Excellent activities to help integrate content-based material into the Primary classroom

Photo of children in a classroom working in groups or pairs.

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Characteristics in common

Level: A1.1, A1.2, A2.1, A2.2
Age: 6-10
Organization: whole class, pairs
Aims: To observe and identify shared characteristics of animals; (to explore and develop the ability to define a term).
Language focus: present simple, can (for ability), need, animals, parts of the body, actions
Materials: Essential - pictures or flashcards of one human character, eg a child, and a selection of animals, eg dog, rabbit, frog, butterfly, bird, goldfish, snake, spider
Optional - copies of true/false sentences about the animals (see step 4, one for each child)


1. Stick pictures or flashcards on the board and get the children to identify each one as you do this. Ask the children what all the pictures have in common, using L1 to explain what you mean if necessary (they're all animals; they're all alive).
2. Divide the class into pairs.
3. Explain that you're going to say sentences and see if the children can identify other characteristics the pictures have in common. After you say each sentence the children should confer with their partners and then say Yes! or No! depending on whether they think it is a shared characteristic or not.
4. Say the following sentences using mime and gesture to convey meaning as necessary: They're all animals. (yes) They're all alive. (yes) They all move. (yes) They all fly. (no) They all need food. (yes) They all have legs. (no) They all have a heart. (no) They all grow. (yes) They all produce babies. (yes) They all swim. (no) They all need water. (yes) They all talk. (no) They all need air. (yes)
5. Encourage the children to reconstruct the common characteristics of the animals in the pictures with you, ie They are alive. They move. They need food, air and water. They grow and they produce babies.
6. With younger children, you can ask them to draw and colour a picture of another animal which has all these characteristics.
7. Older children can write or complete sentences with the common defining characteristics of the animals in the pictures. You can then ask them if they think all these characteristics apply to all animals. This can lead to a more detailed, discussion of animal characteristics, eg not all animals move - examples are mussels or limpets attached to rocks in the sea; not all animals drink water - examples are frogs, which absorb water through their skin; not all animals see or hear - examples are some fish, worms or bats; not all animals need air - examples are deep sea fish. Be ready to help with vocabulary and recast or extend children's ideas as they contribute to the discussion and explore defining the term 'animal'.

Comments and suggestions

  • By saying the true/false sentences one at a time and using mime and gesture to convey meaning, it is possible to do this activity with younger children who are not yet reading in English or familiar with the vocabulary.
  • With older, higher level children, you may prefer to give the children true/false sentences on a handout to read and discuss with their partner. Alternatively, instead of using true/false sentences, you can ask the children to work with their partner and write six sentences which they think describe the common characteristics of the animals. The pairs then take turns to say a sentence to the class in order to see whether the others agree, and arrive at a consensus.
  • This activity develops children's awareness of common characteristics of animals and can be used as a prelude to doing more detailed work, eg on wild life from a particular habitat such as rainforests.
  • A similar activity can also be done with pictures of plants instead of animals, eg tree, flower, plant, grass, vegetable: They all grow. They all need sunlight. They all need water. They all produce seeds. They all have leaves. They all have flowers.

Flower experiment

Level: A1.1, A1.2, A2.1
Age: 6-10
Organization: whole class, individual
Aims: To investigate how quickly a flower drinks water; to predict and observe what happens over several days; to draw a picture and write about the result; to develop an interest in plants; to respect the opinions of others.
Language focus: going to, past simple, hour, day
Materials: Essential - a white carnation, a plastic cup of water, red food colouring


1. Show the children the carnation and the plastic cup of red water. Say, eg I'm going to put the flower in the cup of red water. What do you think is going to happen? and listen to the children's ideas. When they say, eg The flower's going to turn red, ask How long is it going to take? and encourage them to make further predictions, eg It's going to take six hours / one day.
2. Ask the children each to write or complete sentences with their predictions, eg I think the flower is / isn't going to turn red. It's going to take X hours / days.
3. Children then talk about and compare their predictions. Explain that they must now wait to find out what happens.
4. In the next or a subsequent lesson, once the carnation has turned red, children compare the result with their predictions. (The flower usually takes about two days to go red.) Ask them to draw a picture to show the experiment and write the result, eg We put a white flower in red water. The flower turned red in ... days.

Comments and suggestions

  • Children usually find the process of observing the flower 'drink' water fascinating, and this activity graphically demonstrates the need of a cut flower for water. 

