Bring a variety of teaching resources to lessons if you want to to provoke curiosity and increase motivation, says Philip Drury.

You’ve completed your teacher training, attended in-service courses, been to conferences, bought books and read magazines, but then… you actually have to teach in a classroom. For many, this means following a book and a syllabus quite closely. Invariably, you discover that the contents are not compatible with any interesting materials you already have.

Students often talk about enjoying lessons in which they looked at interesting and flexible ‘materials: indestructible Australian bank-notes, old stamps, picture postcards, photos or even morsels of food to taste! In order to add that little extra spice so often appreciated by our pupils, it is great to have at hand some unusual teaching resources, but it is important to remember that first and foremost, we ourselves are our most important resource – our own positive body language with wise words and a warm voice.

Bringing in a variety of teaching resources to lessons is a very effective way to provoke curiosity and increase motivation. Students are keen to look at, touch or listen to authentic materials that stimulate the visual, kinesthetic or auditory aspects of learning. Readily available materials like films and documentaries, although spanning two learning aspects – visual and auditory – tend to be ‘consumed’ passively, whereas ‘realia’ (real objects in three dimensions) eg a rosary, abacus, small scientific instruments, a model, pieces from inside a computer/TV, an authentic copy of a historical document, a map etc) can be examined hands on and hence make the learning experience more authentic.

It is amazing to see how much attention a suitably presented object can get (like a clue in a detective story) when it is passed around the class. However, as always in teaching, timing is important. It’s not always a good idea to hand round objects during a key moment of class concentration!

Sets of objects for the whole class are wonderful if you have them (Cuisenaire rods, science kits, maps etc) but if you only have a small personal quantity of a particular resource, this can be given to a group while others proceed with another activity. An alternative is to give a part of the material to one group, something else to another and get the groups, to exchange material – the anticipation of new material is intrinsically motivational.

I never forget the interest that I had as a child in our curiosities table at primary school.The teacher put a new item each week on show, and encouraged us to do the same. Older students can get the same pleasure by having a special ‘active space’, which can be simply a notice board to post up their news, ideas, articles, pages printed from internet, song lyrics etc. Remember to encourage pertinent content and good presentation.

Keep your eye open for resources to use in class; they do not always have to be specially ordered or expensive. Keep a blank video ready in case something pops up on the news or take a camera out with you. At art galleries or museums, buy some postcards and remember to pick up an extra few leaflets – even if the quality is not high you could get students to think how they could do it better.

Encourage them to visit a local museum with a critical eye. Realia adds variety, so whatever you use, don’t forget to ‘milk’ the material. Get every penny of educational value from it.

The ‘strategic use’ of traditional resources like the projector, tape recorder, OHP, computer or TV, can still be useful in changing the pace and focus of your lesson. For example, you could dramatically reveal a poster a little at a time on the first showing, to encourage guessing and hypothesising. When using a video don’t just PTB (press the button) – there are so many creative before, during and after activities, which can be used to get the most out of even the shortest video clip. Encourage students to be critical of the presentation, noticing the colours, angles and sounds used. Ask them to think about what was included, how it was presented and also, importantly, what has been left out. This last activity is almost certain to stimulate discussion. They could be invited to create something better for themselves as part of a project.

The use of physical objects in your lesson can be used to complement the general points you are making in your explanation – never undervalue the pictures, charts and diagrams in your teaching materials, which are so often ‘seen and not heard’.

Taking stock of your resources is quite a daunting task, but has its rewards as you often rediscover forgotten material. As they say, ‘If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’. Never forget to note down who you lend your precious resources to and always write your name and school in books that are yours! Pool your resources with other teachers and invite your students to research and bring materials as resources to the class – you might be surprised at what they come up with.

I know that I have not proposed anything out of the ordinary here, but it helps to remember what effects the small finishing touches have on your lessons.

Take stock of what you have, pool, reuse, collect, create… and above all, use resources to foster memorable hands-on learning. TEX

Resource ideas for your Aladdin’s cave:

  • postcards
  • word cards
  • rubric of terms
  • photos
  • rocks and pebbles
  • fabrics
  • plasticine
  • blocks (rods, Jenga, Lego)
  • short poems
  • prayers
  • quotations
  • toy animals
  • historical artifacts
  • maps
  • mind maps – coloured paper and pens to ‘get the ball rolling’ – show to other teams
  • collage – ‘good and evil’ theme from magazine
  • small demonstration, art attack (how to draw a curve)
  • how many things in a matchbox? What’s in the modern, 80s, 50s pocket?
  • fashion, hair, car, furnishing – talk about differences and trends
  • town and country debate
  • cell phone, calculator, camera – how does it work?
  • dictionary – mono and bilingual
  • song database, film scene, advertisements – sound bite

Philip Dury is a teacher and teacher trainer based in Sicily. He has written for Longman and Burlington Books.