7 Resources for Teaching English Overseas

Believe it or not, there are two billion people around the world right now learning the English language. With so many people seeking someone to teach them English, there are a lot of opportunities these days to become a “teacher.” For some, being a teacher means having a group of students sitting in a classroom with desks and a board to write on. For many, however, the opportunity to be someone’s teacher is less obvious. You will find that doing simple things like sitting around tables in coffee shops with university students, or cooking a meal together with adults, or making crafts and kicking soccer balls with children…provide real experiences for those real “students” to practice their English with you. And every potential student you bump into is another life you can positively impact in a way that goes far beyond the reaches of language. Many lives have been transformed forever—both inside and outside of the classroom—because of a relationship that started with a simple English lesson.

My husband and I have had the great privilege of equipping DTS teams for English teaching opportunities during their outreaches, in addition to leading TESOL courses for professional English teachers. Below are a few of the best and most frequently used resources we’ve trusted over the last ten years of teaching English to students of all ages in the U.S. and Asia.

These resources are geared for the outreach team preparing an English Camp, or the solitary missionary who finds him or herself in an English classroom with little or no training, zero time for preparation, and fresh faces looking on in anticipation. Many have found themselves in your shoes at one time or another. Fear not—you can do this! Especially with endless help and strength from our wonderful Lord. “Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.” (Joshua 1:9, MSG) Remember, as you enter wild foreign lands, He is with you.

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1. Fun Activities for Teaching English

It doesn’t have to be an English class. You can use these activities in youth gatherings, business meetings, bible studies, and cultural exchange camps. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: “It doesn’t always have to be about English.” And secondly, almost everyone likes to have some fun now and then. This resource consists of more than 60 proven activities that offer folks a chance to practice their English with you, while having fun at the same time. And having fun together is really the best starting point for making relationships. In the words of Plato, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

We like to photocopy this into little half-paged booklets that all of our DTS students can keep on them during outreach. They’re just the right size to fit in your back pocket, or your daypack. The activities inside can be added to existing English lessons to make your curriculum come alive. They can also stand alone when you’re in a pinch for time (see the section titled “How to prepare a lesson, FAST!” for ideas on how to survive that awkward moment when someone asks you to teach an impromptu English class with little time and preparation). These will also help you as you look for ways to make your lessons more active and engaging for everyone in the group. Also included is a guide for understanding your student’s level, useful website links, lesson plan templates, and some non-English activities when all you want to do is “get this party started.” Download this resource to your iPad or smartphone, and it will always be with you. I keep a copy of mine in the iBooks library on my phone, just in case.

Download: “Fun Activities for Teaching English”

Download all of the Resources as a bundle: “TESOL Resources Bundle”

PROS | builds relationships, minimal materials required, transferable to different levels and settings, fun for all ages, perfect size for outreach, free downloadable content

CONS | no pre-made lesson plans provided (do-it-yourself), doesn’t include reading and writing activities

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2. Magazines, Newspapers, and Travel Books

So you’re headed onto that plane. As you hand the stewardess your boarding pass and walk through the doors of the airport gate you walk past a tall metal stand that has a few shelves filled with complimentary newspapers. You spot one from the foreign country to which you’re traveling. Grab one. As you find your seat on the plane you take a quick look at the headline. You can read today’s headline because it’s written in English. In fact, the whole newspaper—even though it’s from your foreign destination—is written in English. You just found the textbook for your first English lesson. It was free. And it’s filled with brightly colored photographs, advertisements showcasing the latest trends, and or course, the news—current events that matter to the world, that should matter to the lives of your students, and that are happening just beneath you as you fly over your destination.

Most classrooms have textbooks and other materials that are several years old. Therefore, a big problem with using traditional textbooks is that they never provide students with real-life content, as it’s actually happening. In addition to this, not every school has the ability to buy beautiful, expensive textbooks for their students. However, there are often wonderful resources located all around us—you only need to look around. Neither is this something to be ashamed of, in fact, there are enormous benefits to using “genuine content,” as we call it. Typically, students will be more engaged with a well-made lesson that uses content from their favorite magazine, than a lesson from the fanciest of textbooks. That’s because all of the things that your students find most interesting right now—the latest trends, the hottest topics, the most popular music and movies, the scariest news stories from around the world—all of these things can be found in one place: the newspaper and magazine stand at your local convenience store.

