Why Scissors Are A Language Teacher’s Best Friend

I really, really hate cutting things out. There are so many reasons why it’s awful:

  • It takes for…ev…er.
  • It’s about as exciting as mindlessly filling in verb charts. (If you’re still using this as a pedagogical strategy, please check out this talk from Bill VanPatten on second language acquisition before reading any further.)
  • Keeping millions of tiny pieces of paper organized is a nightmare. (Pro tip: small plastic Ziploc bags designed for jewelry and crafting supplies, like these, work great for keeping cut-out sets organized!)
  • Pain. Oh, the pain. That special hand-cramping pain that makes you seriously question if you’ll ever be able to properly straighten your fingers again. (Pro tip #2: Definitely, definitely laminate before you cut, whenever possible, so that you only have to do this once!)
They look so innocent, don’t they?

And there are probably about 14,732 more reasons why scissors are absolutely horrible and the thought of cutting out one more piece of paper makes me want to go hide in a cave until the apocalypse is upon us.

And yet, I keep going back to those scissors. All. The. Time.

Why? Why do I keep inflicting this upon myself, if I hate cutting things out so much? Why not just design lesson plans that require no cutting whatsoever?

Because it’s worth it.

There are so many different ways to use tiny pieces of paper in a language classroom that I will go back to those scissors time and time again. After all, I’m ultimately in this gig for my students, and anything that will help them learn and keep them engaged is worth a little bit of pain and effort on my part. By spending a little bit of time cutting, I can incorporate more movement into my classroom, allow for greater flexibility in the lesson, more easily differentiate activities, engage kinesthetic learners, and encourage my students to develop critical thinking skills, among about a gazillion other benefits. What’s not to love?

Here are some of my favorite ways to use cut-up pieces of paper in my classes:

“Ecuaciones con palabras” is a great hands-on activity to practice vocabulary!
  • Cut out vocabulary words and have students arrange them into logical “equations” – think “fruit + yellow = banana”. This is great for helping students learn to relate Spanish words to each other instead of translating back to English, which will ultimately strengthen their ability to circumlocute. (I have several sets of “Ecuaciones con palabras” in my TpT store, if you want to give this activity a try. It’s my latest obsession!)
  • Cut up sentences and give them to students to unscramble. This forces students to apply their linguistic knowledge to work out a logical word order. (Make sure to ask students to give the students a follow-up task that requires them to interact with the content of the sentences after they’ve unscrambled them.)
  • Cut up vocabulary words for students to sort into categories. For example, you could give them several foods and have your students sort them into quadrants, based on whether the foods are healthy or unhealthy, and whether the students would rate them as delicious or disgusting. By actually cutting out the words instead of just giving them a word bank, you not only engage your kinesthetic learners, but you also have the flexibility of letting students change their mind about where a particular word belongs after engaging in discussion with their classmates (without filling their papers with lots of messy erasures and cross-outs), or asking students to group the words in multiple ways.
This task card set asks students to identify logical and illogical answers to questions!
  • Instead of traditional work sheets, create task cards. There are SO many ways to use task cards in a language classroom (check out this great post from La Profe Plotts on the Secondary Spanish Space blog for tons of ideas on how to use task cards in your class!) I love using task cards to get students up and moving, and they’re fabulous for mixed-ability classes, because of how easy they make differentiation. Not quite ready to make your own? You can see some of my task card sets here.
  • Create puzzles to solve. You could have them match verb forms with subjects, vocabulary words with a picture, one half of a sentence with its logical conclusion, words with their opposites, or any number of other ideas. Puzzles are FABULOUS for student engagement! I’ve found even my most reluctant learners spring into action the second I give them a puzzle to solve.
  • Cut a story into strips and have students arrange the strips into a logical order to recreate the story. This is great for practicing sequencing skills!

These are just a few of the ways that spending a few minutes with a pair of scissors can enrich your lesson plans, but I’m sure there are about a gazillion more. So, as much as I dread the preparation, I will continue to torture myself with lesson plans involving oh-so-much-cutting, because I know the payoff will come as soon as I hit the classroom.

What about you? Do you use tiny pieces of paper in your classroom as well? What are your favorite activities requiring some prep time with a good pair of scissors? Let me know in the comments!