The use of real things as teaching aids

Definition of real things

Real things in teaching and learning are physical instructional materials use in the course of teaching and learning which are produced by the instructor (educator) or in collaboration with the students (pupils). They take the form of formal or informal materials used in carrying out teaching and learning. This includes photograph or drawing.

Real things are animate and inanimate things within the environment.  They abound in our environment and when effectively utilized they can stimulate learning. Real things in their natural state are undoubtedly the best material for use in teaching. They offer learners first–hand experience of what they study.

Real things include things like equipment, all types of animals and plants, houses, etc. We can feel handle, taste and manipulate them. Real things can be categorized as:

  1. Unmodified real things: These are things as they are, without any alteration, excepting that they have been removed from their natural or original real–life environment. The unmodified real things have every segment in tact. In addition, they may operate, work or be alive and are of normal size. They can be recognized by the learners for what they are. Cars in a garage, a live dog, chick or goat, a national flag or insect like grasshoppers are examples of unmodified real things.
  2. Modified real things: These are things that are no more in their exact natural state. The human skeleton usually seen in laboratories, some often painted to emphasize some parts as example of modified real things. A human skill with its parts separated and rearrange to clarify its structure is a typical modified real thing used in schools. Models and mock – ups are modified real things. Real things are used for instructional purposes because of their great potential to arouse and stimulate learner interest and thus enhance learning.

When the teacher has valuable and fragile items, they should be viewed under glass or locked in display cases and be observed in details at close range. In cases when safety precautions or specialist skills are needed to operate, manipulating, or handle objects, the teacher should watch. In some instance, the teacher can identify a component student to do the demonstration.

Types of real things

  1. Animations

Animations can come in different forma which include motion. This can be simplified down to the basic chart. For example, a bar chart can be made in a double thickness, with the second layer nothing more than a solid sheet of color, and the first layer, giving the form, wording and numbers of the chart, cut out in such a manner that the color will show through the holes to make the bars. Blank paper inserted between the layers can then be extracted to give the bars, as they slowly appear, the animation of illusionary growth. In a similar manner, cartoons can be made to “move” by pulling strings, or outline maps can be filled in gradually by flipping overlays.

  1. Blackboard

Blackboard is an example of real thing in teaching and learning process in a school system, the blackboard has many drawbacks which affect its use. On the other hand, a blackboard permits the speaker to change the size of his writing and illustrations to suit the size of his audience — a factor which can be costly with any pre-­prepared instructional aids.

  1. Bulletin board

A bulletin board is essential when illustrations have been prepared on thin, flexible paper. It is usually helpful to have an assistant do the mounting, or the planner will have to turn his back to the audience and fumble with the material. A blackboard can be considered a bulletin board, with the aids mounted with tape rather than pins or tacks. It might be noted here that real thing can be enlarged by a photostatic process, at relatively small cost, for presentation on a bulletin board. The board itself will vary in cost with size and material.

  1. Easel or a-frame

Frames can be made by the planner himself, should he happen to be handy with tools, or a building maintenance man or carpenter, or purchased commercially. They are used to hold and display material mounted on portable blackboards, bulletin boards, feltboard or pegboard, or the visual aids themselves if prepared on stiff drawing board.

  1. Feltboard

Adhesive cutouts are particularly useful in the illustration of motion, such as the movement of automobiles along a proposed interchange. The street lines can be indicated with tape or string, and the cut-out cars can be moved along and placed in position at will. Use is perhaps more adaptable to the discussion of various proposals than the presentation of a finalized plan.

  1. Flash cards

Flash cards due to their small size and effective use in rapid sequences, flash cards are used as a real thing in the learning process They are used primarily in language training, testing, or to emphasize key words or actions.

  1. Flip charts

The same consideration must be given to transporting bulky flip charts and supporting frames as was given to easels and the material they may be used to display. Flip charts have a distinct advantage over separate illustrations in that the change from one to another is much faster and easier to accomplish. The illustrations, of course, must be on completely flexible paper.

  1. Model or mock-up

The primary consideration in the use of models is the size of the audience. If a model is designed for table display, the number which can gather around the table at one time is the maximum audience size. In this case, the speaker would ideally stand on one side of the table, in order to point out various aspects to the audience, standing on the other three sides.