So, how do you add this content to your lesson? For a simple reading activity, choose an article and have students look at any pictures, titles, or captions in the article. Ask them to make predictions, such as “What is happening is this picture,” or “What is the woman saying to the man?” After reading the article, ask your students questions about what they read to check their comprehension. And then do a fun role play based on the people and events from the article. Find activities A3 and A4 in our Fun Activities for Teaching English booklet (see above) for instructions on doing role plays. For other activities you can do with newspapers and magazines, see B10, B11, B19, C8, C9, F1, F2, F3, G1, G2, G3, H1. You can also do a modified “scavenger hunt,” where students are asked to find certain things related to your lesson. Or choose an interesting photo and have students write a short paragraph or dialogue based on what they see, then have them read the actual story. When tutoring students one-on-one, or doing conversational English lessons in a coffee shop, you can do many of these same activities with the travel and photography books that you almost always find in cafes and other hangout spots.

PROS | inexpensive, easy-to-find materials, genuine and meaningful content, nice photos, interesting for youth and adult learners, transferable to different levels and settings

CONS | no pre-made lesson plans provided (do-it-yourself)

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3. Conversational English Lessons

One of the most popular places English learners go to practice their language skills are cafes. A great example of this is The Rock Coffee Bar in Danshui, Taiwan. University students and businessmen from all over Taipei City area have been known to travel an hour or more to visit this little cafe, because they know it’s a great place to have a conversation in English (or another foreign language) over a nice cup of coffee. And they may make the journey several times in one week. Most of the time, people will begin coming to The Rock because of the opportunity for language practice, but they continue to come—night after night—because of something more. Some people continue to come purely because of the relationships they have made there, and some come in search of spiritual truth. And there are a lot of cafes like this one that are currently being operated by missionaries all around the world, because they are such good environments for making friendships and sharing biblical truths—night after night.

Although many “Conversational English” or “English Corner” sessions are completely informal and simply consist of a few random people sitting and talking at tables, there are a few curricula that can be used for more intentional settings. Two of our favorites are called International Discovery and God Loves The Outcast, both of which have been created by—and for—missionaries and church planters in Asia. Either of these could be done in a number of different settings: from living rooms, to classrooms, to coffee shops. And they are wonderful if you want to add an element of evangelism or real discipleship to your English classes.

International Discovery is a set of 120 Conversational English worksheets that you can print, two per page, and hand out to the students at your table. Each lesson begins by practicing language that students need for communicating in everyday situations. The lessons are also centered around a cultural story that discusses culture in Asia. And every lesson is designed to lead into an encouraging story from the Bible. The transition is typically subtle, so teachers can decide whether or not to incorporate biblical truths into their lesson, and how much. Most lessons provide wonderful opportunities for sharing personal testimonies and stories from the Bible.

God Loves The Outcast is a set of 40 lesson plans complete with flashcards and materials, and each lesson teaches English through telling Bible stories. The curriculum is designed to be spread out over 14 weeks with three lessons per week, however the schedule could easily be modified as a yearlong course with one lesson per week. Each lesson focuses on some form of language practice, including new vocabulary, pronunciation, and simple grammar points. Then the lessons include listening, reading, and speaking practice that centers on a story from the bible. The curriculum moves chronologically through the Bible with a new story introduced every week, which makes this a great resource for teaching basic Bible Overview to receptive English students. That is what makes this resource so wonderful for church planters looking for a more intentional way to bring the Bible into their lessons and make real disciples along the way. This curriculum is designed for adults from a high beginner to low intermediate level, and includes a lot of reading, but you can make it suitable for lower levels by simplifying the Bible passages and replacing some of the reading requirements with listening activities. By doing this, it also makes a decent English-through-the-Bible curriculum for children, and the lesson plans have been written in a simple format that makes it easy for anyone to pick up a lesson and teach.

Download: “International Discovery”

Download: “God Loves The Outcast”

Download all of the Resources as a bundle: “TESOL Resources Bundle”

PROS | complete lesson plans provided, teaches the Bible at the same time, great for discipling and church planting, no other materials needed, free downloadable content

CONS | single level (fit for high beginner-intermediate)

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4. Multi-Level Curriculum

Sometimes, nothing beats a good textbook. When it comes to establishing professional English classes at your school, cafe, or other ministry location, nice-looking textbooks will add some sizeable style points to your program. But one of the biggest benefits to using textbooks in all of your classes is the progression students experience when moving from one level to the next. When students complete one book they are ready to move onto the next, and with each new level they receive a feeling of accomplishment while maintaining the familiarity of a common curriculum across all levels. If students know what to expect when they come to class, their learning actually improves, and the repetitive rhythms of textbooks makes this easy.

One of the common downfalls to using textbooks is that they lack a little “spark” if you’re not creative with them. So we try to make our lessons come alive by adding a few fun activities to keep the students active and interested in the material, and we tend to build a lesson centered around content from the textbook, as well as an occasional newspaper or magazine article to keep your lesson up-to-date and meaningful to your students. The best and simplest way to organize all these different pieces is making your own “PPP” lesson plans, and saving your lesson plans and materials in folders will make it easier to reproduce the same great lessons next time.

