Best Props for ESL Teachers and How to Use Them

Best Props For Online Esl Teachers
Props are nothing new to ESL teachers, and online ESL teachers will almost certainly be expected to have a variety of props on hand to engage their students. If you're just getting stsrted or seeking inspiration, here's our guide to the best props for ESL teachers, and how to use them.

Why Using Props in the ESL Classroom is Important

When young learners begin acquiring their first language, they are essentially like sponges, absorbing everything they see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Toys, books, games, and activities can help to make the experience more fun, particularly if they are used in a manner that enables young learners to be physically involved in the learning process. Of course, there’s also the show and tell aspect of using these child-centered resources as part of the learning experience.

For ESL students, especially young learners, acquiring a non-native language poses different challenges. As an ESL teacher, you will likely be using props and other teaching aids, not only to make the learning experience more fun and engaging, but also to elicit responses from students to develop their English fluency.

What Makes a Prop Good for ESL Instruction?

In truth, anything can be used as a prop for teaching any subject, if it is used purposefully. As ESL teachers – whether in the classroom or online – we want to get down to business quickly using ready-to-go teaching props and aids. We teach many students and classes throughout the day, so having a core set of props and aids can be a major time and life saver.

Good props for teaching ESL then, are those which can be used across a broad spectrum of classes, students, and contexts. You want to build up an inventory of props that can cover a wide range of ESL age groups, topics, themes, and proficiency levels, because there simply isn’t enough room to fill your home or office with props for every single context.

So, if a prop can be used to…

  • develop vocabulary
  • practice spelling
  • learn phonics and improve pronunciation
  • practice describing items
  • compare and contrast
  • explain cause and effect
  • role-play
  • learn and sing songs

…then it is evidently a meaningful prop.

That said, not all props need to be multi-textual to serve a purpose. Very young learners may be more challenging to keep on point, as they have short attention spans. For these situations, noisemakers and clappers will come in handy.

So, let’s get you set up with the right props for ESL teachers and how you can use them in the classroom.

Recommended Props for ESL Teachers

Hand and Finger Puppets

Puppets For Online Esl

Hand or finger puppets make excellent props for ESL classroom instruction. Use them to captivate your students through conversation, role-play, and other forms of engagement. Because they slip onto your hand or fingers, puppets can magically transform into make-believe characters your students will connect with and grow to love.

In this video, Karen Frazier, co-author of the Let’s Go series, gives us an excellent model of how to use puppets in the ESL classroom to introduce conversation:

As you can see, puppets are great props for ESL instruction. For young ESL learners, you can breathe some life into your puppets – and your lesson – and completely transform the learning experience for your students.

