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Teaching Tools for the Digital Classroom

By VIPKid  |  February 20, 2020

Do you have a used postage stamp, an empty water bottle, a dog squeak toy, or a sales flyer lying around the house?  These are all items that could be used as teaching tools in your online classroom. In fact, teachers were polled, and many of them ARE already using these items in their classrooms! 

By Hillary B.

When first starting out, many teachers worry about start-up costs of buying props and teaching tools. It’s commonly said, “I just don’t think I have anything around my house that I can use with kids!” Many veteran VIPKid teachers would beg to differ.

Let’s brainstorm.

What did you have for dinner last night? Did anything come from a box or package?

It’s DiGiorno! Ahhh, frozen pizza you say. Grab your scissors and cut out a pizza image from the box. Ta-da! You can now use this to teach words:

  • Eat
  • Spicy
  • Vegetable
  • Dinner
  • Lunch
  • Hungry
  • And of course, pizza!

Maybe you’re more of the Whole 30 type family so you have a kitchen stocked without boxes and packages. 

Grab a bunch of bananas. You can now teach the sentences, “I have a banana. It is yellow. Mike eats bananas. Do you like bananas?” Congratulations! You’ve just covered several grammar skills:  pronouns, singular nouns, plural nouns, verbs, and end punctuation. Bravo!

See the point? Nearly anything can be used to supplement the learning objectives in the online classroom. We use these supplementary tools, more commonly called props, to enhance the classroom experience while meeting the learning objectives. 

Supplementary Tools also make the online classroom engaging, dynamic and fun! And they come in all shapes and forms.

Here are some of my favorite kinds to use in class: 

1. Flashcards or 2D Printouts

Flashcards can be used to introduce, reinforce, or extend concepts such as letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and more! You can also print or cut-out images of nearly anything to support the lesson. It doesn’t end with the pizza box! Grocery store flyers and fast food advertisements are full of free visuals for you to support your teaching.

2. Puppets or Stuffed Animals

Being greeted by a funny fish puppet can be less intimidating than being greeted by a foreign teacher for a first-time student. This technique can help the student to feel at ease by seeing something child-like. If you don’t have a puppet, stuffed animals can be used in the same way. Using puppets and stuffed animals can help build rapport, but also be used to model conversations or target questions and answers.

3. Whiteboards

Write letters, words, or sentences on a whiteboard, wipe off and repeat! The whiteboard is versatile for students of any age or ability. Whiteboard games or extensions can be prepared before class or adapted on the fly to meet the needs of a student having trouble with a concept. This is very helpful with error correction. 

4. Realia

Many times, the most fascinating props for students are simply real things from your home. It’s so cool for them to see how commonplace items such as an apple or coins are similar or different half-way across the world! When teaching about travel, pull out your passport! You can discuss the purpose of it or compare the cover color with theirs. Students will often run and grab examples of realia from their home to show you too, building up that rapport! 

5. Digital Tools

Can’t get all of the pictures you need for class out of the junk mail in your inbox? Whip out your phone or tablet to show a GIF or image of anything you can imagine. Teaching the Family Unit? Show your student some photos from your last family gathering. The ideas are endless!

Supplementary tools fulfill so many needs for both parties in the classroom. They can make teaching content online simpler for the teacher or help explain a concept in an easier and more memorable way for the student. Everyone wins! 

Alright, teachers, the challenge is set and it’s time to raid your place for props! What unlikely items can you have incorporated into your classes? Have you been able to convert trash into a treasured prop?

Be a teacher today!


If you enjoyed this article, check out our blogs on Top Strategies for Positive Corrective Feedback: Part 1 and Teacher Output.

This Teaching Essentials Blog Series looks at some tools-of-the-trade for online ESL instruction. In it, we explore a few key concepts and dive into what makes them indispensable to our teachers.

Hillary has been teaching with VIPKid since March 2017. She is from Nashville, TN, USA. She’s a work from home mom living out the daily joys of both teaching ESL students and raising her children.

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