Adding variety and fun into the ESL classroom is one of the keys to being a great ESL teacher. Nevertheless, even the best teachers sometimes get stuck in a rut using textbooks and worksheets too much and allowing their energy and enthusiasm to slip. Using some simple props in the classroom will add extra dimension to your classes, as well as more structure and stimulation. Here are my favorite props for the classroom with some ideas on how to use them.
Nothing says “STOP!” better than a loud beeping sound. A cheap magnetic timer with large numbers gives an extremely clear indication to students when to start and finish activities. Short, timed periods keep activities lively, and also keep students alert. You can use a timer for almost any type of activity, but I tend to find myself using it most with games such as Pictionary and Taboo, or when doing reading activities.
2. Pictures of celebrities
Well-known faces can help students put their new English knowledge into context. Telling students to describe Brad Pitt from memory might prove difficult, but once they have a visual aid in front of them, they will have something to grasp. Pictures of celebrities can be used for presentations, role-plays and writing prompts, as well as for grammar points such as daily routines, preferences and comparisons. At first, you can choose celebrities that are well-known internationally, but after you start to suss out the local culture, you can start to incorporate well-known local people with whom students will probably be more familiar.
3. Mini white boards (A 10” x 12” is a great size.)
These are without a doubt my favorite props in the classroom. They come out almost every day, and for some reason, students find them much more stimulating and exciting than a simple pen and paper. They can be used for “describe and draw” activities, quizzes, Pictionary and board races, amongst many more activities.
4. Post-it notes
A post-it note is essentially just a small square of paper. Adding a sticky strip to the back, however, gives it multiple possibilities in the ESL classroom. A simple set of discussion questions takes on a new dimension if they are written on post-it notes and placed around the classroom. A game of 20 questions becomes more interactive when students have a post-it on their foreheads, and a game of Jeopardy becomes more personal when students write their own questions.
5. Stack of verb cards
Any type of flashcard makes a great prop in an ESL classroom, but I find that a set of them with 20-30 common verbs is a very versatile resource. You can use them to practice almost any grammar point from the present simple to the third conditional. Students can mime the verbs to their classmates, have a (mini) board race to practice a new grammar point or use them to generate questions.
All of these props allow you to take tried-and-true activities and give them an extra dimension. At first, these simple props might not appear to be as sexy as a smart board or cutting edge as instantaneous voice translations, but the impact that they can have in the classroom really is significant. Both you and your students will benefit from them.
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Written by Robin Garnham
Robin Garnham originally planned to spend a year teaching in Spain to improve his Spanish, but has now been teaching for five years. He currently teaches ESL in Oakland, California and is an Oxford Seminars instructor in San Jose, California.