Although it’s ideal to have a textbook for every student in every class, this is often impossible for some schools and ministry locations. If that’s the case, we have a simple solution that maintains a lot of the benefits mentioned above while holding back a huge chunk of the cost. Copyright laws will generally keep you from photocopying pages out of your textbooks, however, as long as you have a single copy of each book in a set of curriculum, you can gain a lot of great ideas from those textbooks regarding which topics to focus on, which vocabulary and grammar to practice with your students, and what that all might look like. Then you can fairly easily take that inspiration and craft your own lessons that follow a very intelligent path through all of the different levels, with plenty of room and freedom to make your lessons fit your own context and worldview. If you’re unable to print out your new materials, simply write your exercises on the board (or find creative ways to get your students to write them on the board), and hand out lined paper to your students for note-taking. For the cost of a few textbooks and a stack of blank lesson plan templates you can easily and cheaply design your own curriculum. Just be careful to respect your textbook’s copyrighted content as you do this.

One set of textbooks we highly recommend for teaching high school and university-level students is the Smart Choice curriculum designed by Oxford University Press. Each level of books is split up into similar looking units; each page of the unit focuses on a different language skill, such as learning new vocabulary or practicing speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The back of the book has scripts that can be read aloud or turned into role plays if your classroom doesn’t have the CD player necessary for each listening section. And teachers and students are able to logon to the Oxford University Press website and practice grammar and vocabulary through fun online games—great for assigning homework to a tutored student, or setting up a computer lab station in your classroom. In addition to Smart Choice, there are a number of other great curricula that have been designed in recent years by Oxford and Cambridge Universities, all of which we’d recommend. You’re looking for something that you can afford, that looks professional, has nice photos and other visuals, and makes practicing the different language skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing, pronunciation, grammar, etc) easy to follow for both the teacher and the students.

Download: “PPP” Lesson Plan Template

Download all of the Resources as a bundle: “TESOL Resources Bundle”

PROS | complete lessons provided (however, doesn’t include lesson “plans”), multi-level (beginner-advanced), great for language skills practice, best choice for paid language courses, most professional, online practice included

CONS | expensive, some lesson plan preparation still required (to make it “come alive”)

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5. Bible Coloring Pages

One of our favorite things to do is teaching English and Bible Stories to children. Kids love learning in hands-on interactive ways, they have bright imaginations, and they are always open to hearing the Good News about Jesus. Kids also love to have fun, and when you make the gospel message fun and exciting for them, they will tell their families and the whole world what they have learned. When designing a typical lesson for children, we will follow a “PPP”-style lesson plan format, but this time allowing extra time for fun activities that get the little ones moving around and basically shedding lots of energy. See our Fun Activities for Teaching English for a list of great activities for children.

But kids also love making stuff. And anything you can offer to children that will let them be creative and make something artistic (or edible) will be a good idea to include in your lesson. That is where coloring pages come in. This is one of the simplest things to prepare, they’re easy to find, and kids absolutely love them. There are many professionally-made books out there, on many different topics, and each one is filled with tens or hundreds of different coloring pages. Bible Story Coloring Pages by Gospel Light is a great choice. You can also simply search the internet for any topic and include the words “coloring pages” in your search and you will not be let down. If you are heading on an outreach trip and you’ll be out of country during, or near, a popular holiday, then be sure to bring a few coloring pages based on that holiday. I’m sure you will have a chance to bless some kids with them.

On a teaching trip in Thailand, while volunteering at a children’s home, I once had a classroom full of girls ages 4 – 14. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it wasn’t easy to make a lesson that gave the 4-year-old something simple to do while also keeping the 14-year-old interested in the exact same lesson as everyone else. But in classes with mixed ages, sometimes all you need is a few coloring pages and some stickers to keep the lower half of the class busy while you pay attention to the needs of the upper half. Don’t forget your crayons or markers.

PROS | perfect for teaching children, reinforces Bible stories, great for holidays, reproducible content

CONS | requires having to photocopy materials (print before you leave on outreach if it’s easier)

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6. Mobile Apps for English Teachers

At last count, nearly 2 billion people worldwide use smartphones, and millions more have tablets and other devices that can access the internet at anyplace and anytime. With all of that expansion in the mobile sector, it only makes sense that technology will soon have a bigger and bigger place in tomorrow’s education. And with leaders like Sal Khan, whose website (and mobile app) has a mission to offer a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere, it’s becoming possible to harness technology in a way that can bring a great education to many who never had access. For these reasons alone, we think it’s a good idea to explore using this new technology in the classroom, so long as its presence doesn’t take away from your ability to relate well with your students. Done in the right way, we think it’s possible to be a better teacher by using mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads, and there are a lot of fun activities that you can do in your lessons with these devices.

