Using realia in online teaching

Using realia in online teaching

Do you remember this funny meme?

Using realia in online teaching

The same can be depicted about bringing real objects into teaching. Realia can help not only present a new vocabulary but also teach grammatical patterns and different concepts. 

Realia in online teaching can spruce up lessons, grab students’ attention and make a learning language process much easier. Here are ten interesting activities that will bring reality into your virtual class.    

King Arthur’s sword

Take an old object that can “give” a backstory, e.g. hat, clock or a souvenir sword. Show it to students and say it is a magical historical artifact. Give them a few minutes to think and make a story by covering these points: where it came from, who owned it and how the teacher got it. This is a good activity to practice past tenses, defining and non-defining relative clauses. 

If you decide to show students a sword, it won’t be a problem as it is an online lesson and you won’t be stopped and questioned about the sword by a policeman 😉

Where is it?

Choose an object, such as a ball, to teach prepositions of place. Put it “under, above, on, behind, next to, etc.” and ask: “Where is the ball?” – “It’s behind the chair”. To practice, ask students to give you directions, like “Put the ball under the table”, etc.  

If you have an opportunity to move your camera, use different big objects, like books, toys, pillows, clothes, bags, etc., and put them around your room. It is important to use big objects, so students can clearly see what they are. Ask them to say where each item is. Use the structure there is/there are. 

You can also use this game to teach demonstrative pronouns: this, that, these, those. Just locate the items randomly in your room and demonstrate how far and near the items are from you. 

If you want to teach/revise comparative adjectives, take two different items and hold them so students can see. They can say: “The red pencil is longer than the green one”, etc.  

One of the advantages of this activity for online classes is that teachers don’t need to bring a lot of objects to the classroom. They can put them in different parts of their room beforehand and then use the camera to show them to students. Also if teachers aren’t able to do this before the lesson, they can take items and locate them randomly during the exercise.  


Prepare an object which looks like a souvenir brought from another country. Show it to students and tell them that it is a souvenir they bought on holiday. Ask them to imagine that they are going to give it to their best friend. To do that they need to come up with a story on where they were on holiday, what they were doing when they bought it, how and why they chose that gift. Use this exercise to practice narrative tenses. 

Use an online format of this activity to show students the real souvenir which you bought during your last journey and which you can’t bring to offline lessons as it is very big/expensive/heavy. 

Recycling bin

If you are going to have a lesson about the environment, don’t forget to mention the importance of recycling. Prepare four recycling bins and put a sticker on each of them: for paper, for glass, for paper, and for metal. The next thing that you will need is a bag of rubbish that can be recycled, e.g. old newspaper, glass jars, cartons, tins, etc. Show them the items and ask to name them. When they finish they say which bin they would put them in to recycle and why.      

In offline lessons, students can just put the item into an appropriate recycling bin without saying anything and may avoid speaking. The online format of this activity won’t allow students to be silent, it will make them talk as they have to help the teacher by saying where to put the items.   

What is it?

Fill a bag with different items. Take one of them and hide it under a cloth. Start describing the item and let students look at the shape. You can say “It’s big, it’s soft, etc.” If you work with a group of students, have them take turns trying to guess what it is. 

To make an exercise more challenging, before the lesson ask students to prepare a bag with realia too. So they can make descriptions and practice adjectives.   

An advantage of this online format is that if students forget to prepare a bag with realia, they can randomly take something from their room and show it to their teacher.     


Prepare a bunch of random items and show them to your students. Explain that they have been stranded on a desert island and these objects have washed onto the shore. First students name the objects they see and then they have to figure out how to use them in order to survive on an island as long as possible. If you work with a group of students, put them into small teams and give 10 minutes to think. Listen to each of them and decide which team would survive the longest. This will be great for practicing gerunds and infinitives of purpose. 

To make the lesson more realistic, turn on the virtual background with the island.


Here is an activity to practice numbers and shopping vocabulary. Put a row of objects on your shelf and aim the camera at it. Have students guess how much each of them costs. You can choose the specific items in order to target specific vocabulary. 

Alternatively, have students “put” the objects from the cheapest to the most expensive. In this way, students will practice giving commands and some prepositions of place. 

The online version of the exercise gives an opportunity to practice the words connected with shopping as it is quite challenging to bring all necessary items of clothing or food  to offline classes. 


This activity will help to demonstrate new/learned vocabulary. Prepare objects related to the topic of the lesson, for example, sports. Quickly show them one by one. Ask students to recall the items they saw. Do the same for the second time so students can name the items they saw in order.   

The online format will allow teachers not to worry about where to hide the items. They can just put them on their desk and none of the students will see them. 

Here you can find more unusual ways of using realia.

By using realia in your online teaching you make your lessons more memorable and dynamic. It provides a visual aid that engages students and brings a great element of fun into the virtual room. 

Speaking activities are, obviously, essential for English language speaking classes. A lot of students join classes particularly to develop their communicative competence, become more fluent, versatile, adaptable, and confident communicators in English. However, designing speaking activities might be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for any teacher. We have prepared a memo with superb ready-made speaking tasks that will make your student talking. Download it here.

Using realia in online teaching
Маргарита Аветисян

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