TALKING OBJECTS: a FUN activity for the #ZeroResource Classroom

Language classrooms don’t always have a lot of resources like video projectors, smartboards, and wi-fi. In fact, sometimes they have very limited or no resources at all. This is the case of Heart ELT school located in the Domiz camp for Syrian refugees in Iraq - a school founded by English teacher Julie Pratten that is giving hope to kids who have lost it all.

So as you can imagine, the wonderful volunteer teachers who share their time with these kids are in need of not only resources but also of activities they can do with limited resources - in what is better known as the #ZeroResource classroom. For more information, please visit Heart ELT today and find out how you can help out by purchasing excellent educational materials or by giving a little bit of your time and skills.

What follows is a lesson plan I created for the #ZeroResource language classroom. It's one that I’ve used many times before. I call it “Talking Objects”.

Talking what? That’s right. Objects. I’ve done this with kids from limited-resource schools, but also with their more fortunate counterparts. Bottom line: kids love mysteries. They’ll go for this one. This activity stimulates imagination and allows for silliness as well. As a teacher, you only need to get into it yourself in order for it to work.

LEVEL: Up to B1
TIME: 30 - 45 min depending on size of group
AGE: Under 14
RESOURCES: Paper, pencil or pen, objects the teacher brings to class, heaps of imagination.

The teacher brings objects that are safe and age-appropriate to class. Safe means nothing sharp or where anyone can get hurt. Age appropriate I trust you understand. It will also be useful to bring some paper and something to write with (pencil, pen, etc) if the learning area lacks such elements.

So what kind of objects? Well… They may be old. They may be new. They may be orange. Or they may be blue. They may have letters. Or perhaps numbers. Easy to understand. Or leave you to wonder. Dig around. You’ll come up with something.

The idea is to create a communication activity centered around a series of objects that will allow kids to ask simple questions and provide simple answers. With kids, this is fun because you can do almost anything imagination allows. If you try doing this with adults, you would have to first sell them the idea that an alarm clock will talk about himself during the lesson.

STEP 1: Distribute the Objects

Break up the classroom into groups. Each group gets an object. Be smart in how you distribute the objects. Why? Because members of each group cannot show their object to the other groups and they don’t get to see what object the other groups got.  

STEP 2: Make Them Talk

Explain that their job is to describe that object to the other groups. But there is a catch. These are talking objects. And it is their job to make them talk. They might wonder, “How do you make an object talk?”. Simple. Pick up an existing object and make it talk. Pick up a pencil, hold it in front of you and say, “Hi, my name is Ziggy (or some other imaginary name). Look at me. I am long. I am thin. I help people write. Can you guess what I am?” Elicit replies. If no one says anything, you may ask, “Am I a book? Am I a door?”. Perhaps, somebody might say, “You are a pencil.” (or some other guess) If no one guesses it, then suggest it, “I am a pencil. I am Ziggy, the pencil”.

STEP 3: Working in Groups

The teacher goes around and helps each group describe their object. A few sentences will do. The students should give a fun name to their objects. Then they should make sentences in 1ST PERSON. “I am round. I am made of metal” describing it. This is also a great opportunity to teach ADJECTIVES. You may have to draw on your paper to teach some adjectives. The students in each group should learn the actual name of their object. So if it's a clock, they should know. This is a clock. However, they must not give it away when they present it to the rest of the class.

Since the teacher cannot be with all groups at once, while she is with one group, the other groups should come up with a fun name for the object and with words that describe it. Shape. Color. Size. Material. Anything else they can say about it.

STEP 3: Showtime

Each group presents their object. The teacher calls up a group and prompts the question, “So group A, who are you?” Let’s suppose Group A has a clock. So a member of Group A comes up to the front of the class, holds the clock in front of her and starts, “My name is Leeloo. I am round. I have numbers…”. She will continue with a few more descriptions, but stop short of saying, “I am a clock”.

The other groups take turns guessing what object “Leeloo” really is. Depending on the level of your students, it might be a good idea to make a list from where they can guess some options. This list should have the objects that each group has, plus a few more to generate some mystery. If you have no chalkboard or whiteboard, you can write the list on a paper and pass it around so the guessers can choose from there.

Again, depending on the level of your students, you may have to model for them how to ask a simple YES / NO Question in the 2ND PERSON, “Leeloo, are you a pencil?” Then “Leeloo” will reply, “No, I am not.” Likewise, help students as is needed in modeling these yes / no questions.

When a participant guesses correctly, then his / her group gets to go to the front of the classroom and present their object. And you help them by modeling questions and answers, as needed. You may also draw the ADJECTIVE descriptions. So when a student says, “I am round”. You can draw a round shape on the paper. And you might even ask them to repeat it once or twice, “round… round”, as you show your hand drawn circle to everybody. And you can seal the deal by saying, "Leeloo is round."

Of course, you can correct as the activity happens but try not to get too much in the way of the fun. The key objective is communication and fun, not accuracy.

STEP 4: Review

After each group has finished and all objects have been guessed. You can show the objects once again and call on individual students to describe them, by going around and asking questions. You may first try to go for the shyer students who did not participate as much in the earlier activities. Pick up each one of the objects presented and ask questions about them. Correct answers as necessary and always reward students for participating, regardless of the result.

  • What’s this?
  • Is it round?
  • What does it have?

Obviously, here both you and the students are using 3RD PERSON. During the previous activity, it was all about 1ST PERSON statements and answers to 2ND PERSON questions.There's no need to point that out. If they can acquire it naturally, so much the better.

So you brought a few things to class and got students to make believe they were alarm clocks, dice and brushes. You could probably get a job at Hogwarts. But before that, you may want to repeat this activity another day with new objects. And then, after they have learned many objects, you may review it all with classroom game of 20 QUESTIONS.

Try to see if you can you come up with an activity for the #ZeroResource classroom. And if you do, please share with those who need it most.


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