Realia in the classroom: getting personal

In this post, I would like to share activity ideas that employ using realia. Here is the selection of objects I enjoy including in my lessons. They work for both face to face and online settings. Beware, we are about to get personal!

Why does it make sense to share something more personal with our students?

My students tend to be quite curious about my life, especially at the beginning of the course. Icebreakers are a great way to get to now each other but to some they might seem artificial and quite played out. Although teachers and students tend to naturally build rapport as the course progresses, I still enjoy sharing bits and pieces of personal info in my classes.

As much as telling stories about oneself and sharing opinions or experiences is valuable, it might not engage students and make them lose focus and interest. Realia, on the other hand, is a bulletproof way of getting our students’ attention. Using more personal objects or such of sentimental value spices the class up and makes it more authentic.

In order to avoid turning my lessons into The Gosia Show, I always try to make sure that whatever I bring to class is relevant to the content of the lesson and make it just one step/ stage during the class, not its focal point. What do I often bring to my lessons?

Realia #1: Childhood photos/ School tableau

Needless to say, visuals have the power to grab our students’ attention and we love using them. Choosing your own pics from you were younger is bound not only to elicit laughs from your students but also make them more curious about what’s coming next. Go dig up a photo where you are sporting some embarrassing hair do or a pair of awesome velcro sneakers and enjoy its many classroom applications:

  • introduce the topic of talking about the past (why use pictures of celebrities when they were younger?!)


  • introduce the structures necessary to talk about past habits (again, why bother with an old pic of Tom Cruise?)


  • modals of speculation (Class tableau to the rescue: where are your former classmates now? Who got famous? Who got rich? See what your students think!)


  • A day in the life of … (why not encourage your students to think about what your life was like when you were a kid/teenager? If you teach abroad, your students will have to imagine/research a bunch of facts to come up with a compelling story.)

Realia #2: Your own writing samples

This idea might work best for non-native teachers who used to have English classes at school or attend extra language courses. If you are like me, you are likely to still be in possession of all of these brilliant essays you wrote back when (which got either slashed or rewarded by your teachers!). Go look for them!

What can you do with your old writing in class:

  • use your own samples as the basis for an error correction activity


  • discuss some dos and don’t’s of this type of writing


  • ask your students to come up with constructive feedback for the author and a list of improvements that should be made

I am a big fan of using my students’ authentic work for error correction purposes but it does everybody some good to sometimes take a break from getting depressed with one’s own errors. As we are often least likely to spot mistakes in our work, such activities might help teach good error correction/ editing habits. The fact that it is the teacher’s authentic piece of work makes this otherwise dull activity a bit more fun and works wonders as a morale booster.

Realia #3: Facebook comments print screen

Depending on how lively your wall gets (and how much English it features!),  you might find this activity really enjoyable.

Choose a post that has generated a bunch of comments, take a print screen of the comments section, blur out the surnames and photos of the posters. Ask your students to:

  • speculate about the content of the original post


  • retell the comments history using reported speech


  • reply to comments/ posts as the original poster ( in case of happy birthday wishes you might ask them to try to reply to each commenter in a different way and see how creative and appropriate they get)

There are plenty of funny social media screens online as it is, but allowing a (linguistically relevant) glimpse into your life will surely get your students more interested and excited about the activity. You might also use it as an opportunity to search your own wall for some interesting language/ expressions to share with your students they might not encounter elsewhere.

Realia #4: What does your homescreen say about you?

A lot of us guard our mobile numbers and would never share them with the students. However, sharing our homescreens offers a lot of classroom applications. Take a look at it now? What apps do you have there? How are the icons organised? Why?

Take a print screen, let your students have a look, and use it a springboard to discuss such questions as:

  • Do our homescreens say anything about us and our personality (hello, personality adjectives!)?


  • What are the most useful/ useless/ ridiculous apps out there?


  • What app could you really use in your everyday life?


  • Do we rely on the apps too much?


To sum up, sharing something personal about ourselves with the students will surely help make our classes more interesting, fun, and exciting for the students. At the same time, it is bound to promote better classroom rapport and create a friendly,  enjoyable learning environment. Is there anything you enjoy bringing to your classes?

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