Once, long ago and in a faraway place a group of men stood, continuing an argument that had consumed their thoughts. “Which would be counted the greatest in the kingdom of God?” These men approached the Great Teacher, for they were His followers, with their question.
The Great Teacher looked at His followers, then He looked at a group of children, playing nearby. Calling one of the little children over, He picked them up and said, “Unless you become like this little child, none of you shall be part of the kingdom of heaven.”
A good teacher knows the value of objects and illustrations in teaching. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” An object, picture, or illustration provides a hook for the learner to latch on to. It provides a point of recall. It provides sensory detail to help one remember and understand. Objects and illustrations communicate where words may not.
Use of manipulatives in math is vital in teaching young students math concepts. Use blocks or crayons or even fingers to learn to count, add, and subtract. Count real money and tell time on real clocks. Drawing out story problems, especially in some higher levels, is also helpful. Draw out Farmer Jones’s barn floor plan to see how much space he has for storage. Illustrate the route Bobby took as he went from point A to E to see how far he traveled. Quick sketches can make what’s foggy clearer.
Math usually deals with concrete details. Make use of concrete items to help students learn.
Science, when possible, is best taught through experience. Science experiments and demonstrations not only liven up a class but are valuable teaching and learning tools. Don’t skimp the hands on/concrete objects part of science. Observe the process of metamorphosis from egg to adult. Dissect a seed and a flower to find the various parts. Count the annual rings of a slice of tree trunk. Experiment with gravity and jet propulsion. Watch blood pump through a goldfish tail under a microscope. Test your own blood type. Handle samples of rocks and ores.
Illustrations and pictures are also helpful to understand science. Pictures from the Hubble or James Webb telescopes bring us an experience that we could never handle or observe on our own. Charts labeling the parts of a cell or details of various biomes help students remember the information.
History books as well as science books are filled with pictures and illustrations that complement the text. Make good use of them. Discuss the content. Read the captions. Use them as teaching tools. Maps are often underused objects. Put them to use and give students a sense of place. I remember my upper grade teacher bringing a three-dimensional map of our county to school. We enjoyed seeing the big picture of the valleys, hills, lakes, mountains, and roads of where we lived.
Artifacts about historical happenings lend interest to the lessons you are teaching. Arrowheads found along the local river bottoms and Civil War cannon balls found in the walls of an old house that had been used as a hospital during the war help students realize that “real history” happened right where they live.
Geography becomes more relevant when ethnic foods are shared, currency is examined, and real photographs are discussed.
In vocabulary, reading, and literature
Use concrete objects to teach vocabulary words, or illustrations of objects if the actual object is not available. Vocabulary is best learned through experience and context when possible.
Objects can also be used to invite interest in a reading story. A new shiny dime and an old dull one spark participation with the story “Whose Dime Was Lost?” in first grade reading. Using either an object or an illustration is a good way to familiarize students with things they may not have experienced. A story about storks will not mean much if students don’t know what a stork is. A Dutch windmill is different than the farm windmill or wind turbine that our students are commonly familiar with.
In memory work
Create a quick sketch flow chart of memory passages. For younger students, Bible memory can be filled with vocabulary and ideas that are beyond their comprehension. Even the Lord’s Prayer can be a jangle of syllables, sounds, and “jelly bread”. A series of quick sketches done in sequence can aid their understanding and memory.
Photographs, quick sketches, illustrations, and concrete objects help hold the attention of students. They clarify thought by giving a student more sensory input than just text. Objects and illustrations are tools that a good teacher uses to their advantage.