Listen and grab the card: a set of no-prep activities

I really liked this simple, low-prep activity I learned about in a workshop delivered by Ben Herbert at the ILC International House Brno Brilliant Conference earlier this month. I have since tried it with most of my classes and, regardless of their level or age, it has always worked well. It’s definitely good for students who tend to be restless and who like to move and touch things. Plus there’s nothing more blissful for the teacher than watching the most serious students smile during an activity.  🙂

From the perspective of your lesson objectives, the activity can serve multiple purposes. You can use it to pre-teach vocabulary or to practise the vocabulary you covered in previous lessons. It can be used as a springboard for a speaking activity and it also involves a listening practice element.

I’m going to present the no-prep version.

·      Get students to form pairs.

·      Give each pair a sheet of blank paper and ask them to cut it up into 16 pieces (this number is easy to manage, even without scissors).

·      Choose a text you want to work with (plus the recording of it). Ideally, it should be a longer text, such as a story or an article.

·      Select 16 vocabulary items you want to focus on (this is the number I usually work with but it can be different in your context). These can be difficult words you want to pre-teach, keywords you’d like students to use to retell the story, etc.

·      Dictate the words. Students write them on the slips of paper. If the expressions are new, write them on the board first and ask students to copy them.

·      Do the pre-teaching, if necessary.

·      Get students to shuffle the cards and spread them on the desk face up so they can all see them well.

·      Play the recording. When a student hears one of the words, they grab the corresponding card.

·      The student with more words is the winner.

To make it a little bit more challenging and fun, ask students to place their hands on their shoulders. This will make the competition a bit fairer, especially if there are only a few words left.

The good thing about this type of activity is that it makes students focus – even the most easily distracted ones will sit tight and alert. From a linguistic point of view, it encourages learners to predict, i.e. by hearing the context, they can guess what vocabulary items might potentially come next, which is a useful skill to practise. 

Since I like to recycle my teaching materials, I always use the cards multiple times in the same lesson (and in the subsequent lessons as well). For example, I ask the students to put the words into categories or to add collocates. As I mentioned above, at some stage, I get them to retell the story using the words. Later on, they can play a describe-and-guess activity in groups. Another option is to collect the cards from all the pairs and place them on the floor. This time, the students are sitting in a circle with the words in the middle. Play the recording again (or ask somebody to read the text). You can encourage the students to get hold of the same word more than once. Alternatively, you can place the cards around the classroom and students have to look for them. Finally, you can use the sets to play Pelmanism (a memory card game in which a pack of cards is spread out face down and players try to turn up pairs with the same number). This is called killing many birds with one stone, right? 😀

Try and enjoy! 🙂


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Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages and levels for almost 30 years. You can find out more about me and my passion for teaching here on my blog.

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