That’s when I hit the internet, hunting for worksheets and activities to keep my students busy. There’s a whole lot of teaching material to wade through online, but it’s worth it for those additions that make my lessons more engaging.
Here is my master list of free online ESL teaching materials. The majority of these resources are for ESL teachers, but some would be helpful for ESL students as well.
Grammar and Vocabulary
1. English Language Centre Study Zone – This site, from the University of Victoria, has clear, concise grammar lessons. Readings come with interactive comprehension questions and tasks.
2. English Grammar in Use – If you ask me, Raymond Murphy’s grammar texts for ESL learners are damn near perfect; they have clear explanations, lots of practice exercises, and are thorough. I’ve been hoarding his books for years, and I was thrilled to find one online, accessible for free.
3. John Fleming’s ESL Grammar Help – I wouldn’t send my ESL students to this page, but it’s a great refresher for native English speakers who are a bit rusty on their grammar rules and terminology. It includes the simple stuff (subjects, prepositions) all the way to the toughies (modal auxiliaries, adjective clauses).
4. ESL Blues – A thorough resource with interactive Q&As on tons of grammar-based topics. The flash animations are simple but pretty cute.
5. Label Me! – This resource of printable worksheets is great for teaching new vocabulary. It has images for students to label and, if they’re feeling creative, to expand on (“now draw a mirror on the bedroom wall… now draw a cat under the table.”) These handouts would suit a range of levels, and the site has a hefty selection of holiday-themed worksheets.
Speaking and Listening
9. Ello – This site is a great resource for audio clips, categorized by topic, level, and speakers’ accents. I dig this site for providing a great mix of accents. It’s not just native speakers chatting; you won’t find any cheesy dialogues like “Angus and Jeremy compare Scottish and American holidays!” Instead, the dialogues have accented English from a mix of native and non-native speakers. This is a smart practice in my books, as in many situations English functions as the lingua franca of the world.
7. TEFL Tunes – This is a bank of song-based lessons, with an easy browser where teachers can search by level, theme, artist or grammatical point. Using “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” to teach the first conditional? Cool. These activities are a great way to frame song-listening activities around lessons, as opposed to just playing music in class for the sake of it.
8. Musical English Lessons – This site is a bit jumbled format-wise, but it offers scores of free worksheets with ready-made lyric gapfills. There’s a long list of artists, and each lyric sheet has tips on how to use the song in class. I’m keen to try, “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” for reported speech or maybe even “Whenever, Wherever” to practice gerunds and infinitives.
9. English Club – English Club’s talking point worksheets are mini lessons with a huge range of subjects. There are topics like biofuel and kidnapping for your more serious lessons, and topics such as shopping for lighter discussions. Each lesson includes a bit of vocabulary and a dense list of discussion questions related to the topic.
10. Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab – This is the biggest bank of ESL listening activities that I’ve found so far; Randall’s is a great resource. The sound clips have pre and post-listening exercises, and comprehension questions too. Most of the content would suit low-to-high intermediate students, but there are some resources for beginners and advanced learners too.
11. Takako’s Great Adventure – This site hosts one of my favorite listening-based lessons: a 10-part story of a Japanese girl’s adventure in Canada when a man claiming to be her pen pal’s uncle meets her at the airport. Mysterious! Each installment has vocabulary and comprehension questions. You could plan a semester’s worth of tasks based on Takako’s story. The narrations are lengthy and best-suited for high-level learners.
Reading and Writing
12. Tall Tales – This bank of “did they really happen?” stories has a good selection of offbeat reads about topics like animal heroism and dumb burglars. The content reminds me of Reader’s Digest; it’s nothing groundbreaking, but the mass appeal is great for structuring classroom activities. Some stories have a good deal of supplementary exercises for students.
13. Academic English Cafe – This is a good source for creative writing prompts. As the name suggests, this material is better for high-school or older, as the topics get abstract. It’s high-level but good stuff.
14. Online Writing Lab (OWL) – Purdue’s writing lab has great resources for writing resumes and professional documents. This site is a very handy tool for university students and adults seeking work in an English-speaking country.
15. The Internet TESL Journal – The journal offers a hefty collection of lesson plans categorized by target skill (reading, culture, icebreakers). Plans are submitted by site users, so they vary a fair bit in terms of content and structure. Still, there are great materials here. The site hosts many abstract lesson topics (modern art, manners) that would suit secondary students and adults learners.
