December 26, 2013

Routine cards foster confidence, dialogue, and awareness

“It’s not about having enough time, 
it’s about making enough time.” 
Rachael Bermingham

My mom prepared this card display! 
You probably have already seen routine cards in kindergarten walls. Well, that's exactly from I got the idea and adapted them to our English classes. Routine cards usually display planned activities and their sequence to let children know how their day will unfold. 

Routine cards are a great resource to teach young learners as they help students to understand time, reduce anxiety, ease transitions, promote dialogue about learning, raise learning awareness, and foster power sharing.

Routine cards can be created in many ways. At school we have the following ones: Relaxing, Warm up, Circle Time, Storytelling, Game, Puppet, Song, Art, Video, Writing, Reading, Grammar, Theater, Project, Cooking, Sports, Surprise, and Wrap up. 

Here below I will explore many of the great advantages I have found while working with routine cards. Come with me! 

Children are better able to understand time: it is hard for young learners to understand how time is lived. Some children enjoy the class so much that they ask every five minutes if we still have time left, some other children are anxious either waiting for a certain favourite activity to happen or for the class to end. In all these situations there is anxiety, which certainly hinders the concentration and learning from the whole group. By showing young learners the sequence of what is planned for the class, they can concretely "see" time passing and can know when and what is happening next. We usually turn every card down after we have done that activity.

Routine cards allow for smoother transitions between activities: I guess most teachers agree that it is hard for children to transition activities. I noticed that when students know what is happening next it is easier to progress in the sequence of activities. It is very important to prime them, by telling them that we still have some minutes to finish, as it allows them some time to accomplish the task and move on. It is important to have a sequence in which there is a growing level of interest after demanding activities, such as having a game after a writing activity. 

Attention: make sure you say that you are doing the writing and then the reading. If you say that you are playing the game if you do the writing, the game is being set as a reward for the writing and this implies indirectly and unconsciously that the writing part is the "bad" one. 

It is a great way to manage energy: there are naturally some activities that are more demanding and some others that are the students' favourites. Routine cards can help teachers and students by organizing "harder" activities first and the most pleasurable ones last. I like also look use routine cards to balance the sitting and standing activities as well as the open and guided ones. Another thing I do to raise students' concentration is to insert fun and relaxing quick activities that students are successful between longer ones. 

Listening to students is essential in affective learning!
Routine cards promote dialogue about learning: this is certainly one of the best benefits in my opinion. Having the class laid out in front of your class promotes listening and talking about either about what is going to happen or what has happened. In this precious moment we can listen to students impressions, likes, and dislikes. 

We can ask why they think in certain ways and try to understand how they value the activities and get their purpose. I usually briefly talk about why I think they are important. During these metalinguistic conversations students might ask you why you haven't done some of the cards and I think this is great to get ourselves out of our comfort zones!

Teachers become more aware of their teaching: If students do not actively tell you that they would like to have in their classes, you can clearly see the cards that you are usually having in class. Have you always been working with songs and haven't had any videos? What stops you from having a more balanced learning diet to your students? This can be a wake up call! As hard as it can be, it's explicitly revealed not only to you, but also to your students. Better work on a diversified menu before students ask you! And also let them ask as this  allows for being of service to the group!

Here we have pictures of the students doing the activities! 

Allows for personalization: one thing I still haven't done is to make the cards together with the students by either drawing or cutting from magazines. I believe this experience can be very fruitful as it not only personalizes their cards and learning, but also creates this moment to talk about all we can do during the course right at its beginning. It also creates a very unique product that can be shown to and even used by other groups. The group can in this process come up with cards that are different such as adventure, fantasy, jumping, or whatever comes through their minds! 

Last words about routine cards: 

Students enjoy the cards and they even ask for them when we do not take them. I get confused when I am not using the cards. 

Cards can be hard to use with some very young children and with older students. What I do with the very young ones is to put only four cards to get them used, even if they are not paying much attention. Regarding the older ones, I usually write on the board the activities and talk to them about what we are doing. I guess they might reject the actual flipping of the cards as they see it as something childish. I tell them why I do it and that in companies meetings have an agenda as well. 

Some very young students have stolen cards. The stolen ones are the activities that they do not like and the wrap up card. Do you know why the wrap up card? Because without it, the class will not finish! What a treat to listen to them saying it! 

What about you? 

Do you use routine cards with your young learners?
How do you manage time with your young learners?
Do you use any strategies to discuss what you are doing with your students?

Send you a big frug,


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Thank you!


Please read the comment Kim Horne has made below about how she uses routine cards with her young learners. Great ideas! 

