Number one for English language teachers

Imaginative materials: teaching with simple props: string

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

Some props don't immediately suggest themselves as useful teaching aids. For example, what could one possibly do with a bag of clothes pegs and a piece of string? Mmm…


  1. Clothes line

    Take your string and pin it up like a washing line. It could be slung across the top part of the board, it could be on an otherwise useless empty wall, or it could actually go across the room. Now you have a new display place for flashcards, word cards, magazine pictures or students' work, using clothes pegs to fix items.

  2. Picture story grammar

    When you use a picture story to help present a grammatical item, reveal and attach the pictures one by one to the clothes line as the story unfolds. At the end, take the pictures down (or turn them around) and see if learners can recall the original sequence (and the accompanying language, of course). An interesting follow-on practice would be to take the pictures down, mix them up and then peg them up in a random new order. Students now have to work out a story that fits the new sequence (using the target grammar, of course).

  3. Communicative Clothes line

    Hang up two parallel clothes lines across the classroom. Select a number of pairs of pictures (i.e. two identical pictures or ones that have some item in common, are set in the same place, feature the same person etc). Divide the students into two groups, on each side of the room, standing parallel to the clothes lines. Divide the pictures into two sets, so that every item in set one has a pair in set two. Randomly peg them up so that each set is on one line, facing outwards (i.e. learners standing on one side of the room will see one set of pictures, but not the other). Students must now move along their line, talking to people on the other side of the room, describing their pictures (and listening to descriptions) and try to work out which pictures match and make pairs (and why) keeping notes as they go.

  4. Sorting words

    Anything hung on the line can easily be moved, removed or reorganized. For example, when you teach countable and uncountable nouns, randomly hang up your example words on the clothes line rather than writing them on the board. Now ask students to separate uncountable items to the left and countable to the right. Alternatively, ask learners to sort: verbs in past simple and past participle form, different word stress patterns, adjectives and adverbs, informal and formal phrases, words with the schwa vowel sound and those without etc.

  5. Word line


    Many teachers keep a word box full of items for recycling in future lessons. Try hanging up a word line instead. At the end of every lesson, add ten or so new items to the word line. In the next lesson students pick a few random words to test themselves and others (e.g. translate it, put it into a sentence, use these 5 words in a story etc).


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