What is Pelmanism?

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This is known by various names, the most common probably being “The Memory Game”.

It’s a really, really simple game and I’m 100% positive you’ve played it before. But like Karuta, there are a few things that we need to take into account in order to maximise its efficacy in our foreign language classrooms.

1. Each group gets a deck of cards with pictures of the target vocabulary on them. No words. Just pictures.

The deck is made up of pairs of each card. For example, if we’re doing jobs, there will have two picture cards of each profession in each deck (and one deck for each group of 3 or 4 students).

2. Students lay the cards out any way they like (in a grid is good, but not necessary). The only requirement is that the cards are face down.

3. One student starts by turning a random card over and using it to produce the target word, phrase or sentence based on that vocab.

The inclusion of “phrase or sentence” in the previous sentence underlies a significant departure from the original game and reorients it very specifically for language learning.

The possibilities really are endless and you can use the same set of cards for different language points.

Don’t overlook this tip because it can save you a lot of time!

Set yourself a task for this week: Go through all your flashcards and make a list of all the different things you could do with them. I’ll write an article about this some time to show you what I mean. (And if I forget, email and remind me, okay?)

Okay, let’s get back to Point 3. We’ll stay with “occupations”. Once the students have been introduced to the vocab, drilled it as a class and maybe done some kind of written activity to consolidate the vocab with the spelling, you play this game.

You model and drill the target sentence.

In this case it would be “He/She’s a/an ________ .”

So, the first student turns over a card (let’s say it’s a picture of a butcher) and says “He’s a butcher”.

4. Because this is correct, they get to turn over another card.

So, for example, if they turned the card over and said “He’s a brick-layer” or “She’s a butcher” (because at the level students tend to learn occupations, often the use of personal pronouns still causes problems), they get the buzzer from the other students and forfeit the chance to search again.

Once more, this is a slight alteration which results in students having to PRODUCE the correct language if they hope to win any points. I’ve seen this game played where students don’t have to DO anything.

What’s the point of playing?

But let’s move on…

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5. The answer in our example was correct (”He’s a butcher”) so the student then turns over another card. If it’s a butcher, they win a “trick” and play passes to the next student.

(Sometimes students want to play that if you win a trick you get another turn. In my experience, this version is not as much fun for everyone. Also, very importantly, the weaker students don’t get as much practice, and clearly they’re the ones who need it the most! Outlaw this rule before the game starts otherwise they will just “naturally” add it themselves.)

6. If the second card is different, they have to say (for example) “He/She’s a whatever” before play passes to the next student.

Again, this is integrating a rule into the gameplay that forces them to drill as much of the language as possible. And that’s the POINT, right?

7. When all the cards have been won or (as usually happens) the time-limit on the activity is reached, you add up the “tricks”.

Simple, huh? I love this game. Kids love it; adults love it. And… it works!

If you’re not currently using this game, get started using it right away!

DON’T do it for everything, though. The prep-time is considerable so you will only want to do it for the most common lexical sets, things you can use over and over and over again and which can easily be whipped out for revision “warmer / filler / cooler” activities.

Oh, and a note on the time-limit: Let them know in advance what the time-limit is. Write the end time on the board. Other students will then hurry along those wasting time and going “Uh… uh… uh… I know it… uh…” because they want their chance to win “tricks”. Enact a 10-second thinking-time limit. Students LOVE to do the “3-2-1…buzzer!” thing, believe me! :-)

An advanced rule: At point 6, if they get this second card wrong, they lose one trick (if they have any)! This rule is harsh (but quite fun with the right group) and should only be introduced once you’ve done a particular lexical set a number of times already. So I would never, for example, initiate this rule on their first time playing with a new vocab set; what a great way to destroy their confidence!

One thing I like to do with a fairly familiar set of vocab which we haven’t reviewed for a while is to introduce this rule and give them half the usual time-limit in which to play the game. If you can offer a prize of some sort, even better.

Tell them that the winners of each group will have to complete a “Bonus Challenge” in order to win the prize. When they come out to take a shot, they discover that the Bonus Challenge is being able to recite ALL the items of vocab! If none of them can do it, offer it to the other students. Give three attempts and then move onto the next activity. You might get to keep your prize for another day and you will have drilled the hell outta that lexical set!

Hope you like this game. I do!

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4 Responses to “What is Pelmanism?”

  1. Carmela Carmela says:

    Thanks, I love it!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Matt Matt says:

    Awesome, I think I'll try out the suggestions this week.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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