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Using Realia in TEFL Teaching

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A ladybird in the hand in the class.

The word real on which this word is built gives a big clue to what realia is.

In foreign language instruction realia are real-life objects used in the classroom to illustrate and teach vocabulary‏‎ or to help students learn and produce. Realia can consist of almost anything including both objects from a country where the target language‏‎ is spoken as well as objects from the teacher’s home country.

Realia allows students to use their senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) to connect words with their meaning, thus making them more memorable. For young learners in particular it’s a very useful tool to make real in their mind what, at the beginning, might come across as abstract.

For example, as a teacher you can stand at the front of the class and explain the word beetle to your class for ten minutes. The students will listen and then slowly being to understand what you mean. Hopefully. Many will then translate it into their mother tongue‏‎ and write down the English‏‎ and the translation in their exercise book.

However, if you actually produce a beetle from your pocket the class will understand immediately what you mean and associate the word with the object, not necessarily translating it. Many will then write the English word in their exercise book alongside a drawing of the beetle.

In this example above it is probably best to use a plastic beetle rather than a real one and this is fine. If we can’t use the real thing then toys or reproductions are a good substitute. Photos (or flashcards‏‎) are a third-best.

See Also

Authentic TEFL Material‏‎ – written material used in the classroom which was originally produced for native speakers.

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