All TEFL teachers have their go-to topics when they get a class assigned at the last minute. It’s good to have a few games and activities up your sleeve for when you need to teach at short notice, and if they have a similar theme, it comes across much better than as just a bunch of random activities. “Animals” is a great topic to pull out of the bag, and there is so much scope for learning. It works particularly well with younger learners, but this is a topic that can be taught to any age. In this article, we’ll take a look at some popular games, activities and ideas for teaching this popular topic.
Why teach the animal topic?
- “Animals” is a universal topic – animals exist all over the world and are popular with younger learners because they often appear in books, songs and stories.
- Even if the students are first-time language learners, they might know some animal vocabulary already. This comes from high exposure to the topic in their native language.
- Generally, this is a topic that everyone likes. It’s not gender-specific, it’s not complicated, and it’s a great topic to have fun with.
- There are loads of resources. A few minutes of searching online (or reading this article!) will yield enough material for a whole lesson. Check out our top activities below.
Think Outside the Box with Different Senses
For very young learners, a great way to teach animal vocabulary is to incorporate other senses. What noise does a cat make? How does a dog walk? Using sounds can make it easier for young learners to understand, and TPR games are a great way to engage them too.
A party game developed in the late 80’s, this is a popular brainstorming game which can be used with any topic. Also known as ‘animal alphabet’, in this game students need to write down a word for each letter of the alphabet which related to the theme. So if the theme is animals, they might write: A = Alligator, B = Bear, C = Cat… You can make it more difficult by narrowing the theme, such as ‘Animals of Africa’ or ‘Animal Predators’. This works well for a warmer, review, or pair work.
You could play a different animal song every day of the year and still not run out of resources – there are endless materials online to make use of. To start you off, here is a playlist on Youtube to songs about animals, featuring PINK FONG and Super Simple Songs. My favourites are ‘Five Little Ducks’, ‘Baby Shark’, and ‘Did You Ever See My Tail?’. You can see a playlist here or watch a sample below.
Just because there are millions of animal worksheets out there doesn’t mean that you should bombard your students with them – pick carefully, and make them relevant to the class. Here’s a link to the hundreds of worksheets, colouring pages and craft ideas relating to animals on the Super Simple Learning page: https://supersimpleonline.com/resource-topic/animals-insects/
Make It Trickier
If you’re teaching older students and don’t want them to get bored with the same old topic, how about enhancing the theme? You could teach a lesson titled Predator vs Prey, or get the students to research an endangered species. There are plenty of online resources to do with environmental topics, or you could get the students to research extinct animals of the past.
About the Author
Celia Jenkins is a TEFL teacher and freelance writer living in the UK. She spent five years teaching English in China and Japan and now teaches Skype lessons to students around the world. She writes pedagogical articles, travel guides, and stories for children.