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Using Realia in the Classroom
By:Chris Soames

What is Realia? If you're thinking the word 'realia' sounds vaguely Latin, then you'd be correct. In the TEFL classroom, the word realia means using real items found in everyday life as an aid to teaching English. Using realia helps to make English lessons memorable by creating a link between the objects and the word or phrase they represent. So how and why should teachers use realia in the classroom?

The advantages of using Realia As English teachers, the use of realia is only limited by your imagination. It is possible to use realia to teach almost any subject. Using realia stimulates the mind, and is one way of encouraging creativity by involving the senses. Realia saves time, as recognition of an object is immediate and so cuts out the need for lengthy explanations and drawing funny pictures on the board. Elicitation becomes much easier and holding up the object with a raised eyebrow will usually result in the desired word being spoken.

Realia breathes life into new vocabulary, and the chances of your students remembering the new words you have taught them increases. Take the word biscuit: the probability of remembering it becomes much higher after experiencing the taste, touch and smell of the object! Realia doesn't have to be limited to food or drink. Timetables, tickets, newspapers, clothes... in fact any object you can think of can be used as a teaching aid.

Won't I look silly bringing teabags into the lesson if I'm teaching adults? No! Adults are usually very receptive to realia, and find this approach unusual and refreshing. Bringing realia into your lessons is a great icebreaker, and serves as a useful tool to prompt conversation. It also takes some of the attention and pressure off you by concentrating the students' minds on the object and word in question.

Many adults have had bad experiences of learning English at school, and often remember their English lessons as being dull and repetitive. Using realia and other visual aids will generate interest and help create an atmosphere conducive to learning.

Realia for young learners If you are going to teach English to young children, realia is a must. Young children are at the perfect age to learn a language and as visual learners, you should try to tap into their natural creativity. Bring in fruit, vegetables and lots of toys. Children love to role-play and enjoy playing games, so ask them to move animals onto tables, under tables, or around the farmyard. Make up simple stories using toy animals or puppets, and children will enjoy their English lessons, and be motivated to learn.

Using Realia for learning vocabulary/grammar It is unrealistic to bring real objects into your classroom for every single word that you wish to teach and some words will lend themselves better than others to using realia. Remember, realia can be used indirectly as a tool for teaching grammar; for example, items of food and drink are perfect for teaching uncountable and countable nouns.

Using Realia in Role-play Don't stop at using realia to learn vocabulary or grammar. Use objects in role-plays to make the situation more realistic. This could be something as simple as a mobile phone or your train tickets. Using realia is only limited by your imagination: here are some ideas on how to use realia in your lessons.

Use your country's flag and a map to show students where you live and to help them learn the names of foreign countries
Stage a fashion show after learning the vocabulary for items of clothing
Utilise toys such as plastic animals and toy cars in games for young learners
Bring in items such as biscuits and plastic cups to practise ordering drinks
Timetables, tickets and pedestrian maps of London are great for practising role-play scenarios such as asking for directions, or buying tickets
Teaching business English? Use mobile phones to create telephone conversations, practise giving numbers, arranging meetings, or discussing a new product
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