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8 Useful Items for ESL Teachers Moving Abroad

by Michelle Schusterman Nov 11, 2010
Heading overseas to teach English? These gadgets, downloadables and other resources might be useful.

Deciding what to pack for a move abroad takes some thought. A lot depends on where you’re headed – an mp3 player is a lot easier (and cheaper) to score in Tokyo versus Antigua. This list represents things I’ve either brought with me or wished I had as an ESL teacher, and can be useful both in and out of the classroom.

Deck of Cards

And not just a regular pack, although that’s good too. Uno, Phase 10, any card game that you know how to play. Why? I’ve taught ESL kindergarten through adult, and the appeal of a good game of cards knows no age limit. I started every day in my Korean kindergarten class with a five minute game of Uno – they counted out loud, they talked strategy, they had fun speaking English, and they got calm and focused for the lesson to follow.

Flash Card Software

I constantly found myself scouring the Internet minutes before a class to find printable flash cards that were relevant to the lesson I was about to teach. Save yourself the trouble (and be a lot more organized than I was) by downloading software like CueCard – it’s free, the cards are printable, and you can add pictures and audio.

Portable Recorder

Of course, if you have a smartphone you’ve likely got an app for this already. If not, a digital portable recorder is incredibly useful when it comes to working on pronunciation with students. Often, a language student thinks they’re mimicking you perfectly when in reality something is off. Letting them hear themselves is invaluable.

As a bonus, younger students love to hear recordings of themselves – a recorder gives you a fun way to encourage more speaking in class. You can also use these to record and document vocal tests to refer back to when a student questions his grade.

Classroom Planning Programs

An inherent problem with teaching ESL abroad is you don’t know your students (or their proficiency levels) until the first day. Particularly in the beginning, planning lessons and creating tests can be a scramble, and online templates might seem free but can have some pretty severe limitations. Before you go, download a few programs you can figure out how to use prior to day one, hopefully making your first week in the classroom a little less hectic.

Check out the Test Generator, a free program for test creation; Teachers Report Assistant, a free program for easy creation of student reports; and EclipseCrossword, free for crossword puzzle creation.


A good ESL podcast can be a great classroom resource. It’s likely that, as an ESL teacher, you will be the only native speaker students hear. Podcasts can expose them to different articulations, accents, and ideas. Many also come with transcriptions you can print and use in class as a reference.

iPod + Speaker

Every ESL classroom I’ve ever taught in had a little stereo/CD player sitting in the corner, because the textbooks and workbooks the schools provided came with audio accompaniment. An iPod and portable speaker are ideal for using those podcasts in the classroom, not to mention the obvious entertainment value for you.

Audio Books

Again, fun for you, educational for your students. Learn Out Loud has thousands of free downloads, from the Gettysburg Address to The Works of Edgar Allen Poe.

From my experience, the goal of using audio books wasn’t so much to get students to completely understand what was being said – Shakespeare is tough enough without the added language barrier. But when you’re working on a specific concept like idioms or phrasal verbs, an audio selection can really help enhance your lesson.


It’s an obvious choice, but I couldn’t leave it off – I would have been thrilled with an iPad, Kindle or nook when I lived overseas. Even in the largest cities, finding a good selection of books in English can be tough.

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