Back-to-school Language Activities, Changing Seats, Comprehensible Input, Movie talks

5 Ways to Use Authentic Realia in the World Language Classroom; You’ll Be Surprised by How Simple This Is!


Teachers have a very special skill set when it comes to up-cycling. Where our non-teaching buddies see an old shoe box, we see a diamond in the rough: that shoe box could be used to create a dynamic diorama! 


And up-cycling has it “upsides”. We contribute to the environment why providing a new use of for an old product. That is divergent thinking (we’re all going to be CEOs one day)! This post is just about that: making use of items we’ve may have garnered during our summer vacations.

I usually curate a TON of postcards (as well as museums programs) when I am abroad. On my last trips to Spain and Mexico, I have a lot of postcards that feature breathtaking views, and can also give students algo de quĂ© hablar. I realize that these trinkets could could give me a lot of mileage out of everyday classroom functions. Let’s take a look at how we could use these items to make interesting any classroom activity.

Using Postcards (or other authentic realia) for Changing Seats & Speaking Activities

I get a lot of mileage out of these postcards. Last year, I decided to laminate them to childproof them. I had bought a laminator on Amazon for $24.99 and the thermal sheets were 100 for $10. Although we have a laminator at school, I bought my own, por si acaso…


I used these postcards for two main activities:

  • speaking activities.
  • changing seats: I never have a method for changing seats, so this -postcard activity helped a lot because students love receiving things. They are curious and visual.

I usually get 4-5 copies of the same postcards, dole them out to students and they sit next to someone with the same postcard. You can always limit your variety as well. If you haven’t traveled abroad, you can get postcards from your town, or printout places, and or landmarks from the target culture. 

Using Postcards To Engender Diversity and Balance In Class

In the classroom, we want to provide meaningful input, but we also want to students be able to use the language they are acquiring. Postcards (or something similar) provide a great way of getting students into groups and making sure those groups are as diverse as possible.  

I learned something very valuable about my students a few years back. While discussing the role of appearances in choosing a friend (part of our Identity Unit), some students were disgusted by the article’s suggestion that “they choose friends based on appearances.” I said, “well, let’s get into groups to discuss.” They all got into groups. Before they could discuss the article, I had them pause and look around. I asked them “how many of your group members look like you?” They were floored! Point taken, and they disbanded and found people who were different from them. Remember, different can be race, personality, etc. 

To avoid this scenario, I pass out the cards and have them get into the group. This helps a great deal because: 

  • I don’t have to announce “Find someone different” this would make the poor kid whose different feel a little awkward 
  • The pressure is off the teacher
  • Students will have an opportunity to meet other and build relationships with other students (takes the onus off of them as well!). 

 First-week activities for intermediate students:  Introduce yourself to someone with the same card! 

No one wants to go up to a stranger and introduce themselves! We all need excuses to do the things we want to do. Isn’t that the reason behind speed-dating? Well, you can accomplish the same thing with help from an item such as postcards. 

When I didn’t know any better (three years ago), I’d project a prompt and tell students “Go meet someone around the class!” I really thought, “Wow, this is great!” Meanwhile, the students were terrified. Now, when we do introductions (I feel like I am selling some kind of infomercial at 2 in the morning here, this little activity really helped to strengthen my routines), they get a card and they are working their way around the class, collecting information and getting to know their classmates, all the while seeing some interesting sites!\

Mix it Up!

  • For lower-level classes use postcards (or similar activity) to talk about colors. 
  • Students can also talk about the postcard, especially if there are interesting pictures! 
  • For upper-level classes, students can say they’d like to go, and why. They can also say they had visited and the things that they saw. 
  • Postcards make very good Picture Talks in any travel unit. 

Use as a circumlocution challenge! 

One word that my students know more than any other words is “circumlocution.” They know that when they don’t know a word or have forgotten it, they navigate the known words in their vocabulary and they “make it work.” I have heard some create a combination with circumlocutory attempts. Culture realia and be used as a fun challenge to win extra points or however you want to structure it. 

  • Give a student one of the postcards or picture 
  • They have 30 seconds to describe it to class
  • Group student according to different cards and have each one talk about their card in their group. 

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