Sentence pelmanism

Do you have difficulty getting your students to speak English in class? Perhaps they lack confidence, perhaps they don’t know much English, or if you teach large classes, perhaps it’s difficult to keep them using English when they get excited…

If any of these are true for you, here’s a fun game  that your students can play in small groups. It will help them to move gradually from controlled mini-conversations to remembering the responses, and then to spontaneous answers. Because it’s a game, students try to speak English, improving motivation and extending practice. We have recently had success using this game in secondary school classes of over 50 students at elementary level.  All you need is a set of questions and answers or statements and responses.


Teachers playing pelmanism at a workshop in Bangladesh

Standard pelmanism

Most teachers know the game called ‘pelmanism’, also called ‘memory’. Matching cards are shuffled and placed face down on a desk. Students take turns to turn over two cards to try to find pairs. We normally play it with vocabulary (e.g. matching images to words in lower primary school, or matching collocations at higher levels). Here are some great pelmanism collocation games from Catherine Morley for British Council’s Teaching English website.  And here are a range of 17 pelmanism ideas from Susan Verner at Busy Teacher.

Pelmanism is effective because students have to remember what is written on a card, and also where that card is on the desk. They concentrate hard as they play, which helps the memorisation of the language on the cards, and also the association between the cards pairs.

So what is sentence pelmanism?

Sentence pelmanism takes this idea up to sentence level. Instead of matching words and pictures or collocations, students have to match a statement and a response:

e.g. “I’m feeling tired.”  ->  “You should have an early night”.

Or a question and an answer:

e.g. “What do you like doing in your free time?” ->  “I like ____ing…”

It has an advantage in that it gets students to memorise whole sentences or phrases; ‘chunks’ of language. This is particularly effective with children and teenagers, who often pick up a lot of grammar this way.

Click here to view 4 examples (free downloadable pdf files):

You can create similar sets of cards for any topic (e.g. food, hobbies) or area of grammar (e.g. simple past, comparatives) that you are studying.

How to play sentence pelmanism

You will need to print/copy 1 set of cards per group of 4-6 students in your classes. If you don’t have a printer, you can write the cards by hand. Even better – get your students to help you! The cards can be used again and again, especially if you laminate them or use thick card. The repetition helps your students to learn the conversations.

The first time you play a game like pelmanism, demonstrate how to play. Get one group of students to sit in a circle around 1 desk, and get the others to come closer so they can watch. They could even sit on the floor if this is possible in your classrooms. Shuffle the cards and spread them out face down on the desk. Students take turns to turn over and read 2 cards. If the cards match (e.g. a question and a logical answer), they keep the cards and score one point. If they don’t, they should put them back exactly where they took them from. This way all the students are trying to remember which card is where, and more importantly, they are remembering what is written on the cards.

When this first stage has finished, there is another opportunity for the students who don’t have many points to score more. Any students who have won points should take turns to read out a statement card. The other students should try to remember the response. The first to remember wins a point. This gives the lower-achieving students a chance to win, so they don’t feel left out – important at primary and secondary levels!

At the end, each student counts up the points they have won. You can award ‘stars’, special treats or team prizes for fair play.

Next lesson, use the cards for a revision game. Hand out only the question cards. Together each group should try to remember the responses.

Try them out

Here are the four games that have worked well in our classes. They will open as pdf files. Feel free to download, share with colleagues and use as you like:

You can also find these free resources and many more on my website:

If you try them out, let us know how it goes. If you create your own cards, do share them with us!

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