I hear the loud toll of the Cathedral bells. This means it’s six o’clock and we should run the final checklist for some last minute adjustments before the party begins. Is the Reception area free? Check! Are the secretaries ready to welcome students? Check! Classrooms properly arranged? Check! Are computers working? (…) I asked “Are computers working?” Where’s the Check?? Oh, no!
Well, this is it: the adrenalin of working with technology. You never, but NEVER know if it’s really going to work when you most need it. We’d had some changes done in the computers a few days before Friday, and although all the activities had been tested to exhaustion, nobody could see this coming. Five minutes to go – the hall is packed with kids jumping up and down. I dare to take a peek and they immediately spot me: ‘Can we go up? Is it going to start now? Is it time?’ I dodge the questions deftly with a smile here, a nudge there and the usual ‘in a minute!’ All appearances! I’m shaking inside, for fear everything we planned go down the drain.
“Hey, everyone! Let’s play.” One, two, three, four groups of smiling kids march up the wooden stairs towards the classrooms where fun awaits. A 10-minute delay is not too much after all and man wins over technology in the end – thank God! The activities we chose mix technology and good classroom management.
- Room 1: Spot the differences – have you heard of http://www.differencegames.com ? They offer spot-the-difference games and a wide variety of other fun activities online, for free. We play them in teams, in pairs, whole group helping, you name it. Kids love it. While you play, you teach: if the ‘difference’ is a hat, teach “hat”. And off you go.
- Room 2: Fetch the right object –two lines of students (2 teams) face the teacher. The first student from each line draws a piece of paper from a bag with the name of an object on it, which the teacher also shows to everyone. He must tell the student behind him what it is, he then tells the next and the next until the last student runs to the other end of the classroom and rummages through a box full of everything till he finds the object he’s looking for. He hurries to the teacher, handles him the object and ta-da! Point for the Blue Team! You may choose the objects you like – in our case, the theme was Back to School, so we picked classroom-related objects, such as pencil, eraser, ruler, the likes. The catch in this activity is make the box in which they have to search for the objects a mysterious one, letting most of its contents out of sight and making students put their entire arm inside it to grope for, say, a mouse pad amid plastic bags, sticky objects and other distractions.
- Room 3: a variation of the good old Hot Potato – students standing in a circle are given numbers at random at different positions in the circle. Student number 1 receives an object which he must throw to (not at, mind you) student 2, then to 3, and so on, in order, up to the last one, who then in turn hands it back to the teacher. No big deal, right? Well then, the element of fun comes when you add unorthodox objects to this throwing – start with a ball, then when the ball is at student 3, give student 1 another object, such as a very small ball, then a very big one, a teddy bear, an enormous cushion, a roll of toilet paper, whatever you choose, as long as it’s harmless and soft. Students will have the time of their lives trying to catch objects of different sizes and shapes so as to make them go the full length of the circle. You teach them teamwork and names of different objects, besides action verbs such as catch and throw.
- Room 4: Memory Game – the BBC is an interminable source of ideas and learning games, in their Cbeebies Games – visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/games and see for yourself. You can find activities for all kinds of learners, even those with special needs. We picked one which displays a coloured piano keyboard. Each time one key is pressed the correspondent colour is said out loud. Students are supposed to memorise the sequence in which they’re played and reproduce it. A new note/key/colour is added at every new round and children go bonkers, helping each other play the right sequence, repeating the colours aloud!
Considering each activity takes about 20 minutes, by the end of 1:20h you’ll have entertained a good sized group of kids aged 6 to 12 years old (64 in our case), who thought they were just having fun while playing games, but they learned/practiced/used their attention span and learned vocabulary in room 1; more vocabulary and motor coordination in Rooms 2 and 3; exercised colours, sounds, sequencing and concentration in Room 4. More importantly, we give them a sense of belonging to the school with activities like that, since they’re allowed to bring a friend who does not study English at the Cultura. They proudly show their friends who their teacher is, where they study, where they play games while waiting for their class, and many friends even get introduced to the secretaries. This student considers the school his territory, and by doing so takes control of the situation when they say ‘Here is where I learn English’.
After all four groups have spent some time in each of the 4 rooms, it’s time to call it a day and I start dismissing the sweaty-faced kids, giving them a farewell gift at the bottom of the stairs. As I handle them back to their parents saying “Thanks for coming. Did you have fun? “ I get a unanimous question in return: “When will we have another Cultura is Fun?” … Need I say more?