Monday, July 23, 2018

20 Resources ESL Teachers Need at the Beginning of the New School Year

(This post was updated December 24, 2023)
Going back to school after summer vacation is always exciting but for ESL teachers it can also be exhausting.  As the only ESL teacher in my school for students in Grades 4 – 8, and also Grade 3 in my last year as a classroom teacher, I taught multiple subjects in both pull-out and push-in classes, worked with students at varying levels of language proficiency in the same class, liaised with mainstream teachers, administered ESL assessments and filled out reams of ELL-related paperwork.

That is typical for ESL teachers.  As I became more experienced, I realized there were some things I always wanted to have available at the beginning of the school year, both for myself and for my students to help us get through the year.  I’d like to share my list of essential ELL resources with you because I think they'll help you have a smooth start to your school year.  They’re organized into 4 categories:
* Classroom Resources for ESL Teachers
* Reference Books for ESL Teachers
* Classroom Resources for ESL Students
* Self-Care Resources for ESL Teachers
Click on the green titles, the images, and/or green text links for more info about each resource.
Image of world map in background, colored pencils in mesh holder on desk next eyeglasses and a red apple, with title text in purtple at top
20 items to help ESL teachers have a great year; graphic created by: The ESL Nexus

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  That means that I make a small commission if you purchase any of the products listed below but it's at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!)


Wipe-Off Charts

TREND enterprises, Inc. Notebook Paper Wipe-Off Chart, 22" x 28"
If there was just one item I would have chosen for my classroom, it might very well have been this.  I had one flipchart for each grade level I taught.  On the top half, I wrote the content objectives and then the language objectives (I liked to separate them out) for the day’s lesson and on the bottom half, I wrote the agenda for the class and the homework assignment.  I had additional flipcharts that students used when working in small groups or pairs to brainstorm ideas and write up information during activities they did.

Flipchart Pads

TOPS Easel Pad, 3-hole punched, white, 15 lb, plain white, 50 SH/PD, 2 per Carton (7903)
This would be tied with or a close second to the wipe-off charts.  With all the grade levels I taught, it wasn’t always feasible to leave written stuff on my whiteboard for a long time so I used flipcharts instead.  In the top right corner of each page, I wrote the grade level so it was easy to find which page I needed for a particular class.  I didn’t usually tear out the pages because it was easier to just flip through to find the page I wanted.

Expo Markers

EXPO Low Odor Dry Erase Markers, Chisel Tip, Assorted Colors, 8 Pack
These I used to write on the wipe-off charts as well as on my whiteboard.  I liked this package with lots of colors because I could color-code things on the whiteboard by grade level, which made it easier for ELLs to know what was relevant for them.  I also used the different colors when explaining grammar points or teaching types of writing.

The Peace Corps International Calendar

Cover of International Calendar, published by the Returned Peace Corps volunteers of Madison, Wisconsin
I love this calendar!  It lists secular and religious holidays for what seems like every country in the world as well as all the world’s major religions.  Each monthly photo is from a country where Peace Corps Volunteers have served and there is info about the country along with a smaller photo from the same country in the date section.  I submitted photos for many years in hopes of having one accepted but, sadly, that never happened.  Nevertheless, it’s a great teaching tool and one year, my school’s Cultural Committee (of which I was a member), bought one calendar for every teacher in the building and it got rave reviews.

Cuisinaire Rods

hand2mind Cuisenaire Rods - 74 Piece Wood Introductory Set
I learned about cuisinaire rods in my TESL graduate program and had no idea they were also used for math instruction!  They are very useful with lower proficiency level ELLs when teaching English Language Development.  I’ve used them for teaching grammar, for descriptive speaking and writing tasks, and for listening practice by telling stories.  This Busy Teacher article presents 15 ways of using cuisinaire rods in the language classroom. 

Binder Clips

Acco Brand Binder Clips, Large, 1 Box, 12 Clips/Box (72100)
These large clips fit perfectly over the top of the cabinets in my classroom.  I used them to hold posters and flipcharts when I needed to display things temporarily, such as unit objectives and posters about a particular civilization students were learning about.  Being responsible for several grades, these clips made it easier for me to have a print-rich classroom environment. 


Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary

Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary Paperback with CD-ROM (Dictionary & CD Rom)      Paperback – January 1, 2008
Every ESL teacher needs this book!  Regardless of the type of ESL class you have, your students will thank you for having this dictionary.  It is comprehensive and thorough and explains academic concepts in ways that ELLs can comprehend.  It also helped me define some Science and Math concepts to my students that I had a hard time explaining.

Longman Basic Dictionary of American English

Longman Basic Dictionary of American English Paper      2nd Edition
What’s great about this dictionary is that it is aimed at ELLs at the lower end of language proficiency.  Each entry gives a definition is simple English, tells how to pronounce the word, and offers an example sentence.  The dictionary also explains how to use a dictionary and includes some brief notes on irregular verbs.

Webster's New World Concise Spanish Dictionary

Webster's New World Concise Spanish Dictionary, Second Edition      Paperback – Illustrated, January 31, 2006
I found this Spanish-English/English-Spanish dictionary invaluable.  Not only did I use it to help me communicate with my students’ families, I used it when my students just didn’t understand my explanation of something in English or when they didn’t know the English word for something.

