Teacher Tip – Realia: It’s Not Just for Vocabulary

Making and Using Realia and Visual Aids

Realia (real objects) and visuals aren’t just for teaching vocabulary. They can even be great for illustrating grammatical patterns. Here are ideas on how to use objects, whether you’re meeting in class or online:

  • A variety of interesting objects These can be things you grab out of the kitchen and bathroom and throw into a bag as you’re leaving the house to go to class, or if you’re teaching online keep the bag of items next to your computer! (Note if you’re using real objects to enhance your online class, be sure that you hold your object up to the camera and rotate/move it slowly so that students are able to get a good look at what it is.)
    • These can be used to teach there is/there are or teaching this/that/these/those. Example:  put two cans of tuna on one desk, a pencil sharpener on another, three rubber bands somewhere else, etc.  Have students make sentences such as There is one pencil sharpener.  There are three rubber bands.  Or, These are cans of tuna. That’s a toothbrush.
    • Using the objects you’ve brought in, plus others already found in the classroom, have students name the objects and use a/an with each, in a full sentence.
    • Use the random objects to practice prepositions of place. For example, The pencil is under the table.
    • If you’re teaching online, have your students find objects in their own homes to practice with. For example, tell your students Go find two pens and use those pens to practice a variety of grammatical concepts, including those suggested in this blog post.
  • Magazine pictures glued to construction paper These can be used to teach both structures and vocabulary. Gather a variety of types of magazines and some time to make the following sets, which you can use at many levels. If your student has a child at home, you can have the child do the cutting and gluing.
    • Action: people and animals doing lots of different actions, especially high-frequency verbs like eat, drink, drive, read, study,  Be sure to have single men, women, groups, etc. so they can practice he/she/they/it etc.
    • People: pictures with lots of things going on: useful for having students describe actions, what led up to the actions, and for practicing different tenses. What did these people do yesterday?  What are they going to do tomorrow? How do they feel?
    • Items you will be teaching as vocabulary units: furniture, clothing, fruit, vegetables, etc. A catalog is great for this.
    • Weather pictures: stormy, snowing, cloudy, raining, sunny
    • Comparative pictures such as illustrations of big, bigger, biggest: Here again a catalog is useful. Look for comparative illustrations of big, small, light, heavy, light-colored, dark-colored, new, old, etc.
  • A bag of assorted clothing, particularly if it is unusual or garish, can be used as props in dialogs, such as one on shopping; to teach clothing vocabulary; colors, etc.
  • A variety of application forms of different types are useful for teaching basic writing skills and for giving practice in filling out real applications. Get a bunch by visiting a mall and going store to store, or check online and screen share an image during on online class.
  • Table settings (knife, fork, spoon, plate, bowl, napkin, glass, cup) are useful for teaching that vocabulary, or teaching prepositions of place. For example: Where is the spoon? It’s next to the plate.
  • An assortment of over-the-counter medicines is useful when you’re teaching common ailments. Bring in bottles of over-the-counter pain killers, cough syrup, cold pack, heating pad, cold pills, mouthwash etc.
  • A class set of calendars can be used when you are teaching months, ordinal numbers (because we say October first not October one), and time expressions such as in a week, a week ago, last month, etc. You can pull an image of a calendar up on your computer screen to screen share if you’re meeting online.
  • Real Maps are useful when teaching about directions or using public transportation. Or, if you’re meeting online you can pull a map up using an online program (such as Google Maps or Mapquest) and screen share the image.
  • Chart paper and markers: IF you’re meeting in person, have a student lie on the paper while another traces.  Students can label body parts. Or, draw and label  You can even divide into groups and have a labeling competition.
  • Dialog props: If you’re doing a “Dr.’s Visit” dialog, use tongue depressors, bandages, a sling, a stethoscope, etc.
  • Supermarket ads and coupons: Great for teaching vocabulary, prices, comparatives, and cultural information. You can find coupons online as well.
  • Bring in a Catalog for every two or three students. Give them an amount to spend on items and have them work together in English to decide what to spend it on, then report to the class.
  • A bag of items that have different textures such as soft, furry, hard, metallic, etc.: Teach the adjectives, and then have students put their hands in the bag, feel an object and describe it. If you’re teaching online, have students find objects in their own homes that match a certain texture and share it with you or the group.