6 activities with index cards

Materials: either a set of blank index cards, some scrap paper, or copies of this worksheet, cut along the marked line, one per student.

These activities can be done with any blank, A5-sized piece of card or paper. Hand out the cards, one per student, and ask them to divide it into five spaces, as per the example below:

Index card - blank template

In the central space, they write their first name, and in each of the four spaces around that they write a personalised answer to a teacher’s prompt.

For example, if the topic is “books and reading”, you might ask your students to write their answers to these four prompts:

  • What is your favourite kind of book to read?
  • Write the title of one of your favourite novels.
  • Name one of your favourite novelists.
  • Write the title of a book you remember really enjoying when you were a child.

From these prompts, I might write something like the following:
Index card example 1

If the topic was hobbies, the teacher might prompt:

  • Write one thing that you like doing in your free time.
  • Write something you used to do a lot when you were a child, and enjoyed.
  • What hobby or sport would you like to do these days, but don’t?
  • Write one activity you’d like to spend a lot more time doing when you retire.

And again, my answers to these prompts might look like this:
Index card example 2

Each of the four prompts should relate to a different aspect of the chosen topic, and suitable topics would be anything easily personalised: school days; food; films; music; your favourite things; etc.

There are a number of ways you could use these cards. For example:

Version 1

  • Ask your students to write our their cards as per your prompts (see above).
  • Ask them to stand up and circulate around the class, asking one question about one piece of information on each of their classmates’ cards.
  • As your students circulate, monitor their language for subsequent feedback.
  • As they finish, take their cards and ask them to sit down. Redistribute their cards, so each student has another student’s answers to your prompts.
  • Ask each student to write one paragraph about the person whose card they have in front of them. If they can’t remember why some of the answers are written down, they can speak to that student again to find out. As your students write their paragraph, you can circulate, helping with language and encouraging students to ask questions of their classmates when necessary.
  • Your students’ completed paragraphs can go up around the classroom walls, and you can conduct some language feedback.

Version 2
Divide your class into pairs and dictate your four questions or prompts (see above). Each student within a pair interviews each other, using your prompts or questions, and writes their partner’s answers on the card. All of your students then circulate and tell their classmates about their partners. This can lead on to a redistribution of cards and a writing activity as above.

Version 3 (you’ll need some blu-tack or similar for this one!)

  • Divide your class into pairs, dictate your questions or prompts, and ask the members of each pair to interview each other and fill in each other’s cards. If this is a new class, you might like to fill in a card about yourself as well.
  • Mentally divide your class into groups of four, and redistribute your students’ cards (such that pair A has pair B’s cards, and pair B has pair A’s cards).
  • Tell each pair of students that they’re going to write a paragraph about the students whose cards they now have, using the cards to help them. Ask each pair to think of questions they can ask their students about the information on the cards, and to write these questions down. You can circulate, monitor, and help with language as they do this. Make sure that each member of the pair writes down the questions.
  • Split up each pair and ask each student to interview one of the people they were writing questions for. Allow a few minutes for this, then ask your students to return to their partners and share what they’ve learnt.
  • Ask each pair of students to work together to write one paragraph for and about each student they interviewed. You can circulate the class, monitor the activity and help with problematic language.
  • As your students finish, ask them to stick their completed paragraphs around the walls, while you collect the cards they were working from – if you have a new class, and this is an ice-breaker kind of activity, you might like to put a similar paragraph about yourself up on the wall, as well. Ask all your students to stand up and circulate, reading each paragraph and writing questions underneath each one to find out more information. Again, this would be a good time to circulate and help your students formulate their questions, as necessary.
  • Give each paragraph with students’ questions to the student the paragraph is about. Ask them to look through what was written about them and underline anything they’d like to say more about. Ask them also to look through the questions and choose one to answer in class today.
  • Ask your students, in turn, to share their answers with the class, along with any elaborations they’d like to make about what was written, and invite the listening students to ask one or two follow-up questions. This would be a good time to note down any language you’d like to work on subsequently.
  • Give some language feedback. For homework, your students could write their answers to the questions on the sheet in front of them (perhaps in a magazine interview format). Later, after you’ve looked through your students’ replies, made corrections, given your students a chance to redraft their work, and so on – and with your students’ permission – you could display the paragraphs, questions and answers on your classroom walls.

Version 4
Ask your students to fill out the cards according to your prompts or questions (see above). Redistribute your students’ completed cards to other students who (individually or in pairs) write a sentence or story incorporating all of the words and phrases written on the form. This could lead into some useful pronunciation work, perhaps (if your students are strong intermediate-level and above) focussing on sentence stress and grabbing the listeners’ attention by conveying feeling.

Version 5
Choose a topic from an upcoming coursebook unit, or something your students seem generally interested in. Ask four questions about this topic and ask your students to write down their answers individually. They can then compare what they wrote in pairs, then research the topic either online or by looking ahead to an article in their coursebooks, perhaps adding more questions to ask other students in the class (which they could try to answer at a future time, when it’s time to recycle the article or topic in a different way).

Possible follow-up idea:
Repeat one of the above activities a month or so later, when students will also be able to compare what has changed in what they’ve written/want to speak about, and what has remained the same. This might very usefully be done if the topic related to “your English classes”. …Hmm, does this count as a sixth idea?

Acknowledgements: I came across the template for these activities in Music & Song by Tim Murphey, published in the Oxford Resources Books for Teachers series by Alan Maley. I also need to thank my parents here, who came up with one idea each on how to use the index cards. Thanks, parentes!

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