The essentials every teacher needs…


In my post on what to/what not to pack for your first TEFL job abroad, I mentioned my collection of ‘stuff’, aka my ‘teacher toolkit’. When I first started teaching, the idea of having ‘tools’, much less a ‘toolkit’ was pretty much a mystery to me. It’s something I’ve built up over time, slowly adding and removing things as I find them more or less useful for my teaching context. After five years of teaching, it’s become an invaluable resource (or should that be set of resources). If you’re soon to head abroad for a TEFL job, or an established teacher simply trying to decide what’s worth keeping and what’s worth throwing away, these are ten of the things I’ve found most useful – and having them available to use has got me out of many a mid-lesson challenge.

1. Cuddly toy

This seems like a no-brainer if you’re teaching kids classes, but I’ve found having a cuddly toy to hand can be pretty useful when teaching teens or adults too. A cuddly toy can be thrown around the room (without risking damage to either property or students!) and as such can be used to nominate students, or be used in a variety of different games. The human (but not always professional) side of me also advises aiming them at students who appear to be nodding off to sleep/otherwise not paying attention. It’s true, you could use a ball – but a cuddly toy has the advantage of also being able to be used as an extra ‘person’ in grammar presentations/practice. Bonus points if it’s an interesting/unusual animal or character.

2. Post-it notes

I love post-it notes. Great for leaving yourself little reminders, great for writing to-do lists, great for leaving notes for flatmates, and great for teaching. I often use them to play the ‘Sticky Foreheads’ game (also known as the Rizla game), but also have a nice warmer I picked up at IH Moscow in which students write questions on post-it notes stuck on each other’s backs, then ask each other the questions. They’re also great for labelling classroom objects with beginners, or for adding vocabulary to flashcards which can then easily be removed.

3. Paperclips

I rarely use these for attaching papers together (although I suppose they could always be used for this purpose!) Rather, I often use paperclips as some kind of token or counter, as in my ‘I have never’ game, or at a push for boardgame counters. More on that later, though!

4. Blu-tack

I foolishly left this off my list when writing my post about packing, and have had it pointed out to me by several friends and colleagues. No prizes for guessing what I always forget when I’m doing my actual packing. Great for sticking up students’ work, great for attaching flashcards/other objects to the board, could probably be used in lieu of plasticine for some kind of ‘Taboo’ type modelling game – if you’re prepared to part with it, that is. I have yet to find an equivalent that is actually as good as the proper ‘brand name’ stuff, so if in doubt, take it with you. Also potentially useful as a bartering tool in some kind of desperate EFL teacher black market.

5. Felt tips

I always think I will never need felt tips. I always end up caving and buying them within the first week of the academic year. If you’re teaching littlies you’ll want them for colouring flashcards, with older students you might want to risk letting them use them themselves for project work, and if nothing else they’re helpful for highlighting information on handouts or photocopies (and come in a far wider range of colours than actual highlighters). And let’s face it, sometimes they’re just more fun to write with than a normal ballpoint pen or pencil.

6. Games

I’m keeping this one pretty general, simply so I can include more than one item. I’m a huge fan of Rory’s story cubes (at some point I’ll doubtless write a post on how I’ve used them in class, but at present ELT planning has a great post here. I also like to have at least one deck of cards to hand – not only can you use them to wind down with colleagues, but they’re pretty useful in the classroom too. This post has some nice ideas for games which will practice your students’ English as well as simply being fun, but I’ve also had some nice lessons (ostensibly to practice must/mustn’t/have to/don’t have to) where my students have taught me (1-1) or each other (in a group class) how to play a card game from their country.

7. Dice

Small, portable and versatile, dice can be used for a wide variety of different activities in the EFL/ESOL classroom. Although I have to admit that I don’t agree with his opinion about ‘classic’ TEFL boardgames (for me, part of the appeal is that weaker students still stand an equal chance of winning!), Alex Case has a nice list of EFL games at a variety of different levels that can be played with dice.

If I may suggest adding a skill to your toolkit as well as just ‘stuff’, it would be this: how to make an origami cube. This will give you access to an endless supply of dice – all you need is 6 sheets of paper and a pen to draw the spots on. You can also make dice in a variety of different sizes, and the best thing is that it’s not the end of the world if they get lost!

8. Kinder Egg Toys

This might be a Euro-centric one (I seem to recall reading that they are banned in the States?) but I have a box containing quite a collection of Kinder Egg toys. Stemming back to when my lovely flatmate and I would buy each other Kinder Eggs during my first year of teaching in Moscow (there’s nothing like chocolate to make a rough day seem less bad), I love using them as boardgame counters (they make life just a little bit more interesting and classroom games a little bit more fun!). I’ve also used them as rather unorthodox cuisinaire rods, and, as with the cuddly toy, an extra ‘person’ during grammar presentations (particularly when teaching very small groups or 1-1 students. I’ve had quite a few fellow teachers say it’s a great idea (and have loaned them out to colleagues before!) and they never fail to raise a smile from even the most serious of students. I’d say they’re a success all round.

9. Leaflets

Least you think this list solely consists of children’s toys and stationery, there are also a couple of ‘paper-based’ things I’d recommend collecting. If you’re in a native English-speaking country, going to a supermarket or tourist information centre (or even a hotel if you’re staying in one!) and picking up some leaflets is one of the easiest things you can do to enhance and supplement the material used in your lessons. Many coursebooks have some kind of leaflet-based project work at some point, and it’s great to be able to show your students some genuine English language leaflets rather than simply the coursebook example. You can also use the content to provide students with extra material – a reading lesson based on some of the texts, a discussion task where students must plan a weekend or holiday for themselves (or someone else!), or a restaurant roleplay activity using a genuine takeaway menu.

10. Resources

This is one to be built up and added to as you’re teaching, rather than something to be prepared in advance. Start a physical folder, start a bookmark folder on your internet browser. If you have an activity that works really well (be it one you’ve created yourself or one you found in a resource book, save it, or if necessary make an extra copy. Be selective – think about activities that you could easily adapt to use with students of different ages or different levels, otherwise you’ll end up swamped with mountains of paper. Even better, save PDF activites/worksheets found online as bookmarks on your computer, or create a dedicated folder in your email account and then email the links to yourself. Resources saved in this way take up no physical space, can be accessed from anywhere, and mean that you can delve into that selection of things that you know really work, no matter who you’re teaching and wherever you are.

Do you have a ‘teacher toolkit’? What else would you put in yours?


2 thoughts on “The essentials every teacher needs…

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