One of our favorite activities for older students, both in the U.S. and Asia, has been the “Digital Scavenger Hunt.” (See A2 in the Fun Activities for Teaching English booklet.) In this fun activity, groups of students work together to find items and complete tasks on a scavenger hunt list, and they take photos of whatever they find as proof that they completed that task. These photos can later be used in the class just as you might use flashcards and other pictures, including “Describe Your Picture” (B11), or a modified game of “Pictionary” (B3) or “Charades” (A5) where students try to reproduce their photos without speaking, while others guess which photo it might be. There are a lot of fun and interesting ways you can incorporate technology into your lesson, this is really just the beginning.

Download our Mobile Apps for English Teachers for a list of over 50 useful apps that we’ve found so far. And let us know what apps you’re using in your classes (you can email us your great ideas at tesol@ywammontana.org).

Download: “Mobile Apps for English Teachers”

Download all of the Resources as a bundle: “TESOL Resources Bundle”

PROS | great tools for activities and staying organized, downloadable content (get apps before you leave on outreach)

CONS | can make lessons “tech-heavy” and less relational, requires internet and power source

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7. Three Things You Already Have

With all the anxiousness people experience prior to teaching English on outreach, here is a short word of encouragement. Your greatest resource might be you. Yourself. The things you already possess and carry with you wherever you go. When you step off that plane and you’re surrounded by opportunities to teach your language, you really don’t need any of the resources I’ve mentioned above. All you need are three simple talents: to talk to people, to make friends, and to pray.

MAKE FRIENDS. BE A BLESSING TO PEOPLE. BUILD GENUINE RELATIONSHIPS FOUNDED IN TRUST AND HUMILITY.

That’s because what students usually want more than anything else—and truly what they need as language learners—is someone to talk to. They just want someone they can practice their English with, and someone who will simply be their friend. So just get out there and talk to people. Take advantage of the opportunities in front of you. Make friends. Be a blessing to people. Build genuine relationships founded in trust and humility. And shower all of these things with prayer. Share your story with your friends: what Jesus has done for you, and what he can do for them. Do all these things, and you will be far more than an English teacher. You will be a missionary

Any excellence we strive for in our English teaching, any preparedness we attempt to have as we gather these resources, should not be done solely for the sake of becoming excellent English teachers, but because we have an amazing opportunity to be messengers of the Gospel. We are not just here to display new ways of speaking, but when we live as ambassadors for Christ every part of our lives are on display.

I believe we should stop running away from opportunities to teach English. Instead, we should be running toward them. Someone once said, “Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them.” This philosopher, however, believed that mankind could make these great opportunities exist through the power of his own strength and merit. I think the better tactic here…is to pray. Pray that our Heavenly Father will lead you to the right students, at the right times, and provide you with the opportunity to share your stories and speak truth into their lives. And then, taking advantage of every moment he leads you to, make those occasions great.

Teaching English is an exchange. Both parties give a little, both parties receive a little. It is not just an exchange of language, but it is an exchange of feelings, ideas, and deep-rooted cultures. Like waiting for any fruit to grow, it takes time and we should go expecting to be learners as well as teachers. Friendship, C. S. Lewis wrote, is born in that moment when two people learn they have more in common than they first thought. I hope that is what teaching English will bring to you. Occasions for learning from one another, for establishing common ground, and for birthing those transforming relationships that form in those moments when you realize, although language separates you from others, it is also what draws you together and you have something now that you didn’t have at the start. You are friends. And anything is possible through a little friendship mixed with prayer.


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2,000,000,000 – There are two billion people in the world right now learning the English language. It’s the most widely learned and sought after language in the world. Because so many people want to learn English, most missionaries from North America find themselves teaching in classrooms at some point in their overseas ministry. A large number of ministries around the world use English classes as a tool for evangelism, building relationships in their communities, and as a way to open doors of ministry in restricted access nations. Yet, many of today’s missionaries have never had any formal training as language teachers.

TESOL is a uniquely strategic seminar designed to quickly and effectively train any English speaker as a fully certified English teacher and to release them into ministry. This course emphasizes an interactive classroom using Language for LIFE.

Ready to make the jump.

At YWAM Montana-Lakeside, we are all about doing whatever it takes to know God and to make Him known, together! We’d love to help you make that next step in your global missions education. Apply now!

Three Stories for Christmas

We danced the dance. We preached The Message. 200 stood to pray. And one was smiling on Christmas Day. – It always surprises me. Maybe