[ the cards ] immersion learning Learn Smarter.

The Cards In the Classroom

Think of a book you read last year. What can you still tell me about it? The main character's name? Specific details or scenes? Or can you only summarize, what was the book really about? Not the plot necessarily, but the theme. Most people can do the latter if not a single detail. Why? Because getting the theme is understanding. When you come to your own understanding about something, memorization is all but irrelevant.

The most important thing about teaching with the cards is blocking the impulse to give the answer. Traditionally that's what a teacher does, so it's a hard habit to overcome. But I cannot stress this enough - giving answers completely and entirely defeats the purpose of using the cards.

When you ask leading questions you are providing is a doorway to their own understanding. Understanding that you have, and they are trying to uncover.

Equally important is giving students enough room to discuss possibilities with each other before checking their decided answer. Every student thinks differently, and the more that's encouraged the more they realize that there are many different kinds of smart, and more than one way to look at the same problem. It's also of course good for collaboration, listening, logical argument forming, and assertion building.


Understanding - Guided Production - Authentic Production

Using the cards is step one. For step two some teachers like book-work, some games. There is plenty of room for personalization, to the teacher's strengths and student's needs. Authentic production games designed to naturally evoke each pattern are included with the cards.

Open Classroom

For truly self-directed learning, leave the cards in a convenient spot and allow students to self-organize. The levels are color-coded and within levels there are no prerequisites save one. Be available for questions, but let them get on with learning themselves.

Printable checklists so students can keep track of what they've learned and practiced are available for download here

Traditional Classroom

Using the cards in a classroom setting simply means cutting the part of the lesson in which the teacher tells the student what the grammar point is, and replacing it with students figuring it out for themselves. Generally speaking , one envelope (grammar point) takes between 10 and 30 minutes for students to figure out. Teachers are then free to use whatever guided and unguided production exercises they prefer.

Why can't I just write my own cards?

The hardest part was creating examples with enough contextual clues to guarentee every student could figure out the reason for the pattern on their own, every time. The volume of 'accidental annie patterns' we had to weed through came as something of a surprise. The example sentences on each card are the result of hundreds of hours of alpha, beta, and in-class testing, and have been vetted thus far by thousands of critical minds.

Nitty Gritty Details

A strategy intended to reinforce a pattern around the time things move from short-term to long-term memory:

cards 1, homework cards 1
cards 2, hw cards 2
reinforce cards 1
cards 3, hw cards 3
reinforce cards 2
cards 4, hw cards 4
reinforce 3


While the groups are discussing amongst themselves, the teacher just listens. Wander around, sit somewhere, whatever. I generally refrain from speaking unless someone says something brilliant or amusing, though I do try to restrain my response to eye contact and non-verbal acknowledgement that I'm impressed. If a group seems to be heading down the wrong road, and only if they're new to the cards and are still solidifying the concept of critical analysis, I stick closer to their area and only step in with a leading question (eg does that fit for the third example sentence?) if they begin to gain confidence in an erroneous direction. If I notice one group member isn't convinced, I'll ask them 'you don't look convinced, why not?' (which they very quickly learn means they're all heading in the wrong direction). This encourages someone who'd clearly not spoken out yet to gain confidence in their instincts. If no such student exists, I drop in a leading question like 'is that true for example 3, too?' or 'when are these events happening?'.

When multiple groups want your attention at the same time, priority goes to lost needing guidance over finished. A group waiting for an answer check can start working on the next card.

Leading questions should only be asked if students didn't quite nail understanding or when they're totally lost.

Figuring out what leading question to ask first requires figuring out what it is they saw and why they think what they think. Once the teacher figures out which neighborhood they're thinking in, the logical questions to ask to lead them towards the right driveway usually becomes clear.

When one or more students seem to definitely understand but one or more don't, ask the former to help the latter. Helping reinforces their own understanding. This is also a neat trick to check how deep their understanding goes.

Also important is the skill of critical listening. Sometimes a student will come up with an answer that is actually correct, but an unusual way of phrasing it, or looking it at from an unexpected direction. It's important to get them to expand on why they're looking at it in that particular way. Sometimes it's the right understanding but from a problematic (as in impeding of mutual comprehension) perspective. Sometimes students have enlightened me to a subtlety I'd never thought about.

When the students are producing their own examples, it's good to get them to push the boundaries of their understanding. They will at first stick very close to the card examples, and that's good for building the neural connections. But pushing questions such as 'Can I use this pattern to talk about x?', or 'What other things are (eg) true today and likely also will be true tomorrow in your own life?' helps get them building the pattern more strongly into their already existing store of knowledge. The more connections, the more strongly the pattern takes hold. And the farther to the edges of use possibility they venture, the more clearly they understand.