Thursday, April 23, 2009

Resources for lazy ESL teachers

One of the catch-phrases in my TESOL training program was "lazy teacher." The idea lies not in the teacher's inactivity but in the delegation of responsibilities to students so that they become more competent. For example, they help with generating visual aids for class; they help write things on the board; they explain the homework to each other or fill in someone who is late.

Besides, it's the students who need the chance to talk, not the teachers. When the teacher leaves the room while they are talking in pairs, s/he not only gets the chance to take a break and assess how the class is going, but the students can feel more at ease conversing without someone hanging over their shoulder.

The other "lazy teacher" time happens during lesson planning. At first I was against this idea because I find that lesson planning fulfills a need for creative expression that I don't always have time for outside of teaching. I love making visual aids.

It is certainly worth it to make some nice visual aids (or generate some on the computer), and keep them in good shape for the future.

But let's face it, there are times when the simplest materials do just as well (like store-bought flashcards). And besides, your students may not appreciate all your hard work.

Another dilemma is that my classroom has to be portable, for the most part. I travel around daily to different orphanages, offices, and homes. In general I have to keep all classroom supplies with me (pencils, paper, scissors, tape, markers...), including the study materials! A few students have textbooks, but they are the exception.

I've thought about investing in textbooks for the other students a few times. I believe that if the textbooks are good quality and I use them frequently, they are a good investment. However, I cannot carry textbooks around with me, and they get lost frequently at the orphanage, so relying on a textbook is not an option at the moment. It's just as well since at my training we learned NOT to rely on textbooks for lesson planning.

So for the sake of time, I do take shortcuts, and on occasion (gasp) use ready-made lessons.

The Internet is full of resources for teaching ESL. Many of them are free, and others allow membership for a minimal fee.

I don't spend much time browsing, and rely mainly on recommendations or the first few search results. But here are a few sites I've found that are free and useful...

1) For children and beginners, "Handwriting for Kids" offers a variety of printable tracing sheets on different themes. You can choose cursive or manuscript. A bonus is that you can generate your own worksheets. Just select "make your own 8-lines text worksheet," type your words and phrases into the prompter, and a worksheet pops up with your words entered into lined paper that you can print out.

2) For conversation practice, "Breaking News English" will give you stories from the news, along with a wealth of printable activities for each story, including pre-reading/listening, during, and expansion activities. There are worksheets for doing vocabulary, gap-fill activities, discussion questions, groupwork, etc. You can choose from two different skill levels.

There are also podcasts, although I haven't tried to download any. I normally just read it aloud myself if I choose to make it a listening activity.

*Note: The stories are "based on" the news. These are real current events and should generate lots of discussion. However, as far as language development, authentic sources, of course, are superior.


  1. Liz, I hope and pray that you do not reach a point of cultural irrelevance in both Russia and the US. It's a scary thing to be in. You should get acquainted with missionaries who are in their 50's and 60's and who are lost at where they are today. Has it been worthwhile for them? Maybe. I don't know.

    Just be careful.

    Listen, I have been in the US for 12 years. So, I am speaking from the experience. It doesn't matter where you are in. It's all the same thing. The longer I am here the more irrelevant as a witness for Jesus I seem to become.

    Intellectual honesty is better than any sacrifice. We have to ask ourselves hard questions like: Why do we do what we do?

    Anytime I ask those questions - everything comes back to its right place. But honesty in responding to those questions is key.

  2. V - how can one be "irrelevant a a witness for Jesus"? I don't understand that. For one thing, you can have no idea who might be impacted by your witness...or when. Perhaps years later your life, actions, or something you said, might be used by God.

    Liz - to teaching.... I like to have beautiful, appealing materials. Yes; purchased flash cards might work, not everything needs to be labor-intensive. However, I am a visual person and can still think (with repugnance)of teachers/classes where unsightly, slovenly materials were offered. To some people they might make no difference. I am truly distracted by them, and....if not offended, at least "turned off". I come away with a negative feeling about the class or whatever was being studied. I was once given dirty, handwritten flashcards to use and I honestly couldn't bring myself to use them. (I can still remember that faded brown marker. Ick!) Perhaps it is "my problem" that I am so affected by things like that. But knowing that people can be, I try my best to create appealing materials.

  3. One more comment..... It might be valuable for the teacher to just allow the students to "free talk" IF THEY DO. Unfortunately, the "lazy teacher" better have motivated students, or the whole enterprise might well dissolve!

  4. Thanks for your input, Annie. You know, I've used sloppy materials before, and I hadn't thought about the students' reactions. They didn't seem to care. I will try to pay more attention. I use stick figures in class though, on the board. I don't think artistic skill is necessary for getting a point across quickly.

    Obviously if I went out of the room I would make sure the students were actually going to talk. It wouldn't be "free talking" exactly because they would have a specific goal and I would warn them that they were going to report to me when I returned.

