Toys in the ESL Class: How to Make Your Lessons Irresistible for Young Learners

Toys in the ESL Class
How to Make Your Lessons Irresistible for Young Learners

Andrea Pesce
by Andrea Pesce 5,441 views |

Toys are more to children than just fun and games.

We all accept that many toys provide at least some opportunity for children to learn, but why are many teachers reluctant to bring toys into their classroom? Mostly out of fear that kids would lose interest in them, the teacher. I'm here to tell you there is nothing to fear.

Toys engage a child’s senses, spark their imagination and encourage them to interact with others. When used correctly, they will become amazing allies in your classroo, but there are things to consider. Children in different age groups have different ESL goals.

Children in different age groups have different ESL goals.

When children reach preschool age, it’s time to start learning about letters, numbers and language skills. There are lots of toys that encourage this type of learning, from simple alphabet puzzles to high-tech electronic gadgets. These can give children a head start by introducing them to the things they will be learning in school.

Kids who are in school can supplement their learning with fun educational toys. Giving them the opportunity to have fun while practicing the things they are learning in school will increase their retention of those things. Keep in mind that kids learn best by doing. Also, when children find an educational toy they really like, they will be more likely to play with it, reinforcing what they have learned. Another item to consider is that children can learn social skills from playing. When children are given educational toys, they give them a chance to bond with other children and to communicate with them. They are learning and having fun at the same time.

I've put together a short list of what I consider to be the top 4 most engaging and meaningful (store-bought) toys students really enjoy playing with.

4 Simple Ways to Incorporate Toys in Your Kids Lessons

  1. 1

    Soft Toys

    Puppets, stuffed animals and rag dolls are wonderful tools to use in your ESL classroom. It doesn’t really matter which you use because you can use them in a similar way. No matter how many you use, they are a great way to motivate kids. They also foster social interaction, communication, role playing, imagination, story telling, listening, and much more. Using them comes in handy because some children are shy and don't feel comfortable performing in front of the other children. Using a puppet or doll might help with this because they foster performance, and sometimes, even gives them the courage to stand in front of their peers. They are ideal for young learners because young kids are intrigued by toys, but older kids can also benefit. For instance, older students can put on a puppet show for the younger students and younger students can even put on a puppet show for the older students. Also, in case of puppets, there is no need to buy them. You can have your students make their own paper bag puppets, stick puppets, string puppets, and finger puppets.

    In the ESL classroom these toys come in handy with songs. Children just love to sing along with a puppet or doll. You can even let the children make their own puppets sing. It is a great toy to use when shy kids don't want to speak. You can ask shy kids to whisper to the puppet/toy that you are holding or give that student a stuffed toy. Either way it takes the stress of the student who might feel more comfortable performing.

  2. 2

    Play Dough

    Let's face it, kids just love play dough. There is something irresistible about rolling, cutting, and squishing the brightly colored dough with your fingers. However, play dough isn’t just used for fun. It offers a bunch of educational opportunities. It is an amazing, inexpensive educational tool that we can use to foster creativity and literacy among other things. It can even help lower anxiety and release stress. A ball of play dough can go a long way towards helping a student who is angry or stressed. Also, it is a great for incentivating conversation and sparking the imagination in young minds. Kids love talking about their creations. It is an amazing way to get them to talk. Though play dough is inexpensive, you can also make your own because it's easy to make. There are great recipes you can use to avoid buying it and save a little money. An amazing way to use it in the classroom is with learning mats that you can print out. They can contain the letters of the alphabet, numbers, shapes, simple words or anything else. Kids can trace the letters or numbers on the printed learning mat with pieces of the play dough. They can also use cookie cutters with shapes of animals or whatever they are learning.

  3. 3


    Puzzles are an amazing option for quiet activities, and enhance thinking, fine motor and visual perception skills. They also take up little room and can be used in many ways. Young learners can use age appropriate puzzles that contain images of animals, vegetables/fruit/food, etc. For older children that can read and write they can put together puzzles with images and then describe them on paper.

  4. 4


    Blocks are an early learning tool that help young children develop their muscles and their minds. Through play, preschool children can learn concepts and skills as block activities are taken across the early childhood curriculum. Blocks come in a variety of shapes, colors, and textures so preschool children can use them to learn through their senses. Activities with blocks can also help develop creativity and problem solving. In ESL we can practice colors , numbers and if blocks have letters on them, spelling as well. You can also use them to talk about the shapes and how blocks are positioned (on top of, underneath, behind).

Toys are an important part of a child's life and kids love toys.

If you have any doubts about that, just take a child into a toy store. I guarantee they will find lots of things that they simply must have. Don't be afraid of toys, be selective and think how they will promote different types of development. Remember, making education enjoyable will help your ESL students retain.

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