Puppets We Recommend for the ESL Classroom

  • ENTERTAINING HAND PUPPETS FOR KIDS: The Melissa & Doug Safari Buddies Hand Puppets set includes 6 soft and cuddly hand puppets with a safari animal theme (elephant, a tiger, a parrot, a giraffe, a monkey and a zebra).
  • HIGH-QUALITY MATERIALS: Our puppets for kids feature brightly patterned, high-quality fabrics that are washable for easy clean-up. They are sized to fit children and most adults.
  • HELPS DEVELOPS MULTIPLE SKILLS: This puppet set is great for storytelling, motor skill development, practicing vocabulary, expressing emotions, and confidence-building. It’s an excellent option for encouraging hands-on, screen-free play.
  • GIFT FOR AGES 2 AND UP: The Safari Buddies Hand Puppets kit makes an ideal gift for kids ages 2 and up. Add the Melissa & Doug Zoo Friends Hand Puppet set to round out the puppet play experience.
  • “THE GOLD STANDARD IN CHILDHOOD PLAY”: For more than 30 years, Melissa & Doug has created beautifully designed imagination- and creativity-sparking products that NBC News calls “the gold standard in early childhood play.”
  • 100% HAPPINESS GUARANTEE: We design every toy to the highest quality standards, and to nurture minds and hearts. If your child is not inspired, give us a call and we’ll make it right. Our phone number is on every product!
  • Two hand puppet sets with four friendly animal puppets in each
  • Farm Friends includes a sheep, cow, pig, and horse
  • Zoo Friends includes a tiger, monkey, elephant, and giraffe
  • Brightly patterned, washable fabrics; sized to fit children and adults
  • Two hand puppet sets with four friendly animal puppets in each
  • Makes a great gift for toddlers and preschoolers, ages 2 and up, for hands-on, screen-free play
  • Two hand puppet sets with four friendly animal puppets in each
  • Farm Friends includes a sheep, cow, pig, and horse
  • Zoo Friends includes a tiger, monkey, elephant, and giraffe
  • Brightly patterned, washable fabrics; sized to fit children and adults
  • Ages 2+; two sets, 9.5" x 14" x 2" each pkg
  • ENTERTAINING PUPPET SET: The Melissa & Doug Barn Buddies Hand Puppets set contains 6 soft hand puppets, including a cow, sheep, horse, duck, chicken, and a pig; an insert in the package serves as a puppet theater.
  • SOFT CUDDLY MATERIAL: Our fuzzy hand-puppet set is made from soft plush material that not only encourages cuddle time but is washable for easy cleanup.
  • SIZED FOR CHILDREN AND ADULTS: This hand-puppets set has been sized to fit children and most adults. Kids learn motor skills, hand-eye coordination, communication skills, self-confidence, and more.
  • GIFT FOR KIDS 2 TO 6: These puppets make an exceptional gift for kids ages 2 to 6. Add the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Puppet Theater to round out the pretend play experience and give kids another engaging option for screen-free fun.
  • “THE GOLD STANDARD IN CHILDHOOD PLAY”: For more than 30 years, Melissa & Doug has created beautifully designed imagination- and creativity-sparking products that NBC News called “the gold standard in early childhood play.”
  • 100% HAPPINESS GUARANTEE: We design every toy to the highest quality standards, and to nurture minds and hearts. If your child is not inspired, give us a call and we'll make it right. Our phone number is on every product!

Stuffed Animals

Stuffed Toy Animal For Online Esl

Stuffed animals are a favorite with young ESL learners, and like puppets, they can be used in various learning contexts. Indeed, you can use puppets and stuffed toys interchangeably. The main difference between them is that stuffed toys are a little more challenging to bring to life, as you can’t move their parts with your hand like you would with a puppet. Still, there are so many different types of stuffed toys, that you’re more than likely to find a specific toy you’re looking for. You can set them on a table or shelf, or hold them in your hands while teaching. Most of all, stuffed animals are soft, cute, and cuddly, and kids love them.

Use stuffed toys during warm-up activities, storytelling, or even creating an imaginary zoo, farm, or aquarium.

Stuffed Animals We Recommend for the ESL Classroom

Play Food

Play Food For Online Esl

Food is a popular topic with ESL students, and play food is a great way to get students talking about food. Use play food to describe food groups, colors, shapes, and tastes. You can also use play food to talk about more complex topics like healthy vs unhealthy food, popular food around the world, or meals of the day.

So, go ahead and use play food to engage your students in fun, interactive activities. Make a picnic. Have lunch. Cook dinner. Order a meal. Dig in!

