I previously wrote about using Playdoh to teach prepositions and in this article, I will expand on its other uses in the ESL classroom. In addition to creating fun activities for preposition practice, Playdoh can also be used for practicing functional language, such as describing, giving instructions, haggling/bargaining and inquiring about products at stores.
3) Describing and giving instructions
This primary goal of this activity is to help students describe what they see, but it also helps them practice their prepositions of place and the imperative, if those happen to be the lesson's focus.
This will require a bit of preparation work on your part before the class starts.
1) Before the class starts, create a structure (you might want to limit yourself to the shapes that your students know) and hide it behind a book or something else so that students cannot see it.
2) Teach your lesson until the point where you would like to students to practice the lesson's focus. I normally use this activity as free practice, in other words, at the final stage of a lesson.
3) Students should already know the words for the colours and shapes used in the structure you created, but you might want to review them, as well as prepositions of place.
4) Divide students into pairs and give them the required amount of Playdoh.
5) Tell students that they have to produce the hidden structure behind the book as quickly and accurately with the Playdoh that they have been given and that the pair that produces the most accurate structure in the least amount of time is the winner. Of course, it helps to have an incentive for the winning pair.
6) Between themselves, students choose a runner and a builder. The runner will go up to the desk to view the hidden structure from a variety of angles and return to describe it to the builder, who will use the Playdoh to replicate the structure.
7) The runner is not allowed to touch the Playdoh or use their hands to show the builders how the different parts fit together, which is especially important if you want them to practice their prepositions.
8a) Optionally, if you wish to add an additional challenge, you could limit the runner to a certain number of views. This would be useful if you would like them to practice expressing certainty or doubt. Some example phrases are "From what I remember,...", "I'm not quite sure, but I think..." and "I'm certain that...".
8b) With bigger groups of students or smaller amounts of Playdoh, you could have 3 people in a group, with 2 runners and a limited number of views per runner. This would incorporate a bit of negotiation as they will likely remember different things!
9) Start the race and look out for runners using their hands!
4) Haggling/Negotiating and advanced numbers (Shop roleplay)
While it's perfectly possible to use pictures or ask students to draw the items the items that would like to sell instead of using Playdoh, I find that using Playdoh as a touch of realism to the roleplay, as students can pick up and inspect the items, as they would often do in a shop.
Depending on the level of the students, you could incorporate some of these suggestions into your existing lesson plan.
1a) For a beginner lesson, I would focus on teaching vocabulary items for common things that students can buy in a shop or at a market, such as vegetables, fruits, meat, a transit pass, clothing, etc. Next, teach common phrases such as, "What is this?", "How much is this?", "How many do you want?" and review the numbers.
1b) For an elementary lesson, I would focus on teaching and reviewing more specific vocabulary items, such as tomatoes, eggs, tuna, etc. Students can be introduced to more advanced numbers, such as "half a kilogram of ham", "a dozen eggs", "a quarter pound of whatever" if necessary. If you are focusing on countable and uncountable nouns, you could even teach words like "two boxes of cereal", "three pieces of bread", etc. At this stage, students should be comfortable with the numbers in English and can start haggling. Teach them basic phrases, such as, "That is too expensive! Can you lower the price?"
1c) For an intermediate lesson, I would focus on teaching more advanced phrases to talk about prices and expressing shock/surprise at how expensive an item is. Phrases like, "You've got to be kidding me!", "That's a rip-off!", and others would be appropriate for a vocabulary class at this level. Students might also have sufficient language skills to identify defects in a product to ask for a lower price.
2) Once you have taught the phrases and vocabulary, give students a worksheet or discussion questions to practice them to build up their confidence and familiarity in a more controlled setting.
3) Once students are ready and comfortable with the phrases and words that you would like them to use, pair students up and have them set up a shop. Give them Playdoh and have them create the products they would like to sell. Set a time limit. Remind them not to spend too much time on creating pieces of art with the Playdoh as it is a language lesson. Generally, the lower the quality of the items, the more conversation it will produce during the roleplay, as other students would be more curious about what they are.
4) When students have finished creating their products, divide the existing pairs into A and B. All the As will get up and go shopping at the market or shopping center, where they have a variety of stores to explore. All the Bs will remain and be the shopkeepers of their respective stores. Encourage As to ask more questions if they are hopping quickly from store to store.
Depending on the level of the class, the topic and the target language, you could include additional challenges, such as getting ingredients for a recipe on a budget, buying the most things with the least amount of money, etc.
5) Have As switch roles with Bs.
Hopefully, after reading the first two parts, you have been convinced of the educational power of Playdoh in adult ESL classrooms!
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