Pull out your ‘magic bag’ of tricks!

Gita Krenek

One of the most useful ‘resources’ I have found to help me get children to speak English has been what is called a ‘magic bag’ – in other words, a bag full of all sorts of bits and pieces. These could be things that lie around your house, such as a (small) book, toothbrush, key, candle, matchbox, comb, photo, pen. Or things that other people have no use for any more, such as (baby size) shoes / cap / socks, artificial flower or leaf, plastic fruit, small ball, toy car, plastic or stuffed animals. Once you get enthusiastic, you may like to make some things yourself, like a miniature sweater, house out of a matchbox, tree or snake from salt dough*. Or you might see something at the market that is just the thing (the things that dangle off key rings are often good) – my favourites are a rubber rat, and a miniature bicycle.

You can keep adding to and varying the things in the bag, so as to keep the pupils guessing and their interest high.

It is helpful to have many duplicates for when you practice plurals. They need not be identical, for example, you could have a little wooden elephant and a larger plastic one. They are still both elephants.

It might be more interesting for the children if the bag is special looking, rather than a plastic shopping bag.

There are so many things you can use the bag for – here are my experiences, but I’m sure you will come up with lots more ways to use the idea.

Vocabulary: Simply say, “What’s in the bag?” Take the objects out of the bag, one at a time, identifying each one. Practise a lot. Always put ‘a’ in front of a noun. Encourage a full sentence: “What is this?” “It is a …”

Naming competition: Divide the class into two teams. As you pull an item out, everyone calls out its name as fast as they can. The team that names the object correctly first gets a point. You will be amazed at how suddenly recall improves!

The author has taught English to school children in Austria and Ecuador, and to young adults in India. At present she is working as a volunteer in a small NGO-run primary school for rural children in the foothills of the Himalayas. She can be reached at gitakrenek@gmail.com.

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