Learner English -- A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems

Learner English: A Teacher's Guide to Interference and Other Problems (Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers)      2nd Edition
Most ESL teachers do not speak all the languages of their students.  So sometimes it’s hard to know why an ELL is making a mistake when speaking or writing.  This book provides information about 22 different language groups and the types of errors speakers of those languages typically make when learning English.  It’s a great resource to consult when you’re wondering why a student makes a particular mistake.

Teaching American English Pronunciation

Teaching American English Pronunciation (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers Series)      1st Edition
This book is similar to the one above and discusses 14 languages, all of which are included in the other book except Vietnamese, which is only in this one.  However, this book also includes information about the sound system of English and offers classroom activities for teaching pronunciation to ELLs, which the other book doesn’t have.  I found that these 2 books complement each other and both are excellent resources.


Mechanical Pencils

Pentel ICY Razzle-Dazzle Mechanical Pencil, 0.7mm, Assorted Barrels, Color May Vary, Pack of 12 (AL27RDBP12M)
I think mechanical pencils last longer than wooden ones and I like this brand because you can get lead refills for the pencils.  For the first class of the year, I put one pencil on each student's desk (along with other materials -- see below) but kids could trade if they wanted a different color.

File Folders

Oxford Two-Pocket Folders, Assorted Colors, Letter Size, 25 per box (57513)
Each student got one folder to organize their in-class work and homework.  I let them pick which color they wanted.  I also used folders for students' writing assignments – each grade had a specific color – and to organize my ESL paperwork.  I bought a large amount at the beginning of the year from Staples so I had a supply on hand for new students who came during the year and for my own needs.  These folders on Amazon are essentially the same thing but possibly more expensive.

Spiral Bound Notebooks

Mead Spiral Notebooks, 6 Pack, 1 Subject, College Ruled Paper, 7-1/2" x 10-1/2", 70 Sheets per Notebook, Color Will Vary (73065)
I gave one notebook to each 5th – 8th student to use in my ESL Social Studies classes for taking notes in class and for doing homework assignments.  This size always lasted the entire year.  I usually got mine from Staples because they had good discounts for teachers at the end of summer.  But shopping from home with Amazon is certainly more convenient.  I preferred to give my students notebooks, pencils, and folders because I knew some of their families couldn't afford to buy materials and, also, having the same styles of notebooks and folders made it easier for me to keep students' work organized.

Composition Notebooks

Mead Composition Notebooks, 12 Pack, Wide Ruled Paper, 9-3/4" x 7-1/2", 100 Sheets per Comp Book, Color Will Vary (73389)
I gave one of these notebooks to each 5th – 8th grader to use as a vocabulary notebook.  I wanted a separate notebook from the one they used for note-taking and homework so it’d be easier for students to see all their vocab words in one place.  As with the other notebooks, I usually bought them at Staples but Amazon is also an option.

Colored Pencils

Crayola Bulk Colored Pencils, Pre-sharpened, Bulk School Supplies For Teachers, 12 Assorted Colors, Pack of 24 [Amazon Exclusive]
These are especially helpful  for ELLs at the beginning and lower intermediate levels of language proficiency because they can draw pictures instead of write about what they are learning.  More proficient ELLs can use colored pencils for projects they may have.  I liked having individual boxes to reduce the chance of students arguing about using particular colors.


I brought a thermos of tea with me to school every day.  Even though I didn’t lecture in my classes, I still needed something to soothe my throat throughout the day.  Drinking tea also helped me avoid eating junk food snacks.  And it warmed me up after doing lunch recess duty in the cold winter months.  My favorite blends were Irish Breakfast Tea and Peppermint Tea.

Image of Twinings Irish Breakfast tea Image of Twinings Peppermint tea

Classical Music
After students went home, I listened to classical music while I was prepping for the following day.  Classical music helped me focus because there were no words to sing along with.  I kept a stash of CDs near my desk but nowadays, of course, you can easily find music on Spotify or YouTube as well as Amazon Prime Music.

Escapist Novels
After eating dinner and checking my email, I needed to decompress.  My favorite way of relaxing was to read historical fiction and mysteries.  Both books recommended below are the first in multi-volume series.  Both are also major TV shows, which you may already know.

Outlander, Book 1
by Diana Gabaldon: About a time-traveling English nurse who inexplicably suddenly finds herself in 18th century Scotland.

Cover of book titled Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
You can also get a signed copy of Outlander from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore and they’ll ship it anywhere in the world.  Note this blurb on the bookstore’s website: “If you want your new books to be signed by Diana, be sure that the “signed” option is indicated during the Pen’s online check-out procedure, or specify you would like it signed if ordering by telephone or email.”

by Winston Graham: About an Englishman from Cornwall who returns home from fighting in the American Revolutionary War, only to find he can’t resume the life he thought was waiting for him.
Cover of book titled Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 (The Poldark Saga, 1)
If you’d like to support PBS, which broadcasts the TV show, you can buy DVD and Blue-ray versions of the TV show on the PBS website.  

Getting ready for a new school year is always hectic but I hope these suggestions for stocking your classroom and taking care of yourself will make the back to school experience a little easier for you.  Have a great year!