Once in a while, I’d start my preschool ESL lesson with two hoops and a box of attribute shapes. I’d roll out a carpet in the middle of the circle, motioning that there was no talking allowed. In complete silence, I placed the hoops on the carpet, side by side, like this:

Then, I’d take a red shape from the attribute box, hold it up, then place it in a hoop. I’d take a blue shape from the box, and place it in the other hoop. A red shape, then a blue shape. The pattern was established. Then, I’d motion for children to point to the correct hoop. Which one this time? The blue hoop? or the red hoop? Then I’d pick up a yellow shape. Where did this go? I’d offer the shape to a child, so he could figure out where it belonged. By now, I’d hear quiet whispers of “no, not red,” and “no, not blue,” telling me the children understood the yellow shape needed to go elsewhere. But where? I’d motion to a place outside of the hoops, and the children would nod excitedly. Yes, that was just the place for the yellow shape.

We’d go through this a few times, using shapes, then size, until the children had this puzzle down pat. Time to take the next step: mixing two different sets of attributes.

In the one hoop, I’d place a blue circle. In the other, a red square. Then, a blue triangle in the first, and a yellow square in the other. The children were catching on, pointing first at the “blue” hoop for blue shapes, then at the “square” hoop for the square shapes, correctly. Then came the blue square. Where would this fit best? How to solve this problem? I would wait. Child after child would try to solve it, putting the blue square by the blue shapes, then by the square, then outside both hoops. Eventually, some child would balance the blue square on the edges of both hoops. I would assent, moving the hoops so that they overlapped. An audible sigh of relief invariably escaped as the children realized that this impossible puzzle did, indeed, have a solution.

After that, we would play the game one more time, to see if they really did understand the concept of the Venn diagram. During the exercise, I would introduce simple words like big, small, triangle, circle, rectangle, square, red, blue, and yellow. The group quietly practiced saying each of these words several times, so they could say “yes, a circle” and “no, not a circle” when explaining their rationale about why a shape belonged in a certain place.

This exercise is a simple, abstract way of introducing the concepts of comparing and contrasting two different objects. Later, this exercise can be applied in a more verbal form, for instance when comparing and contrasting two people, different animals, or different foods, during an ESL lesson. The possiblities are endless!

This exercise is an excellent way of increasing vocabulary of descriptors, at any level of working. I’ve used this myself at all sorts of levels, and hope you enjoy using this as well.