5 Ways to Find Great ESL Teaching Materials on a Budget

Are you having a tough time finding reasonably priced ESL teaching materials?

Sick of discovering the perfect lesson plan, only to realize that they’re charging an arm and a leg for it?

Fancy books and lesson plans are often overpriced, and for most English teachers, the budget just doesn’t allow for big splurges.

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to find affordable ESL teaching materials. From worksheets and lesson plans to video and audio resources, there is plenty available for every budget. You just need to know where to look.

5 Ways to Find ESL Teaching Materials on a Budget

1. Talk to Other ESL Teachers

Your fellow teachers can be wonderful resources, both online and off. Even if you’ve been teaching for a while, coming up with new techniques and ideas can be hard sometimes. Why not network with others who know what you’re dealing with?


An ESL teaching forum is an excellent place to find resources and materials that are freely available. Sometimes, people will offer their own lesson plans for free, or they might link to materials online. Even if you come away with nothing but new ideas, it’s well worth getting involved on a forum or two. Dave’s ESL Cafe forum and Waygook, which is primarily used by ESL teachers in South Korea, are two great active forums to start with.

Teacher Exchanges

Exchanges, swaps or whatever you want to call them let teachers mix it up a little. Bring along the lesson plans or books that you have but don’t need anymore, and swap them for something more exciting. These exchanges can also be held online, so keep an eye out. You’ll probably hear about online exchanges on teaching forums first, but don’t be afraid to take initiative and start one near you!

2. Take Advantage of the Internet

The Internet will quickly become your best friend when you need a new lesson plan. There are so many useful sites that you can work with in class, and most of them are free or very low cost.

YouTube and Other Video Sites

Videos are a valuable resource if you’re trying to give your students a broad range of listening activities. For shorter clips, YouTube is a good resource. You’ll find everything from television shows to nature videos and everything in between. 

Apart from YouTube, you can watch videos on Amazon, Hulu or Netflix if you have an account, which are all great options for movies and full length TV shows. With access to such a wide variety of clips, it is very simple to find something that is appropriate for your classroom.

Teaching Resource Websites

Check out sites like education.com or Teachers Pay Teachers to find plenty of options for your classroom. Some of the materials are offered free, but even if you choose the materials that require payment, the price is usually fairly low. You can stock up on excellent resources for cheap. Online printables are widely available and work well for those times when you want your students to practice reading or writing. However, there are also entire sites dedicated to games and activities that you can do with your students. Take advantage of the myriad of ideas and never get bored teaching your class.

3. Check Out the Discards

You’d be surprised at how much great stuff gets thrown out or given away. What other people want to get rid of could be the perfect teaching tool for an ESL teacher. Think of all the magazines that get tossed when people are done with them. What could your students do with those discarded magazines?

Library Sales

Libraries routinely get rid of old books that have either been damaged or are simply not used. Depending on the library, a sale each year allows the general public to get their hands on dirt cheap books. Check with your local library to see when they are having a sale, or take a look at BookSaleFinder to find library sales near your area, if you are in the United States.

School Book Sales

Schools also sell off their old textbooks, which can be very helpful if you have higher level ESL students. For English teachers, readers are some of the best options. They come in all grade levels and offer a large number of writing styles in one book. It’s worth picking up a few to keep on hand for those times when you need some extra activities. Reading is something that every ESL student needs to do well, so having extra books for your class to read can be useful. Keep an eye out for spelling books, unused workbooks and storybooks to use in class.

End-of-the-year School Discards

Check your local schools just before the end of the school year, to see if you can browse what teachers throw in the trash and recycle as they clean out their classrooms. You could also get in touch with local schools/teachers at any point during the year to inquire about any old or unused materials. Tell them you’d love to be contacted whenever they’re getting rid of materials, perhaps when someone retires or any time throughout the year.

Thrift Stores

Take a regular tour of nearby thrift stores and watch for items that could be used in your classroom. Children’s books are often found for under a dollar. Sometimes, games like Scrabble or other teaching games will pop up and can be had for a nice, low price. Just check for missing pieces before purchasing such a game.


eBay and similar auction sites contain a wealth of materials for ESL teachers. Do a search for ESL teaching materials, or simply check for English supplies. You’ll find books, used flashcards and spelling/grammar games, usually for a very good price. Even better, they’ll ship right to your doorstep, though shipping can be a little much if you live overseas. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, as they say, and this is particularly true when it comes to teaching materials.

4. Use Everyday Items

You probably already have quite a few things that you can use in your ESL classroom. If you don’t, consider having students bring in the necessary items. Newspapers/Magazines: Grab a daily paper on the way to school and you have everything you need for a fact-filled lesson that day. Even better, have each student bring in a newspaper or English language magazine to read from. Children’s Books: Picture books are very handy for teaching reading. Beginners will find simple books easier to work with, but you can move up to more advanced books as your students gain vocabulary. Recipes: Even if you don’t have a cookbook, recipes can be found online and printed out. Students can bring in their own recipes and translate them as well. If you have access to a kitchen, cooking can be a fun way to test vocabulary; if they don’t read carefully, the cake won’t turn out! Board Games: Playing nearly any game can be an English lesson, provided students only speak English while playing. However, spelling or word games are even better, so bring in your old Scrabble or Boggle games.

5. DIY ESL Teaching Materials

Of course, you can always come up with your own teaching materials. You may even want to share these with other ESL teachers, either for free or for a fee.

Create Your Own Worksheets

All you need is a word processor and a printer to come up with your own worksheets. For teachers who have been doing their own lessons all along, this is a good way to come up with a test, as well.

Make an Audio Clip

Can’t find a great audio clip anywhere? Make your own! It’s very simple to record a voice file to your computer or a simple recorder. In fact, you don’t have to do it yourself, you can recruit friends. Get a couple of people to hold a simple conversation while you record them, and then use that with your students.

Have Students Bring Clippings

While not exactly something you do yourself, having students bring in interesting articles that they have read can be hassle free. Have them write or talk about the article and reach each other’s clippings and discuss the issues involved. Teaching materials don’t have to be crazy expensive. Look for used ones, find lesson plans that are already made up and don’t be afraid to get creative with the items you have around you!

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