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What is Realia? And Why should I use it?


What is Realia? And what does ‘realia’ mean?

The word ‘realia’, sounds a little bit too scientific for the English classroom! If you have come across this word in textbooks, and are pondering what it means, the word realia means using real items found in the world around us to help teach English. Using realia, helps to make English lessons memorable, creating a link between the objects, and the word or phrase they show. So how should teachers use realia in the classroom?

Why use realia?

The use of realia is only limited by your imagination and possibly practicality too. Using realia stimulates the mind, and makes the vocabulary more memorable than a picture would. Students can, touch , smell, and with a food item, taste it. Realia saves time, as recognition of an object is often immediate; elicitation of vocabulary becomes much easier as simply 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 the word becomes much higher after experiencing the taste, touch and smell of the object. Realia does not have to be limited to food or drink. Timetables, tickets, newspapers, and clothes may all be used to help breathe  life into lessons, and help provide interest.

Won’t I get some funny looks if I bring tea bags into my lesson?

Possibly, yes! However, after the initial surprise, both adults and children warm to this approach. Bringing realia into your lessons is a great icebreaker, and adults usually find this approach fun, and a refreshing method of learning vocabulary. Passing a teacup to your students, is a great way of eliciting phrases such as ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’, and helps to activate a cafe or restaurant situation, helping to give meaning to common phrases.

Many adults have had bad experiences of learning English at school, and remember their English lessons as simply being dull. Realia has the benefit of really grabbing students attention, and prompting them to speak

Realia for young learners

Young learners like nothing better than playing with plastic toys. Use this to your advantage. If you can’t include food and drink, then take along a plastic tea-set. Learning animal names? Then take along some soft toys. It probably isn’t going to be possible to bring along a giraffe, but plastic toys work beautifully! Bring in fruit, vegetables, and lots of toys. Get your young learners moving animal about, create a mini farmyard, and move those animals into the field, the barn, or the farmyard. If this sounds like too much work, then make it a class project! Children love making things, and this would be one method of learning vocabulary, which your children will not forget!

What else can I use realia for?
More ideas? Well, realia can also be used to demonstrate grammatical structures. Use realia for counting objects, for demonstrating the difference between ‘The rabbit is on the chair’ and ‘The rabbit is under the table.’ Use realia to demonstrate the difference between ‘is’ and ‘are’ (There is one sweet, there are two sweets).

Realia in Roleplay

Don’t stop at using realia to learn vocabulary or grammar. Realia is suited to role-plays and immediately bring realism into the roleplay. Students are much more likely to warm to those waiter role plays if they can give you cup. It is surprising how much difference realia makes! Your students are much more likely to feel at home practising a phone conversation on a mobile phone than without one. Using realia, is only limited by your imagination: here are some ideas on how to use realia in your lessons.

Quick Ideas!

•    Take along a hat, scarf, gloves, to introduce winter/winter activities
•    Stage a fashion show after learning the vocabulary for items of clothing
•    Use those plastic tea sets, and animals, for your children
•    Bring in some plastic cups, and saucers, and roleplay waiter scenario
•   Teaching business English? Make use of mobile phones to create realistic telephone conversations. Use diaries, to schedule meetings, and plan events.

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