gets and the more quickly you will establish positive relationships with your pupils.  Use them throughout the lesson, and as they come in through the door and out at the end.  If you see a pupil from one of your classes around the school, use their name then, too – it really tests your memory when you see them outside of your own room.
  • Ball game  This is my all-time favourite way of learning names which I learned from James Burch in 1995.  There were around 50 of us on the PGCE course and we learned everyone’s name in 10 minutes flat.  Here’s how it works:

You need a soft ball/toy/big ball of newspaper to throw around the room.  Bricks, bottles and nunchucks are best avoided.  A hot potato or a lit firework, however, would keep up the pace of the activity, although I have never tried either.  Everyone will have to say their first name, where they are from and something they like.  However, where they are from and the thing they like do not have to be true, but they must start with the same sound as their first name.  For example, I’m James, from Germany and I like jelly.  Actually, I’m not from Germany and it’s a pure coincidence that I’m still rather partial to a plate of jelly (with ice-cream, please, no custard), but the important thing is that they begin with the same sound, not necessarily the same letter as my first name.

For this to work well and not grind to an excruciating halt in this, one of your first lessons with a class as they think slowly and agonizingly of something to say, it is better to explain this first with an example or two and then give everyone 15 seconds to come up with something before you start launching your missile around the room.   Of course, no two people are allowed to like jelly or anything else, and the class is to have the most mixed of origins so if they hear someone else say that they are from where they wanted to be from, they have to come up with something else.  Their name, of course, does not change.  That would really not help.

And so, the bowling begins.  This is also a good opportunity to establish how a ball is to be thrown in class (to me, not at me), as I use a ball all the time.  It’s a very good way to establish who can speak at any one time (rather like the conch in Lord of the Flies, and as we all know, things can get almost as wild in the classroom as they did in the book).  I start it off.  I’m Mr Stubbs from Stevenage and I like stick insects.  The ball is thrown to a pupil on my left and they do the same with their own chosen bits of information.  Do everything you can to keep the pace up.  They throw the ball back to me and I continue round the classroom.  Before too long, I change my aim and go for a pupil on my right, otherwise it’s a long time before the ball gets to them.  Every so often I stop and go through everyone I’ve launched a ball at so far.  If I can’t remember their name, they tell me where they are from and what they like and that usually triggers it for me.  Once everyone has had the ball, we go round the room again very quickly with them telling me what they told me before and then I go around again and tell the whole class what their names are.  Before the end of the lesson I have another go at telling them their names.  When they come in for their next lesson I have another go and again at the end.  Between lessons I have another look at the seating plan, and when I take their books in for their first homework to be marked, again I try to visualise the pupil whose book I’m looking at.  If you take the books in in order, that’s much easier (and quicker to give back as well).  The whole thing from start to finish for a class of 30 need take no longer than 7 minutes, providing you’ve got them all to do the thinking before you start throwing the ball.

This is an amazingly effective memory technique, and I’ve always used it every year with every class.  Pupils are usually quite impressed by it, and I use it as an opportunity to tell them about how we will use different memory techniques as we learn new language which might seem unusual to them at first, but by the end they will see how effective the strategy was.  Therefore they need to trust me and pitch in with the lesson.

Of course, I do this in English before I get as far as the first lesson in the target language.  It’s usually in my second lesson (the first lesson is taken up with expectations and equipment and the first half of the second lesson usually involves finishing all that off, learning names and going through coping strategies.  The first target language lesson is lesson number 3 for me.  I know it feels like a long time to get there, but it’s worth it.  I’ve never regretted it).

Try it! See how you get on!  Even though this is fun, I’m still quite formal in my manner in this activity and I’m strict about how the ball is to be used.  I do this activity for my own benefit really, but pupils also appreciate it as an opportunity to learn their classmates’ names, particularly if they are new to the school.

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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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