Bring It In And Take Them Out

Connecting Students To The K-12 World
by Alisan Croydon

from The Mud and the Muck, the Newsletter of the Literacy Network of Washington, Fall Issue 2006

MS Word version (58 kb)

It is easy to get into a rut in our teaching sessions and sometimes a struggle to make instruction relevant and interesting. Consider bringing the real world to your students or taking them out to it. Bring in real objects and people and use them in practice activities instead of pictures. Language becomes real when you get out of the books, take learning off the page, and have students interact with everyday objects. Take students outside the classroom to connect with the world in an authentic way, practice language they have rehearsed in class, and set up opportunities for spontaneous language use. You may find increased spark and interest from your students as you help bridge the gap between learning in the classroom and speaking English in the world outside it.

Bringing In Realia

Realia or real objects bring lessons to life. They are tactile and provide a clearer guide to meaning than a drawing or a black and white graphic. Consider the differences between a picture of a lemon, a plastic lemon, and a real lemon. The picture is ambiguous and may not even be in color. You can teach the name of the fruit only with a lot of additional explanation. Many pictorial representations are culture bound and may not easily be recognized by those who have not grown up with graphics. A plastic lemon would be preferable since, at least, it looks like the real thing. A real lemon, however, provides the most language possibilities since you can actually smell and taste it as well as cut and squeeze it.

Using realia gives more opportunities for spontaneous language use as students make comments, give opinions, and ask questions that may not be sparked in the same way by material on a page. Having a real object in class helps kinesthetic learners acquire language more easily and livens up the session for everyone.

Bringing in realia is also an opportunity to include items from your students’ cultures. Below, you will find a variety of activities for using realia to teach vocabulary and high frequency language, and as a springboard for conversation to get language off the page and into the mouths of your students.

Types of Realia

Realia is easily available. To efficiently use your new collections of stuff, bag the items up by topic. Here are some suggestions for bags of stuff:

* A bag of clothing (represent different seasons, sizes, ages, genders, and cultures)
* A bag of groceries, or just limit to fruits and vegetables
* A bag of packaged food
* A bag of household tools
* A collection of garden tools
* A bag of kitchen utensils and equipment
* A bag of personal items (brush, comb, toothbrush, wallet, purse, backpack)
* A bag of dollhouse furniture and a dollhouse
* A bag of classroom objects or school supplies
* A bag of children’s cars or other vehicles
* A bag of toy animals
* A bag of health related items (band-aids, thermometer, scales, ointment)

Uses For Realia

Vocabulary Activities

Combine the objects with other language students already know (numbers, colors, actions).

Sort items into categories (first letter sound, size, use, color).

Use TPR. Write a series of simple commands that can be carried out with the items.

Give me the (blank).

Put the (blank) on the (blank).

Play Kim’s game.

Put objects on a table and have students spend a minute looking at them. Cover them up and have students recall as many items as they can. Variations of the game include removing items and having students figure out which items were removed.

Feel the object.

Put objects in a shopping bag or any bag that is not transparent and have students put their hand in the bag to feel the object and name the object.

Listen and point.

Place five new items on a table. Say the name of each item as you point to it. Then, have students point to each item as you say the name. Mix up the items and repeat the process.

Conversation Activities

Combine descriptive language with actions.

Give me the red sofa, the small table, and the blue car. Use descriptive language with the items.

It’s long/short/big/red.

Use prompt questions to encourage conversations. For example, with food items, you could ask about cooking, shopping, eating, or growing food.

Which foods do you eat in your culture?

Which do you not?

What foods do you like/dislike?

What foods from your country can you not get in the United States?

What foods are grown in your country?

How often do you eat (blank)?

What food do you eat the most?

What food do you eat on special occasions, such as weddings, children’s birthdays, etc.?

Talk about or compare and contrast with the student’s own culture. Compare the item to what is used in the student’s native country:

In the U.S., women wear short pants. No my country women short pants.

In here have apple. My country no apple.

Create dialogues or questions and answers.

Give me the hammer, please. Here you are!


Is this your jacket? Yes, it is.

I like your jacket. Thank you.

Is this yours? No, it’s Ahmed’s.

Where is the spoon? On the table.

Use comparative language.

The wrench is heavier than the screwdriver. A hammer is more useful than a mallet. The hammer is longer than the screwdriver.

Pantomime or state a problem. Then, ask students to give you solutions.

I am cold. Help me. Put on jacket!

My book is broken. Use tape.

Combine the objects with actions that naturally combine with them. For example, with a bag of clothes, use the actions put on, take off, zip up, unzip, wash, fold, and hang up.

Categorize the items from biggest to smallest, by first letter, by type, or other criterion that suits the items you have chosen.

Put on the jacket.

Take off the jacket. Hang up your jacket.

Hide an object behind your back. Have students guess what it is. Is it pencil? Is it a ruler?

