Mastering Academic Vocabulary: Match Card Game Applications for ELLs
How to engage students in the use of academic vocabulary? To me, one of the best ways to do this is through games. One game teachers often use in the classroom to encourage the practice of academic vocabulary is the match card game. Have you ever played? If you have, I would guess your first match card game probably took place at home and involved a set of cards placed face down that family or friends took turns turning over – one pair at a time. In the end, the player with the most pairs of match cards would win. Keep reading to get ideas about topics you can integrate into match card games for your classroom.
Say Yes to Traditional Match Card Games in the Classroom
Through the years, teachers have implemented versions of the match card game in their classrooms to encourage students’ mastery of academic content – from basic vocabulary in Kindergarten classrooms to the chemical elements of the periodic table in 6th grade and beyond.
In the last decade and a half, the game has been adapted for use with electronic gadgets (laptops, tablets, and smart phones). Although one can find a variety of electronic templates for classroom use available online, it continues to be a good idea to provide students exposure to the traditional format of the game where they play with cards they can manually hold, shuffle, and deal. I say this for two reasons; first, when students use real cards, they engage parts of the brain controlling their kinesthetic abilities during play; for example, students can tangibly single out specific cards or pairs of cards by physically separating cards showing more difficult/easier concepts, so they can later reflect on or discuss these concepts. The more areas of the brain one engages when dealing with a cognitive task, the more relevant the content embedded in the task for the learner.
The second reason traditional match card games are still an attractive option for the classroom is that playing with real cards is a social act unlike playing an electronic match card game, which is usually a lonely activity. Through a game involving tangible cards, students have an opportunity to practice their language and social skills as they negotiate their respective roles and decisions regarding, for example, the manual shuffling and dealing (or placement) of the cards.
Using the Match Card Game in the Content Areas
Here are a few examples of ways in which you can use the match card game in the classroom. Which of these uses may apply to the grade(s) and content area(s) you currently teach?
All content areas: Basic vocabulary. Match picture cards with word cards, or word cards with cards showing short phrases or short sentences for definitions or examples. Match card sets may focus on, for example,
– uppercase letters/lowercase letters
– colors (picture)/(word)
– animals (picture)/(word)
– 2-D & 3-D shapes (picture)/(word)
– prefixes & suffixes/meaning
Language arts: Rhyming words. Once the concept of rhyme has been introduced and students have started to decode text, rhyming words can be the focus of match card games as early as Kindergarten, especially in bilingual classrooms where students learn to decode the Spanish language very early on. Examples of rhyming pairs may include
All content areas: Synonyms and antonyms. Whether you wish to focus on terms that have the same meaning (take off/subtract) or opposite meaning (organic/inorganic), match card games may come in handy to help students internalize academic vocabulary. Synonym and antonym pairs may include
Language arts: Literary elements of a story/fable. This year, I had the pleasure of working with a second-grade classroom on Friday mornings. We read fables, discussed morals, and established links between morals and dichos or refranes (popular Spanish language proverbs). One of the activities students seemed to enjoy the most during our time together was the match card games we played in pairs. Our games were based on the literary elements of the fables we read. Every time we met, I used the elements below (main character, setting, beginning, conflict, resolution, and moral) from two fables to create a good number of match cards to play with. Below is the content of one subset of cards we used. It’s based on the fable titled The Boy Who Cried Wolf and consisted of six pairs of cards.
– main character/the boy (shepherd)
– setting/the mountains
– beginning/The boy liked to cry “Wolf!” when the wolf wasn’t there.
– conflict/One day, the wolf really came, but nobody believed the boy.
– resolution/The wolf ate the boy’s sheep.
– moral/Don’t lie if you want people to believe you.
Math: Equations. No matter the grade level you teach, if you teach math, you can use the match card game to have students read and solve equations like
– 3 + 2……5
Science/Chemistry: Periodic table. The symbols and names of the chemical elements of the periodic table are another example of content you can integrate into a match card game.
Social studies/Geography: Capitals. Whether your students will study the U.S. state capitals or the capitals of countries around the world, you can help your class memorize this information through match card games.
– India/New Delhi
All content areas, bilingual. In the case of bilingual classroom settings where students master content vocabulary in both languages (as was the case in the second-grade classroom I taught on Friday mornings), bilingual sets of cards can help students master academic terminology. Below is an example of the content I used for a pair of cards in English and Spanish on the topic of the sea food chain in science.
– seahorse/caballito de mar
All content areas/Cognates. In English as a Second Language (ESL) or bilingual classroom environments where students can use academic terminology in their native and second languages, cognates represent a very helpful instructional tool. Whether students may have been exposed to the academic vocabulary in question in their native language or not, being able to relate an academic term in their native language to its counterpart in the second language allows students to familiarize themselves with new academic vocabulary and any rules applicable to word formation between the native and second languages. For example, it is helpful for students to know that many Spanish words ending in –ción can end in -tion in English
– nation – nación
Can you think of a topic you could use for a match card game in your classroom? If so, stay tuned for my next blog post, where I will describe different games we can play using a set of match cards. Also, if you like academic vocabulary games for the classroom and live in Texas – around the Dallas or McAllen areas – you might be interested in a workshop I will co-facilitate, where we will play games that can help our ELLs master academic vocabulary. How about I see you there?
As always, thank you so much for reading! Claudia
Claudia Sánchez is a bilingual curriculum writer, conference presenter, and professor. The focus of her work is the practice of teaching and learning with ELLs.