14 incredibly useful websites for teaching ESL (that I couldn’t teach without)
May 1st, 2019 / Materials
I am not an English teacher who uses worksheets. In my experience filling out TEFL worksheets, might be good for reinforcing what a student already knows, but it does not help ESL students to improve their language skills.
Why is this? Well, because to improve your language skills, you need to speak.
Students recognise this also, which is why they value conversation classes. And if you can combine grammar with speaking exercises, you’ll be the best teacher they have ever met and they’ll keep coming back for more lessons.
Teaching grammar and vocabulary through speaking is something that I’m passionate about.
I’ve written an entire 325-page book on the subject, The Ultimate ESL Teaching Manual. In it you’ll find hundreds of speaking and freer conversation exercises that cover every single grammar point in the English language. You can check it out here if you want.
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Now on to other TEFL resources
There are lots of free materials, however, which you can use to enhance your students’ learning and provide speaking practice opportunities in class. Here are some of the best sites:
Reading exercises (unless it’s very short) should be completed as a homework activity. Students should then explain and debate what they have read as a class speaking activity. To prepare the speaking activity, as your students to write three questions about the article on a scrap piece of paper. You as the teacher, should then select the best and write them on the board as discussion points.
Here are some excellent sites to find interesting reading materials.
BBC Travel – this site provides interesting ‘did you know..?’ articles about different places in the world and some are very funny.
My favourite article of the year is about an Italian town which is obsessed with Great Britain:
The Guardian – The Guardian has lots of interesting stories from around the world, many of which are not reported in the story’s home country.
My favourite article of the year is about a group of citizens in Rome who go around illegally fixing the city’s degrading infrastructure.
The Atlantic – The Atlantic has lots of thought-provoking articles about the US and the wider world. Higher-level students will enjoy its longer articles.
My favourite article of the year is about the death of zoos because nowadays you can watch animals online. It leads to this site which provides live safaris which is awesome fun!
Time – One of the most famous publications in the world, time provides longer articles on current affairs.
An article your students will enjoy discussing is Bill Gate’s predictions that he made in 1999 about the 21st century. How many did he get right, do you think?
The Local – The Local provides English-language news for readers who comes from nine countries in Europe: Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Denmark, France, Germany and Austria.
It has lots of content which will interest European students.
FiveThirtyEight – This is a new publication from the US which concentrates on data journalism. If you teach business classes, you’ll find lots of interesting graphs and data with which your students can practice their comprehension and presentation skills.
Inc – This business magazine aimed at Millennials provides interesting business articles about startups, small businesses, technology and finance.
Short videos are a great way to practice comprehension in class and get a conversation going. My rule of thumb is never to show a video which is more than five minutes long. Long comprehension exercises take the energy from a class and not everyone can concentrate for long periods of time.
Here are some of the best ESL sites for short video content.
ESL Video.com – this site provides hundreds of short videos from movies and TV shows. You can divide it by English level
Film English – this is another site that provides short videos for ESL lessons along with some discussion points.
Personality quizzes – without strings attached
Personality quizzes are a great way conversation exercise. Nowadays, you don’t need to print out an activity, ask you students to do it online on tablets or mobile phones.
Many online personality quizzes ask you to give your data to get the results – not cool!
Here are two great personality quizzes that I have found which don’t ask anything from you.
16 Personalities – about your which job you are most suited to in your career.
Greater Good – about your emotional intelligence.
Images for ESL Classes
A picture says a 1000 words. In fact, the opposite is also true – you can also say 1000 words about a picture. I use describe a picture tasks to practice vocabulary that otherwise wouldn’t come up in conversation – things like: natural and urban landscapes, describing the appearance of someone and making suppositions about who a person is or what they are feeling.
For example, with a picture of a young man frowning in a suit you could say things like:
‘He must be a business person’, ‘he looks unhappy’, ‘he can’t be a doctor, he is not wearing the right clothes’ and so on.
Here are a few picture sites which supply royalty free images.
Pexels – this site has a wide library of stock images which you could use in your class.
Unsplash – this site offers thousands of free high-resolution images on landscapes, people, travel, fashion, food and drink and more.
Flickr – this is a site provides pictures uploaded by a huge community of professional and non-professional photographers. Some photos are free to use, just make sure you select the ‘royalty free’ tab in the menu before conducting a search.
So, here’s my final 2 cents on the subject.
Where possible it’s better to use resources from real life rather than specially made materials which can often feel phoney. Your students will have more to say on a subject if use news stories, videos and images about real situations.
If you don’t have much time to prepare a class, why not ask your students to find some interesting articles themselves? Self-study is great for them and builds confidence.
TEFL teaching doesn’t have to be work. You don’t have to spend hours every week trawling through ESL worksheet sites to prepare your classes. Just use some publications which you probably read every day to make a class – your students will love it.