Mystery fruit

Level: A1.1
Age: 4–8
Organization: whole class, (groups)
Aims: To investigate the sense of taste; to make guesses based on sight, smell and texture; to use evidence from experience to draw conclusions; to develop an interest in finding out about the five senses.
Language focus: be, questions, fruit, right, wrong
Materials: Essential - a blindfold, whole and cut-up fruit (eg banana, apple, pear, peach, melon), containers in which to put the fruit (eg yogurt pots)


1. Show the children the whole fruits and pre-teach the names if necessary.
2. Give individual children a piece of cut-up fruit to taste in turn and get them to identify it, eg
(I think) it’s a melon. Ask Is it easy to identify the fruit? (Yes.) Then show the children the blindfolds and ask Is it easy if you can’t see? and listen to their response.
3. Invite a child to the front of the class. Put a blindfold on them and demonstrate the activity. Give the child a piece of fruit to eat (mouthing what it is silently to the rest of the class) and ask the child to try and identify it, eg T: What’s this? P: (I think) it’s .... Ask the class Is he/she right?
4. Repeat several times with different children, keeping a score of the number of correct guesses on the board.
5. Repeat the experiment, this time asking children to hold their noses as well as wear the blindfold. Keep a score of the number of correct guesses on the board in the same way.
6. At the end, compare the scores for when children were blindfolded and when they held their noses as well (which in theory should be much lower). Ask the children what they can conclude from this. Listen to their ideas, remodelling or expanding them in English where necessary.
7. Use their responses to establish that it’s very difficult to identify food if we can’t see it or smell it. Our tongue helps us to identify basic taste and texture but we also use our eyes and nose to know what we’re eating.

Comments and suggestions

  • Check that there are no children with food allergies before doing the activity.
  • With older children, you may like to get them to do the activity as an experiment in groups rather than with the whole class. In this case, give a blindfold and cut-up pieces of fruit to each group. Children take turns to blindfold each other and taste three pieces of fruit in turn. They keep a record of their scores in a simple chart (see previous page). Children then repeat the experiment, this time holding their noses as well as wearing the blindfold. At the end, they report back and compare their scores before talking about the conclusions in the same way.
  • As a follow-up, younger children can draw or colour pictures of the fruit they found easiest to identify. Older children can do a further activity to identify food which is sweet, sour, salty and bitter and draw a picture to show the taste areas of their tongue.

Float or sink?

Level: A1.1, A1.2
Age: 4–10
Organization: whole class (groups)
Aims: To apply understanding of the concept of floating and sinking to classroom objects;
to make predictions based on previous knowledge; to carry out an experiment, observe what happens and record the results; to show interest in materials and properties that make things float or sink; to collaborate and take turns in groups.
Language focus: In the example: present simple, sink, float, classroom objects
Alternatives: vocabulary for any other small objects, eg coin, button
Materials: Essential - a large plastic mineral water bottle cut in half and filled with water, small classroom objects (eg rubber, pencil sharpener, paper clip, drawing pin, pencil, elastic band, piece of string)
Optional - a sheet of paper to draw and write results


1. Pre-teach the verbs float and sink and the names of any classroom objects you are going to use in the activity that the children don’t already know.
2. Put the cut-off plastic bottle filled with water in a central position in the classroom where everyone can see. Hold up each classroom object in turn, ask the children Does it sink or float? and elicit their answers, eg P1: I think it sinks. P2: Maybe it floats. P3: I don’t know. If appropriate, ask Why? and encourage children to justify their views, eg It’s metal. Be ready
to remodel or expand their contributions where necessary.
3. Invite individual children to come and drop each object into the water. The rest of the class watches to see whether or not they predicted correctly, eg The rubber sinks. / The pencil floats.

Comments and suggestions

  • With older children, you may like to organize the first part of the activity in groups. Children talk about each object in turn with other members of their group and decide whether they sink or float before you carry out the experiment with the whole class.
  • As a follow-up, children from 6 years old can draw the objects in the correct place (depending on whether they sink or float) on a picture of the mineral water bottle. Older children can also write sentences about each one, eg A rubber sinks in water. They can also experiment with different objects at home and then ask each other or you about them in the next lesson.

These activity ideas were taken from 500 Activities for the Primary Classroom by Carol Read (Macmillan 2007). 500 Activities for the Primary Classroom is lively and varied of ideas and classroom activities for children between the ages of 3-12.