5 Powerhouse Online ESL Resources That Bring Variety to Your Classroom

Want to strike lesson planning gold?

Well, you’re in luck. You won’t even need to set out on a treasure hunt.

A massive trove of ESL materials, lesson plans and activity ideas are just a few clicks away.

In this post, we’ll show you five powerhouse online ESL resources that’ll help you shake up your teaching and get your students psyched to learn and practice English.

You can bring the real world to your classroom with videos, have a group storytelling session, read the news and play awesome ESL games.

Let’s get digging!

How to Find the Best ESL Resources for Your Classroom

To find powerhouse ESL resources that bring variety to your classroom, you’ll want to begin with a bit of browsing.

There’s a virtual ocean of fantastic ESL resources available at your fingertips. And finding those ideal resources isn’t as challenging as you may think.

However, adapting online ESL resources for your classroom takes a bit of effort. You want to ensure that the online resources you find meet a few key quality standards.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the site you’re using reputable? Just because a site isn’t fancy doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer as an ESL online resource. In fact, many of the best sites aren’t fancy at all. But make sure the material is coming from a source you trust and that its information is clearly backed up by experience and/or research in ESL education.
  • Is there an author of the material? Some sites present author bios for the material developed and shared online. This is a good sign that the people behind the site are proud of its resources and confident in their efficacy. It’s also helpful if you have questions about specific activities and want to follow up.
  • What are the author’s credentials? You can check an author’s credentials in his or her bio section, if provided. This allows you to discover if the author is an ESL teacher or administrator, their experience and links to other material he or she may have developed.
  • How much variety does the site really offer? Excellent online ESL resources generally serve up a breadth of content for teachers and students. ESL websites often have a niche, such as videos or lesson plans, but some even expand into multiple ESL levels and material.
  • Does the material make sense for your students? Before incorporating a new ESL resource into your own lesson plan, you’ll want to give it the “teacher test.” This means using the resource in the shoes of a student. Consider how clear the instructions are, how achievable the outcomes are for your students’ proficiency level and what your students will leave the classroom having learned.

Incorporating online ESL resources into your lessons can be achieved in two primary ways. You can either draw out the most effective ideas and concepts from the material, or you can utilize the actual resource directly in class.

In fact, the use of technology in the classroom has grown significantly in the past decade. Students and teachers alike are finding significant value in using digital ESL resources in the classroom. Just take a look at the findings of this study published in TESL-EJ, a peer reviewed journal for English as a second language:

Data collected revealed that despite some difficulties encountered, students had an overall positive attitude to using the teacher-selected websites in their learning of English. The students found that learning English through ESL/EFL websites was interesting and that the teaching strategies used by the teachers were effective and necessary.

Whether you implement resources directly into your lesson plans or fire up a great ESL website in class for students to explore, these powerful resources offer variety. And ESL students love variety, because being nose down in a textbook all day, every day is simply counterproductive when it comes to language learning.

5 Powerhouse Online ESL Resources That Bring Variety to Your Classroom

ThoughtCo Top Lesson Plans

ThoughtCo is a subsidiary blog of About.com, the website that aims to inspire others to learn something new or solve a problem. And they serve up lesson plans that’ll certainly add variety to your classroom.

Top Lesson Plans” was authored by Kenneth Beare, an English as a second language expert. These lesson plans are actionable and activate different ESL skills to keep your ESL class engaged. They cover a number of ESL levels and can be applied to classes of all ages and specific language learning needs.

Here are a few of the topics Beare’s lesson plans cover:

Author’s pick: “Introducing Phrasal Verbs to ESL students” is one of my go-to lesson plans. It challenges ESL students to reach new levels in their language learning journey. This lesson plan also incorporates reading with communication, among other powerful ESL skills.

Breaking News English

News programs, whether print or broadcast, are concise, compelling and have a little something for everyone. This is why learning English via news stories is powerful. Students get to experience how native English speakers use English in the real world.

