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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine January/February 2005
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Classroom Teaching Tools

Ten Things to Bring Along When Teaching English Overseas

The last thing you want to do when setting out on an overseas English teaching adventure is to pack a ton of stuff that will weigh you down on your travels. But these packable objects could prove invaluable as teaching materials.

1. Family Photos. Any beginner-level class will involve a unit on the family, and using examples from your own family will be far more interesting to students than a lesson from a textbook. Be sure to bring photos of extended as well as nuclear family so you can use them to demonstrate words such as "niece," "brother-in-law," or "aunt." Before you leave home, consider taking some photos to a copy shop to blow them up to the size of 8x10 and then laminate them. This will make it easy for your students to see them during a classroom presentation, plus they will be more durable if laminated.

2. Postcards from Home. Students like to see photos of where their teacher comes from, and postcards can be used in a variety of lessons. Almost any postcard can be used for practice with descriptions.

3. Calendar. A calendar will have large photos that you can use for descriptions, and it's easy to find one depicting the different seasons. Plus, you can use your calendar for lessons on the months of the year and the days of the week.

4. Travel Clock with Hands. Be sure to bring a travel alarm with movable hands rather than the digital variety so that you can use it in class to practice telling time.

5. Guidebook. You are probably planning on bringing a guidebook for your own travels. But when picking out one, keep in mind its potential as a teaching tool. Look for a book with big, clear city maps that you can reproduce for lessons on giving directions. You'll also want a book with lots of short articles on the local culture and customs and sidebars with interesting facts and figures. These can make for good reading lesson materials since students are interested in what foreigners say about their country. A fun class activity is to have your students read a city guide and then write a guide to their own hometown with reviews of tourist attractions, restaurants, shopping centers, etc.

6. Play Money. You can find play money at any department store in the children's toy section. It's great for a number of activities, from practicing numbers and counting to prizes in class competitions.

7. A Cassette of Radio Broadcasts. Tape a couple of NPR, CBC, or BBC news broadcasts or feature programs before you go, and be sure to get some weather forecasts and business reports on the tape. This makes for authentic material that works great for listening exercises.

8. A Cassette or Burned CD of Songs. Songs in English make for an excellent way to present new vocabulary and idiomatic expressions, for introducing discussion topics, and for providing realistic examples of proper grammar usage. Furthermore, having students sing along to a song makes for good pronunciation practice. One popular teaching song is "Material Girl" by Madonna, which employs several fun idiomatic expressions and provides the basis for a discussion of materialism. Make sure to select material where the vocals are mixed way up front and the singer's enunciation is clear. Pop music is a good choice, but don't be afraid to expose your students to more obscure genres.

9. Minicassette Recorder. This can be useful in recording unrehearsed conversations with your fellow English teachers for use in a listening lesson. It can also be valuable to record your students and have them listen to and reflect on their spoken English.

10. Books. Books are bulky and heavy, but you never know what resources you will have access to at your teaching site, so you should bring at least a few. You'll want a grammar reference; my personal favorite is Raymond Murphy's Grammar in Use, Intermediate Level. I would also recommend bringing Penny Ur's Grammar Practice Activities, which has a ton of great ideas for fun grammar-related activities and games.

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