Play Food We Recommend for the ESL Classroom

  • Healthy pretend play: Melissa & doug food groups wooden play food is a sturdy wooden food set that features items from the 5 food groups for healthy pretend play; it includes watermelon, milk, cheese, fish, eggs, and more
  • Fun and educational: This play food for kids set helps children plan a well balanced meal; It helps introduce the basics of nutrition, and can be used to teach early number skills, color recognition, sorting, and grouping
  • Easy to store: 4 wooden crates are included to sort the food into groups, dairy, produce (for fruits and vegetables), grains, and meat and fish; Kids can also sort by color or use the crates to combine foods to serve up pretend play meals
  • Great gift for ages 3 and up: The Food Groups Wooden Play Food set makes a great gift for kids ages 3 to 6; The Melissa & Doug Play Time Produce and Vegetables Play Food set is a great accompaniment
  • The gold standard in childhood play: for more than 30 years, Melissa & Doug has created beautifully designed imagination- and creativity-sparking products that nbc news called “the gold standard in early childhood play.”
  • 100 percent happiness guarantee: We design every toy to the highest quality standards, and to nurture minds and hearts; if your child is not inspired, give us a call and we'll make it right; our phone number is on every product
  • Endless fun food combinations
  • Food from every food group
  • Safe and durable
  • No assembly required
  • 35 items pretend play food set for toddlers: 26 different kinds of play fruit and vegetables (can be separated into 61 small pieces), a toy grocery basket, 2 cutting boards, 2 kitchen knives, and 4 dinner plates.
  • Fake Cooking food: Made of high-end environmentally friendly ABS plastic with rounded edges to provide maximum safety for your child. Bright and bright colors can not only attract the baby's attention, but also improve color perception.
  • Easy To Store: With the cute and durable storage basket, it can be easily stored after kid cook play. Can also be used to pretend to be a shopping basket and teach early numbers, patterns, and color recognition.
  • Realistic Design: Match pieces together with Velcro , which can be cut and played repeatedly. For children, fruits and vegetables are easy to cut.The "slicing" noise accompanying the cutting can bring endless fun to the children
  • Learning tool: Gourmet games can also promote cognitive development and help develop children's creativity, thinking skills. suitable for pretend play, play kitchen, Christmas gift, birthday present for ages 3+ girls & boys.

Balls

Balls For Online Esl

Which child doesn’t love to hit, kick, throw, or catch a ball? We can’t think of one. If you’ve never used balls for props in the ESL classroom, you’ll soon realize how much fun they can inject. Use a ball to assign student turns during any activity. There are no limits to the kind of activities you can do in the ESL classroom with a ball.

Here’s an example of Jenny White using a ball to effectively engage her students in a vocabulary game:

What’s amazing about using a ball while teaching is that you can get your students on their feet and physically active during the activity. That not only improves their concentration and participation, but also adds elements of competitiveness, teamwork, and coordination between thoughts and actions.

If you teach ESL online, you can use a ball for talking about sports, colors, and shapes.

Your ESL students will have a ball learning English – seriously!

Balls We Recommend for the ESL Classroom

  • These soft sports balls are made for smaller hands to enjoy their favorite games.
  • This set includes one (1) 5-inch soccer ball, one (1) 6.5-inch football and one (1) 5-inch basketball.
  • This toy is suitable for indoor and outdoor use.
  • Durable plastic construction and bright colors stand up to tough play, and resists stains or fading.
  • Recommended for ages 3 years and up.
  • Challenge your children's imaginations and keep them active with Toysmith.
  • Committed to providing the most imaginative toys along with the highest safety standards, Toysmith has toys appropriate for all age groups.
  • Toysmith offers toys for any kind of play: active play, science and discovery, arts and crafts, impulse and novelty toys, and nostalgic retro classics.
  • Pack of 200 pcs Crush Proof Balls. Made with Phthalate Free; BPA Free; Lead Free & non-PVC Plastic
  • Each Ball will withstand over 90 pounds of weight. Guaranteed Crush Proof, Phthalate Free & manufactured with non-Recycled Plastic Material
  • Each ball measures 2.3 inches in diameter, a perfect size for small child's hand. 6 bright & attractive colors: Blue, red, pink, green, orange and yellow
  • Great for filling any ball pit, tent, playhouse, kiddie pool, playpen and bounce house
  • Strong and reusable mesh bag for re-storing the balls when not in use. Looking for a smaller pack? Use this ASIN: B00PYLJGQ4 for our 100 piece ball pack
  • NON-TOXIC & CHILD SAFE - Made with Phthalate Free; BPA Free; Lead Free & non-PVC Plastic
  • Each ball measures 2.2 inches in diameter, a perfect size for small child's hand. Bright colors keep little ones captivated. Play rolling around, color-counting, & shape games.
  • Great for filling any ball pit, tent, playhouse, kiddie pool, playpen and bounce house
  • Crush-Proof & Air-Filled Plastic Balls that will survive any toddler rampage! Easy to keep clean and look fresh for everyday fun.
  • NO-MESS STORAGE BAG… comes with a sturdy mesh bag that holds everything together to free-up the living space; means no more balls underfoot anywhere in the house

