The use of various "props" can be effective in a number of ways: as a means of promoting conversation, as a visual tool for helping students learn grammar points, as a way of involving other, less analytical brain functions and as a means of arousing student interest and involvement in class activities. In this feature, I would like to discuss the use of a number of these objects in the ESL - EFL classroom.
First of all, here is a list of various objects that I have found useful:
- Personal Photographs
- Colored Chalk or Markers
- Building Blocks
- Tape or Video Recorders
- Paintings and Photographs
The use of these objects is very diverse and often depends on the teaching techniques and styles being used, as well as class composition and age. However, many of the uses discussed below can be used in a variety of teaching environments.
Using student's personal photographs is a great way of involving them emotionally in any lesson. By asking them to describe a personal photo, the teacher is giving the student the opportunity to make an emotional and physical connection to what he or she is describing. Students generally enjoy this activity, as it lets them speak about something that is important to them. It also gives them an opportunity to speak about something they know well - thus building confidence in their own speaking abilities.
Grammatically, photographs can be used to practice a number of structures:
- Present Continuous - what are the people in the photo doing?
- Present Perfect - what have the people in the picture done since the photo was taken?
- Past Forms - what happened the day the photo was taken?
- Descriptive Adjectives - describing the people and/or places in the photographs.
Colored Chalk or Markers
Using colored chalk or markers helps students associate certain colors with certain tenses, structures or functions. The most important point to remember when using colored chalk or markers is to be consistent. If you use green for the simple past, always use green for the simple past. This simple technique is quite effective as it helps students associate grammar with visual references.
The use of building blocks is a great tool for combining physical actions with verbal production. This kinesthetic relationship linking ideas and descriptions to physical movement and structure literally helps students "construct" their use of the language. Some ideas for using building blocks:
- Ask students to describe where they live using building blocks to signify various rooms, houses, streets etc.
- Have students tell each other stories using the building blocks to signify various events in the story. In this way, they can continually refer to the building blocks as the stories become more complex.
- When working on process description, have students use the building blocks to represent process flow.
- Use multi colored building blocks to improve grammar skills. Students use specific colors when specific structures are required (this is similar to the use of colored chalk or markers).
Tape and Video Recorders
Tape and video recorders are traditionally used to present listening and/or visual learning materials to students. However, tape and video recorders are also wonderful props that help students become more playful with the learning process and involve them at a deeper level. Here are a few suggestions for using either a tape or video player/recorder:
- Have students record their conversations. The feedback involved is invaluable - and often more effective than simple teacher correction. Students are surprisingly quick to catch their own mistakes in pronunciation and grammar when listening to themselves on tape.
- Have students practice and prepare a presentation or dialogue for a video or tape recorder. Students preparing materials for a finished "project" tend to be very involved in that project. This involvement contributes to effective "long-term" learning.
- Videotape important presentations. The best example of this is a tape of a job interview. This can be a bit painful for shy students, but the learning that accomplished is impressive.
Puppets are a wonderful tool for freeing up students' imagination and language use. Teachers can use puppets to tell stories which are visually more engaging thus involving students on a number of levels. Students who use hand puppets to tell stories free themselves from what they are saying. It becomes "the puppet", and not themselves, who speaks. Admittedly, the use of puppets can be a bit intimidating the first few times - especially for adult learners. However, the effort is well worth it. The playfulness brought into the classroom through the puppets can really liven up the learning experience.
Paintings or Photographs
As is the case with personal photographs, the use of paintings and photographs helps to introduce vocabulary and interpretive skills into the classroom while engaging the students on a visual level. The amount of imagination required to interpret paintings and photographs guarantees effective learning. Students are forced to make new connections that are out of the ordinary. In fact, I especially enjoy using modern paintings as students are forced to interpret the paintings and really push their linguistic envelope.
The objects discussed in this feature are some of the more common "props" used by teachers in an ESL/EFL classroom. Most importantly, the use of various objects helps students learn by involving a number of senses and brain functions in the learning process. Perhaps more importantly, the use of "props" helps make the learning experience more enjoyable and thus more effective in the long run.