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Fun Teaching Ideas On The Topic Of Toys

Making one of the most interesting topics even more so, and useful communication too.

toy carEspecially if you include games and sporting equipment, the topic of toys covers most of the things that are important to young learners. Picking the right vocabulary to appeal to the class is obviously important for this (although the strong reaction you get when you ask eight year olds if they want a rattle or dummy means a few totally unsuitable ones is no real issue). The other thing that really adds appeal to this topic is realia, meaning bringing some real toys into the classroom, but flashcards can also work really well if you choose appealing pictures.

As with most sets of realia or flashcards, my first game when introducing the topic of toys is usually to hold one against my chest so that they can’t see it and describe it until they guess what it is. Things you can describe about toys include:

  • Size
  • Materials
  • Parts (e.g. wheels, guns, eyes)
  • Shape(s)
  • Other adjectives (e.g. hard, soft, sticky, furry, cute, ugly, or scary)

Adjectives can also be used to make a fun pelmanism drawing game. Students take one card with the name of a toy on it and one card with an adjective on it and must draw the combination, e.g. a “dirty ball” or a “triangle/triangular teddy”. You could give points for all pictures that match both words, maybe with extra points for good drawings or difficult combinations. As well as the adjectives mentioned above, you could use “dangerous”, “spiky”, “old”, “new”, “shiny”, “broken”, “fat”, “pretty”, “beautiful” and “thin”. This game can also be played with toys plus parts of toys, e.g. “A car with ears” or “A teddy with guns”.

Another good adjectives game is based on Yuppies from the Communication Games books. Students are given up to ten cards with the picture of a toy on each. The first student lays down a card while saying something positive about it, e.g. “My toy boat is really fun.” The second student lays down one of their cards on top of it and says how their toy is even better, e.g. “That’s true, but my ball is cheaper than your toy boat.” If anyone can’t continue, the last person to go gets all the cards that had been placed down in the pile up to that point, then they start again.

You can also do things more specific to shapes such as a similar game where students choose how many cards they want and must draw a toy with the shapes that are written on those cards, e.g. if they choose “Three shapes” and take “Rectangle”, “Circle” and “Circle” they can draw a toy bus. They can also brainstorm toys that can be drawn using certain shapes.

There are also games you can play with verbs plus names of toys. The simplest one is the Make Me Say Yes game. A student chooses a card with a toy word on it and asks a question to make the teacher or another student give a positive answer, e.g. with “Yoyo” they could ask “Can you use a yoyo?”, “Do you have a yoyo?”, “Do you want a yoyo?” or “Did you use to have a yoyo?”, perhaps with questions about friends and family also allowed. The opposite game of Make Me Say No is perhaps more fun, e.g. asking the teacher “Do you have a remote controlled car?” and being surprised when the answer is “Yes” and therefore they don’t get a point.

You can also combine writing and speaking with this kind of language. Give students a set of sentence stems that they are likely to be able to complete with a kind of toy to make something true about themselves, e.g. “I have one __________ but it is broken.” and “I have never played with a __________.” After they have completed at least half the sentences, they read out just the name of the toy from one of their sentences and their partner tries to guess which gap that was written in.

More advanced speaking activities include:

  • Designing a toy that has lots of different functions, e.g. a remote-controlled car that can fetch things for you or a robot that can bury itself in a sandpit
  • Designing a TV ad for a real or fictional toy
  • Deciding how to stock a toy shop
  • Agreeing on what toys students will buy together based on their budget, e.g. before they go on holiday together
  • Deciding on the best toys for different kinds of kids that are described on a worksheet, e.g. “John likes computer games but he is getting fat and his mother wants him to do more exercise”

It’s surprising how few story books actually have a good range of toys as characters (they are overwhelmingly one kind, e.g. all soft toys or all toy vehicles), but there are often plenty in the background that can be talked about while telling a story. The same is true of videos, e.g. there are obviously plenty of toys in the Toy Story movies but the names of the toys don’t often come up in the dialogue. This means that a short extract or trailer with a task where students describe what is on screen tends to work best. For example, with low-level classes I have used Pingu Gets a Bicycle with a simple task where they shout out any of the colour plus toy combinations on their worksheet (e.g. “Number 12 – Brown teddy”) that are true as they see them on screen.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net September 2012
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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TEFL.net : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Vocabulary, Young Learners : Fun Teaching Ideas On The Topic Of Toys