Using real-life facts and materials at EL lessons.

Nina Mk, Ph.D.

Realia in education means real-life facts and material used in teaching. Visual aids play a huge role at any age and level. When we show a picture of an object or phenomenon, bring in a toy or a souvenir into class, share a fascinating news item with our students, it helps them remember the new vocabulary and the topic itself better.

Recently, I looked outside, at the never-ending snow which starts falling in October and continues till May. There was a strange creature sitting on my window sill. It looked like a small fluffy mostly white ball with red and black colors splashed across its top. I had no idea what it was, but for the fact that it was alive. When it suddenly unfolded and hopped along, I realized that it was a very brightly colored bird the likes of which I have never seen here before. As I took pictures, I sent them to my friends. When I got some answers, I checked a few images on Google, and then brought my pictures to a seminar. One of my colleagues immediately suggested we use a facial recognition program, as they often do in crime shows. This exotic (for us) bird turned out to be a goldfinch. Though I know the word and its translation, I have never used it in either language. Goldfinch is definitely not a native of Siberia, yet here it is. One of the vocabulary difficulties we faced was the name itself. In English, we may find finch, bullfinch, goldfinch; in Russian, the words are totally different.

After admiring the photos, we proceeded to the topic “Climate Change”. This one fact, a flock of goldfinches appearing where they were never seen before, and a few accompanying pictures, served as a very good introduction to reading and speaking on such serious subjects as global warming, human factor, climate change and Nature itself reacting to all those perturbations by making birds and animals choose strange migration routes. By the way, every morning now I hear a loud chirping; I open my window a tiny crack and scatter some seeds for the lovely little birds which make my days much brighter.

Last fall, I had a different and even more exotic visual aid to share. An artificial lake was created nearby when my native academic town was founded back in 1957. Visitors find it totally unexpected and completely strange if they come to Siberia in summer, not even suspecting that they will be proudly taken to the beach, to enjoy the sunshine and a swim in the Sea, as it is called. Well, in September two pelicans flew to the sea and settled there to the consternation and joy of the local population. It was obvious after a few days that the huge visitors had no idea that winter was just around the corner. A rescue mission was organized, with the help of various organizations, and the pelicans were carefully captured and safely transported to the local zoo. Again, after reading a news item and admiring the pictures, we could proceed to discussions of the weather and climate changes around the globe.

For many years, we have been doing an international internet project with my German colleagues. Students research a topic, make presentations, then they write essays, compile reports about their native towns, choose photos and videos to share. There is a regular email exchange. Once a year, a group of German teens comes to Siberia with their teacher, and a group Siberian children visit their partners in Germany. This year, due to the events in Europe, many local parents expressed their concern about the children’s safety, and the actual visit was postponed indefinitely. But the communications, the exchange of information continue. We are living in the wonderful era when anybody and anything are just a click away! Using English as a means of communication is wonderful motivation for both groups to study the foreign language. They can use it in their regular talks with their peers, and when reading about their respective countries. Students understand “why exactly” studying English benefits them. They know that when, say, they struggle with the same old conditionals or modals or the articles, they acquire useful skills for their present and the future.

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