Hat tricks

Chris Hunt, Wise Hat

Quick Guide

  • Key Words: Attention, emotion, energy
  • Learner English Level: Low
  • Learner Maturity Level: Toddlers and up
  • Preparation Time: Practice required
  • Activity Time: 1-2 minutes each
  • Materials: Hat

This is a collection of simple tricks using a hat. It may be a good idea to practise the tricks first, though most children are very forgiving if you are funny. To be funny just pull the appropriate face according to how the trick goes wrong. Look surprised, shocked, flummoxed, embarrassed, or whatever.

Trick One: Happy or Sad

Hide your face behind your hat. Say, Happy or sad? and gently reveal your face, making the face the children choose. If they just repeat what you say, make the choice yourself: say it slowly and clearly and then proceed. The children will soon get the idea. Once they are very comfortable with the meanings of happy and sad, add other adjectives. Good ones include, surprised, sleepy, shocked, angry, embarrassed. You may be surprised just how long the list will grow.

When doing this game with toddlers, be aware that you can't see them when you are hiding your face. If you are at child level (which is a good idea) be aware that some young children may try to hit the hat or even run into it, so beware!

This activity works because it gives the children control. Be warned that it can be a strain switching from making a happy face to a sad face and back again quickly. It is possible to use this game to brighten the mood of a young child that has become upset.

Trick Two: Hungry!

Say, I'm hungry! Take off your hat and look inside. Find nothing. Put your hat back on, go to the children, put your hand out and ask for food. For example, say, Hungry! Do you have any food?, or Hungry! Give me some food! If a child offers you some imaginary food, take it, say what it is and eat it with relish making appropriate noises.

If you are confident the children know some names of food, when they offer you the food you can say, What is it? Whatever they say, eat it accordingly. Sometimes children will offer you non-food items. For example, on different occasions I've had children say they are offering me leaves, butterflies, and bees. Again eat the item and react accordingly, or refuse. You can say Yuck! I'm not eating that!

Perhaps the children won't offer you anything. Take off your hat and "find" something inside. Hold your hat upside down in one hand so that you can take imaginary items out with the other. Eat one-handed. Really imagine what you are eating. For example, take out a banana and bite it. Yuck! You haven't peeled it. Put your hat on, peel it, and throw the skin away, tsk! tsk! Tell yourself off, pick up the skin, and find a better place for it, perhaps a real bin if one is handy, or your pocket or even back in your hat. Be logical. Be absurd.

There are many variations with this idea. Want to practise phonics? Say the first sound of something and then eat what ever a child calls out that matches the sound. Repeat and stress the word a lot. For example:

  • You: a...a...a...
  • Child: apple!
  • You: apple (quietly), apple! (loudly) apple! (excitedly!) Look, an apple! (Eat the apple) Crunch! Munch! Yum Yum!
  • You: g...g....g...
  • Child: Gorilla!"
  • You: Gorilla, gorilla! I can't eat a gorilla.

You can also be thirsty and take drinks out of your hat. You can also take imaginary food out of your hat and ask Do you likeā€¦? Distribute handfuls to those who do like the food.

Trick Three: On! Off!

Take your hat off, perhaps to wave hello or possibly to blow your nose or to look for food inside. Put your hat back on your head and say On! Take your hat off and say Off! Do this quickly and then sporadically. Allow some tension to build. Once the idea is understood, put your hat on but miss. Let it go over your head and catch it behind your back!

This does require practice, but is not as difficult as it might sound. Use a floppy hat that is easy to grab. Throw the hat over your head with one hand and catch with the other. Catch low behind the small of your back near your waist. Bring the hat round and put it on your head. If this is too tricky, start with the hat on your head and tip your head backwards and allow the hat to fall into a waiting hand.

When you can throw your hat and tip it off your head and catch it you can get the children to give you commands. Usually the best way to initiate this is to pause and give them an opportunity to do so. If no one says anything then give a command to yourself. Use a command tone of voice and react quickly. Children will usually catch on. Of course, if you are working with another teacher modelling, it is even easier.

There are a lot of variations with this idea. For example, put on your hat but put it on your foot, or your knee, or your shoulder, anywhere but on your head. You can introduce the concept of "here" by asking Here? When you do finally put your hat on put it on upside down. If you hold your hat with two hands you will discover that whether you hold it up or down you can always turn it so that it ends up on your head upside down. This can drive children wild. They can become very intent upon teaching you how to put your hat on. This creates lots of language possibilities.

Concluding Remarks

It may appear that the target language is too simple. The idea with activities like this is to create situations from which language can emerge. Rather than teaching the language, the aim is to show a concept and allow the language to flow from this. This helps the children to internalise the language and use it for themselves.