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Magic to Motivate

The Use of Magic as a Special Course in Conjunction with or as Actives within Traditional English Classes

By Gregory Bracco

At first, English learning and magic is not a likely match. But when examined more closely we discover that when blended together they become a very powerful tool to motivate children to improve their English skills.

Transfer and Motivation

Transfer and motivation are two key factors when teaching English as a second language.

Transfer, according to McKeough, is the application of prior knowledge to new learning situations (McKeough, 1995). For example, imagine you are teaching a young child who knows what a clock is and can use English to communicate and differentiate the numbers 1 to 12 but does not know how to tell time. When you teach this child to tell the time they build on their prior knowledge of the clock and numbers in order to learn how to do so.

Motivation can be defined as the impetus to create and sustain intentions and goal-seeking acts (Ames & Ames, 1989). The motivation in the previous example may be very complex. Such as, the introduction of an activity that requires the child to interact with their peers. In other words, if the child is to become part of the activity they must be able to tell the time. But on the other hand motivation can be as simple as a curiosity to learn about things.

Transfer and motivation are two essential factors to keep in mind when teaching any subject to any age but more so for teaching young learns. It is the young learners that have a shorter attention span and also a younger learner, compared to an adult, who will view the world in a very different way. It is in part due to a child's sense of curiosity, wonderment and innocents that makes the art of magic seems so special to them and in turn can play a key part in helping to teach a child English.

Getting Your Foot in the Door with Magic

Steve Taylor, a professional children's performer, lecturer and author, writes that magic grabs a child's attention, it does something, it fools them or wows them and they get the message while they are being entertained. Magic is extremely effective at doing this. (Ginn, Smith, Taylor, 2000).

Being able to attract, focus and retain a child's attention is one of the most important aspects of teaching. It allows us to enter into their world and to interact with the child. It not only provides us with an opportunity to develop their English skills but opens up the prospect of us getting to truly know the child. It is through this that we, as educators, can then attempt to customize our teaching styles to help the child gain the most from our lessons.

Magic provides us with one possible means to attract, retain and focus a child's attention but it is the educator's careful lesson planning which makes magic a good medium to put into effect the two key factors of learning -- transfer and motivation.

English via Magic: A Special Course in Conjunction with Traditional English Classes

When I was an elementary school student I was introduced to the art of magic. Over the years up unto this very day I perform, teach and hold memberships in a variety of different fraternal magic organizations. I also have been teaching English as a second language in Asia for the past four years, three of which, including my present job, in South Korea. But it was not until the beginning of 2005 that I was given the opportunity to develop and implement a special class that used magic as the medium to teach English.

The intention of the program has been to introduce a fun way to develop and expand a child's use of the English language. The classes are designed to spark interest and fuel the imagination of the child while helping them to use and improve their English skills. The following is an overview of how the program is structured and also how a typical class is presented.

The classes are held once a week and last for two hours from start to finish. Though this may seem like an impossible amount of time to hold a young child's attention, it really has worked amazingly well with the children that I teach here in South Korea. The children are so excited about the class that they do not think of it as an English class, but rather just fun time spent leaning about something that interests them.

The class size seems to work best if it is limited to ten students. Having even numbers is best because of the pair work exercises, however these activities are also flexible enough to work with groups of three.

The first day a child enters into the class they are presented with a special course packet. This packet contains a variety of materials that are utilized during the course. All of these materials are designed with images on them that relate to the overall magic theme of the class. The reason for this is to keep their interest in the course high and to get away from a traditional English class setting. Two of items used the most in the packet are the English via Magic vocabulary book and a three ring binder.

The vocabulary book was designed for the course due to the emphasis placed on memorizing vocabulary words by Korean parents. The books purpose is to provide the children with a uniformed way to record the vocabulary words introduced during each lesson. It gives them a place to write the word, the meaning, and an example sentence in English. It also provides them with an area to write the Korean equivalent. During the first part of each class previously introduced vocabulary words are reviewed and new ones are presented. All of the prearranged words presented tie in with the day's lesson and are used within the actives done in class.

The other item that is used frequently is the three ring binder. This item is used to keep all of their handouts, such as dialogs for the magic effects, fun word searches, crossword puzzles and fill in the blank exercises.

The materials used for the performance of the magic effects are also provided but only at the time the effect is taught. These materials consist of manly everyday objects such as, cards, coins, paper, elastic bands, rope and a range of items that are familiar to the children.

The following is a summary of what is done during each lesson. The order in which the things are done was intended for teaching within the Korean culture and may not be necessary in other cultures. For example the introduction of vocabulary words in a structured order and the assignment of homework on a daily basis are expected within Korean culture.

At the beginning of class the attendance is taken and a short question and answer session is done. This tells the children that it is time for class and it helps them to recall and focus on some of the things taught in the previous lessons. It also is a good way to build up their curiosity about what will be taught in the present lesson.

