In School in Germany: Story Cubes and Index Cards

In teaching, there is a golden rule to keep in mind: A teacher is a natural if and only if he is constantly creating new activities out of things that he has in his possession. A nature boy with a creative talent is a teacher at heart, just like the Nature Boy Ric Flair and professional wrestling. This is where the Story Cubes and Index Cards come in handy. A set of mobile materials to take with you to class to use for any subject, including foreign languages.  An overview of both are presented here.

STORY CUBES: 

Created by Gamewright Inc., the game features a set of nine die, each having a picture on there. There are three different games to choose from: regular, action or travel.  The object is to create stories or provide sentences using the pictures that are given after the die is rolled. It can vary from once dice or more, and the number of participants can vary. I found the game during my trip to Iowa with my family last year, while visiting the Living History Museum Complex in Des Moines, and since then, I have not regretted buying them, for students have taken the opportunity to learn new vocabulary and improve grammar through several activities. One can create as many stories as activities, including the ones provided below:

FINISH THE STORY:  Using one or more die, one starts a story based on the pictures provided on the rolled die. After one or two sentences are said, the next person picks up where the first one left off. Each player then adds to the story for one or two round until the story is completed. The advantage of this game is to learn new vocabulary, while improving on communication skills.

GRAMMAR CHECK:  Focusing on a certain grammar aspect, like direct vs indirect speech, adverb vs adjective, or even asking and answering questions, one can provide some exercises with Story Cubes. Some of the exercises I came up with include the following:

TRADING AND SWITCHING: In pairs and choosing one grammar subject, the first person writes a sentence, whereas the second one converts it.  This goes well with (in-)direct speech, adverbs vs. adjectives, or when working on questions, where one says the answer and the other asks the question.

ESSAYS: Using one or more pictures on the die, you can construct an essay, focusing on one or more grammar topics.

MR. SPONTANEOUS: Rolling one or more die, the teacher can present a task for the student to complete verbally. The same applies if it is student to student.  This includes asking questions, filling in the gaps using verb tenses and the like.

MAKE A DECISION:  Using the picture on the die, students can create a situation and have the rest of the group decide what course of action to take.

ASQ:  Using one die, you can roll a picture and ask someone a question. How it is done is up to the person rolling it, but it can give the person(s) asking a chance to provide some interesting answers and encourage them to speak.

 

INDEX CARDS:

In comparison with the Story Cubes, using index cards for foreign language teaching encourages the participants to be more flexible with their way of communication. There, students can choose a card and start a discussion, pending on the two forms of frontal teaching that is used here:  the closed form (where a student completes a task exactly the way it is mentioned on the card), and the open form (where a student can freely express himself as long as it is within the certain category). Then there is the hybrid version, where both forms are used in an activity. Examples of how index cards are used for certain exercises, based on some exercises I developed for my English cards include the following:

Finish the Story:  Choosing a card from a deck provided in the middle of the table, your story starts with what is on the card. After the first sentence, you add your sentence and then the other players. The story goes a couple rounds before it ends with the last sentence.

Make a Decision:  You pick a card with a situation which you have to solve on your own. However, other players may have different ideas on how to solve the problem.  Good practice for those who are pursuing business careers and need some additional vocabulary for this purpose. But it is also useful practice for those loving to travel and need some help with English before ending up in a situation seen on the card.

Favorites: This is one of the most open-ended part of the card game as you have an opportunity to talk about your favorite thing, pending on the subject. Sometimes just by presenting general topics as an ice-breaker on your first day of class does the trick.

Telephone Dialogs:  Useful for practicing telephone conversations, a pair receive a situation where they have to construct and practice a dialog. Useful for  pronouncing words and learning new telephone vocabulary. Good for people who need English to communicate with other Anglo-Saxons.

Media:  This one features the lone hybrid form of index card games I’ve developed so far. It has three categories featuring the favorite medium used (favorite book, movie or computer program), specific questions pertaining to media (like reality TV, obsession with facebook, etc.) and personal opinion questions to share with your players (like the last time you visited a concert, favorite musician, etc.) The cards are differentiated with colors and symbols. Mine was differentiated with three different colors and the themes dealing with campfires. Useful when you want to talk about media or are pursuing that career.

 

These are only a few examples of how a teacher can make use of these two materials. They are useful when you have little time to prepare for your class and need something quick and spontaneous. Pending on how open or closed your style of frontal teaching is, nevertheless these materials are a hit when you want to encourage your students to communicate both in writing as well as orally. They’re small and compact, but they are very handy and you can do a lot with them. It is just a matter of making it creative, useful, and fun. Especially when it comes to learning a foreign language, students can benefit from producing sentences more correctly and learn some new vocabulary. This is something that I as a teacher can take comfort in that fact. 🙂

Link to the Gamewright page and Story Cubes can be found here.

In School in Germany: Mini-presentations

Question for teachers of foreign languages, history, social studies and even classes dealing with religion and culture: when preparing a topic that is complex and difficult to handle, how do you approach it? Do you divide them up into subpoints and provide them with materials and activities or do you provide a question-answer session pertaining to the subpoints discussed in class? What about having students presenting their subpoints as part of the topic?

One of the experiments I tried with my history classes was the Mini-presentation. An open form of frontal teaching, students are assigned a subpoint in connection with the topic to be presented, to be prepare at home, finding the most important and relevant information supporting it. They then conduct a 5-minute presentation on their points, while the remaining class (as well as the teacher) take notes. The teacher can exercise the right to add and correct the information to ensure that the facts fit to the points.

An example to present was the topic of the USA in the 1920s and its return to normalcy, where the Americans wanted nothing to do with international affairs and live the life they had before being dragged into World War I in 1917. With a group of 20+ students in grade 9, each one was given a theme for them to research. The points belonged to the categories of domestic policies, international relations, and accomplishments and inventions. Each student had up to 5 minutes to present his/her findings to the rest of the class, with questions and discussion to follow. The themes belonging to the Roaring 20s included: jazz music, Washington Conference, the radio, Prohibition, Women’s Right to Vote, Dawes Act, Fordney-McCumber Act, farming, the US highway system, and airplanes, just to name a few.

Advantages of a mini-presentation is students have a chance to know about the important points, let alone be encouraged to dig deeper in the research. For foreign language teaching, they have the chance to improve their language skills and acquire vocabulary relevant to the topic discussed in class. Two major disadvantages are the time factor and the fact that many students can forget the information mentioned if they do not write it down or have problems in communicating. For the first part, it is difficult if a session is between 45 and 60 minutes, pending on which school you are teaching, as mentioned in an earlier article. It is perhaps more effective if these presentations are done over the course of two sessions, or in a block session, as many Gymnasien in Germany have. To avoid problems with the second part, it is the easiest if a handout with a summary of the points are presented at the end of the topic so that the students have something on a sheet of paper.

But speaking from experience, mini-presentations are perhaps the most effective but also interesting way to lead the class through the subject without having difficulties in understanding the themes. This is because the students have the opportunity to do the frontal teaching, while the teacher can moderate to help them with their language, presentation and knowledge skills. On the school level, the students will get a whiff of what is expected of them when graduating: presentations of 10-30 minutes at the university and in their jobs. As our society has become more communicative, presentations are becoming the key requirement skills needed for the job, even more so if in a foreign language.

So for teachers of the aforementioned courses, now is the time to do the students a favor. And believe me, they will benefit from it-double! 😉