Teaching a foreign language is often about making students forget that they are taught. The desired situation is often to make them have fun, play and acquire language at the same time without consciously learning it. That way their psychological barriers against learning a language disappear or at least are not so strong. One of my ideas for achieving this goal is the use of Lego and Lego Minifigures in particular.
Lego is my hobby which I rediscovered as an adult about a year ago. Since then I have collected some sets and Minifigures. My students were curious about my hobby and the conversation naturally started to be centred around what they saw. Both younger students and adults seemed to enjoy the topic of the conversation. That is how I spotted a new interesting trick that I can include in my language teaching.
Lego Minifigures come in all shapes and even sizes. Most are the classic ones but there are also orcs, dragons, horses etc. which can be used during a lesson. There are different themes (City, Castle, Space, Pirates, Ninjas) and even such so popular as Star Wars and Harry Potter. The sets also offer a variety of possibilities to use during a lesson. Without further ado, I would like to share some of my ideas. They work perfectly in one-on-one classes and with smaller groups. It is important that each student can easily see everything as the Minifigures are not big.
Jobs and professions. One of the first topics when learning a language is learning different jobs and professions. Instead of using pictures in a book, a teacher can prepare a set of Minifigures that represent different professions. They can be also handed to students and then they can say something about their jobs and ask each other questions. This can be done more than once as the teacher can assign different Minifigures to students.
Where is the policeman? Using the teacher’s Lego collection or simply a home or city plan drawn on a piece of paper students can be asked about the locations of different Minifigures. Where is the policeman or the astronaut? The places can be changed which gives much more flexibility than a picture printed in a book. Even with simple sets or other objects phrases like ‘the pirate is behind a tree’ or ‘the woman is in the car’ become visual, tangible.
Storytelling. Each Lego set tells a story. Why not use the students’ imagination and ask them to find the story or tell a one they come up with? If they like horrors, the ‘Hidden Side’ series is a perfect choice for them. Pirates with their treasures, castles with princesses slaying dragons and saving their prince (or vice versa) – the possibilities are endless.
Grammar. I found that showing students the Minifigures of Caesar or Cleopatra creates a natural environment for the past tense. Starting with showing some historic figures we can easily get to first past sentences like ‘Cleopatra was the queen of Egypt’. Later, the students may be asked about the lifestyle of pirates and each of their different activities can be seen with a set. The recent new Barracuda is perfect for thousands of present, past and present perfect tense discussions. The set is an island where pirates live. Their wrecked ship became their new home. Their former life (past tense) can be contrasted with their current situation (present). ‘What has happened to them?’ we might ask using the Present Perfect.
These are just a few ideas that I wanted to share with you. They can be done on a tight budget only with a few Minifigures or, in a more lavish way, with one of the great sets like the Barracuda Island. Many of the Minifigures can be cheaply bought on Bricklink or other services like eBay or Allegro. You can find new ones there as well as second hand. Buying a horse or dragon can make the collection more expensive but can give so much more fun. If you want to use crazier Minifigures, Lego offers different series. In the newest one, there is a Viking, a Tournament knight, a Llama costume girl and Peapod costume girl. Unfortunately, you buy them in not transparent bags so either you let your choice to fate or find someone selling them after opening the bags (there is no risk of getting an unwanted figure but it might be a bit more expensive than a standard bag).
It is necessary to mention online teaching. It is still possible! A good camera and we can show the Minifigures and the sets to our students. There are a few always on my desk ready to be used. I even used the huge Barracuda ship while teaching online! The important factor is that Lego has the magic power of making students forget that this is a lesson. They absorb even the strangest vocabulary as if it was a game. They associate much easier with real objects and simply have more fun.
Teaching a language is fun, I strongly believe in it. With Lego, it makes even more fun. Why not give it a try?