Children are often fascinated by machines; the way they work or inventing their own. We are not going to go into the scientific intricacies of machines here but instead use the topic of machines to provide a wide range of sub-topics that will enable the children to experiment with their imaginations. 

Jo Bertrand

There will be some factual input with factual information about inventions, some language expansion with kitchen vocabulary, storytelling, inventions, kinaesthetic movements, and where possible computer work.


  • cardboard box
  • large white paper
  • a large button
  • small pieces of card
  • cuisenaire rods
  • computers

ashing machine, microwave, dishwasher, tumble dryer, tractor, combine harvester, boy, beach, book, the sun, rain, jumper, swimming costume, swimming trunks

The Human machine
The objective here is to unite the class as they have to completely work together and coordinate for the exercise to be successful.

  • Have each child choose their own sound. In turn they say their sound and gradually they put a movement to their sound.
  • They can touch the person standing next to them by holding their foot or shoulder for example.
  • The end product should be a line of children making up a human sound and movement machine.
  • This can be done with sounds first to put the children at ease and then gradually you can replace the sounds with English words.
  • These can be words they have had difficulties with or recent words they have learnt.
  • This way they only have one word each to say but by the end of the activity they will have memorised at least that word.

Idea adapted from Drama Techniques in Language Learning by Alan Maley and Alan Duff.

Here is a site with simple, clear language used to describe farm machinery with pictures to accompany the descriptions:

Children can take the information from the site and design their own class information poster.


  • If you have access to the internet or simply computers with your students then now would be a good time to use that opportunity.
  • Do your research on what software your school has available and use the programme before taking your class to use the computers.
  • Choose a topic that ties in with what you have been doing in class over recent lessons.
  • If you want to use the internet then set up the site you want to use with them before your computer slot.
  • You should never let pupils roam freely on the internet as it’s not only a waste a time but more importantly they could far too easily come across an inappropriate site.
  • Using the internet in class requires careful planning and with primary should really involve one site that is already on the screen when they enter the room.

A time machine
Tell the following story and prior to telling the story illustrate on the board a boy, a beach, a book, the sun, rain, a jumper, a swimming costume and swimming trunks:

Once upon a time there was a little boy called Jake. He loved going to school but he also loved going to the beach. He found he had to wait a long time before it was warm and sunny and time to go to the beach. This made him sad.
One cold winter’s day, he was sitting in his bedroom reading a book about the beach and he wished and wished that he could go to the beach too. But it was cold and raining outside.
He heard a loud bang. ‘BANG!’ He heard a loud wizz. ‘WIZZZZZ!’ ‘He heard a loud pop. ‘POP!’ It was coming from the garage. He ran downstairs and stood outside the garage door.
He slowly opened the garage door and found an AMAZING machine inside. It was HUGE! It was so big he could get inside it. He opened the machine’s door, stepped inside and suddenly the lights came on, the machine started to shake and make lots of bleeping noises. He could see lots of colours flashing before his eyes. He was a little scared but very excited.
Suddenly the machine stopped moving and stopped making loud noises. Jake opened the door and stepped out. He was in the garage still but something was different. It wasn’t cold. It was hot. He opened the garage door and went outside. It wasn’t raining, it was sunny. He went into the kitchen. His Mum was there. She wasn’t wearing a jumper she was wearing a swimming costume, ready to go to the beach.
‘Mum’ said Jake, ‘Why are you wearing your swimming costume? Why is it hot? It’s winter.’ ‘Don’t be silly Jake,’ said Mum, ‘it’s summer and we’re going to the beach. Now hurry up and get your swimming trunks on!’.
Jake couldn’t believe it. The machine had taken him into the future. It was a time machine! Jake ran upstairs and put his trunks on. He was so happy and knew that he would use the time machine again.

Follow up activities to the story

  • Can you imagine what Jake’s time machine looks like? Draw a picture of it.
  • What happens the next time Jake uses his time machine?

Invent a machine
Use Cuisenaire rods to encourage and guide their imagination.

  • Each group has the same amount of rods and same colours, sizes etc.
  • Each group has ten minutes to invent a machine using the rods which they must show to the class.
  • Write on small pieces of paper five different actions that you could use a machine for such as washing clothes, drying your hair, cooking food.
  • They have to imagine a new machine for one of these actions and it can’t resemble the proper machine.

Household appliances
You can tie in machines to a lesson about houses and in particular, kitchens. Modern kitchens today have numerous machines that make our lives easier. Have flashcards of the machines and the words to match. Use vocabulary such as washing machine, microwave, dishwasher and tumble dryer.


  • Make a washing machine out of a cardboard box. This should be done before class.
  • Simply cut out a circle in the middle and reattach the disk using staples or wire if the staples aren’t strong enough.
  • Cut out the back on the machine and cover the front and sides with white paper.
  • Draw on the buttons and add a large real button to the front to use as the door handle. You keep the back open so that you can place cardboard clothes into the back and the children can take it in turns to take the clothes out.
  • It is the children themselves who are going to make the clothes.
  • Each child should have a different item of clothing to draw and a piece of card and scissors.
  • The younger children will need help with the cutting here.
  • They could put them all into the machine and guess which one you are going to pull out first saying in English what it is and what colour it is.

Internet links
Using cuisenaire rods:

Language Level

Research and insight

Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

See our publications, research and insight