Harness the Power of Pictures
Our first attempts at language involved pairing not words to words–after all, we didn’t have any words to begin with–but words to images or physical objects. When we first reached out toward a ball and said “Bah”, we were taking another step along our evolutionary path as highly visual creatures. Why not harness this tendency and use it to help your students learn by playing with Spanish vocabulary pictures?
Memorizing vocabulary words is one of the most critical parts of mastering a new language, but learning by rote can make vocabulary boring and dull. Foreign language vocabulary, and the practice necessary to master it, is also intimidating to early language learners. After all, it’s just as hard for an adult with a three-word vocabulary to make conversation as it is for a child just learning to speak those three words. Maybe even harder, because children are often less inhibited about getting the point across non-verbally.
The Master Plan
Your solution: Reduce stress (to improve your students' receptivity), increase fun (to heighten enthusiasm and create memorable moments to drill those word associations into their heads) and play games (this introduces the element of competition for the motivated folks, and makes it a safe outlet for others).
All you need is a an easel with a super-size pad of white, unlined paper–the type used for presentations and brainstorming sessions–a stopwatch. and some medium-to-thick tipped markers. If you’re working in an established school or university there may already be one on hand, and if you’re working on your own it is well worth the time and money to invest in such a setup at an office supply store. While you could play Spanish vocabulary picture games using a chalkboard or dry erase board, having all the drawings ready for review at the end of the game helps solidify the word-picture connections already made during the game.
Assemble a target list of vocabulary words beforehand for your students to turn into Spanish vocabulary pictures. Write each word on its own index card. Depending on your students' comprehension abilities and vocabulary level you may want to offer the words in both Spanish and English (on the same side of the index card) or just Spanish. Or you can have your students try to stump each other by writing down their favorite vocabulary words for each other in Spanish only.
Shuffle the index cards and divide your students into opposing teams. Each team selects a player to be their first artist. The artist receives an index card with a Spanish vocabulary word on it, and has a limited amount of time–you decide on this beforehand, according to your students' ability–to draw the image on the paper so that his team guesses it. Only the artist’s team can guess until time is up. Then play stops and each member of the opposing team gets to make a guess. Whichever team guesses correctly first gets a point. If nobody guesses the word, it should be revealed and the card shuffled back into the deck so that it may be drawn again. If the word is guessed correctly, lay the card aside to be sure it doesn’t come up again in the same game.
Then it’s the other team’s turn. Their artist receives a new card and play commences as before. The teams alternate turns and artists until everyone’s had a chance to draw and to guess for the other drawers.
Play can continue for as much time as you have, but make sure to hold on to the drawings as they’re completed. Just leave the Spanish vocabulary pictures your students created on the pad and, before you close the class session, go back through the drawings and have the players call out the associated words. This helps solidify the connections made during the game and also brings in the element of humor: They’ll remember the scramble to draw or guess the new vocabulary words and be more likely to remember them next time, picture games or not. If you’ve got a lot of visual learners in class, they might also enjoy these activities.
This post is part of the series: Play Your Way Into a New Language: Spanish Board Games and Other Tricks
Games help keep young students and adult learners engaged and interested. This series looks at Spanish board games, word games, chalkboard games, and other fun activities to include in your lesson plans.