These are the cards she uses with her students in Japan. Beautiful!

Thank you SO much for sharing, Kim!


  1. Hi dear Juan!!! Thanks for your lovely post! I always enjoy reading you!!
    And yes... I use flashcards a lot with my students. I sometimes draw them myself and some others I use the ones that are published in a monthly magazine here in Argentina. I find flashcards extremely helpful, esp for visual students as they can keep vocabulary more easily and of course, faster. Flashcards also help teachers convey what they want to say.
    As far as time, some of my students don't know the time with the traditional clock and watch so I teach the "digital" one where they only see and say the numbers. When I need to teach the traditional hour, I sometimes draw a "pizza" on the board and divided into "pieces" and I explain that those pieces are the minutes and I eat each piece when 5 minutes pass. When there is no more pizza, it's because a new hour has begun... I don't know if this is correct or not but it has helped me a lot.
    Hope you are doing fine!! I do wish you a fantastic 2014!
    Smiles from Argentina,
    Maria :)

    1. Hi Maria!

      I am happy that you enjoyed my post. I love reading your comments!
      I also use flashcards and will share about my work with them in another post.
      Have you ever used routine cards with your students?

      Hugs from Brazil!


  2. Hi,

    I use routine cards for my 4-6 yr olds in a kindergarten in Japan. All of the children get one 30 min a week English lesson and some of them come once a week to a 45 min English class afterschool. I use the cards in our afterschool classes. I put the cards in a CD vinyl pocket holder that holds fifteen cards. This represents ‘Today’s Plan’ for the class.

    After I call roll, the students sit on the floor in two lines facing each other and we do the dialogue for card #1 which are things they should do before class: Go to the bathroom. Wash your hands. Drink something. Crisscross applesauce (sit on the floor). Group 1 asks Group 2: Did you go to the bathroom? If Group #2 members went to the bathroom, they say “Yes, I did.” Those who didn’t go, say “No, I didn’t”. Then Group 2 asks Group 1, Group 1 answers and so on.

    Next I (T) say, “Let’s check!” Students (Ss) say: “Today’s plan”
    T: First?
    Ss: The Hello Song.
    T: Next?
    Ss: The rocket , etc.

    I have cards for our Hello songs, Rocket (number counting), Weather song, Alligator phonemic awareness chant, sit down, Mystery box, How are you song, Dottie Chan (virtues), Storytime, Game, Craft, Lapbook time (not pictured), song (specific song cards are behind the generic song card & the good bye song.

    At certain times in the lesson, I will ask the Ss “Did you do the Hello song?” and they’ll answer “Yes, I did.” I’ll go through all of the activities in the plan until we get to the one we didn’t do, listen to them say “No, I didn’t.” and then we’ll do that activity and the rest that follow.

    In the second term of the year, in the the 5-6 year olds’ class, after Ss are familiar with the plan and the specific language that I use, we take their individual picture so we can put their photo on an activity in the lesson. The Ss then LEAD the activities alone or in pairs. They choose the activity that they’d like to do and attach their picture to the activity pocket. They know they can only move their own picture and that they should try to do every activity sometime in the classes remaining. It is up to them to negotiate with each other (they do this in Japanese) if they want to make a change to the plan.

    It is heartwarming to see their faces swell with pride as they take on the role of teacher and they anxiously await and often ask for, the opportunity to be teacher. Some Ss are extremely confident with clear actions and strong voices. All students participate and they pay full attention to each other when they serve as teacher.

    There is great magic in structuring your lessons, language and routines by using routine/activity cards as visual cues. Students can see what’s coming, so they can quickly transition to the next activity. They’ll be curious and engaged when they see cards that are new, and there are many opportunities to use rich language when you have a picture to point to. It’s also easy for students to choose activities that they want to do. When I give my students the choice, responsibility and a visual plan to lead their peers in their learning, it boosts their language skills and self-confidence and allows me and their classmates a front row seat to their accomplishment.

    1. Dear Kim,

      What a lovely surprise it was to read this gift you have just given all of us!
      I had never thought of using routine cards for conversations and to have students directing the class plan. These two ideas are VERY interesting and I will try them out with some students here in Brazil.

      Talking to the children about what has been done and letting them choose some activities not only raises awareness, but also promotes learning ownership. Beautiful!

      I agree with you 100% that routine cards bring magic, self-confidence, autonomy, and accomplishment to our young learners. I really loved to see your routine cards in the picture you sent me. I will put in the post above for everybody to see them.

      Thank you SO much for sharing in such a generous way.

      Hugs and hugs,



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