♫ Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens
Coursebooks on tenses and lessons on ‘thanks’
Games on sentences and websites with word banks. ♫
These are a few of my favourite things — my favourite ESL coursebooks and activities — from my teacher toolkit and bag of tricks to use and do as a teacher in online and in person classes.
I’ve spent much of my teaching career using English File. What can I say? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I have to admit, I am more inclined to the upper levels as they are just really fun and engaging. Upper-int even has a unit on sleep and the Advanced book has some FANTASTIC engaging discussion pieces.
One coursebook I came across early in my career was Speakout. I really love this series as it has a really nice, clean layout and it is very comprehensive. What particularly drew me was the “functional language” section at the end of every chapter. Each level has the standard grammar and vocabulary sections, and I do like that it is relatively timeless in that even though some of the articles for the reading might be outdated it doesn’t feel like you’re reading something from the 80’s.
National Geographic Learning Life series is also very interesting and engaging. The formatting is unlike the standard textbook but that’s what makes it fun. Each unit is chock full of information so you’ll never be struggling to stretch the material.
Wordwall is fantastic for online lessons as it is a compilation of different games for learners. From missing words to crosswords to label the diagrams, there’s something for everyone. There’s a huge database of templates other teachers have created that you can play. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can create your own Wordwall activity.
“Over 500,000 games created by teachers” — Bamboozled’s byline itself should have you excited. Can be played individually or in groups for fun or competitively. Select the topic you want to do and you can find (or make) your own Bamboozled quiz for students to play.
I recently found this website and it made me feel stupid (in a good way). Pick your time, level and language and prepare to scratch your head going ‘ahhh I know it, what’s the word’.
Wheel Decide is a great website to generate conversation and get people talking. You click to spin the wheel and you can have the student discuss a topic, answer a question, or even help them decide where to eat. I first did this with a group of Italian students where the topic was health and illness. The wheel would spin and land on an illness and injury tile and the students had to come up with the remedy.
Classroom games and activities
I am a sucker for ANY activity that is communicative — the more talking the better! One first day or get-to-know-you activity that I like to do is questions. We’ve all answered the stock standard “get to know you” questions. They are boring and not conducive to learning about one another. So I flip it. I have the students write down on pieces of paper questions they would like to ask one another. It can be whatever they want (within reason). They write on a slip of paper fold it up, when everyone is ready I read a little story so like this:
Every time I say “right” in the story they pass their slip of paper to the right, and “left” for left. Eventually, when I say so, they will group up and ask the questions they have in their hands to one another.
Any activity where the students (and I) can learn more about each other’s culture is always fun and insightful. One such activity had a disastrous start and a spectacular finish. It was coming up to Christmas and I was super excited to do a Christmas themed lesson, only to find either my students didn’t celebrate Christmas or they just weren’t into it. Hmm, there went my perfectly laid plans! So I was scrambling (but that seems to be where I come up with my best plans).
The topic of food came up, so I had the students create a menu of all the traditional food in their country. I gave them pens, pencils, and paper and had them write it all down (warning: if you do this, be mindful of the time, I had a particularly arty student who spent 45 minutes creating a beautifully designed menu with zero food items written down).
Next, they role played as customers and servers in the restaurant. Not only was this activity communicative, but there was a functional language aspect in there as well.
This one was another last minute scramble activity I came up with, but this time it wasn’t my fault — kinda! In Poland, one of my big assessment tasks for my classes was a big presentations the students had to do at the end of the first semester. I would dedicate 2 (3 if I needed it) lessons for the students to present to the class and for the class to ask questions. Imagine my shock and annoyance when my ADULT class all turned up on presentation day (ALL 12 students) and said, “oh yeah, we are not prepared!” What was I to do?
Firstly, I took a long moment to compose myself, and then made this up on the spot:
Each student stood at their desk facing a partner on the other side. I had the students brainstorm practical English situations — situations in which they would encounter English in the real-world. Some of the situations included a noise complaint to a neighbour, complaining at a hotel, and complaining at a restaurant. (Do you see a theme here?) They would then role-play with their partner. I then would get feedback from the students, such as asking if they resolved the situation, or whether there were any words or phrases they didn’t know or didn’t know how to express. It ended up being such a fun and practical lesson. Even though I was still fuming about their presentations at them by the end, they actually got more out of the lesson than listening to one another present.
I hope you enjoyed discovering my favourite ESL coursebooks and activities. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about them!
If you are looking for more lesson ideas, you can check out my 6 go-to ESL speaking activities for the classroom. These are some of my favourite communicative games and activities to play both in online lessons and in person.
I am an energetic English teacher with a specialized education (Master’s degree in education from Durham University). Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, I later studied in the USA and England, so I am very familiar with both American and British English. I have worked as an ESL teacher in Poland and Malta, and I know how to find an approach to students of different ages and temperaments, from shy teenagers to demanding company directors. I enjoy coaching and playing basketball and spending time with my (new) family!
What are your favourite ESL coursebooks and activities? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.