Teacher Essentials

As I scroll through Facebook, I often see posts from new teachers asking, “What _____ do you use?” We all want to be the best teachers possible, and why should we re-create the wheel when others have tried “all the things” already?

I have three disclaimers to give before I start sharing.

  1. You should not need to buy much to be a successful teacher. Yes, there are some basic technical requirements, but all of the props and things are optional. You probably have most of what you need around the house already.
  2. Most of the links I’m sharing are affiliate links, so I get paid something if you use them. I don’t know how much. So far I’ve earned a whopping $1.11 since I started with Amazon. 🙂 So I won’t get rich, but if you’re going to order something anyway, you can help a fellow teacher out!
  3. I will not share any links below for things that I don’t personally use in my classroom*. These are my recommendations, and I’ll stand by them!

*The two exceptions are my laptop and paper cutter. My laptop does not currently meet the requirements set by VIPKid, and although it works ok, the link I provide below has a slightly better processor than mine, but other specs are the same! The paper cutter I have actually got poor reviews, so I substituted a similar model with better reviews!

Technology

laptop

Before you purchase a laptop for use with VIPKid (or any teaching platform) be sure you check out the minimum system requirements. Here are the requirements for VIPKid.

I used a laptop that I already had purchased that does not have the i5 processor. However, I am about to purchase a new laptop, so I will make sure that it has the i5 processor recommended by VIPKid, so here’s what I will most likely purchase:

Dell Inspirion 15.6 Inch HD Touchscreen Laptop

Pros: It’s very inexpensive, as far as laptops go. I have had the lower version of this one since early 2017, and it has been easy to use. I have no trouble running the VIPKid PC app, multiple Chrome windows, and OBS (to display google slides.) I also love the touch screen functionality. It’s much easier to underline and circle with my finger than with a mouse!

Cons: Because it’s on the lower end of the Dell laptops, I fear that it may not last as long as others. The power source gives me trouble sometimes, so I must keep it plugged in to ensure uninterrupted use, but that’s a recent development in the last few months. If money were no object, I might upgrade to this one that has more memory and a backlit keyboard, but those are really conveniences not necessities.

headset

I use a Logitech USB headset. I couldn’t find an affiliate link for the one that I use, but here’s the regular link for it on Amazon. I generally by the least expensive Logitech USB headset that has a microphone. I have tried wireless ones, and I’ve tried other brands, but I always come back to these. I have two sets – one that stays in my classroom for teaching and one that I use on conference calls for work.

Pros: They are inexpensive, and they don’t hurt my ears (even though I wear glasses.) I have never had complaints about my voice volume or audio, and they last a very long time.

Cons: If you have a large classroom and are far away from your laptop, perhaps a wired solution isn’t the best. But the cord is rather long, so I can’t imagine a scenario when you would be that far away! 🙂

external camera

The camera in my laptop worked fine. I did not receive any complaints about it, and it met my needs. However, I always wanted my classroom (and my YouTube videos) to be a little bit brighter, so I decided to add an external camera. I have LOVED this one. It’s recommended by many, many teachers and also my husband!

Logitech C920 Camera

Pros: The use of an external camera (with no other changes) made my classroom and my face so much brighter! The images are crisper, and I just love them! I also downloaded the software that has great tilt and zoom features. Because I use OBS in my classroom, I don’t use the software during class, but I use it during my YouTube videos and for taking still pictures in my classroom.

Cons: Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use the microphone built into the camera. It has awful sound quality. But the camera rocks. Before I started using OBS, it would have been helpful to have a camera cover. For just a few dollars more, you can get this model that does.

The best testimonial I can give for this camera is in my live un-boxing video. Skip ahead to 1:45 to see the transformation when I plugged it in.

Classroom Supplies

lamination

My lamination adventure is a funny story. I did not buy this when I became a teacher. I already had it. And for the life of me, I could not figure out WHY I had it. My husband later reminded me that it was when we owned a restaurant. Perhaps we laminated menus? In any case, I use mostly digital rewards, but I do have some props and rewards that are 2-D, and I prefer to have them laminated. There’s a big debate over matte vs. shiny lamination pouches, but I’m cheap and I have never had trouble with the shiny ones, so I still stick with the basics. Here’s what I use:

Scotch Thermal Laminator

Scotch Thermal Laminating Pouches

paper cutter

The paper cutter that I use is actually a Westcott, and it’s not available on Amazon. Interestingly, it had pretty terrible reviews, although I never had any trouble with it.

