We’ve reached a point in time where you can almost always avoid reinventing the wheel.
Memory games are spectacular for getting the students off your back, particularly in countries where raw human-derived memorization is considered the path to success. This is why people love talking to parrots.
Getting the students to stretch their memories is an easy task to give them. They do it all the time. It’s all they know. They can barely speak without reporting recycled information they’ve gotten from their textbooks or parents. What else is there, you often wonder. On second thought, don’t go too far down that rabbit hole unless you want to hear about the weird stuff they find online.
If you are teaching in high school, however, you will find a good majority of the students take pride in their amazing ability to recall things. Many are competitive and treat memorization like a sport. I say, ride the wave. Give them all the memorization games that their mind can handle and don’t look back. Let them struggle with it, it’s not your brain anyway. Let yours turn to mush, you’re not using it anyway.
I will say that if you're working with younger kids from middle school downward, then initiating a quieter game is probably a better idea because the screeching that students are prone to make at this age-level is liable to make you go insane (again). And most likely you don’t have the insurance or time off to keep you from devolving into madness.
As a side note, some students won’t be motivated unless you give them candy to do this. I would recommend giving them candy at the end of class. Make their sugar-fueled behavior someone else's problem.
I would only give these games to students who can speak, spell, read, and compete properly. No sense in making life harder for them OR you. Of course, with every game, it’s important to provide the rules at the beginning so everything is clear. It helps to maybe put this in your PowerPoint presentation or on the whiteboard if you have one.
Personally, I like to have my co-teacher just translate the whole game in the native language, to save me time I would otherwise spend running my mouth off. That’s no way to live! Delegation is the key to success!
Recipes for Tired Teachers
Here’s an activity you can try: give each student a strip with a sentence on it. Instruct the students to memorize the sentence. While they are memorizing, you can go around and test different students, and see if the sentence has crystallized in their minds. Collect the strips afterwards. Tell the class that the sentences tell a story and that they have to put it together in a logical way. And that’s it! Let them go to town while you sit back and relax.
If you want to make this activity even longer, you can mandate that the students only speak in English as they attempt to piece the story together. This will surely take up half the class, if not the entire one, especially if they are tired after a long exam. Not your problem! You just taught an entire class without lifting a finger, and if you’re lucky, your butt out of a chair. Bravo!
To make the activity much muuuch longer, you can mandate that students are not allowed to write the words on paper. And of course, the larger the class you have, the easier it will be for you to break students up into groups and create a competition to see which groups can stitch the whole story together in the least amount of time (hint, no one will be able to do it under 45 minutes).
I have had much success with this, so much success in fact, that I have a whole stockpile of sentence stories ready to go at times I don’t feel like teaching. I usually dispatch to the students the need to continually practice their memorization skills, while I sit back and relax. Or sleep. Or surf the web. Or just ignore them. You know, just like Dad used to do.
Random Word List Game
Beautifully simple and elegant in its execution, this game lets you choose random words to be written on the board. Ideally, these are words that students are familiar with. (You can double check with your colleagues to make sure that students are familiar with these words).
Give them fifteen seconds to read the words before erasing them. Afterwards, have the students recall the words, either by writing on paper or through recitation. If they write on paper, make them tell a story with the words and then have them memorize the story that they wrote. Even better, make them paraphrase it. And for added measure, so you do the least amount of work, have them tell each other the stories, rehearsing their delivery before they tell you the story at the end of class, preferably after the bell rings.
Another form of this activity is distributing a worksheet. Have the students speed read the words before collecting the papers again. Then, you could have the students in groups attempt to create a story involving the words from the paper, and possibly embellishing on the words to make the story more fun. Many of you will object to me, calling me some kind of anti-education monster and thief. But hey, these activities aren’t mine. They come from Recipes for Tired Teachers, so they can’t be all that bad, can they? I mean it’s like the how to manual for lazy teachers.
There are also websites you can use for story prompts. Storytimed.com is a great website where people can upload their own stories and have others contribute to them (props to Larry Ferlazzo for this little recommendation in his books). Another great website is ESLAuthority.com where you can find games to help your students learn and have fun. One option for an activity is to read the stories from this website to the students, then have the students recall the story, and continue it using their own imagination. Works great for high school students.
Going on a Picnic
One of the most popular games for memory, if you’re working with younger children! Students go around in a circle and provide one word that starts with a certain letter in the alphabet. The task is to remember all the words that each student gave--in alphabetical order. Those who forget are out. I have done this, but students helped each other out, which made it a non-competitive game.
Non-competition is no fun because it makes the game go faster and then you have to think of other things to do. Instead, encourage the students to compete against each other. If possible, tell them their salaries depend on it. Yours doesn’t, but they don’t need to know that, do they?
Tell them that only one little boy or girl can make it to the top of the pecking order. See, I’m equal opportunity lazy.That’ll teach them to speed up games and help each other! Competition really gets the blood flowing. Not in a muderous way, but do keep an eye out for that too.
One of the most popular games in the world of EFL is “Kim’s Game,” where you take a bag of different goodies, from pencil cases, erasers, to gum and thumb tacks. Whatever other random objects you can muster. Show the students the objects for a few seconds, then cover them up afterwards. The students are then responsible for writing down whatever they can remember. Put A LOT of goodies in this bag so that they really have to think about it. The more items, the more thinking needs to be done. Poof, you’ve just blown away 20 minutes of the class. And you can always remove stuff to make some kids think they are seeing things.
You could also have students draw (that’s right, pencil to paper) the items under the blanket to vary the activity. When someone asks you about the educational merits of the game, you just smile and tell them that you are supporting the arts foundation. Plus it gives you a chance to see if there is some talent you may want to invest in for the future.
Afterwards, you can teach the students democracy by having everyone vote on the best drawing. Which means nothing but it feels like it does, just like real voting.
However, don’t make it easy for them. Instead, make students have to explain in English the reason for choosing a particular drawing. That’ll get them working overtime, speaking-wise! So you can just veg out nod and say “uh-huh” over and over. You don’t even have to listen, your eyes can just glaze over as you think of what’s for dinner. It’s a win-win! Like a first date!
Hopefully, by now, you’re starting to see that there is literally no end to how you can extend these memorization activities. They are the very core of what drives student motivation. And let me tell you there is no better business to be in then the memorization business, especially for young hapless students who haven’t figured out what life is all about yet. They will hold onto that memory as a precious nugget of knowledge, until they read this.
Anyway, you just have to make your imagination run wild. Your mind will devise ways to save you lots of time—while you are on your chair, legs comfortably perched, catching up on podcasts or your Netflix queue.
Sure, there’s a little prep involved with these types of games, but it’s well worth the long-term investment if you’re going to live a stress and headache free existence in your new country. And anyway, if you don’t have the time to make the cards or sentence strips yourself, just recruit one of your colleagues.
When I did this, I discovered a whole treasure trove of cards, sentence strips, and crossword puzzles that these teachers were also using (and apparently hiding), to live stress-free lives themselves. Folks, the proof is in the pudding. This problem is universal. Heck, maybe your teacher used them on you while they recovered from their drink ladened weekend. Think back, you might not have ever even noticed.
The moral of this story is simple: Embrace memorization. Learn it, love it, live it, and give it to other people to do it. It will be the best thing you ever did. Work smarter by making them work harder, so you can earn those dolla, dolla bills.
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