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Tips for Teaching with Limited Classroom Resources

Teaching Children

So you've decided to teach English abroad. You've scoured tons of teach jobs abroad on Go Overseas, and while you were at it, you decided to click through our teaching resources available as well. To be a good teacher, you have to be prepared, right? From your research, you decide finally that you want to teach in a more remote place, but that comes with its own challenges. What do you do when you have to teach a class with limited resources?

When I taught ESL in Virginia, I had access to a computer lab, printers, photocopiers, and a whole library of textbooks and easy reading to give to my students. Then I moved to Madagascar and was just thankful to have electricity twenty-four hours a day. I knew that teaching ESL in Africa would mean I wouldn't be able to have my students do interactive lessons on the web or give them each their own textbook to work from, but by no means would having limited classroom resources make things impossible. In fact, it was a fun challenge that forced me to get creative with my lessons.

Whether you are teaching abroad through ITA, LanguageCorps, or independently, teaching somewhere with limited classroom resources is tough. Here are some tips to help you make the most with what you've got!

Girls in Pink
  • THE PROBLEM: Not enough textbooks
  • THE SOLUTION: Group activities
  • For those of you that have textbooks, but not enough to give to each student, group activities are a great way to get around this. However, when doing group activities, make sure that each student in the group has a clear role so that you don't end up with the smartest or most hard-working student doing all the work and the rest of them just following along. An example of this could be having students read a text from the book together, then one student narrates, two students act it out, and one other student writes new vocabulary from the text on the board and defines them for the rest of the class.

    Also check out: The 10 Best Games for ESL Teachers

    Chalkboard Teaching in Thailand
  • THE PROBLEM: No textbooks
  • THE SOLUTION: Treat your chalkboard like a textbook in the making
  • If you have no textbooks at all, you'd better learn some chalkboard management skills - and quick! Everything you are writing on the board will go in to your students' notebooks and in turn become their textbook. Make sure you clearly label items and write anything that might be helpful for them to study at home on the board. Personally, I like to use different colors to signify vocabulary and grammar, and format each lesson exactly the same so that students can easily look up a grammar point or re-read a dialogue later on, like a textbook would.

    Also check out: Tips for Creating ESL Lesson Plans

    Girl Teaching a  Class
  • THE PROBLEM: No way to photocopy worksheets
  • THE SOLUTION: Flip-chart paper
  • Teachers get very attached to passing out photocopied worksheets. But if you don't have access to photocopiers (or, you have to pay and can't afford it), consider writing your worksheet on a large piece of flip-chart paper and taping it on the chalkboard for the whole class to see. This way, you have the option of making the class copy the exercises into their notebooks (chances are, they're already used to doing this if they are studying with limited resources) or just the answers. Keep in mind that if you want them to copy the whole worksheet, you'll have to give them a few minutes to do so.

    Also check out: 11 Essential ESL Teaching Tools

    Group of Schoolchildren
  • THE PROBLEM: You have books, but only one of each
  • THE SOLUTION: A layered lesson
  • If you only have one copy of each book, one solution is to do a layered lesson of creating a different lesson for each book. This is time consuming when planning but highly effective. Make a worksheet with vocabulary and reading comprehension questions for each book, then break up students to complete them in groups, pairs, or individually. When they finish, bring the class back together and have each group give a short synopsis of the book and share what they learned with the class. You get students practicing reading, writing, speaking, and listening, and spending most of the lesson actively engaged.

    Also check out: Tips for Teaching English in Small Groups

    Schoolboy
  • THE PROBLEM: No way to show educational films
  • THE SOLUTION: A movie night with your laptop
  • I loved watching films in French class back in high school, but had no way of providing the same experience for my students in Africa. However, if you really want students to see English in action by watching a movie, consider creating a movie night for interested students (if you have a large class, it may not be totally feasible to require everyone to come), and show them films on your laptop. Also, there are some great cheap and portable projectors on the market now -- not like the clunky things I remember from high school -- that you could consider packing.

    Teacher reading to student
  • THE PROBLEM: No CDs with practice dialogues
  • THE SOLUTION: Read or record one yourself
  • If you don't have access to pre-recorded dialogues or listening exercises, consider making them yourself. One option would be to simply read and act one out yourself, changing your place and voice slightly to signal a change in speaker (which I'm sure your students will be amused by). The other option would be using your laptop or phone to record you and another person speaking before class. Make sure that if you choose to record your own practice dialogues, you have a way to play them out loud - classrooms may not have CD players, speakers, or even computers for your use.

    Also check out: 7 Tips for Becoming a New ESL Teacher

    Three schoolchildren in Cambodia
  • THE PROBLEM: No resources for teachers
  • THE SOLUTION: Download books to your computer/tablet before you go
  • I assume that if you will be teaching with limited resources, you will know before you get there. Prepare yourself for those moments when you find yourself thinking "what the heck is the difference between present perfect and past perfect?" by downloading an English grammar book before you go. I highly recommend English Grammar by Betty Azar for ESL teachers. If you are teaching another subject, hunt around online, or ask another, experienced teacher for recommendations.

    Also check out: Tips for Teaching Advanced ESL Students

    Boy reading on whiteboard
  • THE PROBLEM: No classroom
  • THE SOLUTION: Buy a whiteboard so you can teach wherever you go
  • This one is pretty rare, but what if you don't even have a classroom and find yourself teaching in someone's living room or out in the school yard? Invest in a whiteboard and markers so you can set up a portable classroom wherever you go. Even in the most underdeveloped countries, you should be able to find whiteboards and markers in the closest major city and bring it back to wherever you are teaching. Invest in buying a few colors - and voila! - you've got a better resource than even a chalkboard. You'd be surprised what you can accomplish with just a whiteboard, some markers, and a well-planned lesson.

    Also check out: 25 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently While Teaching Abroad

    The conditions for teaching abroad vary drastically and if you have your eye on some far-flung and remote part of the world, there's a chance you won't have access to the same resources as teachers back home. If this is the case, don't panic, it only means you'll have to get a little more creative! Most likely, your students have already gotten used to learning with only the most basic learning tools (a notebook and a pen) and there's no reason why you can't also adapt and be a fantastic teacher with nothing more than a chalkboard and that noggin of yours.

    Photo Credits - Travel to Teach and Star for Life.
    Jessie Beck

    A Washington DC native, Jessie Beck studied in Dakar and Malta, taught in Costa Rica, and volunteered with the Peace Corps in Madagascar before ending up at Go Overseas as Editor / Content Marketing Director. Find her on her personal blog, Beat Nomad.