In our ongoing Sticky Ball Series, Teacher’s House looks at all aspects of toys and props in the classroom, including but not limited to: when to use props, what props to get, and how to use them. This article offers toys that, like the sticky ball, are probably familiar and simple, but can add a new level of excitement and fun to your classes.
The sticky ball is elegant in its simplicity: You throw it and it sticks to things. At some point in history, a teacher had an idea to throw it at flashcards and ESL teaching was never the same. Here are some other toys that you might remember from your own childhood and can adapt to classroom activities.
Throwing Discs-A frisbee or a throwing disc can be used nearly identically to the sticky ball, except that they don’t stick. It will still be pretty clear which flashcard (or other target) it hits, or gets near though, and can serve the same purpose of “selecting”. One benefit over the sticky ball is that a throwing disc is harder to control, even for older students, who may not be as skilled with them as a ball. This can add a random element even when students try “targeting” the words they know.
Bowling Set-The most comparable way to use flashcards to the classic throw and stick is to set up a pin over each flashcard in a line and let the students knock one down with a ball. They’re a lot more versatile than that though. A traditional bowling set up will likely lead to the students saying more than one word. Letters can also be affixed to each bowling pin for spelling or phonics activities. My personal favorite activity uses only a single bowling pin–pretending it’s a microphone for red-carpet style interviews.
Interesting Dice-Even “boring” six-sided dice that come with most board can be used to select a random flashcard with assigned numbers. A giant six-sided dice is more attention-grabbing, however, and likely to keep the whole class engaged. Multi-sided dice, like those used for gaming are great for when you need more than six options. A 12, 10, and 6 sided set makes a unique random set for time-telling activities. Letter dice are also exciting ways to get kids to think of the words they know with only a small prompt.
Physical letters-Tangible things that students can hold can serve to help their memory. Letters that students can hold not only give them a better letter recognition, but can be used in spelling activities. Wooden blocks, foam mat letters, scrabble tiles or a variety of other “toys” can be a source for letters, but don’t limit yourself to following the intended use.
Blindfolds– Pin the Tail on The Donkey owes its entire existence as beloved party game to this simple accessory. Much like the classic game, students can be blindfolded and spun around and then pointed towards the flashcards. It can also be used to involve the class, with non-blindfolded students holding the flashcards and trying to get “chosen”. A blindfold also prevents cheating in “back to the board” style activities, where a student must identify the image that all the others can see through hints or questions.
Like the sticky ball, however, these props can be misused or abused. Remember that the ultimate goal is for the students to produce language, not play a game–and make sure the students know that too. The toys can add interactive elements that can help memory and engagement, but English still must be used to ensure the students are learning!
Here at Teacher’s House, we aren’t afraid to dive into the controversies nor are we afraid of challenging the “golden gooses” of ESL teaching. We also want to help teachers create engaging classes and be the best teachers we can be. For more prop and toy articles, check out the other parts of the sticky ball series.