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Animal Magic with Young Learners (by Leahn Stanhope)

Part of the series: Stuff All EFL Teachers Should Know

I was initially very flattered when Barbara asked me to write a guest post, then my happy feeling turned to mild panic. Finally I just decided to write so here we are. This post is dedicated to one of my favourite ‘props’ for the young learner classroom which are SMALL PLASTIC ANIMALS. I like using a range of props which I keep in brightly coloured bags and clothes hampers.

What do I mean by ‘props’?

In my bag I’ve got a plastic microphone, a squeaky dogs’ toy, an assortment of hats, dressing up clothes, a picture frame, an assortment of different size puppets, fluffy dice, a countdown timer, an assortment of old watches, a blindfold, fly swatters, and a lot of plastic animals. These are just some of the props that I use.

Why do I find props useful?

I find props useful because they:

  • help create a positive atmosphere
  • focus children’s attention
  • provide stimulus for conversation
  • provide a focus for students’ thoughts and feelings
  • help students express themselves
  • stimulate interest
  • free up students imagination
  • liven up the learning experience and make it more FUN
  • activate different senses and brain functions

Six Activities

1. Simple Information Gap Activity

This activity is great for exchanging information about animals and practices reading and speaking skills. I’ve prepared small information cards for some animals that I want my students to learn about.  I put the children in pairs. One child has an information card and the other has a question card. The child with the question card asks the child with the information card the questions on their list and the child with the information card answers. It’s a simple information gap activity which gives controlled practice in exchanging information.

2. Listening Comprehension

Put the children in groups and give each group three plastic animals. The animals do not have to be the same for each group. The teacher writes the name of one of the animals on a piece of paper and puts it face down on her desk. She then begins describing the animal. The children listen and decide which animal it is. After the teacher has modelled the children can take over.

3. True or False – Reading Comprehension

Prepare simple information cards with five random sentences about any animal.

  1. They eat meat.
  2. They live in the jungle.
  3. They’ve got two legs.
  4. They can’t swim.
  5. They’ve got whiskers.

Put the children into pairs and give them an animal and a True of False card. The children read the sentences and decide if they are true or false for the animal they’ve been given.

4. Interviews 10 Questions Improvisation and Imagination

I love this activity as if gives the children a chance to let their imaginations run wild, or not. Simply ask the children what animal they would like to be and give them a plastic animal. Then in pairs they take turns asking each other questions. I have a list of questions on the wall which helps them if they need support. I really like the freedom it gives them to invent and speak in a much less teacher controlled way. The other day in a class with 11 year olds, there was a monkey who was called Juanita, who lived in the sea, but couldn’t swim and didn’t like bananas but loved pizza.

5. Running listening dictation

Split the class into small groups of three or four students. Give each child a number. When you say one, the children whose number is one, run to the front of the class and you whisper a sentence to them. They have to go back to their group and whisper the sentence to another student who has to write the sentence down. If they can’t remember they come back to the front and the teacher repeats the sentence. When all of the children have had a turn they have to read the sentences in their group and see if they can try and guess the identity of the animal.

  1. It’s got four legs.
  2. It lives in Africa.
  3. It’s got a tail.
  4. It’s black and white.

6. Sentence Dash

Split the class into groups of three or four children. Give each group an animal. Tell them that you’ve stuck sentences up around the room. When the teacher blows the whistle the children have to stand up and run around the room collecting as many sentences as possible. When the whistle blows again they have to sit down and count the sentences they have. Then they have to read the sentences as a group and decide whether the sentences describe the animal they have.

All of these activities could be done using flashcards but I use plastic animals because they’re more fun. I once read something about the value of small objects in creating the right atmosphere and mood and I really believe it’s the small things that make the difference. I have nothing against flashcards but plastic animals are magical.

I’ve had the travelling bug since I was a child and have lived and worked in various countries including Thailand, Greece, Austria and the USA. I’m a dip qualified, freelance teacher and trainer here in Spain where I live with my partner, five cats and four dogs. I work as a language assistant in two primary schools during the day and in the afternoon and evening I run teacher training workshops for primary and secondary school teachers and teach one-to-one private classes. I love teaching and living by the beach! You can find me on twitter as Fuertesun or on my blog.

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11 Comments

  1. Barbara says:

    I love your list of props, Leahn. Teachers who are starting with young learners should pay attention–those props are the equivalent of pantry staples for children’s classes :-)

    This is also a great set of activities to exploit your props! I really like how you’ve included a range of activities so that teachers can adapt one set of props for varying ages and language skills.

    I’m SO glad you decided to share this. It’s a great addition to this blog.

    Thanks!

    1. Leahn says:

      Hi Barbara,

      Thank you so much for asking me.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shelly S Terrell, Barbara Sakamoto and 21st Century Skills, Anna Varna. Anna Varna said: RT @ShellTerrell: Animal Magic with Young Learners (by Leahn Stanhope) http://bit.ly/bzet1m via @barbsaka [...]

  3. Pumkin Dan says:

    I love props.

    This is a great post and I agree, teachers who are starting or continuing to teach little ones should pay attention.

    I like the idea of animals in the class, I have a few already but some smaller plastic ones might be very useful. Thanks.

    1. Leahn says:

      Hi Dan,

      Thanks for reading my post. I’ve been teaching childern for many years but only recently did I see someone using plastic animals in class and then start to use them myself.

      They really are very versatile. I’m working in a CLIL programme and we teach science through English they’re really useful for classifying animals based on different characteristics. Imagine an activity where children are asked to seperate the animal into reptiles, insects, mammals, amphibians and birds.

      I’m happy to see that you share my love of props and I’ve been over to your site and it looks great so I’ll be returning.

      Thanks for commenting it’s really supportive and helpful and I really appreciate it.

      Leahn

  4. Hi Leahn,
    Great post! An activity I like to do on the topic of animals (although it doesn’t involve plastic animals, it could as inspiration) is to get the children inventing new animals by mixing and matching. They choose two or three different animals and draw the new creature which is a mixture of those animals, they give it a suitable or imaginative name, and then they write sentences about it.
    You can get some amazing creatures from their imaginations! There is a good activity in a resource book (can’t remember which) where students make a book of animals standing on two legs and it is cut at the neck and at the top of the legs, creating funny animals for children to ask questions about, e.g Has it got a lion’s head? Excellent for practising “‘s” and can be followed up with many activities. I’ll stop now!

    1. Leahn says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Good to see you hear and thanks for commenting! Guest posting is quite scary! I like using the activity you’ve mentioned in class but the children like it even more! I think it’s based on a boardgame called misfits that mixes different character like a clown and ugh can’t remember the rest. Thanks for reminding us of this one and for taking the time to share!

      Leahn

  5. Excellent post, Leahn. I enjoyed reading it very much and I love the idea of the plastic animals. Full of great tips, which I will definitely be bookmarking to show my group of primary teachers soon.

    Many thanks for sharing!

    1. Leahn says:

      Hi Janet,

      Glad you liked it and even better that you found something interesting to share with other teachers. That’s what I love about blogging, twitter, PLNs and conferences, listening to the ‘voices’ of other teachers and picking up things along the way.

      I love the fact that we are constantly sharing ideas and learning new things. One of the great things about this job!

      Thanks

      Leahn

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