Breaking News English is news ESL-style, bringing more than 2,000 English lessons to teachers and students across seven different proficiency levels. It’s certainly a resource that has a lot to offer when it comes to the core ESL skills.

From global news to science and industry, Breaking News English has a wide variety of news articles to choose from, each presented in a range of English levels. Plus, each news story contains printable teacher lesson plans with upwards of 20 pages and around 40 exercises in each. There are also word jumbles, flashcards and crosswords, among other vocabulary-building resources.

Some excellent additional materials that’ll make your life easier and add some variety to your classroom include:

Author’s pick: It’s difficult to choose just one article from this expansive resource. One of the more recent news stories, “Oil Pipeline Protest Joined by Military Veterans,” touches on the rich history of Native Americans and what a new oil pipeline means to their past and future.

It’s presented in three beginner proficiency levels, and the printable teacher resource is as rich as the history and as engrossing as the topic.


English-to-go.com is another great website worth browsing when crafting your next lesson plan. This site’s mission is to provide courses, assessments, tests and integrated custom lessons to teachers and students. Membership to access content costs $15 per month or $150 for a full year.

This ESL online resource has a variety of material for teachers:

  • Stress-free lesson plan preparation
  • Topical content
  • Printable material
  • Nine exercises for each lesson, including ESL skills (reading, grammar, listening and writing)
  • Lesson content in five ESL learning levels

English-to-go also offers an ESL newsletter featuring all the most recent lessons and resources, which means you’ll get vocabulary building exercises, reading activities and lots more straight to your inbox.

Author’s pick: My favorite to date is an interactive reading activity called “Bikes Against Trafficking.” This advanced English level activity lets students dive into a different culture and discuss a serious issue while learning English.

It has a detailed reading activity and really emphasizes vocabulary for those advanced ESL students who need a good challenge.

The Internet TESL Journal

The Internet TESL Journal is a no-frills online ESL resource with tons of lesson plan material to draw from. This online resource is focused on bringing research papers, articles, lesson plans and more to teachers, making it truly the ultimate ESL resource for when you need a bit of teaching inspiration. It has archived articles dating to 1995.

You’ll find dozens of lesson plan resources covering everything from the first day of class to conversational English to travel survival. The lesson materials are as varied as the topics you can choose from.

These resources come from different contributors in the field of ESL education; The Internet TESL Journal is serious about only publishing reliable, practical materials for teachers.

This site also offers quizzes, teaching techniques, games, jokes and a helpful “Things for Teachers” section.

Author’s pick: One of my absolute favorites from The Internet TESL Journal is “Internet Treasure Hunts – A Treasure of an Activity for Students Learning English,” authored by Ian Brown. It was created in 1999 and has certainly stood the test of time. It combines English, tech, fun and learning.

It’s much like the gamification trend teachers are seeing today with Minecraft. It was, and remains, truly innovative for teaching ESL.

Story Arts

Story Arts is a website that offers ESL resources built with the power of storytelling. You can draw from their short and concise lesson ideas for using stories, folktales, works of art and even something as simple as a stone to cultivate the English learning minds in your classroom.

A few Story Arts example lesson ideas include: 

The Story Arts activities are ideal for sparking communication and getting students engaged. The lesson ideas can be adapted for any English level as well.

Author’s pick: My students really enjoyed a group activity called A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words. It allows ESL students to really be imaginative with their English experience.

In this lesson, students look at a painting and craft sentences based on their interpretation of what the story behind it may be. It involves multi-class collaboration and discussion, which really gets them chatting in English.


Finding the perfect online ESL resources can be an exciting journey for any teacher.

Many of these powerful ESL tools are tailor-made for you to simply hit play or pass out a printable sheet, which will add some variety to your classroom without demanding many more hours of lesson planning time.

You may also find an ESL gem that you can adapt specifically for your own classroom and students.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With nearly a decade of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

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