Using the incredibly popular topic of animals to teach much more useful language.
Unsurprisingly, given the popularity of animals among kids, the topic of animals is a common one in EFL classes and materials. However, it can seem a bit pointless spending a whole class on “panda” and “emu”, let alone “whiskers” and “puppy”. Perhaps the best way of exploiting animals’ popularity while actually making the topic useful is to combine it with at least one other language point, as explained in this article.
In approximate order of difficulty, language that can be introduced and/or practised through the topic of animals includes:
6.Can/Can’t and actions
8.Third person S
10.Comparatives and superlatives
Almost all of the activities below can easily have reading and writing practice added to them, e.g. by the teacher holding up written flashcards instead of speaking.
Students can guess the animal from the colours (“It’s black and white”, “It’s eyes are yellow”), spot the animals which are a certain colour (“Which animal is green?” e.g. in a big Where’s Wally-style picture or from flashcards stuck up around the room), spot the animals which aren’t the right colour, choose amusing colours to colour in an animal, or simply follow the written or spoken colouring instructions (“Colour the cat brown and black”).
Students can guess the animal from the numbers (“It has eight legs”), spot which animal there are that many of (“How many canaries are there?” e.g. on a flashcard, in a big picture with many kinds of animals, in their whole textbook, or around the classroom), spot numbers that are wrong (e.g. a giraffe with three horns), add amusing numbers of body parts, or add up the number of body parts in a combination of animals (“There are three rhinos. How many horns are there?”)
3. Body parts
Students can guess the animal from descriptions of its body (“It has a long neck”), spot which body parts are missing or drawn in the wrong way, and suggest amusing body parts to add to an animal or swap between animals.
Students can guess the animals from what they eat, match the foods to the animals, and decide on a shopping list for a zoo or house with many pets.
Students can guess the animal from the description, brainstorm animals that match a particular adjective, or draw animals with amusing adjectives added to them (“Draw a huge ant”).
A popular running game called “Stations” also works well with this language point. Students run and touch one of two words depending on which of two opposite adjectives the animal that is called out or shown matches, e.g. touching the “dangerous” wall if the animal is “cobra” and the “safe” wall if the animal is “tortoise”. Suitable adjectives for this game include big/little, long/short, heavy/light, fast/slow, dangerous/cute, and loud/quiet.
6. Can/Can’t and actions
Students can guess the animal from the actions, brainstorm things that animals do and don’t do, brainstorm actions that are different or the same between two animals, or spot wrong actions (e.g. in a picture of an elephant flying or when the teacher says “An elephant can climb a tree”).
There are many examples of books and websites that introduce animals in A to Z order. Students can choose the best animals for an A to Z, guess the animal from alphabet and spelling clues, guess the next animal from its position in an A to Z and other clues, or put the mixed-up animals (back) into A to Z order.
8. Third person S
Students find as many pairs of similarities and differences as they can between two animals they are given, e.g. “A lion and a tiger both have big teeth but only a tiger has stripes”.
9. Has/Has got
Most of the ideas in the sections above on numbers and body parts also work well with this grammar point.
10. Comparatives and superlatives
Students can guess the animal from descriptions (e.g. “It’s the fastest swimmer” or “It’s heavier than an elephant”), try to think of animals that fit the description, guess the superlative for the animals (“A hummingbird” “It’s the smallest bird” “Correct”), or try to compare a big list of animals in the order they are given without repeating adjectives.
11. Possessive S
Students can guess whose body part is being shown, spot the parts of an imaginary animal or make up an imaginary animal (“It has a crocodile’s tail and a swan’s head”).
12. Biology vocabulary
Particularly in a CLIL situation, there might be an argument for introducing complex vocabulary such as “amphibian” and “mammal”. Students can try to classify animals, brainstorm into the categories, or draw a huge mind map.
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