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Classroom Activities

English Teaching Materials, Games and Activities

November 03, 2009

I'm an Alien Zookeeper

Try asking your students are a few simple questions such as "What's an elephant?", "What's a table?" or "What's a cat?" Last week I asked several university students the question "Where is Japan?" before someone answered "It's in Asia." and that was after we had reviewed continents. How did your students do? Were they shouting out the answers eagerly or perhaps they didn't know how to answer. I have a seven-year old student who will stop me occasionally whilst I'm speaking and say "David, what is a (polar bear)?", then I have other students who would rather give me a blank look than ever ask me such a question.

If you have heard David Paul's story, then you might know that Finding Out was published because one of David's students asked two simple questions of some visiting dignitaries, "What do you do?" and, to the answer "I'm a publisher.", "What is a publisher?" David has incorporated both of these questions into it's Finding Out book 2.

I'm going to look at the second question which is found in unit 5 page 32 in the activity "Aliens", here I quote from the book:

(Alien) "What's an elephant?"

(Boys) "It's gray." "It has a long..."

It doesn't seem like much, but it has great potential.

Unit 5 concentrates on "this/that" so I wanted to create something that would practice these targets as well as the more difficult descriptive language and so I decided on the game "I'm an Alien Zookeeper". Of course, to my knowledge, there was no such game. First of all I created 40 question cards featuring an alien zookeeper asking questions about the animals of this planet. Most of the vocabulary (animals) is taken from my 'animal habitats' cards.

Here you can see the poster from this set.


Then I wrote a simple description for each of the animals using this pattern:


It has...

It eats...

It lives in...


Notice that a boy or girl gives each description. Initially I wasn't going to put a picture of the animal on the card, but then I thought that the students would take too long in finding the correct card and then everyone would get bored with the pace of the activity. Then I made a set of small flashcards featuring each of the animals.


All these cards have the same backs, which I hope you find interesting.


Here are a few activities which the cards can be used for.

1. Scatter card
Language target: "What is a...?" and "This is a..."
Material: animal flashcards and alien zookeeper question cards.
Procedure: scatter the flashcards on the floor or table, pretend to be an alien and ask the students "What is an elephant?", then try and elicit the answer "This is an elephant.", whilst holding and showing the picture, also have the children use the answer "I don't know.", when they don't know. Do this until the students have almost got it and then break them into small groups and one student from each group pretends to be an alien for a set number of questions before passing the question cards to another student.

Alternatively have the children sit around the cards holding fly swatters, then one child, acting as caller, asks the question "What is an elephant?" A child covers or slams the correct picture saying "This is an elephant." and receives the calling card as a reward. Children take turns as caller.

2. Animal mimes
Language target: "What is a...?" and "That is a..."
Material: selected animal flashcards and alien zookeeper question cards.
Procedure: limit the cards to known easy to mime animals. Select someone to be an alien and another person to answer the alien's questions and then deal out the flashcards (face down) to the other students, then the alien asks the question "What is (an elephant)?" All the other players mime an animal, but the player holding the elephant card must mime an elephant. Then finally the student answers the question by pointing to the player who is miming an elephant and says "That is an elephant."

This sounds like an interesting game. I must try it myself.

3. Scatter card: animal descriptions
Language target: "What is a...?", "This is a...", "It's...", "It has...", "It eats..." and "It lives in...".
Material: animal description cards and alien zookeeper question cards.
Procedure: scatter the animal description cards on the floor or table, a player is chosen to play the part of the alien and asks the question "What is an elephant?" A student finds the right card and answers the question using the information given on the card. Play proceeds as in the first "scatter card" game.

After playing such game you should find your students more open to using 'this/that', when asked "What is a...?" and more open to using descriptive language.

"I'm an Alien Zookeeper" is available directly from myself for ¥1500 plus postage; please e-mail your order. The pack contains:

30 picture cards
30 question cards
30 description cards

The cards are the same size and quality as Switchit cards. That is, printed both sides colour, laminated, machine cut and corners rounded, then packed in a sturdy box.

If you want to make your own, then you can either design them yourself or wait until the materials come out on a new Blending a Hand CD. I'm hoping to have a CD covering units 1-7 of Finding Out book 2 available in December.

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