Using props in the ESL classroom to keep your students engaged

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Sometimes, the simplest of materials can offer the greatest opportunities for creative exploration. This week, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner of Destination TEFL to share her expert tips on how to use everyday items as stimulating props within your lessons.

In our last blog post, we discussed using technology in the classroom to engage your students. Oftentimes, this just isn’t possible, and we need to look at other low cost and easy to source props for the classroom that not only get the students involved, but create a fun learning environment for the teacher and students.

Here we have a few suggestions that you can easily pick up in a $1 store (20 baht shop for those of you in Thailand!) and how to use them successfully in the classroom.

Balls: The options are endless here! Those cheap plastic ball-pit balls can be used for so many different games. They can also be used as a way to pair or group students for groupwork (put the coloured balls in a black plastic bag, the students pull out a ball and join the group with the same colour balls). You can also use a ball to throw at a ‘dart board’ drawn on the whiteboard to allocate points to questions answered correctly. The games for using balls in the classroom are endless! Just make sure to use lightweight ones so you don’t end up with broken windows…

Plastic fly swotters: This is one of our all-time favourite props at Destination TEFL. A great go-to game for a consolidation activity is ‘slam’. The teacher splits the class into two teams and calls up two students at a time to the board, one from each team. Flashcards with images from the words learnt in the lesson are stuck to the board (lower level students, just 2 words to choose from, higher level, you can put up more options). When the teacher calls out the word, the two students have to ‘slam’ the correct flashcard. The one who slams the correct card first is the winner and gets a point for their team. For more advanced students, this could be changed into a grammar exercise: put parts of speech words to the board such as noun, proposition etc. Call out a word and the student who slams the correct part of speech is the winner. We have had equal success with slam across all age levels, from kindergarten to adult lessons. Warning: you’ll need a pacemaker activity to calm down the class afterwards as the noise and excitement level can become quite high!

Funny hats and glasses or puppets: Sometimes students are shy to speak. If they take on another ‘persona’ in the form of a puppet or dress up, then it can encourage them to participate in a fun way with a speaking activity, as they are not being themselves but the character of the puppet or prop.

Stickers or ink stamps: children respond well to the positive reinforcement of receiving a ‘reward’ for correct work or even just participation. They love being able to show their parents a sticker of praise in their workbook or even on their hand. TIP: stickers can get expensive for a teacher, but a rubber stamp with an inkpad is a cheap way of rewarding students.

“An AWESOME book!”

Dice: These can be used in so many ways. Here are a few examples: Use it for dividing students into groups – you land on a 4 and you divide the class into groups of 4. Or students roll the dice and line up in order of the number they rolled. When answering questions, students roll the dice to determine which question to answer. Think of 6 topics, students roll the dice to determine which topic they will speak on for quick oral practice.

Scrabble tiles: Again, the opportunities to use this simple prop are endless. Use them to line up students (in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order) after the students pick a tile from a bag. Use them to group students according to letters selected, or in groups according to vowel and consonant. Select a category (perhaps topics you have recently covered in class) and students take turn to draw letters and name a word from the category which starts with that letter (you can remove any letters that won’t work for a topic). Let teams draw 10 letters each, and they should come up with as many English words with those letters in a specific time.

Beanbag or soft toy: Use this to throw to the students to determine who will be next in answering a question or participating in the task. Rather than the teacher always being the one to throw the toy, give them a chance to throw it to the next student after answering the question or drilling the word. This keeps them on their toes as they don’t know who will be called on next, as you are not going by order of seating.

Ball of string: a length of string or rope can be used in so many ways. Use it to line up students as a timeline to teach tenses (they can peg words to the string in order of tense). Use it as a ‘washing line’ activity. Students pick the words of a sentence out of a bag and need to peg it to the line in the correct word order. Have two washing lines and two teams so that there’s a winning team based on time and accuracy. 

