It is rare to find a child who is not enthralled with animals. Big animals, little animals, wild animals, and domestic animals all tend to draw children out of their shells. This is why a trip to the zoo is the perfect opportunity to work on language development skills. Children are far more likely to talk about what they see and what the animals are doing than they are to spontaneously erupt into conversation in a language that is still difficult.
Begin your zoo adventure by simply walking around and letting the child lead the conversation. Restate what he says being sure to model correct pronunciation and to make any changes necessary to promote correct use of the language without drawing attention to any linguistic mistakes made by the child. This will hopefully encourage the child to discuss what he is seeing without feeling as though this is a language assignment – something many children dread.
Once children are at ease begin asking questions about what they are seeing. Possible questions include:
- What is the animal doing?
- Which animal is the scariest?
- Which animal is your favorite?
- Which animal was your favorite?
- Which animal would you like for a pet?
- Which animal would you most like to be?
- Which animals have you seen before?
Don’t forget to use follow up questions for children who simply answer with one word. If a child says his favorite is the tiger, ask him why!
You can also utilize a variety of games and activities while visiting the zoo. Some will be strictly for use while at the zoo while others will offer children to practice their language skills while at the zoo as well as after they return home.
- Animal Bingo – Animal bingo is great for young children or older children who are also learning to read a new language. You can make the bingo cards with animal pictures, animal pictures captioned with the name of the animal in English or English and the child’s native language, or just the name of the animal. If you want a wider variety, add other images to the bingo game. These can be stock images or images you have captured from previous trips.
- Scavenger Hunt– Make a list of items to find while at the zoo and have the children take a picture of each item as they find the object. Alternatively, they can look for things and check them off the list as they find them. Possible items to include:
- Animal food
- Animal that starts with the letter A, B, C etc
- Animals (list individual animals that will be at the zoo)
- Baby animal
- Drinking animal
- Eating animal
- Sleeping animal
- Swimming animal
- Your lunch
- Zoo worker
- Safari – Give children a disposable camera or a digital camera and have them take pictures of their trip to the zoo. Then use the pictures to create a scrap book at a later date. Have them tell the story of what they is going on in each picture. This allows the fun of the zoo exploration to be continued for several days and gives additional practice with language and writing skills.
How will you use a zoo trip to reinforce language skills?