What’s in your bag?

Over the years, I’ve found it’s helpful to have a literal bag of tricks when entering a classroom. 

Here are some items I always have close by and are always useful:

Pens and Whiteboard Markers (or chalk): Don’t assume the teaching context you’re entering will have a writing utensil for you. I’ve been in more rooms withOUT a provided marker than those with. I’m always thankful to have a few of my own. My favorite pens for writing notes & grading are Paper Mate Flair Pens. I tend to use purple (not red since it has a negative connotation in many cultures). 

Sticky-notes: I can’t begin to list the activities and uses for sticky notes in the classroom! Use them for games, to pair students, reading activities, exit-tickets and more. 

Dice: Dice can be used for games and conversation starters. One go-to activity that takes zero prep and only 1 die: Write six conversation questions on the board and attach one number (1-6) to each question. Roll the die, and partners or groups discuss that question. They can be simple get-to-know-you questions. It can be review of a text you just read or review of vocabulary. The possibilities are endless. If you have multiple dice, each group can have their own and go at their own speed. Target recently stocked these for $1.00! The idea is the same: 

Conversation starters: Although the dice can be conversation starters, I always like to have some written questions and sentence starters on hand. My personal favorite are a few cards from the “The Game of Things” game. I usually keep a few in my bag. Others are story cubes, or simply a list of conversation starters. Below is an example of conversation starters I made to keep in my classroom. I’ve used them many times and have even taken them in my bag to different rooms! 

Small picture cards: If possible, finding some small flash cards with pictures comes in handy. I found an “Apples to Apples Big Picture” game that has many pictures in playing-card size. I usually keep 10-20 in my bag. Pictures are great for practicing grammar, starting discussions, describing, or even as writing prompts. 

Stickers or balloons: This one is for teaching younger learners. If you know you’re teaching younger learners, then I suggest carrying some small stickers or a balloon or two in your bag. It’s amazing how a sticker can light up a child’s face. They can also motivate! A balloon serves as great entertainment and can easily be turned into many games that get students moving. Play keep-it-off-the-ground or “catch and talk”: whoever has the balloon has to answer a question. 

Side-note: I’ve been in a country where the children had never seen a balloon in their life. It’s such a cheap and small item to bring. If you’re going somewhere remote, consider bringing a bag of balloons to hand-out or give to the local teacher to keep. 

Children in Mongolia playing with their new balloons.

Other ideas: Some other things I like to bring if I have space are: 

  • A picture file: I have a file folder of flashcards and pictures that I love to use for various activities and lessons. 
  • Story-cubes game: not necessary, but I enjoy using this to make silly stories as a class or individually. 
  • Binder-clips and paper-clips: I always seem to need some.
  • A picture of my family: ESL students generally love to see a picture of your family! It’s a nice way to introduce yourself and have students practice asking you questions. 
  • A fun pointer, ball, or stuffed animal: I have a long pointer finger and also a stick with a fuzzy stuffed peach at the end. I use them to point at words on the board or as a spinner for games. The students love it! I also like to keep a beach ball around. It comes in handy for various activities and games. Here’s a magnetic spinner that I LOVE: 

Happy teaching!

The ESL Girl 

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