If you’re a teacher, chances are that you’ve used “realia” at some point in your classroom (especially if you teach young learners) and you may not have even realized it! Whether you’ve held up a real object to elicit a vocabulary word from students or brought in a special item from home to grab your students’ attention, you’re using realia.

What exactly is realia?

Simply put, realia refers to any object from real life that one uses in the classroom to teach a specific concept. Realia can incorporate what’s already in your classroom, such as a desk, chair, or poster. Or, it can be something you’ve brought from outside class, like a collection of colorful brochures, a stuffed animal, tickets, or souvenirs you got while traveling.

How is realia useful?

Realia reinforces language skills and appeals to both visual and kinesthetic learners of all ages. Most teachers use realia to demonstrate the meaning of vocabulary words. Think of the difference between teaching a class of kids the words for fruit versus showing them the real thing and having them guess the name. It’s especially helpful when teaching students whose native language (L1) you don’t speak.

How can I use realia in the classroom?

Realia can be incorporated into a ton of fun activities that can liven up your classroom and get students excited about learning English. Here are 5 to get you started!


#1: Act out a scene


No matter what concept you’re teaching, acting out scenes and roleplaying is a wonderful way to help students memorize the material and encourage speaking skills through an easy activity. Try using realia to inspire the students and really get them invested in the role they’re playing. For example, if you’re teaching teenagers a lesson focused on ordering food at a restaurant, bring in some food items and a menu and have students take turns acting out a scene in which one student is the waiter and another is the customer. Realia will help them generate lines and guide them to review essential vocabulary.

 

#2: Scavenger hunt


You can hold a scavenger hunt both inside and outside the classroom to review a number of subjects such as nature or classroom objects. To use as a game for younger kids or beginner learners, ask them to find an item for each color or shape. This activity gets students moving and teaches them to differentiate between vocabulary words, but it also allows you to assess who has a firm grasp of the lesson and who may need additional help.

 

#3: Following directions


One of my favorite ways of using realia is to give students directions to carry out with the objects. For instance, if you’re teaching prepositions, have students take out the items from their pencil bags, and give directions like, “Put the pencil under the eraser” or, “Put the eraser in the pencil bag.” Or, for a lesson on comparing objects say, “Hold the pencil higher than the eraser.” It’s a great way to make students active participants in the lesson.

 

#4: Incorporate realia into a writing prompt


To make writing assignments come to life, bring in random objects and place them at the front of the classroom. Have students write a short story (either with or without a prompt) incorporating all or a certain number of the objects. This activity gets students to think outside of the box and reflect on how we use the vocabulary they’ve learned in everyday life.

 

#5: Ask students to bring in their own realia


Get to know students better by asking them to bring in several items from home that they feel represent them. Have them present these items to the class and explain why they chose each object. For a variation of this activity, have classmates guess how the objects represent their fellow student. Students love to share things about themselves and are usually excited about activities that involve getting to talk about their own lives.

Hopefully, you’ve got some ideas on how to spice things up in the classroom with realia! To learn about more games and activities to incorporate into your classroom, check out our newest courses: Teaching English to Young Learners and Teenagers.