If you teach elementary school ESL, you already know that kids love animals, but did you know that you can take advantage of that natural love by celebrating National Zoo and Aquarium month this June?
The start of summer brings warm days, sunny skies, and a chance to celebrate some of our favorite furry, scaly, slithering friends in class, and improve our students’ language skills in the process. Here are some ideas you can use with your students to celebrate our friends from the natural world.
How to Celebrate Zoo and Aquarium Month This June
Make a Classroom Zoo
Have your students ever been to a zoo? Ask them to share their experiences with the rest of the class. Encourage students to mention animals that they saw and what their habitats looked like. This may be a good time to do a vocabulary review of animals with your ESL students. Then, use that list as a starting point for a classroom zoo. Have individuals or pairs of students select an animal they would like to learn more about and then create an exhibit for that animal. They will need to make a poster sized picture of their animal as well as a sign giving some general information about that animal and its natural habitat. Each pair should write up a short description of the animal to post next to the picture as well, and then set these exhibits around the walls of your classroom. Have your students work together to make a zoo brochure that includes a map of the exhibits. If you can supply some guides from local zoos or print some from the Internet, your students can model their brochure after those. You should make copies of the zoo guide for each of your students as well as visitors. Then, invite other classes to come in and visit the zoo. If possible, have several different grades visit your classroom zoo. Each visitor should get a copy of the map/brochure, and your students can play the role of animal trainers. Have each person stand near his own animal exhibit and answer questions about that animal to get in speaking practice. Once the zoo exhibit is closed, celebrate with your class with animal crackers (allergies permitting) and an animal themed costume party!
Invite a Guest and Be a Guest
National Zoo and Aquarium month is the perfect excuse to take your class on a field trip to the local zoo, and there are several language activities you can do in the process. Prepare for the trip by asking your students what animals they hope to see and why. Before taking the trip, invite a zoo employee or other local animal lover in to your class to talk about keeping animals in captivity. If possible, have your guest talk about how zoos create the most natural habitats for their inhabitants and what challenges it presents when running the zoo. Let your students ask questions and make comments. Finish with your trip, encouraging your students to read the informational pieces on display with the animals. Have your students choose an animal at the zoo and compare the habitat there to the animals natural habitat. Your students may need to do some research on their chosen animal to know what its natural living conditions are like before writing the comparison. You may want two paragraphs, a few sentences or a complete essay. Determine the complexity of the assignment based on the language level of your students as well as their ages.
While you are at the zoo, take pictures of the staff and animals you see there. Try to get pictures of as many animals and people that you can. When you get back to class, use these pictures to create games that your students can use during independent study periods. You can turn one set of pictures into flash cards with vocabulary on the back. (Laminate them if you can.) Use another set of pictures to create a memory style game. To pair with each picture, make a card with either the name of the animal or a description of that animal, then play the memory game with the cards. A third set of pictures can be used to play Pictionary, charades or a Catch Phrase style game. (Give one person one minute and the stack of pictures. He then tries to get his team to guess each of the animals by describing it without using its name. When the group guesses, he moves on to the next picture. The team that guesses the most after all team members have a turn giving descriptions wins.) You may even want to have a set of pictures handy so your students can invent their own games. Have them write the rules and display them in the classroom.
Start an Aquarium
As part of Zoo and Aquarium this month, why not set up a fish tank in your classroom? Keeping pets in the classroom offers many benefits for students, including an increased capability for empathy and a sense of responsibility and caretaking. Even a small beta fish in a glass container will benefit your students. Besides the social and cognitive benefits classroom pets have to offer, keeping a tank in your classroom will require your students to use a completely new set of vocabulary on a regular basis.
You can use your aquarium for many English based activities. Ask your students to write a dialogue between them and the fish. Challenge students to describe what it might be like to live in the aquarium or underwater. Ask your students to imagine themselves in your fish’s place and ask them to list pros and cons of being part of an ESL class. Using your imagination, you can use your aquarium for inspiration of countless discussion and writing topics!
If you are looking for more ways to celebrate Zoo and Aquarium month, ask your students. Kids who love animals will have great ideas for incorporating them into classroom activities.
Role plays between people and animals, letters written to animals or research about animals are all activities that will further your students’ language skills as they learn about their favorite animals. What will you do to celebrate? Tell us below.