Remember that for all games, there MUST be a purpose. The purpose for the teacher is for the students to learn and practice the language by playing the consolidation activity or production game. The purpose for the student is to complete the task or win the game. A game or activity that has no outcome or result (usually in the form of a winner) will not be as engaging for your students. Do keep games and outcomes age appropriate. For example, at kindergarten level, we don’t want to focus on winning quite as much, with participation being the main goal at that level.

What props do you use in your ESL classroom?

Guest blog written for Richard James Rogers by Rose-Anne Turner – Destination TEFL

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

Using Technology in Your ESL Classroom

It’s a common known fact that the youth of today are naturally drawn to technology and we are far more likely to hold their attention by using it, rather than just traditional teaching methods. We can argue the point about the ill effects of too much ‘screen time’ until the cows come home – but perhaps a better saying would be ‘if you can’t beat them, join them!. This week, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner at Destination TEFL to share her tips for using technology in the ESL classroom.

Not all teachers will be lucky enough to teach in schools that have access to technology, but if you do, use it! Perhaps only the teacher has access (TV, projector, interactive whiteboard) or perhaps the entire class has access (tablets, computers, phones). Either way, if you can, do try to incorporate technology into your lessons, as you will be connecting with your students on their level – and perhaps learn a thing or two yourself. Another good reason to add tech to your teaching skills is because at any moment, classes may need to go virtual due to the pandemic, and you’ll then be best prepared to present interactive and engaging lessons to your tech savvy students.

Here are some ideas on how to use technology in the ESL classroom:

  • If all your students have access to a device, we highly recommend using Google Classroom as a great way to hand information and assignments to your students and for them to hand back completed tasks. This is a FREE resource.
  • AnswerGarden is a new minimalistic feedback tool. Use it for real time audience participation, online brainstorming and classroom feedback. This free resource has several different users, including classroom, conference and corporate audiences, creative teams, online crowds, and mind-mappers.
  • Scribbl is an online version of Pictionary, which is a great way to get your students speaking as they guess what is being drawn online by a classmate.
  • Educaplay is a great free online platform for teachers to make quizzes, word searches, matching columns, crossword puzzles and more.
  • If only the teacher has access to a TV or projector, then using short and simple films, YouTube videos, etc. will engage your students and you could use this as listening and comprehension exercise. If you don’t have access to a TV, then an audio played from your phone with a blue tooth speaker would be a good compromise. Podcasts can work for this too. It’s good for students to hear other voices and accents, and not just that of their teacher.
  • Most students have access to a phone, and can download the free Memrise app. It offers several languages including of course, English, and students can go up in levels as they progress with their language skills, challenge each other and hear the language spoken by native speakers with different accents. There is a paid version, but the free version offers more than enough to get them going.
  • ePals is an online version of the old-school pen pals we had as kids. This is a great way for students to practice their English with another ESL student somewhere else in the world. Students can select an ePal of a similar age and level.
  • Use free blogging sites for your higher level students to practice their writing skills. Blog settings can be set to private where only those with a password can access it, for instance the teacher and their classmates. Classmates can utilise the comments section of the blog.
  • In the same way, the teacher could connect with another ESL class, perhaps in another country and have the students chat to other students over Skype, Zoom or other video chat platforms to practice their speaking skills.
  • Khan Academy is a fantastic free learning platform (financed by donations) with login options at both student and teacher level. Students can learn and progress and teachers can monitor their progress. If you are teaching more than just English, Khan Academy also covers many other subjects including mathematics, science, humanities, coding, SAT and other test preparation, and more. It’s very interactive, and has video tutorials, exercises and more.
  • Try using interactive games like Kahoot, where students use their phones to log in and answer questions under timed conditions. Questions appear on the classroom TV, or whiteboard and scores are then displayed on a screen. You’ll find hundreds of quizzes on the site, many aimed at ESL learners or you can even create your own.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated why online and virtual education should be an essential part of teaching and learning. By integrating technology into existing curricula, as opposed to using it solely as a crisis-management tool, teachers can embrace online learning as a powerful educational tool. Using technology and online learning platforms in the classroom can not only increase student engagement, but also help teachers improve their lesson plans, and facilitate personalised learning. At the same time, you are preparing your students for 21st-century skills in the workplace. If you are not actively using technology in your classroom, you are going to be left behind.

