I Remember That!


“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Carla Shatz, neuroscientist

Do you remember the games you used to play at birthday parties? How it felt to be blindfolded, turned around three times, and pushed gently forward to pin the tail on the donkey? Here are a few spins on another party game you might remember that helps learners move vocabulary into their long-term memory through a combination of visual, aural, read-write, and tactile/kinesthetic activities.

Memory Game:

Low-Tech: Bring to class a tray holding a variety of objects hidden under a cloth (include primarily objectsthat most students can name but also a few less familiar ones). Divide students into teams. Explain that everyone will get to see

what is on the tray for one minute and should try to commit everything to memory, but without taking notes. After one minute, hide the objects again. Ask each team to write a paragraph listing what they remember (beginning with a simple prompt in the present or past tense such as: There are…/There were…/We saw…). Teams receive one point for all items remembered correctly in the target language (with articles if applicable) and two points for any item that only their team remembered.

High-Tech: Display images of objects on a PowerPoint slide or on an interactive white board.

Follow-up activities:

What’s it like? 

To move beyond simply naming the objects (and to develop descriptive vocabulary and analytical skills),categorize them in as many ways as possible. Have students physically move the objects into piles according to category (high-tech option: label them with Post-Its on the projected slide or simply separate the images on the interactive white board and/or take advantage of the software’s other options*). Categories can be chosen according to linguistic features (e.g., gender, alphabetical order, number of syllables, etc); physical features (e.g., size, color, substance they are made of – plastic, wood, rubber…, texture, weight, etc); or function (e.g., things you use in school; things you eat; things you play with, etc..).

Once students have had practice categorizing the objects in a few ways, divide them into pairs or small groups and assign a different object to each group. Ask them to write a paragraph describing the object, but without naming it. Collect all of the descriptions and place the objects in the center of the room. As you read the descriptions out loud, ask students to raise their hand when they are sure they know which object is being described (except for the description they wrote!). Stop reading when the first hand is raised and ask the student to go and pick up the object that is being described. If correct, the student brings back the object to the  team. After all the descriptions have been read, the team holding the most objects wins. (High-tech option: using flyswatters or Koosh balls, students hit the word or picture on the screen that is being described, keeping track of the correct hits.)

Standards: interpersonal-speaking, interpretive-listening, presentational-writing

Level: Depending on number and type of objects, could range upward from novice-intermediate.

*The software for interactive whiteboards offers many options to create slides in which images disappear or move to different places. Images can also be hidden, revealed, appear and then disappear with object animation options to add intrigue to games and competitive activities. There is also a screen shade feature that works well to hide and reveal images. Lastly, many of the interactive projectors have an option that allows you to “freeze” what appears on the screen while you change the images on your computer. You can then simply “unfreeze” the screen to display the new images.

Interpreting (and Creating!) Children’s Lit for All Ages

by Deana Zorko

Have any children’s books in the target language lying around your classroom, home, or in a box not being used in a lesson? Let’s revive them!! Many children’s books have themes that line up with culture and with character education (such as making good choices and friendships, just to name two).

Activity: All students can choose a children’s book. The books can be authentic children’s literature from the target culture or favorite stories from your students’ childhood that have been translated. Students should read these stories “closely” looking for or marking the text for common themes and values. Then students can work with a partner and explain the key details and ideas they have found using key questions like:


What happened in the story?

  • How do you know?
  • What is something really important that happened?
  • What is the story about?
  • Why did the character do that?
  • What is the story trying to teach?

Low-tech: After reading the various stories demonstrating the themes, students will practice, then read and discuss these books with younger/novice students. They can visit a lower level language class or set up a visit to an elementary school in the district where elementary students are learning the target language or speak the target language.

As their final assessment students write their own children’s story teaching the same theme or value. Their final story will be illustrated and written in a blank book. Novice students may also write simple stories. Students may trade books across the levels and illustrate the books created by other classes.

High-tech:  If possible, collaborate with an elementary school class or novice level class. Using skype, intermediate/advanced students can read these children’s books to the other class via a skype call. Together they can share their thoughts on the story answering some of the questions above and making some personal connections to the themes.

Intermediate/advanced level students write their own books to be illustrated by the novice students. Pictures and text are added to Little Bird Tales and the narration is recorded to create audiobooks. Novice students can also write short stories that the intermediate/advanced students can illustrate, and again the photos, texts and audio can be added to Little Bird Tales.

A couple of examples can be found here:

Little Bird Tales is free to use on a Mac or PC. An app is also available for $3 from iTunes, not yet available in Google Play. Alternative option: Voicethread

Standards: Communication (interpretive-reading, interpretive-listening, interpersonal-speaking, presentational-writing); Connections (literature); Communities (other classrooms)

Common core standards 1 and 10: http://standards.dpi.wi.gov/stn_ela-tchingandlrng

Upper levels IV and V for reading and creating stories.
Elementary or novice for listening and illustrating level IV & V stories

Suggested resources:
Low Tech

High Tech
https://www.storyjumper.com/ [no audio recording features]

Pick a Portrait

by Anita Alkhas

I love to watch people people do amazing things with their bodies, whether it’s Olympic athletes or Fred Astaire tap dancing.  Once my amazement and envy subside a bit,  I have this habit of trying to gauge how well I can describe what they’re doing in my second language. I always fall short of my first language abilities, but I’m making progress. Here’s an activity, in low and high tech variations, to help learners be more confident and precise when giving and following physical commands – whether it be in more stressful situations like at the doctor’s office or going through security at the airport, or more leisurely ones like taking an exercise class or, in this case, posing for a portrait.

Low-tech: Divide students into small groups and have each group choose who will be the model. Distribute pictures of famous portraits by artists from the target culture, one to each group, making sure that the model does not see the picture. Through verbal commands, the other members of the group try to get the model to look as much as possible like the portrait, both in terms of stance and facial expression (the model can ask clarification questions if needed). Redistribute the portraits among the groups enough times so that every student gets to be the model once.

High-tech: Create and project a slideshow of portraits. Model the activity by having a student click through the slideshow while you stand with your back to the screen. Ask another student (or the whole class) to choose one of the portraits. Instruct the whole class to give you commands until everyone agrees that you look like the model in the portrait. Then, divide students into groups. Each group chooses a model. Once all the models are standing with their back to the screen, click through the slideshow and pick a portrait for everyone but the models to see. The other members of the group try to get their model to resemble the portrait. Set a time limit at the end of which the class comes to a consensus about which model has come the closest. The activity can be repeated by switching models and choosing a new portrait.

Standards: Communication (interpersonal-speaking); Connections (Art)
Level: These activities can be adapted for different levels depending on how much scaffolding is done and whether one chooses portraits with simple stances or not.
Suggested resources:

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