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A bag of tricks for the traveling YL ESL teacher

By Stefan Chiarantano
Don’t leave home without it

It’s somewhat of a nuisance to carry around but I don’t go to any of my schools without it. I’ve now settled on a large, colourful plastic bag that zips and that can easily be molded to fit into my bicycle hamper. It raises a few eyebrows wherever I go but what the heck it helps me to do my job. Perhaps, you have one too. My bag is full of useful props, things, objects that help me to teach in a creative, magical way and serve to relax and loosen up the children for learning. It’s something akin to a bag of tricks that a magician uses to awe his audience. I strive to do the same with mine.

Here are the things that make up my bag of tricks. It includes:

  • Lots of children’s songs CDs. Music is magic to young learners’ ears. I use music as a warm-up to start the class and also to start a game. The children lap it up. They sway, bounce and move their bodies to the music they hear.
  • Puppets. It allows me to teach target language and introduce and act out simple dialogue skits. A puppet, I have discovered, actually introduces another native speaker in the classroom. They’re great and the children warmly respond to them.
  • Squishy balls. They’re soft and colourful. They are easy to catch. I use them to promote classroom participation.
  • A wig. I wear it to liven up the class. It makes me look ridiculous but it grabs their attention.
  • Flashcards. It’s a great way to introduce language. I make my own. It’s cheaper if you do. I use them in games. I also carry with me a set of ABC flashcards to teach the alphabet and phonics.
  • Stuff toy animals. They’re cute. I use them to teach prepositions such as on, in, under, behind, in front of, etc.
  • Soft, large, cushy dice. I use them to play games like snakes and ladders.
  • Coloured hollow plastic balls. I use them for teaching colours and in activities such as the passing activity.
  • Paper, pencils, coloured pencils, and erasers. I use them in drawing/colouring/connect the dot activities. They are a great way to end the class and to restore peace and calm to a lively and active group of children.
  • Magnets. To hang flashcards on the blackboard.
  • Tambourines/rattles. I use them to start a game and for drill activities. They act as a cue.
  • Peanuts, two bowls, and two sets of chopsticks. I use them to play the chopstick game.

My bag also includes tissue, throat lozenges, and a bottle of water.

I don’t ever leave home without my bag of tricks. I’d be lost without it. It sure makes a difference to the way I teach. Perhaps, if you haven’t one you might just be tempted to start one and take it with you whenever you go to your schools.

Written by Stefan Chiarantano for Tefl.NET February 2005
Stefan has been teaching English as a foreign language in Asia for the past several years. He presently teaches English in Japan. He's a Canadian with an interest in filmmaking and photography.
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