Next a short review of the vocabulary words takes place with visual examples and then the introduction of new vocabulary words. At this time it is important to use visuals and it is better if they can be through previously taught magic effects. For example if the words "turn" "appear" "choose" and "remember" were taught in previous classes and are being reviewed than showing the children a magic effect with cards that use those words in the dialog would be very suitable. This not only helps the children make a good connection between the spoken word and the action but also gets them excited and wondering about the magic effect that they will learn later in the class.

After the review and introduction of new vocabulary words the children get to view a DVD of a series of short performances of professional magicians from around the world. A performance usually lasts about 2-4 minutes and then the DVD is stopped and the children are asked to describe what they just saw. This tends to lead to the children attempting to use their vocabulary words learned in class. For example instead of saying "The man has a bird." They use sentences such as "The magician has a dove." or "The magician made the dove appear." The purpose of these short viewings of different performances is done for many reasons. The main reason is to get the children excited and talking freely about the magic. This keeps them very interested in the class and when they have a high level of interest they seem to be more willing to lean and experiment more with English. Some other reasons are to reinforce vocabulary words and also to introduce the art side of magic as performed in different countries so as to give them a wider view of how magic is preformed outside of Korea.

The rest of the class focuses on the magic effects to be taught that day and also a review of some of the past effects learned. First the materials for the trick to be learned are examined. The materials are shown and questions are asked as to what they are and what they are normally used for. Then the magic effect is shown and the children are asked to retell what they just saw. The attention of the children is very focused at this time and it presents a good opportunity to ask them if they can figure out how the effect works. This usually ends up with a lot of strange responses but it allows them to do some critical thinking.

Next the effect is shown again and explained in easy to understand language for the level of the class. This presents them with a chance to practice their listening skills in a way that the teacher can check their listening comprehension skills. As these skills improve and they become proficient in following the directions they also gain confidence in their listening abilities and magic skills.

At this point the dialog or patter for the magic effect is introduced. The dialog allows them to practice their reading abilities while being checked in their pronunciation skills. It also gives them something in English to reference and use when performing the magic effect. The children are not limited to these dialogs for as their English levels improve they are encouraged to create their own dialogs that reflect more of their own personalities.

The final exercise during the lesson is the pair work. During this time the children are put into pairs to practice their favorite magic effects on one another. Using only English they perform the magical effects and are able to convey to their partner what actions they need to do in order to successfully accomplish the effects.

Homework is assigned at the end of each class. The homework usually consists of two parts the first being some fun word searches, crossword puzzles or complete the sentences exercises that reinforce the day's vocabulary. The second part is to perform an assigned number of magic effects in English to their parents.

English via Magic: Some Actives to be used within a Traditional English Class

What about the educators who teach in a traditional English classroom setting and are not magicians skilled in the art of magic? Can magic or magic related materials still be utilized in this type of classroom?

The educator doses not have to be a magician in order to introduce children to the art of magic. One does not have to teach magic effects in the class to motivate through magic. The educator can use other previously stated methods such as the introduction of a DVD of a series of short performances of professional magicians from around the world. This could be followed by a discussion and then a worksheet that asks question about the performances just viewed.

Another way to bring magic related items into the class is to use short writings about famous magicians in the country that you are in. With this vocabulary words can be introduced and reading comprehension skills can be improved upon and checked using the subject of magic to fuel the imaginations of the children and motivate them to improve their English skills.

Also if the educator would like to incorporate some magic effects into their class there are various ways available to learn how perform magic. On the market today there are many fine books, including The Mark Wilson Course in Magic, and magic shops throughout the world that can introduce one to the skills necessary needed to perform some of magic's amazing effects.


Magic in itself is a wonderfully captivating art for a child to observe. And for a young child to lean about some of this art's many amazing mysteries can be a rewarding and joyful experience. Teaching the art of magic does not only cultivate self-confidence and a sense of pride within a child but can be used as a powerful tool to motivate and help children expand their use of English.


Ames, C., & Ames, R. (1989). Research in Motivation in Education. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Etcheverry, Jesus. (2005). The Magic of Ascanio the structural Conception of Magic (RAFAEL. Benatar, Trans.). Madrid, Spain: Paginas.

Fitzkee, D. (1976). The Trick Brain. Oakland, CA: Magic Limited. (Original work published 1944)

Fraiser, C.J. (1993). "Magic in the Classroom: Using Conjuring to Teach Selectivity and General Semantics". Central States Speech Convention.

Frasier, C.J. (1994). "Sleightly Persuasive: Using Magic to Teach Principles of Persuasion". Central States Communication Association Convention.

Ginn, D., Taylor, S., & Smith, S.P. (2000). Creative Kid Talk Practical Advice on Entertaining Children. Lilburn, GA: Creative Kidshow conference Publication.

McKeough, A. (1995). Teaching for Transfer: Fostering Generalization in Learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ngeow, K.Y.H. (1998). "Motivation and Transfer in Language Learning". In Learn2study. Retrieved from

Wilson, M., & Gibson, W. (2002). Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic. Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers. (Original work published 1975)

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