So you’re going to spend a year abroad teaching English as a foreign language?
Full of enthusiasm, you pack your bags with tons of books, resources, teabags, so that by the time you’ve finished packing, you’re three times over the maximum luggage weight allowance. Oops. Or perhaps you’re a travelling teacher who has decided to backpack around the world, and you need a rucksack that you can carry? Just think of yourself as a snail with your home on your back. With limited space, do you actually need all of those heavy books to teach English abroad? No, not really, although they are useful. In fact, the good news is that you need very little in the way of resources to teach fun-packed English lessons: the only really essential item is you.
If you are lucky enough to teach in a state-of-the-art language school, where they have everything from satellite TV, video cameras, DVD players and an interactive whiteboard, then fantastic; but even if you’re teaching in a small impoverished village, with little in the way of resources, don’t panic. Here are a variety of suggestions of essential equipment for your classroom to help you prepare for your first TEFL job.
Ideas, ideas, and more ideas (and preparation!)
Making your own lesson plans will not only build your confidence, but prepare you mentally for teaching English. Spend a little time thinking through lessons, and writing your ideas down. First make a list in a notebook of a variety of games, songs and activities, and the age groups or levels you think they are suitable for. These will prove their weight in gold, and can be adapted and used as supplementary materials for every lesson. A few simple lesson plans and activities for beginners will give you space and time to organise yourself, and ensure you don’t panic when you first start teaching English.
Bring plenty of photos of your family and friends, or if there are printing facilities, download these onto a memory stick. Students will certainly find pictures of your home, the city or village you live in, trains and buses fascinating. You could even take pictures of yourself and your friends participating in a variety of activities; and items of food and drink are also useful – anything that is visually stimulating, basically. Paraphernalia such as timetables, leaflets on local attractions will be invaluable items for role plays and essential item in any classroom.
Hand puppets are small, light, and a fun addition to the classroom. You can probably buy something from the local pound shop, or if you possess an artistic flair, they can be easily made! Make up stories, games, or simply start a simple conversation between the puppets – you should always have fun in your classroom, which requires an indispensable item to be used in numerous TEFL games.
Perhaps you have a fervent dislike of chalkboards, or you’re not sure what the facilities are going to be like in the area of the world you’re planning to teach in, or maybe you’re contemplating teaching on a one to one basis in people’s homes. Whatever the reason, it’s always handy to have something to write on. Now you can buy roll-up whiteboards: plastic sheets that can be used exactly as a whiteboard, with all the added advantages of paper. Whether it’s for collecting ideas, class presentations or creating role-plays; they can be passed round for use in team activities, and wiped clean ready for the next English lesson.
Yes, blu-tack! Some of the cheapest objects aren’t always easily found abroad; but blu-tack is incredibly useful and understandably, much-loved by teachers: it is recyclable, moveable, and stick-able to almost any material, so make sure to invest in lots of it!
What about gadgets?
A year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of suggesting this due to the prohibitive price tag, but with the relentless march of technology, and prices falling quicker than a dropping stone, I would say an MP3 player/recorder is a worthwhile investment! Not only is it a brilliant piece of equipment, but an item you can secrete in your inside pocket, and it won’t add stress to that weight allowance. Record a scene off EastEnders, news items, a children’s programme or a discussion on radio 4,or anything else you could think of that your students would enjoy!
On one of these nifty gadgets, you’ll be able to carry round songs for every age group, and record your students’ role-plays. Cheap and portable, it is a really useful gadget, and a great way of bringing interactive multi-media into any classroom and tapping into your students’ creativity.
A good TEFL book
A book CAN be your best friend! There are many good TEFL books out there, but my personal favourite-and many other TEFL teachers’ favourite-is a book called ‘Essential TEFL’ written by our very own Academic Director, James Jenkin. Page by page it gives clear explanations, advice, and exercises to do yourself, or set your students to do.