Whether you teach children or adults, in an immersion setting or a second language setting, manipulatives are a great addition to your classroom.
With them, your students can learn language with hands on activities, and manipulatives give your kinesthetic learners something to handle as they learn. If you have never used manipulatives in the classroom (or even if you are a strong proponent of them) here are some easy DIY manipulatives you can use in your ESL class today.
Try These 8 Simple DIY Manipulatives for Your ESL Classroom
Story Dice or Story Stones
When your goal is to get students talking, story dice or story stones are the perfect motivator. Use either blank dice or flat smooth rocks. Write words on those rocks or draw pictures on the. (They can do double duty as action dice. See number 3 below.) You will want to include some nouns such as people, objects or places as well as some actions. (Don’t feel pressured to be a good artist for these. I am the queen of stick figures, and they work just fine.) Then have students roll the dice or choose five to seven rocks from the bag. They must then tell a story incorporating each of the items they have chosen or rolled. If you want to make this DIY even easier, give each student three stones and have them draw two people/objects and one action. You’ll be amazed at how creative your students can be.
Popsicle Stick Vocabulary
Words, words, words. They are everywhere in any ESL class. You can make a simple manipulative with popsicle sticks and a marker. Just write one word on each of several popsicle sticks. Put them in a learning center and students can give each other practice spelling tests. Use them to play a game of charades or Pictionary. Or have students pull three or four and put them into a sentence, filling in the necessary grammatical blanks for those sentences.
Blank dice aren’t all that difficult to find. You may decide to go with traditional dice that you can label with a sharpie or purchase some “white board dice”. You can also make your own dice with this paper box template. Whatever you decide to do, you can use your dice to make an action game for a great verb teaching activity. Label each side of the dice, and have each student take a turn rolling them. That student must then do the action on the dice. If you want, combine the action die with a second die labeled with nouns, animals or people for example. Then have each student act out the animal or person doing the verb that they rolled.
Vocabulary cards encompass a variety of cards that can be used for many purposes in the ESL classroom. Many websites offer printable flash cards, which you can use for teaching and reviewing vocabulary or make available in a learning center. You can also use one sided vocabulary cards for matching games. Have students lay all the cards on a flat surface and turn over one pair at a time. You can have them match pictures to vocabulary words, definitions, synonyms or antonyms. You can also use these cards to create Bingo boards for vocabulary practice and review.
Though not exactly DIY, using magnetic letters for spelling activities will give your students something to handle when they practice forming words. Provide a cookie sheet or oil drip pan (available at car part supply stores and very inexpensive) as a magnetic board on which students can work. If you want to pretty it up a bit, cover it with fabric or wrapping paper of your choice. Then provide vocabulary cards or a list of vocabulary for students to use as models when arranging their magnetic letters. Young children will particularly enjoy this activity and will absorb vocabulary and spelling as they play.
Ice Breaker Blocks
For years, I have been using a Jenga game to get my students talking in class. I used a list of ice breaker questions that I found online to transform a physical block tumbling game to a speaking and get to know you one. I wrote one ice breaker on each block. Now, when my students pull a block from the tower, they must answer the question before putting the block on the top of the tower. My students love this game, and they often want everyone to answer the question before the next person takes a turn. Who am I to disagree with ESL students talking in class? This game is good for more than just the first week of class, too. Even students who know each other well enjoy finding out interesting facts about their friends and classmates.
If you want to give your students something to hold that will also teach language (and you are looking to get out of the flashcard rut, too) articulation boxes may be for you. Start with a small box (a jewelry gift box is the perfect size) and cut a long piece of paper the right height to fit into the box. Then fold the paper accordion style and glue the first page to the lid of the box and the last page to the bottom of the box. On each page, glue pictures or small items that will get your students talking. You can use pictures of vocabulary words, often centered around the unit you are currently teaching. You might even want to let your students make their own boxes. Then use them as story starters, vocabulary drillers or puzzles. (Write a question on the first page and then glue one clue on each subsequent page. Write the answer to the puzzle on the last page of the book.) Once you have a decent collection of articulation boxes, they make for a great learning center for your students’ free learning time.
If you are teaching sentence structure or parts of speech, Lego words are the perfect manipulative for your students. Duplos, or large connecting blocks, give more room for word labels. You can get them cheaply at many children’s resale stores or buy new ones for a slightly larger investment. Print out labels with various words and stick them to the blocks. You can use random colors or coordinate the block color with the part of speech for each word. Then have your students put them together to make sentences or words. You can make color patterns for them to follow using the different parts of speech, or you can challenge your students to see who can come up with the longest grammatical sentence and, resultantly, the largest tower of blocks. You can also use these blocks for many other vocabulary games.
Manipulatives aren’t essential for the ESL class, but they do tend to make your activities more fun.
Try one or more today and watch your students take learning to a whole new level just by holding language in their hands.
What are your favorite classroom manipulatives?