  1. Pegboard

Ideally suited to a lobby display, particularly of publications or other materials, pegboard is difficult to adapt to a changing visual presentation. Considering the size of the audience, illustrations are rarely much smaller than the largest piece of pegboard a planner might want to carry to a meeting, and the display of only one item might suggest that a bulletin board or easel would be a better choice of equipment.

  1. Pointer

A pointing instrument is indispensable, especially when using maps, graphics and models, in pointing out particular parts of real things. A pointer should be thick enough to be seen from the back of the room and thin enough so that it does not obliterate a part of the real thing.

Advantages of real things

Seeing images of real things of what’s being taught is a powerful way to build student engagement and boost retention. Not only do they provide supplementary information to students, but show images that allow them to connect a topic to what it looks like. Further, real things can promote deeper thinking and build overall critical thinking skills. In fact, bringing a real thing into your classroom opens up a whole new realm of educational opportunities. The following are some of the other advantages of real things in the teaching and learning process:

1.   Improve classroom success

Showing students real things can boost their understanding of a topic. For example, it can be tough for students to understand the concept of where a place is located just by hearing their teacher describe it. Showing students on a map will improve their success. Bringing real elements into your classroom can also boost math and reading abilities. Real things can help English-language learners build their vocabulary and writing skills. Showing students visual aids inspires creativity and deeper thinking, as well.

2.   Build student interest and engagement

Showing students real things, such as maps, charts, graphs, photographs and pictures of people can help students get excited about a particular topic. When students are able to see a photograph of a famous explorer, for example, they’re more likely to be engaged in finding out more about his contributions to history. This is also true for special-needs students, such as those on the autism spectrum, who often learn visually and have more trouble becoming engaged in a general classroom setting, according to Alyson Harris, writing for the Johns Hopkins School of Education.

3.   Expand the scope of what can be learned

There is only so much information a teacher can give students orally. Using real things greatly expands what kinds of information a teacher can pass on to her students. For example, hearing stories about the Oregon Trail can teach students some information, but seeing colorful maps showing the route they took or playing the popular computer game by the same name allows them to interact with the information and learn so much more. Showing students objects is another powerful way to teach, and can bring a subject alive. Showing students objects that are spheres or cylinders is more effective than telling the children what they look like and holding rocks in their hands expands how much can be learned about different types of rock formations.

Disadvantages of real things

Real thing can be a great tool to use in classrooms. Often they can spice up otherwise dull topics, keep students more engaged in their lesson and enliven their imaginations. But these things have their own disadvantages. It is important to weigh both the pros and the cons when considering how you will use real thing in teaching and learning process. Some of the disadvantages are:

Technical problems

Regardless of real thing being used in teaching and learning process, there are many things that could go wrong that may spoil the purpose of the use of real things. A bulb might burn out on your projector or it might be blurry or hard to focus. When using a PowerPoint presentation, font and colors may show up differently on screen or the music and sound might not play.

Student distractions

Too much information using real things can be very distracting because the students might be carried away by the use of the real things.


Professionally put together real things can be expensive. This can cost money and due to budget constraints, some schools may not have enough real things for every classroom, and availability could be limited.


Real things can take a considerable amount of time to prepare. Posters and transparencies may require extensive preparation. Time spent in preparing these materials could take away from the time it takes to prepare a clear, well-organized lesson plan.


If you choose to use real things, the size of the room should be taken into consideration. It is critical that all students are able to see the real things used in learning and teaching process.  If the room is too large for everyone to see the real things, or if part of your audience is forced to view them at odd angles, some students will struggle to keep up with your lesson.


Some real thing can be bulky and difficult to transport.


Bone, J. (2010). What are the Importance of Instructional Materials in Teaching? [online] Available at:< > [Accessed 11 May 2015]., n.d. Types of Instructional Materials. [online] Available at:                                                       <> [Accessed 11 May 2015].

Edey, J. & Gomez, S. (2012). Action Research Summary: Copernicus Project SSI Year 4: K-6 Literacy through Science. [online] Available at:<> [Accessed 15 May 2015].

Ellington, H. (1987). A Review of the Different Types of Instructional Materials Available to Teachers and Lecturers. Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 10. Abstract only. 1 – Available on microfiche Scottish Central Institutions Committee for Educational Development. [online] Available at:<> [Accessed 15 May 2015].

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