Small Purchases to make an ESL or language teacher’s life easier

So today I wanted to go a little bit off my usual posts but not too far. I consider this a post that is teacher specific minimalism and planning related. While it won’t help everyone, I’m hoping this can help out people who are newer to teaching, especially those teaching a language abroad with little training.

Before I go on, I know that ESL is not always the correct term. I have my Masters in Education for English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Sometimes it’s called ENL. For those teaching abroad it’s EFL. It’s constantly changing. I hope you understand why I used ESL to shorten up my title.

This post is a short list of cheap things that you could buy to make planning and implementing lessons easier. All of these could be done with the absence of any sort of technology. Most of these objects are widely available for purchase. None cost a significant amount of money.


  1. Dice – there is so many lesson ideas you can do with some dice. Whether you buy a letter dice or good old fashioned 6 sided ones – there are many lesson plans out there using this simple tool. The letter dice can be for a Scattegories type game, to practice pronunciation of an initial sound or to brainstorm words students know with that letter. The six sided dice are a great way to make choices from a list – roller stories or choosing certain features for a picture.IMG_6501
  2. Fly Swatters – this one sounds crazy but is really fun for kids. It’s a great way for students to review vocabulary using listening skills. You can call out a vocabulary word and students will have to touch it with the fly swatter. This can be done with all sorts of fun things for students to hold: magic wands, foam fingers, whatever.
  3. A ball – probably the single best tool in my repertoire for class is some sort of easily thrown object. Usually, this is a ball. This year, I’m thinking of purchasing an inflatable one that I can take from class to class. Using a ball for participation is one of the easiest ways to get (most) students excited to answer questions or give a response. This can also be done with a small stuffed animal.IMG_6503
  4. A stamp that only you have – Last year I did stickers and while I’m willing to do them again in special circumstances, this year is all about the stamp for me. Cheap, easy to bring around and cute, it’s going to be my universal sign of a job well done. Mine has a little cat holding a heart (adorable).
  5. Jenga – ok so this one is the one thing that I know may not be easy to find everywhere but it is a really fun one. If you can get your hands on a jenga set (I bought mine off brand for 7 Euros at a toy store), this is such a fun way to get to know your students. I took a boring old set of jenga blocks and wrote a question on each one of them. Sometimes, I had more than one related questions which were color coded by level. The kids absolutely love it.

For those of you who are just starting in teaching a language, I hope this list helps. I think it’s overwhelming when you are presented with a blank canvas and a small budget. Just think of these as five tiny tools which will make a big difference.

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