Is it possible to learn language with a yogurt container, a shoe box or a cup?


Most everyday objects contain writing of some kind along with other semiotic codes (drawings, arrows, diagrams). There is an innovative methodology called ” Realia with writing”, which promotes the consideration of these objects as pedagogical resources, which are integrated naturally in the learning of a language. We have applied this methodology to the reflection on the mother tongue itself .

In the teaching and learning process , resources and teaching materials are very important. They must meet a series of requirements and functions so that their pedagogical effectiveness can be validated.

For this reason, planning and systematizing what we want to bring to the classroom is a priority reflection and one that concerns both novice and experienced teachers.

Types of teaching materials

The Realia methodology with writing can be applied to the discipline of Spanish Language and Literature and, especially, to the training of future teachers. With it, we vindicate the “polycommunicative” potential of everyday objects, valid for reflecting on the natural uses of the language itself, from a playful and multimodal approach . But why bring these materials into the classroom?

Traditionally in it we find the so-called ad hoc didactic materials . These are born with an a priori training and didactic intention. Textbooks, reinforcement or extension booklets, worksheets, and, more recently, complementary audiovisual media (educational audios and podcasts, links to blogs) are, as a whole, resources that bear a communicative and educational style. standardized, and still very common in teaching practice.

Secondly, there are the so-called “authentic” materials: magazines, newspapers, travel guides, catalogues… that contain living samples of the language and that the teachers turn into pedagogical material. They were not born with a didactic purpose, but they reactivate the learning of the language, now from a communicative approach .

We highlight, in third place, the so-called “realia” or things. These are real objects (plastic fruits, dolls, figures), devoid of linguistic marks. They are highly motivating and their manipulation favors the recognition and identification of concepts. They become great allies for the dialogic game around them (learn by touching).

The usefulness of labels

And, finally, it is the turn of those we label as realia with writing. They are objects close to the student sphere; its requirement: contain a written message along with other communicative codes. This allows language to be analyzed in context, compared to language in isolation or language as a system.

Containers and boxes (biscuits, tea, medicine, shoes), shopping bags, yogurt cups, jars of jam, labels, cases, cups… are recycled in the classroom as new teaching materials.

They are useful for recognizing textual typologies (advertising, literary, instructional texts…); to review the lexical families, the antonyms; to differentiate abbreviations from acronyms and acronyms; to distinguish adverbial uses, recognize the different syntactic structures; to discover the ironic or suggestive load with which the product wants to convince us…

In short, to approach everyday language from the attractive challenge of theorizing about it beyond the usual textbook.

The attentive look of the learner can find in each object examples belonging to the different systems of the language: phonetic-phonological, lexical-semantic, morphosyntactic.

Methodological strengths of Realia with writing

This proposal is inspired, methodologically speaking, in the meaningful learning approach. This seeks to address the motivational variable (learn with what we already know, get involved, interest, self-efficacy and meta-competence) and metalinguistic reflection on the mother tongue.

And it is also contextualized in the instructional methodology of teaching materials, since it investigates the functions that these must fulfill (versatility, accessibility, motivating potential, multimodality, tangible nature, inclusive power…).

From its manipulation, the students identify, in a first phase, the linguistic contents of a different nature that it presents: epistemological or conceptual, instrumental, sociocultural.

The second phase is reserved for its didactic exploitation. The versatility of these new materials invites you to generate all kinds of dynamics and tasks: build mini-stories, develop decalogues of spelling rules, design conceptual maps on linguistic politeness, etc.

Application in Higher Education

We have applied this methodology in the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Specialization works (End of Degree and Master) have been defended there with such suggestive titles as From the classroom to the pantry: reading and writing to walk around the house (TFG, 2013) , Objects also speak: didactics of realia materials in the secondary classroom (TFM, 2016) , Realia: the reality of things. Research and didactic action for the 5th and 6th grade classrooms (TFG, 2017) o Realias with text or how to strengthen writing from the game: didactic programming proposal for 3rd grade of that (TFM, 2020). Their common denominator: to underline the formative support of these “things that speak to us”.

And research has been published as Language and rice water. A case study on the realia with writing and its multimodal perspective (2021) or Realia with writing: motivation and metalinguistic reflection on the L1 in teacher training (2021) .

Before you throw away the packaging of what you eat, wear and wear, take a look at your message. Recycle your knowledge of your own language and see how much linguistic input we savor daily.

Author Bio: Juana-Rosa Suarez Robaina is a Teacher and researcher of the Department of Specific Didactics of the ULPGC. Member of the GIR “Motivation, Education and Health” at University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria