I absolutely love using realia in the classroom to engage those learners. In 3rd grade I didn't use it enough because let's face it, I was trying to survive my first year, but when I had it, the kids loved it.
For rocks and minerals, we had, well, rocks and minerals. The kids loved being able to hold, touch, and observe the rocks and minerals. When we did the rain forest, we ate food made from items that come from the rain forest. Though we did transform our class and they became really involved, I wouldn't really consider that realia.
A little backstory on why I got beads...in 3rd grade I read these kids Little House On The Prairie (we made it through 2 1/2 books) and they were obsessed with Laura and Mary finding beads. On the last day of school, I left a little plastic bead on their desk and they were all excited. Well, these beads are way better and didn't cost me an arm and a leg! I got them on sale for 20 cents a piece.
I debated about buying them all arrowheads, but the plastic ones were cheaper and I decided to skip that and just buy one pack for our class to enjoy.
I also bought a beaded strip and some bone carved claws (I'm not sure what kind of bone?)
Of course I had to grab a few books too (I'm known for hoarding books)
I tried to be specific and get only books that were North West Native American related, as that's where we are and I'm supposed to teach about Oregon Native Americans specifically, though I will introduce other tribes to my students so they get an idea of the other cultures.
My science units I'm not concerned about because they have kits and the animal unit, well we will have crabs and fish and millipedes, so I'm focusing more on my two main social studies units.
We are also doing an Oregon Trail unit and I'm preparing for that a little too, so look for a post about that realia in the future!