16. Waygook.org – Here, you’ll find lengthy message boards with lesson plans, PowerPoints, and dialogues about language and teaching. The site has a lively forum, focused on working in Korea; public school textbooks are heavily referenced. Still, there are good teaching resources for anyone. Free registration is required to gain access to links and files.
17. Using English – This site has a long list of pdf lesson plans for different levels. This is one of the few sites with test prep materials which are crucial for English language learners looking to study abroad. You’ll find IELTS prep lessons and reading exercises based on the Cambridge ESOL. Using English also has printable online quizzes on a mix of grammar-based and general topics.
18. ESL Galaxy – Here is a bank of (wait for it…) over two thousand printable worksheets, mostly for beginner and intermediate students. The materials include games and puzzles, holiday exercises and readings with comprehension activities. There are also free PowerPoint presentations that are mostly suited for young learners.
19. TEFL.net - My favorite tool here is the simple “worksheet generator” for ESL teachers who need to prep an exercise in a hurry. The site is also one of the biggest resources for lesson plans, ready-made worksheets, reading exercises and games. The site’s “English Planner” section has a fun selection of daily class warm-ups too, such as slang of the day and cartoon of the day. In addition, you’ll find a good library of articles on teaching tips and ESL methodology.
20. A Game a Day – If you have a computer in your classroom, this site has a calendar’s worth of small games for those last five minutes of class. Most of the upper level games are vocabulary-related. The general review section is a big big hit with my higher level students.
21. Super Simple Songs – I absolutely love these songs and their simple, bouncy videos. The lyrics seem basic, but they’re always a huge hit with younger learners. Play a video in class and your students will be mesmerized, gold for classes that tend to get unruly. “Uh-huh” is a student favourite that will get stuck in your head for weeks.
22. Comic Creator – If your students enjoy creative activites, the comic creator is a great way to structure and illustrate the stories they write. They can design each panel with backgrounds, characters, and speech bubbles. It’s very fun; you can try it with adult students too.
23. Armored Penguin - This site makes word searches, crossword puzzles, and word jumbles. It’s very easy to use and has ready-made puzzles that change daily. It’s also a source of classroom conversation starters, like optical illusions and funny quotes.
24. Lanternfish/Bogglesworld - Here you’ll find a collection of ready-to-print flashcards, worksheets and puzzles: a great resource for kids. A lot of material is centered around Western holidays, so come to this site first if you’re planning a Halloween lesson.
25. Puzzlemaker – The mother of all puzzle-makers, Puzzlemaker has the standard crosswords and word searches, plus cryptograms, letter phrases, and all sorts of puzzles I haven’t seen since leafing through my Nana’s Large-Print Super Stumpers. My students in South Korea can’t get enough of the puzzles.
Adult Learning Materials
26. BBC Learning English – This is one mega-resource. It hosts grammar, quizzes, lesson plans based on current events and a deliciously British animated series called “The Flatmates” for English learners. It’s a great site if you teach adult ESL classes, as it has sections for teahcing business English and lessons framed around practical life skills like renting an apartment and riding the subway.
27. Breaking News English – Here, you’ll find whole lesson plans with vocabulary, discussion questions and more on current event news articles. It’s all for intermediate/high-intermediate learners, but text can be edited and simplified for lower levels. Great material for adults/teens.
28. Business English Materials – These are quite literally English lessons about businesses. A partner site of Breaking News English, it has lesson plans about dozens of different successful companies from Apple to Zara. Lessons include readings, games, comprehension activities and quizzes.
29. Postscript – Linguarama’s Postscript magazine offers mini-lesssons and worksheets. Look under “Themes” for lessons categorized under very precise headings like management, banking, and marketing. It’s straightforward stuff, best for ESL classes that are intermediate and higher.
30. Adult Education ESL Teachers Guide – The lesson plans on this university-based site don’t have many bells and whistles; they’re straightforward lessons that would be perfect for newcomers to an English-speaking country. The best resource on the site is the section for teaching non-literate adults, a rare and invaluable resource.
What are your favorite ESL teaching resources?
If you’re learning ESL, check out Matador’s list of The Best ESL Podcasts for Your iPod.
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Anne Merritt has lived in Canada, Europe, and Asia. She teaches ESL, writes, haggles, hikes, and wears sunscreen fanatically. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, GoOverseas.com, and The Compass. Check out her blog.