Flash Cards

Flash Cards For Online Esl

Every ESL teacher should be equipped with flash cards for all occasions. Whether teaching in the classroom or online, flash cards are nifty because you can use them in so many contexts to enhance the learning experience. Use them for activities and games, drilling vocabulary, pronunciation, conversation, and role-plays. Though most stock flash cards are geared towards young learners, you’ll find a wide variety of flash cards that cover more complex concepts such as nouns and prepositions, and themes such as emotions.

Flash cards are also easy to pack and carry, they make an excellent teaching aid for traveling ESL teachers. So, if you’re planning a family vacation but plan to teach ESL online during your travels, flash cards will fit neatly into your suitcase.

Here are some ideas for using flash cards for teaching primary children, by Carol Read of Macmillan Spain:

Flash Cards We Recommend for the ESL Classroom

  • ✔ FOUR FLASH CARDS SETS – These 4 sets will teach your 3-5 year old Math, Language and Basic Skills.
  • ✔ MATH, BASIC SKILLS AND LANGUAGE – The numbers set will teach your child math. The Colors & Shapes will teach your child basic skills and the First Words and Alphabets will teach them language
  • ✔ RINGS INCLUDED – This set of flash cards includes a ring for every set to keep it neat and organized and for easy sorting
  • ✔ LARGE FONTS with REALISTIC ART – These flash cards are the perfect hand-held size with large, clear and bold fonts so it easy to see even from afar. The realistic art makes it exciting and practical for teaching your child.
  • ✔ TEACH AND REVIEW – It is ideal for teaching, reviewing and practicing sight words, in the classroom as a whole or each child individually or in groups, at their level.

Dry Erase Boards

Dry Erase Board For Esl

There isn’t much we could say about dry erase boards that ESL teachers don’t already know. Dry Erase boards are an English teacher’s biggest asset in the classroom. But what many ESL teachers may not realize is that smaller dry erase boards (primarily designed for children) are compact enough to hold in your hands, making them useful teaching aids for demonstrating grammar, vocabulary, assessments, or keeping scores during a class activity.

Get a magnetic dry erase board and use it with magnetic letters and numbers!

 

Dry Erase Boards We Recommend for the ESL Classroom

  • Overall size: 36" x 24" ( frame included); Writing surface size: 34" x 22"
  • Smooth & durable magnetic writing surface, easily drywipe with all dry-erase markers
  • Silver finished aluminium frame, ABS corner with screw-fixing in corners
  • Easy installation with fixing kits, can be mounted vertically or horizontally
  • Include fixing kits, pentray
  • Magnetic dry erase surface is highly durable, erases easily, resists staining, ghosting and duals as a bulletin board
  • Dry erase marker with eraser and Pin-It cork magnet are included. Contoured marker cap design prevents marker from rolling off any flat surface or tray. Pin-It cork magnet enables repositionable push pin use anywhere on the board
  • Customize your board with U Brands Gruv snap-in frame accessories (sold separately). Accessories and marker clip can be snapped into any side of the frame
  • Works with all dry erase markers. Try U Brands dry erase markers for ultimate board performance
  • U-Mount hassle free mounting system, double sided Velcro mounting strips are included to mount on almost any flat surface
  • Sturdy construction: Durably made with an aluminum frame and melamine surface, this board is great for jotting down notes; Extend the life of board by cleaning regularly; Comes with 1 year warranty
  • Classic design: Add organization to your office or home with timeless style. The sturdy aluminum frame will match any décor, making it a perfect addition to your space
  • Assembled in USA; Proudly assembled in US with foreign and domestic parts. We are dedicated to providing quality, long lasting products to our customers
  • Versatile installation: Flexible mounting allows you to set up your whiteboard either horizontally or vertically. Easily customize the board orientation to fit your space and needs
  • Accessories included: Measures 24 Inches x 18 Inches. Comes with an accessory tray and mounting hardware. For best results, use Quartet Accessories, sold separately