    Vitali(?), are you referring to the teaching post or the missions post? I'm a bit confused as to the context.

    I always try to get input from my students as to what is interesting/relevant from them. Of course it takes a long time to get to know individuals and figure out how to meet their needs.

    When I interact with Russians, or anyone from another culture, I look for common interests. Maybe they aren't Christians, but they share a love of children, or some other interest. It's the same thing you do when you meet a new friend in your own culture. You have to find something to talk about.

    I think that when you live in a place for a long time, you can fall into a routine and stop seeing God's hand at work each day. It's harder to find meaning in life. It's easier to doubt that what you're doing has purpose. Is that what you're talking about?

    Could you give some examples of how I could be relevant as an American in Russia, or of things to avoid so that my message doesn't become irrelevant?

    Why do you feel like an irrelevant witness? Do you find it hard to find ways to connect with people?

  5. Liz, you have constantly been acting "confused" to my posts. Why so? Listen, if you are a truthful person, you should have asked yourself those questions a long time ago.

    Today, I was sitting in a hot van with Jeff, who used more "F" and "S" words than I would care to hear during my entire life-time. He also talked to me about how insecure he is and that he is a wreck, when it comes to life.

    Am I, a Russian person, supposed to witness about Jesus to him, or is it some of you that are supposed to do that, who live in all parts of the world, scared to witness about Him in your own country?

    The whole Gospel thing becomes so fake when people from other nations are presenting it to other nations. I am an immigrant here. Jeff may listen to me, but I will be an immigrant to him all the way. Where are you, truthful American soldiers for Jesus...? you are nowhere to be found.

    Do you even hear what I have to say?

  6. Also, Liz, you would agree with the following: I can come to the same orphange, where you are trying to impact the kids for God, and get connected with those kids and impact them for God more in one day than you would in the next year or so. Why? Because I am ONE OF THEM.

    You see, I didn't immigrate to the US to preach the Gospel or teach anyone about anything (How arrogant it would have been of me!!!). It just happened, in my case. I am here just because, and I can see clearly, that if you, Americans, do not take care of evangelizing your own people in your own culture, you will lose both, your own nation and the nations you are trying to reach out to all across the globe.

    You have the youth that spends their lives in the bars and other places that I do not want to mention here. They live on drugs, sex and alcohol. They do not care about God or his righteousness. Do you want to come and witness to them about Jesus? If you do, come to Tallahassee, FL and I will meet you personally at the airport and take you places where you can do that.

    The devil is a mastermind deceiving even the best of Christians. So, stay sober and realize what you can and cannot do. The time of games is over. The time has come to think a bit more like mature adults (particularly for those of you who call themselves Christian).

    But again, will you even listen? No....

  7. Vitali, my "confusion" is directly related to your habit of leaving comments that are interesting but don't relate to the conversation. So I am often confused as to what made you write that particular comment. Then when I ask you questions in an attempt to understand, you don't answer them.

    Here, for example, I had written a post about teaching. It's completely unrelated to missions or culture. I wish that you would explain or leave comments on the posts that do relate to what you have to say.

    I don't think the Bible has set guidelines for who makes a better missionary in a particular country.

    Logically, a person from the immediate culture or from a similar culture will have the least amount of culture shock going into the country, and therefore may find it easier to connect with people. In this case I agree with you.

    However, situations often tug on our hearts in other countries more than in our own. It's possible that while walking down the street in Tallahassee I would not see the same needs that you do. When it's right next to us, we are sometimes blind.

    There also may be something cultural in our discussion here. Russians seem to have a sharper understanding of "ours" and "not ours." I will probably always be a foreigner here. Americans do not generally differentiate between immigrants and "natives." Different cultures are everywhere. We admire a person's decision to start a new life. We might notice accents or some mannerisms, but in general I doubt it would hinder a person's ability to preach the Gospel.

    However, many Americans are non-believers, and many "believers" only nominally live out their belief. So I understand if you see a lot of hypocrisy or become disappointed by the lack of spiritual growth. Unfortunately, in many cases it is because they have rejected the Gospel, not because they haven't heard it. But they might just need to hear it from a new source.

    I do ask myself those questions. I'm sure that I've been arrogant at times. I don't see myself as the answer to all of Russia's problems. But it's not arrogance when you ask God to make you His instrument. I know that if it's a mistake to be here, God will show me the answer clearly. Who knows, maybe I will have to leave soon.

    In the meantime, if you have any advice about what I could do better, I am open to receiving it.


Just added word verification to reduce spam. Nothing personal!

You’re welcome to leave a link to your own blog here if it's relevant to this blog.

Please make sure that your comments are 1) relevant and 2) respectful (i.e. no cuss words, attacks on individuals).

June 2022

So, we are 4 months into what's happening in our part of the world...though, of course, we live pretty far from the border!   Currently:...