When children come back to school in September after a long summer break, we teachers may be faced with what is known as tabula rasa, which is a Latin expression meaning “clean (empty) table or list”.

True, we tell them in May or June that they should read a book, watch some films in English, in short, do something to keep up their language level. It is also true that not every student follows our advice, yet we have to teach them all. A good way to start off the new academic year is to prepare a few revision exercises based on the pupils’ real experiences, interests and hobbies. Throughout the year, immediate activation and recycling of the vocabulary bring about consistently good results.

• Primary School. Beginner-Elementary Level. Any visual and audio props work well with younger children. For example, many families in my academic town own a plot of land where they grow fruits, vegetables and berries as well as flowers in summer. In spring, most children would mention their family outings. They may own a small house in what is locally called “garden”, so they can spend whole weekends there. Those “gardens” are usually situated around a pond or lake where kids can sun-bathe and swim. Thus, several topics present themselves based on the summer vacation time. A large alphabet poster, with a picture attached to every letter, may be placed on the board or on a wall: Aa, a picture of an apple and the word “apple” written underneath; Bb, a picture of any berry and the word “berry” accompanying it, et cetera. During the hot Siberian summer, even small watermelons are grown locally. Zucchinis are also common; Ww and Zz present no problems. I was stuck for Xx and Yy illustrations, so I asked my young students, and they quickly came up with solutions. They drew an unidentifiable huge berry with a large Xx? and a gooey purple glob for Yy, with the caption “Yuk!” A few phrases, for instance “There are…” and “We like/dislike…” written on the board in advance help young pupils remember how to build short sentences. As home-task or in-class exercise, they can choose a few letters and draw their own pictures of various plants with appropriate captions. A teacher should be ready to suggest some variations for those children whose families do not own a “garden”. It is important to remember that for the children, anything a teacher says is an absolute, something that has to be done, a must. They may feel completely at a loss, so we may suggest that they share with their classmate, or use their family shopping experience instead.

• Middle School. Intermediate Level. In spring, most families start planning for the summer. Books, films, music, summer vacation camps, the beach are all good topics for discussion. If we allow a degree of freedom and suggest that the class choose what they wish to talk about, we may compile a list and work with it in pairs or small groups. It is all right to let the whole class work with dictionaries first just to remember the necessary words. If they exhibit problems while trying to build sentences, we may have a couple students write some useful phrases on the board, with the whole class offering suggestions. If at least one student visited another town or country with their family or a school group headed by a teacher, they may talk about their impressions and tell the class about their encounters. Some of they may have even had to speak English while traveling. There may be photos, videos and audios to share. First, we can pool all the resources together and see what we have; then we may decide what to do with them. Some students may prefer to keep silent about their family’s vacation, so we should be ready with alternate activities for them, to help them activate the same vocabulary as their peers, and yet respect their desire for privacy. “If I had a zillion billion dollars, I would like to do/go/buy…” is usually a good starting point for a discussion.

• Senior School. Upper-Intermediate Level. Hopefully, seniors would not have forgotten ALL their English. With our help and a few props, they should be able to speak, even if haltingly at first. A few talented teenagers attend some summer courses, go to mathematical events or to language summer camps; one or two travel to an English-speaking country, either for a language course, or for family vacation. Since many adolescents usually know what they wish to specialize in, they often read some books connected to their interests, both literature and references or textbooks. ICT is of course a great help when working with the dot.com generation. After we have a revision/remembrance session in class, we may ask our students to send us emails, texts, bring in presentations, and share their e-photos and videos if they wish. Using the means which are familiar to them in education shows teenagers that clicking a button and typing something in English is a good way to consolidate their skills, and to remember the new vocabulary or revise the forgotten one. The same exercise works well both at the end of a school year and at the beginning of a new one. I would suggest that a Vocabulary Competition is conducted. Students may choose any topic we have had during the year, and either make up one really long sentence including as many theme words as possible, or write a short essay, just a hundred words long, using the relevant vocabulary. The winner is the student who managed to use more theme words than anybody else.

Nina MK, Ph.D.

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