Everyone needs to know how to talk about pets for different reasons.
Some students may have pets, and some may not have them, but certainly may need to talk about them in everyday conversation. Either way, it is a topic that needs to be covered in ESL class. Read this article to learn about five fun ways to teach about pets.
Teach about Pets in a Great Way
Begin by talking to the class about pets. Be sure to show large cards with pictures of various common pets and the name of each pet printed on the card. Teach the cards in groups of three, reviewing periodically as you go along. When the students seem to be familiar with the names of the pets, you can move on to taking the survey. If they are beginnings, do not worry about the term “survey.” Just explain that you will be asking some questions. If the group is intermediate or advanced, you may want to take this opportunity to teach “survey” as a vocabulary word. Either way, call out the name of each pet and have the students raise their hands if they have or have had that pet. Make a graph with tally marks on the board that reflects their answers. Then ask if anyone has another type of pet that you have not yet mentioned. Allow them to draw the pet for you if they do not have the vocabulary word for it. Add any of these extra pets to the graph.
Depending on the level of the class, this graph could be used for teaching “the most,” “the least,” “more than,” or “less than” in a class discussion about how many pets there are. You may use the graph to have a lively class discussion about pets in general. An interesting question would be if there are pets that are popular in their country of origin that are not as popular here. Class discussion on a high interest topic can help students lose their inhibitions because they are so focused on communicating that they stop worrying about making mistakes.
Picture Perfect Pets
This activity would be a great follow-up to the pet survey above. At the end of the pet survey, ask the students if they would bring in pictures of their pets for the next class. If they do not have a pet, tell them they can bring in a picture of a pet they would like to have. Be sure to have some extra pictures on hand for those who do not bring a picture in with them. Introduce possession by bringing up a willing student and his picture, and writing on the board, “__________’s (name) pet is a dog.” Have them take turns coming up and each time have the class repeat after you, “_____________’s pet is a __________.” After doing this several times, ask the class as a whole, “What is Maria’s pet?” They should answer, “Maria’s pet is a cat.” This lesson could also be used to teach possessive pronouns: “What is his pet?” “His pet is a bird.” This activity promotes forming relationships among the students. Building these relationships increases confidence, and this in turn leads to increased oral communication. Be sure to bring in pictures of your own pet or a pet you would like to have. Let your students get to know you. The more comfortable they are with you, the more likely they are to speak aloud.
I’ll Take Care of It, I Promise
Role playing is a great way to encourage oral communication in a supportive environment. Remember asking your parents for a pet as a child? You promised to take care of it all on your own, to walk it, to feed it and so on. Chances are many of your students did the same, and the adult students who have their own children may now be on the other end of the request. Either way, most will be familiar with the scenario of asking for a pet. You will need to prepare some short scripts involving a child asking a parent for a pet, giving their rationale. For the first few, have the response scripted. As times goes on, make sure the class knows the two possible final responses: “Yes, you may have a pet,” or “No, you may not have a pet.” After a few totally scripted role plays, have some in which you provide the entire script except for the parent’s final decision. Allow the student who plays the parent to make the choice. This student involvement makes the activity higher interest and will encourage students to participate. It may also cause some laughter as the “parent” says “yes” or “no,” which lowers student stress levels and encourages speaking as well.
At Your Service
Service animals can be another take on the pet topic for students learning English. Begin by starting a discussion among the students about what types of activities our pets usually do. Explain to them that there are some animals who work every day to help people in need. Using large cards like you did when you first introduced the topic of pets, have a picture of the service animal in action, its name and a couple of its usual ways to assist humans. Keep these cards on display. You will also need several small pictures of the service animals, each on small cards. Each student needs one or two of these cards. You will need large cards that each have one way that a service animal assists humans, i.e. opening doors or alerting them to the doorbell. Hold up one of these cards, and have all students who have the card for any service animal that performs that service to stand up and name their animal. In a more advanced class, they may say, “A service dog alerts the human to a doorbell.” The kinesthetic movement in this activity will keep everyone moving and smiling.
This activity works well with younger children, but older children and adults will enjoy getting creative as well. Start by reviewing the types of pets which you have discussed. You will need to have copies of coloring pages of various pets, pairs of scissors and glue sticks, as well as plenty of drawing paper and crayons, colored pencils and/or markers on hand for this activity. Begin by discussing with the students the pros and cons of having different types of pets. Explain that today, they can take what they like from each pet and “make” their own. Using the materials you have assembled, the students can take the head portion of one pet, the middle of another and the bottom of a third to make their own personalized pet. They can name it if they’d like. They can decorate these creations. Some of your more artistic students may choose to draw the entire creature, for example the head of a fish, body of a lizard and feet of a cat. Students may share their creations with others, which promotes that oral communication that is so helpful when learning English, while having fun.
Teaching about pets can be a lot of fun because many students can make a personal connection with the topic.
Working on high interest topics is what you strive for in the ESL classroom. High interest leads to the desire to communicate, the ultimate goal of an ESL class. All of these activities promote oral communication in some form, which is important at any age or level. Take on the topic of pets to start some engaging conversation in your class now!