Do you have any classroom technology tips to share?

Guest blog written for Richard Rogers by Rose-Anne Turner – Destination TEFL

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

Using Group Work in Your ESL Classroom

Group work may take a little more planning as a teacher, but the benefits are clearly visible, if utilised correctly. The purpose of doing group work is to build confidence, give learners a less threatening environment to express themselves in, learn from peers, and build community.

Often the dilemma facing a teacher who would like to try group work is how best to group their students. Here are some tips from the academic director and trainers at Destination TEFL:

A mixed level class could be put into groups of the same ability, and the same task gets adapted to suit the different group levels – in other words the activity is scaled up or down according to ability. The class feels that they are all doing the same task, however those students who are more advanced are challenged with an activity that is upscaled to their level, and those of a lower level can still participate and improve their skills. Alternatively, the teacher could purposely put mixed levels together, so that stronger students can help more challenged students as we learn well from peers, and peer teaching helps to reinforce a concept for the student teaching it to their peers.

For group work, good classroom management skills do come into play. The teacher needs to ensure that everyone is participating. In the classroom, it’s good to mix up activities with a combination of group work, pair work and individual tasks, as it reflects real life and prepares the students for a work environment where they will sometimes have to work individually as well as in teams.

For group work a pyramid activity can work well, where students do the task individually and then pair up and reach a consensus, and then the teacher puts pairs together into groups. Each time the task is repeated until it is the whole class. This allows students to recycle and reuse the taught language over and over, building their confidence.

In our culture lesson, we set up stations around the classroom with mini articles on aspects of Asian culture. Trainees spend 30 seconds at each station to match a title to an article. There is then another round where they spend 3 minutes at each station to answer more specific questions about the article and the aspect of culture it refers to. Then in groups they create their own presentation on a culture topic and the task sheet as a group.  Then they do it as a listening skills lesson where the group reads their summary, presenting it to the class and the rest of the class answers questions.

Here are some suggestions on how to repair and regroup students in order to mix them up:

‘Mingle-mingle’ gets students out of their seats and interacting using one of the following ideas below. During this time, encourage them to use English, rather than their home language. Choose an idea based on your class’s age and language level.

  • Uno cards – each student gets a card, and they look for the person with the card that added to theirs equals 10.
  • Puzzle pieces – they look for the person/people whose pieces complete their puzzle
  • Collocations – each person has half a collocation daily/newspaper, sports/arena, etc.
  • Verbs – each person has either the V1, V2 or V3 of the same base verb and they have to find the other people who complete the set.
  • Chocolates – each person gets a chocolate and they find others with the same chocolate. Stickers or ink stamps work well too.
  • Colours/Shapes/Animals/Emotions – each student is given a coloured square and they need to find the other people with the same colour, shape, animal, etc.
  • Parts of Speech – each person is given either the name of a part of speech or the part of speech and they have to find their match.
  • Tenses – same as with parts of speech but with the tense name and an example sentence.

Some fun ideas to get students lining up for an activity – line up based on:

  • Mobile phone battery percentage
  • Birthday
  • How far they live from school
  • How many of something they have, or have done that day (steps walked today, coins in your pocket, cups of coffee had today, etc)

We do hope that you will try to incorporate more group and pair work into your lessons. A little more effort on your part will reap rewards both on a learning and fun level.

Guest post written by Rose-Anne Turner, admissions director, Destination TEFL – with input from Kathryn Webb, Academic Director and the trainers at Destination TEFL.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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