Magnetic Letters and Numbers

Magnetic Letters Numbers For Online Esl

Magnetic letters and numbers are extremely useful for teaching ESL to young learners, and go well with a magnetic dry erase board. They can be used in numerous ways, especially for learning the alphabet, counting numbers, spelling, and math. You can also use them to practice phonics.

You can also use scrabble letters in place of magnetic ones, though scrabble letters would be better suited for the classroom than online instruction.

Magnetic Letter and Number Sets We Recommend for the ESL Classroom

Hand Clappers

Hand Clappers For Online Esl

Though hand clappers are not so useful for instruction, they can be useful ESL teaching aids during activities, or simply to keep young learners attentive and focused. You can even use them to celebrate student birthdays during class.

If you teach online, you probably just need one hand clapper, but since they usually come in inexpensive packs, you may as well have an assortment of hand clappers on hand, and use them to practice language skills such as identifying colors.

Other options to hand clappers are maracas and squeaky rubber chickens.

These noisy props for teaching ESL can be more useful than you might think. Let’s make some noise!

Hand Clappers and Noise Makers We Recommend for the ESL Classroom

  • 7.5” hand clappers
  • One dozen per order
  • Variety of colors
  • Perfect for sports games
  • Ages 3+
  • This item is a great value!
  • 1 per package
  • School Spirit party item
  • Party Favors - Noisemakers for festive occasions
  • High Quality
  • Package include: you will get 40 pieces of hand clappers in random colors, rich in colors to meet different people's preferences, enough for you to use, good as gifts to your friends as well
  • Proper size: the length is approx. 7.5 inches/ 19 cm, suitable size for most children, teens and adults in their hands, you can enjoy a funny party with all of people
  • Safe material: these clappers are made of high quality plastic, non-toxic, lightweight and durable, with smooth and gentle touch surface, they can serve you for a long time
  • Unique design: the hand shank is easy to grip, 3 flexible little plastic hands on the top, they can make strong noise while partying or having fun, let the party begin with a round of applause
  • Wide application: you can make sounds to enhance the happy atmosphere by shaking these hand clappers, making people enjoy the party in a joyful mood, they can be used in parties, carnivals, competitions, etc.

Wrapping Up

We’ve given you some pretty awesome examples of props you can use in the ESL classroom, and there are undoubtedly more teaching aids than we could possibly cover here. Indeed, many online ESL teachers use green screening as a teaching aid, which is great because you can easily share images, animations, and do other neat stuff on-screen.

Our focus in this post was to reach the wider audience of ESL teachers, both those who teach in the classroom as well those who teach online. And our most important message is this:

You can use almost anything as a prop or teaching aid as an ESL teacher, as long as you use it in ways that are meaningful to learning and the learning experience.

Affiliate Disclosure

Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means if you click through and make a purchase, we receive compensation at no extra cost to you. See our Earnings Disclosure.

Adil Vellani
Adil Vellani
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Adil Vellani is the co-founder of ESL Job Exchange. With more than 20 years of international experience in both the education and corporate sectors, Adil is devoted to sharing his knowledge and experience to help individuals and organizations connect and make a massive impact in the lives of ESL learners across the globe. Adil also lectures at the Sino-European Institute of Aviation Engineering, where he teaches aviation engineering students in an international degree program.
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