We all know that class.
The one that never listens unless you have just the right activity or lesson.
Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, that special class that does well with everything—but really thrives when given a truly engaging activity, the one you work extra hard to please.
Whether you have the former or latter class (or both, as usually is the case), it’s important to have a collection of tried and true go-to online resources for your ESL lesson planning.
If you’ve ever googled “ESL teaching resources,” you know that there’s no shortage of resources online. But how do you know what works?
What sites should you trust? To what will your students best respond? What exercise will both capture the attention of the struggling student and—at the same time—challenge your top students?
The ESL Teacher’s Tool Belt
What’s in your tool belt? Maybe it’s flashcards you take to every class. Or an ice-breaker activity or game that you play at the start of class. Or maybe it’s a listening exercise that gets your students tuned in to English. All students are different, and learn in different ways.
To reach the many different types of ESL learners, it’s important for every teacher to have a tool belt, stuffed with all the essentials for teaching English through reading, listening, speaking and writing.
Of course a few tools all ESL teachers need are patience, a good attitude and genuine passion for teaching English.
But it’s also important for your tool belt to include a collection of resources ready for lesson planning at a moment’s notice. Take a look at these five fantastic online resources that you can’t and shouldn’t live without.
5 Invaluable Online ESL Teaching Resources You Can’t Live Without
1. ESL Library: Dynamic Lesson Plans and Materials
ESLlibrary.com is one of the best, most comprehensive ESL online teaching resources available. While it does require membership (currently $55 for one year, with shorter subscriptions also available), many ESL teachers find this site incredibly helpful.
Membership to the site allows you full access to their lesson plan library, which has more than 500 ready-made lesson plans and more than 2,000 ready-to-print images and flashcards.
The site also takes current events and creates diverse lesson plans. This week, for example, they’ve taken the hot topic of the Ferguson, Missouri shooting to provide your students with an engaging debate topic. In this lesson plan, your students would read about, discuss and debate the militarization of police forces across the United States. How did police forces acquire so much military equipment and how is it affecting their relationship with local citizens? This topic is very current and the lesson is sure to get your students talking!
The site also has a breakdown of lessons by topic, such as business in English, role plays, writing in English, holidays, grammar stories and more.
2. ESL Printables: Give and Receive
ESLprintables.com is a great website for teachers who have also already made a lot of their own curriculum. It’s a resource with hundreds of thousands of ready-made worksheets, PowerPoint presentations and online exercises. The caveat here is that you must submit contributions before you can download them.
Worksheet downloads are conveniently organized by grammar, vocabulary, listening, speaking, reading and writing worksheets. In addition, they offer cinema, television, games and song worksheets. For example, under the “cinema and television” category, you could use a worksheet about “The Simpsons” that talks about hobbies—all that feature Bart and family.
The site also has a forum for teachers, where ESL instructors can ask questions, get advice and share ideas. The form is well managed and up-to-date, making it easy to take part or just skim through for ideas.
3. LanternFish (BogglesWorldESL): Building Vocabulary
I have often used LanternFish for young ESL learners, but it’s also a valuable site for teenage and adult learners. With hundreds of worksheets and lesson plans, it’s a helpful resource with lots of great ideas to better engage your students.
LanternFish offers flashcards, ESL exercises specifically for adults, a writer’s workshop and fun worksheet activities like word searches and crosswords for your students.
The site has a large listing of creative writing prompts, which can be really fun for more advanced students. For example, with Christmas just around the corner, they have a writing prompt titled “Christmas Elves on Strike!” They start the prompt with a paragraph that explains why the elves are on strike (no holidays or breaks, zero wages, terrible uniforms, to name a few reasons). “We, the Union of Workshop Elves, refuse to make any more toys until the following demands are met.” The students must then continue the story.
Building vocabulary through flashcards and exercises is one of this site’s major strengths. They have a collection of games and vocabulary exercises on a variety of themes from beginner to intermediate students. (FluentU also offers vocabulary lists and videos targeted at every level of language learner!)
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
4. BusyTeacher: Warmers and Fillers and More!
BusyTeacher.org is one of the best sites on the web for ESL teachers. It has thousands of worksheets and activities available immediately for free download. No signing up, no membership and no fees (though you can purchase their entire library for about $100).
One especially helpful offering is their 360 free “warmers and fillers” which include warm-up activities and ice-breakers to get your students engaged quickly from the start of your lesson. One of their warmers is the “How Was Your Weekend” activity. Sure, it’s boring when you ask it every Monday. But the idea here is to give the students the identity of a famous person on a slip of paper (or let them think of their own). In pairs, the students ask questions and try to guess one another’s identity based on what they did over the weekend.
The site also offers great advice for ESL teachers, interesting creative writing prompts and much more.
5. Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab: Listen Up!
This online listening lab is the perfect resource for listening exercises in your ESL classroom. Audio is important, and as ESL teachers, we need to introduce other forms of listening exercises to our classes in order to improve student focus.
The audio listening exercises are organized by level of difficulty (easy, medium, difficult) and are listed by topic. Topic examples include “Clothing Styles,” “Car Rental,” “Breakfast Recipes” and “Friday Night Mishaps.”
Each lesson includes a short audio clip (usually less than two minutes), a quiz, vocabulary activities, post-listening exercises and online investigations, which ask the student to research the topic further online.
For example, in the audio exercise “Joe’s Hamburger Restaurant,” the speakers are a hamburger restaurant worker and a customer. There is an item on the menu called “Everything But the Kitchen Sink,” and the customer asks the worker to explain this phrase. The customer continues to place his order. At the end of the audio, there are quiz questions (which can be taken by the students online for a score or read aloud together). Other activities include multiple-choice and short-answer questions, as well as other post-listening exercises.
The site also has 20-minute ESL vocabulary lessons and longer videos that feature more in-depth interviews and conversations, perfect for your more advanced students.
All students learn in different ways, and these five resources can help you find what works best for all levels, and all different learners!
So add these websites to your ESL tool belt today—you’ll wonder how you ever got on without them!