Teaching English abroad what you need to take with you

African kids in school uniform

Are you going to be teaching English abroad?

How exciting! The chance to discover a new culture and enrich your life with new experiences and challenges.

You may be heading for a place where the classrooms have no doors, the windows have no glass panes, and there is no heating or cooling. It’s freezing in winter and boiling in summer. Students all possess a tatty book, there is a blackboard with some chalk. And that’s it. You walk past the classrooms where students sit with no teacher, they didn’t come in that day, and there is no replacement.

When you arrive, the head teacher invites you to observe their experienced teachers since they are concerned that you don’t know what you are doing – especially if you are a student or a volunteer. The teacher hurls a sentence at the students, who respond by loudly repeating what the teacher has just said. Then the teacher says it again, louder. And so the class yells back louder. And so it goes on, building in volume and intensity. Well, that’s one way of teaching English; after all, repetition IS the mother of skill!

But you can do so much better, with a games book, some paper, pens and the chalk.

Teaching English abroad tips

Firstly, a quick but important point, before you arrive in the country, research customs and body language to avoid committing major social blunders. For example, it might be taboo to touch the top of a child’s head. Thumbs up might be rude. Who knows? Find out!

Secondly, you might find the school discipline oppressive, but don’t knock it because it’s a joy to teach an attentive class who have been taught to respect the teacher. So, don’t be too cool. On the contrary, dress at the same level of smartness as the other teachers. If pupils stand up and greet you when you come in, continue that tradition. Insist on respect, even if you find it old-fashioned. You’ll be able to teach instead of wasting time managing rowdy kids.

There’s no printer? No probs! That’ll save wasting paper with hundreds of worksheets. Have the students draw flashcards for you. You’ll need those for these flashcard games. Use the board for a master worksheet that students copy into their own books. In addition, use games like Fill in Drill, where, like many of my games, no resources are required!

Use games

You’ll be a better teacher using language games than you would with a mountain of worksheets and a boring textbook. You just need good ideas. For example, when I was in Nepal I used forfeits like these in games:

– Name a Hindu God starting with M.

– Show us a typical Nepalese dance.

– Name the biggest (or highest) mountain in Nepal in English.

– How high is your biggest mountain?

– Listen and clap this rhythm three times.

-Name this in English; point to a chair, an object in the classroom or flashcard.

Use variety

To make your lessons engaging, use movement, rhythm, general knowledge, interesting facts, dance, music, mime, drawing, competitive games, non-competitive games, teamwork, groups, pair work…and more. Even if you don’t feel like a perfect teacher yet, you’ll be doing a LOT better than the local screaming match between the students and the teacher – and I’m not kidding because I’ve witnessed it!

Great resources

If you want ready-made lessons, use these stories for primary school children, but you’ll need to show the story pictures on your computer. Consider buying a solar panel to recharge because the electricity supply may be unreliable. Don’t laugh! These days you can get ones that roll up and are super light.

Don’t panic; you really can teach with one great games book, a blackboard, and some hand-drawn picture flashcards. To help you get started, I included 16 lesson plans with “176 English Language Games for Children.” That book also exists in paperback from Amazon if you prefer. To help start you off with preschool children, I created a series of lesson plans with stories and songs. So, the preparation work is done, and all the teacher has to do is focus on teaching!

Help is at hand

If you’ve already got any of my books and are stuck, please email me for the free lesson plans, and I’ll help you get started. The more you teach with vibrant games, the better you get at it. Teaching songs and stories is a bonus, also plays and skits. In Nepal, the teachers were in awe of me after the first lesson when I used my Ready Steady Go skit. (You can get that skit free on this blog page.)


Go for it, and enjoy being an important member of the school. Train the other teachers while you are there!

Resources for teaching English abroad

6 thoughts on “Teaching English abroad what you need to take with you”

  1. Vânia Lúcia Souza Sampaio

    Shelley, I`ve been teaching English to my grandaughter of 2.5 years old, here in our hometown in Brazil. I´d like to use some of your materials.
    How shall I start ? Which ones shal I buy first.
    Looking forward your response,

    1. Hello there Vania, Thanks for your message and interest. For your 2,5-year-old granddaughter I have a Teaching Toddlers book. It describes how to teach toddlers in a way that engages them completely. So I would recommend that first. And to go with it, you could get me first series of preschool stories. Since she will nearly be three, you’ll soon be able to start playing more structured games with her. I will send you some links now to the email you provided with this post. If you don’t receive my message – just reply to me here. Speak soon, Shelley

      1. Vânia Lúcia Souza Sampaio

        Thank you Shelley. I´m going to buy the book Teaching Toddlers and have a look at the blogs you suggested too.
        I´ll let you know how it is going on, as soon as possible!
        Thanks a bunch,

  2. Shelley! You are doing great. Though I have been a teacher for about 30 years I find difficult to teach the children English. It needs tremendous skills.

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