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English Language Teaching - Using Toys as Educational Tools

Larry M. Lynch

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Children love to play. Who can deny it? So why not use this universal characteristic to provide and promote English language learning as well? If you do, you can hardly go wrong. What child is going to say, “Teacher, I don’t want to play”? Sure, it’s ultimately possible – but so is a force five tornado in South America or an “Armageddon-level earthquake in Tibet. Just don’t hold your breath while you’re waiting.

Toys of all types and kinds are available worldwide. Why not turn this to your advantage to motivate your young learners? For that matter, your not-so-young learners could benefit too; especially those learners who are “young at heart”, for those of you who might be teaching adult learners. Let’s look at some “realia” or “toys” that are commonly available and could be called into play. (pun intended)

  • Stuffed animals and dolls –

    A perennial learner favorite even my most mature adult students give up an “Awww”, whenever I whip out the likes of Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Tigger, rabbit, puppy, Teddy or others of my stuffed animal menagerie. You can simulate conversations, use them to illustrate prepositions of place and position, as turn-taking devices or to “replace” learners in a game or activity. They (the stuffed animals) don’t mind being tossed around either.

  • Soft rubber or inflated ball –

    How a classroom could function without at least one of these is beyond me. One learner can “select” another in a mill drill, TPR or group activity by simply tossing the ball to someone else. That way the teacher won’t “play favorites” during the activity. A ball can be used in a relay fashion to signal the next learner in a sequence or game. If it’s dropped or mis-handled, no problem, it just bounces a couple of times or so before returning to the game. Neat, huh?

  • Cars, trucks and other Vehicles –

    Learners can “drive” to places in a neighborhood, from one part of the room to another or from one position on a game board to another. Small ones can serve as place markers in a board game, while larger ones can be used as props in dialogues, role plays and conversations. Don’t forget about using them for grammar and verb practice activities either. And oh yes, girls as well as boys like them too. Adults? Well I have to watch my vehicle props carefully or the adult learners will “steal” them!

  • Board games –

    You really only need a small selection of board games if you have even a shred of imagination. Two or three will work nicely. Some all-time favorites are ones like “Scrabble”, “Monopoly”, “Checkers” and “Chess” which both use the same alternately colored squares board. Use the boards to “create” your own games too. Don’t forget a deck or two of Playing Cards either. No, not for Poker, but for simpler, faster-playing games like “War”, “Fish” or “21” (numbers – not Blackjack!)

    Please note:

    I’m not a proponent of using guns or simulations of firearms of any type in the classroom – not even water pistols. No bats, hitting, or aggressive behavior promoting realia of any type normally enters my learning environments. True you can get aggressive behavior from some of the toys I’ve mentioned, but it’s easily squashed or put down without too much trouble. I just explain to the learners what’s allowed and what’s not. This of course, is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you’ll come up with many of your own locally-available favorites for use in your classroom. In fact, if you have some unusual or unique realia that you use, I’d love to hear about it.

    Drop me a line at:

    And good luck.

    Larry M. Lynch is an Intellectual Development Specialist, ELT Teacher Trainer, expert author, photographer and experienced world traveler who teaches language at a university in Cali, Colombia. He helps language teachers to improve their skills and develop dynamic language classroom teaching techniques. His writing has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape from America, Mexico News and Brazzil magazines, in addition to hundreds of online websites. He is the author of the astonishing new English language teaching system, “The BREAKTHROUGH! English Language Teaching System: Dynamic Techniques & Strategies for Teaching English to Any Learner Anywhere in the World”. He is also the author of “Heart of Heaven, Heart of Hell: Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Colombia”. His newest publication is the full multi-media E-book, “Quick Tricks ANYONE Can Use to Learn ANY Language”. For no-obligation information, questions or comments send an e-mail to: After today your foreign language teaching and learning will never be the same.

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