Cutting Out Cutting Up
Tips for Lesson Plans

by Alex Case

This is an article for anyone who has ever got tired of having a pair of scissors in their hands, or anyone who has ever avoided doing a classroom activity because it would just take too much cutting up. Maybe you have so many students in a class that it simply isn't an option. Included here are ten tips to release you from the tyranny of snipping forever. Number one is just a simple tip to help you save time, and then they work their way up to number ten, with which you can go the whole hog and throw those utensils away.

Apologies in advance if you've been doing any of the things described below for ages, but personally it took me years of wasted effort before I discovered them. Hopefully this article will at least inspire you to spread your own top tips.

1) Okay, the book says so - but do they really have to work in pairs? If threes could be just as good, that's a lot less chance of scissor cramp!

2) And does each person really need a whole set of cards?

3) If you're going to cut something up into packs of cards, there's an easy system. It can be broken down into these easy steps:

  1. Hold the photocopies together and cut off the waste.
  2. Still holding them together, cut the sheets into strips (not yet individual cards).
  3. Deal out the strips into (six) piles so that each pile contains a full set of different strips
  4. Now, when you hold the strips together and chop you'll automatically have a set prepared - no sorting necessary! For six packs of 18 cards I estimate a saving of at least 5 minutes.

4) You may be like me and find that any kind of sorting sends up your stress levels. One sneeze or distraction during stages 3c) or d) above, then, could drive you wild. The foolproof method is to photocopy each set onto a different coloured piece of paper and then just follow the steps in 3) for confusion-free and very pretty sets of cards.

5) The method in 3) may sound easier said than done if you don't have a guillotine, however. Trying to hold eight sheets of paper together and cut a straight line through all of them with a pair of scissors is something I've never managed. So, bully your boss into getting a guillotine! It's amazing what nagging can achieve.

6) Sell the guillotine idea to your boss by offering to store all your wonderfully coloured made-up sets somewhere in the teachers' room for anyone to use. Then later you can nag him/ her for a filing cabinet to put all those sets that they "asked you to put there" in. Obviously, this also saves you lots of cutting-up time later, especially if you can rope other teachers into the system.

7) If the guillotine is a no-go, it's much easier to rip the sheets into strips using a ruler than to cut them up with scissors, as the fact that you are holding them flat on the table means you can make sure they all line up and don't move.

8) Alternatively, give up trying to cut up nice neat little cards entirely. Cut up blank bits of paper any which way you fancy and then get the students to write the words/draw the pictures that would have been photocopied on there. For example, there's a great activity for practising past tenses that involves arranging pictures of fairytale elements whilst telling the story. Much better to brainstorm stereotypical fairytale characters, settings, objects etc. and then get students to choose some and write them on your quickly cut up slips of paper. They then pass them to the next group, you explain the activity and off they go. This is a fine example where the lesson is actually improved by not automatically reaching for the photocopier and scissors, and preparation time and effort is also magically decreased.

9) Or lose the scissors entirely (but keep the photocopier). Dotted lines on supplementary activities don't have to mean scissors. For example, another great activity involves a list of household problems (e.g. cat stuck up a tree) and picture cards of the common objects you can use to try to solve these problems (e.g. a rubber band). I would say that me cutting up those picture cards would add precisely nothing to the activity, and you'd be amazed how often that is the case. Often just one snip across the middle of what was designed to be a set of cards for pairwork can be just as effective as frantic chopping.

10) Finally, just throw that wasteful modern technology all away. For example, I've used an activity for years where students have slips of paper with times on them and they have to ask their partner "What time do you (get up)?" to try to make their partner say the times they have written down, and they can then put that card down and score a point. It works every time and prompts communication perfect! One day, short of preparation time or with a broken down photocopier (I forget), I had to get them to write down five random times themselves; and not only had I saved myself from Repetitive Strain Injury through scissor use, but I'd added something to the game. The fact that the students had chosen the times themselves (if unwittingly, I only explained the game after they wrote them down) made them even more interested in using them to win the game.

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & Articles© Alex Case 2002