Friday, December 21, 2012

Pretend Play in Teaching ESL to VYL


Pretend play (or symbolic play) is a vital experience of childhood that allows transform and create other worlds, other lives to live, play at being other, learn to think and to feel as others and, ultimately, know that there are ways of thinking and feeling different from their own.


It is a free and autonomous play, with few conditions, but it is enriched if the space, objects and dedication are propitious. It does not need the intervention of adults, although sometimes a little help may push children into play. It does not need to be taught (the true experts in symbolic play are children themselves).


Pretend play can be played solo and in non-school contexts, but as social play is essential do with other children and their educational purpose is so interesting that it should not be relegated or excluded by other educational proposals, currently more valued. So, it would be important to have more presence in educational planning stage 0-6-8.



  • Pretend play affects positively the development of language, because it involves the representation of an object, person or animal by other: a toy, doll or a teddy. So, it is great to develop vocabulary.
  • It is encouraging and prepares to learning. The child dominates reality, recreating, and distorting it to fit their desires
  • It empowers imagination and creativity. It is the way children use to internalize their learning and exercise them. It increases their knowledge of the world, expands vocabulary and creates semantic categories that enrich their expressive language.
  • It promotes inner speech. Pretend play enhances the babbling, improves the prerequisites of language (attention, imitation and following instructions) and awakens the need to communicate.
  • Children learn to understand and absorb the surroundings.
  • It develops roles and it explores relationships between children and between child/adult.
  • Pretend play makes social and personal experiences of the child external and visible.


A picture is worth a thousand words. Here there are few examples:

1. One short project my friend Imma Piquer (an excellent English language teacher to very young learners - Year 6) proposes from a real and a everyday life activity: going shopping with real money (dollars). Children will practice some vocabulary, as well as useful expressions. The role-play activity proposed will provide every child with the opportunity to play both roles, costumer and shop assistant, and improve communicative skills. In order to give more realism, as well as cultural awareness to our proposal, we encourage English teachers to use American toy money to go shopping.




2. Another Imma’s Piquer activity: going to a restaurant, a performing role-play to practice vocabulary, as well as useful expressions.  It will provide every child with the opportunity to play three roles: costumer, waiter and cook and improve communicative skills. In order to give more realism, as well as cultural awareness to our proposal, we encourage English teachers to use: toy food, toy drinks, dinner sets, menus and so on to perform the role-play in English.



3.  I told the story " The Lion is coming" (Bugs 1 by Heinemann)  to my pupils of Year 1, and we did different activities around it. One was to make a diorama. I recorded children voices and I took some photos. You can see the video in one of my previous posts: The Lion is coming!
But the think that surprised me was when two girls where playing freely with the photocopied animals of the story. Just have a look!





To learn more about symbolic play and symbolic thought: 


This is a link to chapter 12 of the book: Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective . Pearson publishing. (Very interesting!)


Nature of Child's Play. This digest discusses children's pretend play and its relationship to developmental growth from infancy to middle childhood. The digest also suggests ways in which educators and other adults can support children's play.


As children develop the ability to represent experience symbolically, pretend play becomes a prominent activity. In this complex type of play, children carry out action plans, take on roles, and transform objects as they express their ideas and feelings about the social world” (Garvey, 1984).

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