Museum Resources for the English Language Teacher

Language teachers are constantly in need of inspiring new ways to get concepts across. You don’t need to be the most creative person to liven up a classroom, you just need to know where to look. Luckily, the world’s museums offer online resources for teachers. These resources include lesson plans, activities and themes to follow around the museum’s collection.

While most are geared towards general teachers, they are still useful for language teachers as you can tailor them to fit your needs. They can be graded up or down for different ages and levels. Meanwhile, some might not need tweaking at all! Of course, visiting the museums in person would be the enriching. However, high-quality images of the items often accompany the resources, so you don’t even need to be in the same country as the museum!

We looked at three museums with resources that can easily adapted for a language classroom. We'll also introduce you to an exciting Smithsonian initiative. But don’t let this limit you. With the world at your fingertips (via your keyboard), you can use the collections and resources from the world’s best museums: from art to history, science to design, technology to nature, these resources can enrich your learners’ experiences, ensuring it will be a lesson they can’t forget.

The J. Paul Getty Museum in LA

We’ll start off easy: The Getty Museum in Los Angeles is the perfect place to start utilising museum resources. They have developed curriculums specifically for English language teachers. With three levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced), and a plethora of research and tweaking, these resources are ripe and ready for you to use. No need to tailor them to your needs, they already focus on enhancing an English language lesson.

For beginners, artwork is used to teach vocabulary surrounding a theme. Themes can range from family to things in a room to the weather and more. They provide lesson plans and handouts created for teachers to use surrounding artwork from the collection. You can always use the ideas around the artwork with an alternative piece of art in a museum near you. It’s a great way to enhance a vocabulary lesson and get your learners engaged.

The lesson plans provided for intermediate and advanced learners still aim to enhance vocabulary surrounding certain themes, but these lessons are much more geared toward talking about art itself. Resources include lesson plans, worksheets and tips on how to teach different kinds of artwork. The resources (for all levels) are fully adaptable to different timelines. You can use them in the museum or in your own classroom.

The Postal Museums

When you think museum, you probably think art or history. But there are many other smaller museums dedicated to various topics. One type of museum that offers a surprisingly useful set of resources for English language teachers are the postal museums in the US and UK. The post is a more-or-less universally utilised service. Most English language learners understand the visual of stamps and letters even if they don't know the vocabulary. Besides this, the very nature of post is linked to writing and reading, making it a great jumping-off point for English lessons.

The Postal Museum in the UK has several resources that could be useful for young learners learning the vocabulary around mail. From an in-depth look at how the stamp was developed in the UK, to sending and delivering mail, there are slideshows, handouts and lesson plans geared towards young learners that could easily be adapted for an English language classroom.

In the US, the National Postal Museum has a series of resources surrounding their online exhibition about Victory Mail in World War II. While you’ll want to avoid the political implications of the Victory Mail resources, it can be used to inspire letter-writing lessons. Letter-writing allows students to attempt to use their skills and can be themed around new vocabulary.

London Transport Museum

Like postal museums, another type of museum with useful resources are transport museums. These can come in handy when teaching different forms of transportation. Like other museums, they also serve as jumping-off points for more inspired lessons.

The London Transport Museum offers a particularly fun activity: transport bingo. In this activity, students fill in a bingo sheet with the names of different types of transportation before playing bingo as a class. This kind of activity is especially useful as students must think of at least nine different nouns on their own. This is adaptable for lessons on different topics, as well. The lesson plans provided by the museum also offer ideas as to how to use the bingo cards in other ways. These include pair work and activities outside the classroom.

London Transport Museum also suggests an activity that has students “invent” buses for different kinds of people. Again, this kind of activity is adaptable to help solidify different kinds of adjectives and vocabulary. These resources also demonstrate that you don’t need to visit a museum to effectively use its lessons.

The Smithsonian Learning Lab

There are museums for nearly every topic around the world and many of them offer free resources for teachers. The possibilities are endless for English language teachers, as you can see from the postal and transport museums. There are many niche museums like these that have adaptable resources. Museums are also always striving to make their resources more accessible and useful for teachers. In 2016, University of Cambridge Museums looked at how museums could improve their teacher resources. They found that teachers want accessible, concise, clear, searchable activity ideas that they can adapt to their needs.

It’s clear that museums are working towards this, with the Smithsonian group of museums in the United States taking the lead. They have created a sort of open-source platform for teachers to share their lessons based on museum collections. There are over 5,000 collections of curated material for teachers to take advantage of in the Smithsonian Learning Lab. While many of these won’t apply to English language teachers, a flick through these plans could offer inspiration and you never know what you might find.

Whether you teach young learners or adults, beginners or advanced, you’re bound to find inspiration in online museum resources. From slideshows to handouts to full lesson plans, you can take pieces to tailor the resources to your needs. But one thing’s certain: the wealth of inspiration that can be found from museums is unparalleled.

Have you used museum resources in your lessons? We'd love to hear from you!

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