Combine the hiding game with descriptive language. Have students guess what item you are holding without asking the name of the item.

Is it big? Is it green? It’s a watermelon!

Give criteria with which to evaluate the items. For example, with a bag of clothes, introduce the adjectives expensive, nice, bright, loud, useful.

Literacy Activities

Use the objects to create an LEA story with students. Follow up the LEA story with other activities. See Making It Real, page 61

My apartment have bed, sofa, table, and chair. Lamp no working.

Have students create labels for the items or tell you the names while you write the labels.

Give students letter cards. Hold up an item and say, “Tape, t-t tape. Students hold up a letter card that matches the first sound. Later, have students tape the letter card to the item on their own for review.

Read the short dialogues or TPR scripts you have created for the items. Work on sight words. See Making It Real (pg. 57) for sight word activities.

Record new vocabulary in some fashion. Make a poster. Draw around the object where possible and label it. Add new words to a word bank or student dictionary. See Making It Real (pg. 57).

Lay out the items and have students include a set number of them in a story they create.

Bringing in Guests

Bring in people you know who could be interesting for your students to meet. If you know someone who is a police officer, an insurance assessor, or anything that connects to the students’ experience, invite them to class. The person does not have to have an interesting profession. You could just bring in a friend or family member to meet your students. This exposes your students to different accents and voices and provides authentic practice in exchanging personal information and greetings.

Prepare your students for the guest by practicing anything they can say or ask the person. If it is someone with a profession of interest, help the students prepare questions they want to ask. Rehearse the previous class so that your students build their confidence before meeting someone new. After the visit, talk with your students about how it went and review anything new that came up.

Taking Students Out

Field trips are a great way for students to connect to and interact with the world outside the classroom. For example, it is helpful to learn how to order in a restaurant through a dialogue in class, but it is much more motivating and fulfilling to actually go to a restaurant and be able to do it. This is a great opportunity for students to practice the language they know in an authentic setting. In addition, it is a chance to learn new language. Here are some suggestions of where to go with your students and some things to consider in preparing students for an outing.

Field trips can be large excursions or simple step-outs that do not take a whole lesson. I once took a neighborhood walk with a class for part of a lesson. So many things came up in our circle of the block such as the meaning of traffic signs, pronunciation of street names, names of flowers, and items students spotted on the street and in yards. After the walk, we talked and wrote a LEA story about our trip, drew a map of where we walked, and learned directions. During the walk, we went past an ATM machine and some students expressed interest in learning how to use it, which I later incorporated into a unit on banking. We referred back many times to this walk for various reasons during the instructional cycle. It was an experience in which the class bonded, and I became convinced that field trips are a rich source of language possibilities of the kind that do not appear in books.

Possible Field Trip Destinations

* Take a short walk around the neighborhood
* Visit a grocery, drug, or department store
* Visit a bank, post office, or ATM machine
* Visit a coffee shop or restaurant
* Tour a public library
* Arrange to visit a place of work interesting to students
* Take a short bus ride
* Visit a food bank
* Go to a park or playground
* Visit a place of local interest such as a tourist destination in your area
* Tour your own building if your instructional space is in a larger setting
* Visit a school or childcare center
* Go to a movie

Before The Trip

You might need to contact the field trip site if you are bringing a large number of students at once. I contacted a grocery store I was planning to visit with my class. Not only did they let us wander the aisles and do our treasure hunt, but the manager took us behind the scenes and let us observe how meat was packaged, how stock was inventoried and stored, and how to apply for a job there.

In class, determine what language students will need to feel comfortable interacting on the field trip. Will your students be talking to anyone? What will they need to say? Introduce and practice this language in class. Decide if you will give students a task to complete during the trip. Will they be doing a treasure hunt, engaging outsiders in any kind of conversation, or writing anything down?

Day of the trip

Prepare students for the weather and bring any money necessary. Have students plan as much as possible of the trip. Bring a bus schedule or read any brochures pertinent to the site before you go. Explain the task you will have students do on the trip.

Following the trip

Have students make a journal entry or LEA story about their experience. Write a thank you note to personnel at the site or a report for another class to read about their experience. Review new phrases and vocabulary that came up during the excursion.

Enjoy your ventures outside the classroom, and while you are there, pick up some real material such as brochures, forms, schedules, flyers, and advertisements that you can bring back to the instructional setting to use in class. As you look around your home or workplace, you will spy new realia possibilities to bring in to your students. Real stuff leads to real learning and real, meaningful conversations. When you bring it in and take them out, you and your students will be rewarded with increased vigor and interest in your classes.

NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Readers are free to post, forward or reproduce this material for nonprofit research and educational uses, if it is clearly identified as the work of
Alisan Croydon, from The Mud and the Muck, the Newsletter Of The Literacy Network Of Washington, Fall Issue 2006, and if the citations noted are used. All other rights reserved.

Kaizen Program
for New English Learners with Visual Limitations
email: kaizen ( at )