Breaking the Ice Everyday (by Mark Kulek)
I work in a small English conversation school for children. At the beginning of each class, I have my students sit on the floor in a semicircle facing me. I am also seated on the floor. This is the signal to start an activity to break the ice. Through no fault of their own, as the students enter my school they are leaving their comfort zone, where people speak Japanese, and entering an alien place where English is spoken. To bridge this transition, I want the beginning of each class to be easy and safe for my students.
In breaking the ice, I ask my students how their day was, what they had for breakfast or lunch and if they have any good news that they would like to share with the class. This is also prime time to review vocabulary and preview future vocabulary in a relaxing way.
New and recycled vocabulary should be presented in a context of themes and situations for better acquisition. I like using vocabulary picture cards for these ice breaker activities. I never found any flashcards that met my expectations for presenting vocabulary in natural ways, so I made my own vocabulary cards.
Eventually, I decided to produce and sell them so other teachers could use them, too. My vocabulary-based conversation cards have three main components: a conversation starter card, a prompt card and related vocabulary cards. The cards are grouped into everyday themes. For example, pack one contains greetings, family members, rooms, items and actions in the home, 55 cards in total. The cards are gloss-coated, heavy-duty, measure 7.3 x 11 cm and are made in Japan.
Here’s a short video of me using the cards with my students:
While I hope teachers in Japan will choose to use my cards, it’s certainly easy enough to make your own conversation cards, and there are a lot of ways you can use conversation cards to break the ice in your own classes.
Activities with conversation cards
Stagger the cards like a conversation. Place the conversation starter card on top. Then place the prompt card below it and to the right. Next to the open slots, related vocabulary cards are placed. The cards are read aloud by the class as the teacher substitutes the related vocabulary cards in the open slots. Basically, this is drilling, but I like to call it practicing. A conversation might go something like this:
A: Where is … (the pillow, the telephone, the soap, the towel, etc.)?
B: It’s in … (the bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, etc.).
The pattern is simple and easy to understand so that the students can succeed and build confidence to communicate in English.
Items That Go In A Room
This is a popular activity at my school. The teacher places the four room cards on one end of the classroom and the students are at the other end of the classroom. Divide all the item cards among the students (the students shouldn’t look at the cards). Once all the cards are passed out, the students can look at their cards. The teacher then calls out, Items that go in the bedroom, for example. The students run to the bedroom card and place the correct vocabulary cards next to the bedroom card. The teacher then continues onto the next room.
Brainstorm On The Whiteboard
This is a nice follow up activity, without the cards. This tests their recall of items and improves long term memory. Students try to remember as many of the vocabulary words as possible from a thematic group. They tell the teachers, who writes the words on the board, or older students can work together to remember and write.
Thank you for letting me share my ideas and my cards with you. There are many other creative activities that can be done. If you use vocabulary and conversation cards in your classes, I’d to hear about some of your activities, too!
Note: This article by Mark Kulek originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.