How to Teach Clothes Vocabulary to Young Learners
What clothes vocabulary to teach and how to do so, including introducing loads of fun.
Things you need to teach about clothes vocabulary, in approximate order of when I would introduce that point, include:
- Names of basic clothes that students often wear
- Identifying the written forms of those words
- Verbs associated with clothes (“try on”, “put on”, “wear”, “take off”, etc)
- Phrases to talk about clothes in whole sentences (“I’m wearing…”, “I like…”, “I have…”, “I’d like…”)
- Clothes that are always plural (“glasses”, “jeans”, etc)
- Words to describe clothes (colours, fabrics, thickness, warmth, etc)
- Shopping language
- Parts of clothes (“sleeve”, “collar”, etc)
- Clothes for particular purposes (“apron”, “goggles”, etc)
- Common problems with clothes vocabulary (e.g. Jangliish/Konglish/ Franglais clothes expressions)
- Different words for the same clothes (e.g. British and American English like “trousers”/“pants”)
- Other more unusual clothes (“dungarees”, “waistcoat”, etc)
- Clothes from the past and/ or future (e.g. as a CLIL topic)
You may also want to introduce accessories and jewellery like “handbag” and “necklace” at the same time, or the topic of clothes could be combined with describing people (“blue eyes”, “elegant”, etc). This is also a good topic just after body parts, because you can get students brainstorming or talking about clothes which cover particular parts of the body.
The great thing about this topic is that there are already loads of great things designed for outside the classroom that can usefully be brought into the lesson, for example:
- Picture books, catalogues and magazines
- Real clothes
- Toys (e.g. dolls) and their clothes
- 2D figures with 2D clothes (e.g. cut-out figures or stickers)
- Computer games/Online games which involve dressing people up
- Puzzles, e.g. Spot the Difference
Clothes are also fairly easy for students to make their own versions of, e.g. drawing, colouring and cutting out T-shirts and jeans. Most clothes are also possible to mime (e.g. acting out putting them on and/or taking them off). The other good thing about this topic is that students all have clothes and opinions on them, so it is easy to personalise this topic.
There can be a problem with most of the things for use outside the class being designed mainly for girls (and with boys who do dress up their sister’s Barbie doll not wanting to do so in public), but it should be possible to get around that by also using male figures, using storybooks that (also) have male characters, etc.
Presenting clothes vocabulary
There are many sets of clothes flashcards available online, or you can easily make your own from ClipArt –although some care is needed to make sure that it is clear what they represent, including distinguishing between similar things (“jeans” and “trousers”, “coat” and “jacket”, etc). Pictures representing clothes are particularly good for the game of slowly revealing the card bit by bit for students to guess. For at least the first half of that game, I tend to get them to mime putting on and taking off all the clothes presented so far between presenting new words, but obviously you need to think carefully about what mimes you will use (e.g. not presenting the second one of “glasses” and “sunglasses” until the miming stage is finished).
The same thing can be done with real clothes (for people or dolls), including the slow reveal bit by pulling each thing slowly from a bag, or taking it out screwed into a ball or folded up and then rolling it out.
With higher-level classes, I tend to do basically the same thing but describing the card I am holding rather than showing it to them. This is especially useful if you want to later move on to words to describe clothes like “long” and “You wear it on your legs”.
Practising clothes vocabulary
Miming, indentifying pictures and describing clothes can also obviously be used in the practice stage. If you want students to describe the clothes to each other, you might need to give them suitable language to do so, e.g. “I think most people here have one at home”. Other activities are dealt with below by category.
Picture books, magazines and catalogues for the topic of clothes
There are very many books where clothes are a major factor, including:
- The Story of Little Babaji
- The Smartest Giant in Town
- Blue Hat, Green Hat
- Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing
The main thing when choosing which book to use is to decide where you want to be on the list of things to introduce given at the beginning of this article, e.g. not including (many) historical clothes unless students are quite advanced. You don’t have to worry so much about the other language in the text, as the pictures of clothes means it is usually quite easy to describe the story in easier language than what is actually written there.
With magazines and catalogues, students can flick through to find the thing that the teacher described as quickly as possible (also possible with books like Where’s Wally), or cut out things to stick on some A3 paper with written descriptions to make up an outfit, wardrobe or shop.
Realia for the topic of clothes
It is possible to get students dressing in real clothes, although nowadays even very young learners tend to be a bit too fussy to get into this. If you have a suitable selection of clothes (including amusingly oversized ones), students can race to dress one member of their team in the clothes that you shout out or just find and hold them up. They can also choose clothes for an outfit, wardrobe or shop as suggested with magazines and catalogues above, but this time describing the clothes and their merits orally to other groups. They could then vote on each other teams’ choices.
All these activities can also be done with toys, cut out figures or computer figures.
Craft activities for clothes
Students can also rush to make clothes or make and then describe clothes in similar ways to the activities described above. For example, students could race to cut out shapes of shorts, caps and boots from scrap paper, with one point for the quickest that really looks like that thing and one point for the best one within the time limit. To practise word recognition, they could also take written cards from the board, table or floor and add those clothes to their figure, maybe with students voting on how cool the final results are. This can also be done with descriptions of clothes, e.g. taking one card that says “black” and another that says “socks”, then adding that colour clothes to their character.
Personalised games for clothes vocabulary
Students can be tested on what their classmates are wearing now, or guess what clothes their classmates like or have at home. Higher-level classes could also find things in common, e.g. things that they were both wearing at exactly the same past time.
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.