‘Realia’ in EFL terms refers to any real objects we use in the classroom to bring the class to life.

Jo Budden

In this tip I’d like to offer a few suggestions for activities using realia and to consider why we may want to bring things into the class.

Why use realia in class?

The main advantage of using real objects into the classroom is to make the learning experience more memorable for the learner. To give a couple of simple examples, if you are going to teach vocabulary of fruit and vegetables it can be much more affective for students if they can touch, smell and see the objects at the same time as hearing the new word. This would appeal to a wider range of learner styles than a simple flashcard picture of the piece of fruit or vegetable. (With very young learners, classroom management can become trickier if you bring in real objects as excitement levels tend to rise. Last year one of my students bit into an onion we were passing round. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten that class!)

A second example would be if you are going to teach some functional language for asking for the timetable for a train. You could use a fictitious timetable or you could use a real one from the local train station, one from the internet, or if you’re really organised, some you brought back from your last trip to the UK. This way you expose students to more language than simply the times and destinations. They will see information about prices, discounts, bank holidays etc.

Here is a selection of activities involving realia.

  • Tourist information
    Gather some city/town maps from the tourist information bureau wherever you are. Use them to create role plays that could happen with English speaking visitors to their town or city. Give students a scenario for them to build a role play out of. If you had trouble finding your way around their town/ city when you arrived use your own experiences to create situations.

    Collect brochures of places of interest (in English if possible but not vital) and ask students to use them to plan a trip for a group of students who are coming to their town for a week. They can plan the itinerary, work out the budget etc,
  • Concentration
    See the games archive for instructions on how to play this game: www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/concentration

    Instead of using students’ names put an object, such as an item of clothing or a classroom object, in front of each student and that is what they say instead of their names to pass the turn around the circle.
  • Recycling race
    (Depending on the recycling facilities in your country you will need to adapt the task accordingly) For this you just need a bag of rubbish (clean items out first) that you are about to recycle like tetrabriks, glass jars, cereal boxes, tins, old newspapers etc. To introduce the idea of recycling ask students what all the objects are and which container they’d put them in to recycle them. Draw a picture of each of the possible containers and get students to come and choose an item and tell the class where they’d put it to recycle it and why. You could make this into a team race by giving each team the mission of collecting all the items for their container one by one. You could then use the recyclable material to make a poster with your students about recycling.

    For older students elicit the vocabulary for the items and materials and lead on to a discussion or class survey about recycling.
  • Island survival
    Bring in a selection of items such as a coat hanger, a corkscrew, a packet of dental floss, a clothes peg, a plastic bag, a wooden spoon, some swimming goggles, elastic bands etc. Put the students into groups and tell them they have been ship wrecked on a desert island with their group. Luckily there are some random items on the island they can use to help them survive. Reveal the items one by one and elicit vocabulary. Then tell students they have ten minutes to think about how they are going to use the items to help them survive. At the end, listen to each group’s ideas and vote on which group you think would survive the longest.
  • Identity envelopes
    (Thanks to Lucy Mardel for this activity.) Get three or four envelopes and fill them with bits and bobs you find around the house such as foreign currency, shop receipts, postcards, photos, buttons, etc. Put students into groups and ask them to have a good look at the objects and to decide who they belong to. They should be able to build up the identity of a character from the objects. You could say they are all suspects from a crime and they have to decide who did it, or simply create the characters to use in a role play.
  • About me
    Gather some bits and pieces that you have in your bag, purse and around the house such as used cinema or concert tickets, train or bus tickets, cards you’ve received, passport photos, shopping receipts etc. Stick them on a piece of card or on a cork board. Get students to ask you about the items to gather information about you. As a follow up, ask students to do the same and bring in some bits and bobs they have for their classmates to ask them about.

These are just a few ideas to get you started - I hope you enjoy them!

Further reading

http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Mumford-Relia.html This article will give you some wacky ways to use realia in the classroom.
http://www.usingenglish.com/weblog/archives/000228.html More about realia.



Realia is very practical and make sense to learn as faster as possible. I hope these means of learning can be applied to different majors in social and psychological studies to be more fruitful to the humanity.

I absolutely love these ideas, especially the identity envelope! Very creative and fun, thank you.

Oh, Island Survival, Tourist information, Timetable & tickets - collection, and ecofriendly recycling (Some local facilities and some ideas) etc. - they are all my favorites - practical and touchable. They can make our classroom vivid and attractive ... Support!

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