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Key stages 2-4

KEY STAGES 2-4. TALKING DICE. pound;4.99 per set of six dice. Talking Dice, 78 Brynteg, Cardiff CF14 6TU. 029 2065 7364.

The best ideas are always the simplest, and with the increasing emphasis on kinaesthetic learning techniques (or learning by fiddling about, as it's better known in schools), Talking Dice is an idea whose time has come.

It comprises a set of blank dice and a series of tiny stickers that you attach to the faces to transform them into picture dice, each bearing six visuals.

Five topics are available. The pastimes stickers set has pictures of, for example, a football, music, a television, a computer, a set of ice skates, a tennis racquet, swimming and reading. Then there are sets for animals, weather, clothing and transport.

The visuals, though tiny, are, for the most part clear and unambiguous, though, as is so often the case with language teaching materials, the train is indistinguishable from the tram and will cause arguments unless the teacher lays down the rules from the start.

The dice come with a set of printed classroom ideas, and the promise of further ideas on the website.

They have been produced by Cardiff teacher Emily Quirin, and you get the feeling, when reading the instructions or looking at the website, that you're chatting with a colleague about something she's just tried out with her bottom Year 9s.There's none of the hype that often characterises materials of this kind.

At the simplest level of drilling vocabulary, pupils throw a die and, if they can say the name of the item displayed in the chosen language, they score a point. A slightly more complicated version - useful in a mixed-ability setting because the element of chance gives any pupil the chance to win - uses two dice, one with pictures, one with numbers. Pupils take turns to throw both dice at once. If they can name the item shown, they score the number displayed.

The dice can be used with more sophisticated learners. Pupils may be asked to give a whole sentence incorporating the relevant word, perhaps in the perfect tense, the conditional or so on. You might want to insist students use certain verbs or prepositions. Pupils might throw several dice at once and make up a story incorporating all the pictures they display. There are pair activities, board games, team games, quiet activities, noisy activities - the variations are endless.

There is one improvement I would make. The dice are small and fiddly; if they were bigger they would be easier to handle and less likely to get lost (language teachers know only too well how much time can be wasted grovelling under tables for stray bits and pieces when it's "hands-on" time).

Richard Marsden is an independent advisory teacher and writer

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