Animals are great, and kids love to learn about them no matter what language they are speaking.
And while spending some time teaching about animals in an ESL class is good, there is only so much you can do with them. Right? Wrong! Animals are a great jumping off point for teaching other language skills to young learners. You just have to think out of the crate, so to speak. Here are some creative ways to teach other language elements with our friendly furry, feathery, and fin-ny friends.
Use Animals for Teaching English in a Surprisingly Awesome Way
Animals and Color
Do you have a copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? in your classroom? If you teach young ESL students, odds are that you do. This is a great read along for beginning and false beginner students since it’s repetitive but still engaging. Have students “read” along with you as you read the book during circle time. Then integrate animals and colors into craft time by making the animals you saw in the book. One great activity is to make a paper bag puppet or popsicle stick puppet for each animal mentioned in the book. Then, once each student has a complete set, they can “read” the story while using their own, handmade puppets.
Another activity that teaches colors through animals is guess the animal. Give your students clues about different animals starting with the color of the animal. They will then have to guess which animal you are describing from the clues. For instance, you might start by saying this animal is orange with black stripes. (A tiger) This animal is green with a long, pink tongue. (A frog)
Animals and Body Parts
One of my favorite activities to do with animals teaches body parts at the same time. I invite students to bring in a favorite stuffed animal for a class activity the following day. (I make sure I have a few plushies of my own – one for demonstration purposes and a few extra in case some students forget.) I then give students “band-aids” to stick on their plush animal. The Band-Aids are just cut strips of felt that will stick to the stuffed animals. If you want to get really fancy, put a little Velcro on each end of the Band-Aid. (If you prefer, you can use actual adhesive band-aids with plastic play animals.) Then I say something like the following: Oh, no. Fluffy has a hurt foot. Students then put a Band-Aid on one of the animal’s feet. We continue until I run out of Band-Aids or body parts to review.
Roll an animal body with this dice and drawing game. List several body parts that might appear on an animal (a cat, for example, would have paws/feet, eyes, nose, ears, tail, etc.). Then number those parts from two to twelve. Have students play in groups of two or three. They will take turns rolling the dice and then drawing the part that they rolled. The first person to finish drawing his cat wins. For example, if I rolled a three I might draw a nose. On my next turn, I might roll a ten and get to draw the body. Students will have to roll each number before they can complete their picture. (Hint: make at least one number “wild” so students can fill in a missing body part when they roll that number.)
A stuffed animal and a box are the only tools you need to introduce or review prepositions of location with your students. Have each person bring in their animal friend and box, or set them up in a learning center in your classroom. You can make a series of pictures which show the animal in the box, under the box, beside the box, on top of the box, etc. On the back of each picture, write the prepositional phrase which describes it. Students read the phrase, put their animal and box where they think they belong, and then flip the card over to see if they were right.
Food units are common in ESL classes, and you can engage your young ESL students by throwing animals into the mix. Have students plan a menu for an animal restaurant. Have students work in groups of two or three to plan a menu for their soon to open animal restaurant. They will have to decide which animals might come to the restaurant and what food they will need to put on the menu for their guests. Have students make up a sample menu that they might give to guests when they are deciding on their order.
Another way to talk about food when studying animals is for students to write a shopping list for the animals at the zoo. Students should pretend they are the zookeeper. They should decide what animals are in their zoo (five to ten is a good number) and then make a shopping list for the grocery store. Each animal’s food should be on the shopping list. If you want to extend the activity, have students look at a supermarket circular and figure out how much money they will need to buy all the groceries on their lists.
Review modal verbs with your students and then let them practice using them with this fun animal activity. Brainstorm a list of actions that different animals perform. Then have students write or speak several sentences using modals and their favorite animals as well as the activities they brainstormed. For example, students might say any of the following: Birds can’t swim. Fish will swim. A dog might swim. A frog should swim. Etc.
Comparative and Superlative Animals
Kids love to talk about their favorite animals, so take advantage of that while teaching comparative and superlative adjectives to your class. Have students choose two different pictures of animals, give them two animal flash cards, or just assign different animals to different students. Then have each person write five to ten sentences using comparative and superlative adjectives about their two animals. For example, lions are bigger than squirrels. Squirrels are lighter than lions. Lions are hairier than squirrels. Etc.
Just because your students want to keep studying animals in class doesn’t mean you can’t cover other topics as well. Use our furry friends as a jumping off point to teach lots of other language points, and your students will have fun as they learn.