The model below is similar – it is a rotary paper cutter (vs. a guillotine) and I like this because I am always afraid I will cut my finger off. This seems like a safer option to me.

CARL Professional Rotary Paper Trimmer

magnets

Jennifer Anderson turned me on to the benefits of small magnets and packing tape to attach things to my whiteboard in my classroom. I use these on stars and other 2-D reward systems. I also use them to change the background in my classroom. They are quick, easy, and inexpensive to use. Just be careful if you have small children or pets who might eat these. (I have neither.) Also, I tried to order the same magnets from Ali Express. Yes, they were cheaper, but despite my specifications, they were much smaller and took a very long time to arrive. I hate them. I will order these forever more.

10×2 round magnets

Packing tape

I’m sure any packing tape will do, but I like Scotch. You can buy the first one with the dispenser and then just buy refills for it.

Scotch Packing Tape

Organization

rolling utility cart

This was definitely a splurge, but I love it, and I use it every single day! Because I teach in a tiny half-bathroom, I don’t have a lot of space to stage props and things. I purchased this rolling utility cart that stays in my office until it’s time for class. I keep a box with all my 2-D stars on the bottom, and I set up props for my classes on the top two shelves. I have my scissors, lipstick, dry erase markers, etc. on the end within easy reach. I have my tape hanging on hooks. It works GREAT! After class, I roll it out of the way again!

Grammercy Cart by Recollections

Hanging wall organizer

This is inexpensive, but was a game-changer for me. I have two of these hanging out of sight (off-camera) in my classroom. I keep my most commonly used props here (animals, food, grammar, etc.) That way I can reach them without looking if I need to in class.


Godery 5-pocket Hanging Wall Organizer

You can check out a walk-through of my classroom organization on Instagram!

Props and Rewards

Like I said above, you don’t ever have to buy props and rewards. Between digital options and things you already have around your house, you can teach. But, I love to incorporate fun things with my classes. So if you are looking for a few fun extra’s check out these recommendations from The Prop Report! In each issue, I share pros and cons about each item and also a quick demo video that talks about how I use these in my ESL Classroom!

I hope you have found these suggestions helpful. As I think about other useful items that I have discovered since becoming a teacher, I’ll add them here! If you have questions or ideas of your own, please let me know in the comments!

Happy teaching!

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The Prop Report #4 – Make a Critter Blocks

Because there are so many different combinations, these will never get boring!

Introduction:

Welcome to the fourth installment of my series: The Prop Report. In this series, I plan to share my favorite props and rewards that I use in my ESL classroom. The link to the product is an affiliate link, so if you choose to purchase the item through the link, I get a little bonus. For more info about this series of posts, you can read my overview and full disclaimers here.

The product:

Make a Critter Blocks

Manufacturer:

Crocodile Creek

Recommended for ESL classroom?

Yes! These are perfect for Halloween, but they can actually be used for excellent extension in a number of different lessons.

Recommended for hands on learning?

Yes! I think that you could really have fun making challenges for hands-on learning with kids. The older they are, the more complicated scenarios you can encourage.

Pros:

I have the “critter” blocks, but there are several other different options that I’ll include below too. These are versatile, and because there are so many different combinations, they will never get boring. I especially love:

  • The bright, colorful monsters
  • The ability for kids to choose monochromatic options or crazy color combinations
  • The fact that the monsters have many different types of accessories and clothes, perfect for level 2 extension

Cons:

They are just a little bit bulky to handle in the classroom. It takes a little bit of practice to get comfortable “rolling” the blocks or moving them to let the students choose. It is also a little bit difficult for me to hold all three (or six if we make two monsters!) But this is not a big enough con to stop me from using (and recommending) this fun reward!

It’s also a little bit more expensive than most rewards I use. (Ok, I usually use free digital rewards.) But I really enjoy using a few physical rewards mixed in, so for me, it’s totally worth it!

See it in action:

You can see my unofficial product demo here:

In summary:

This reward is a definite yes! 

If you would like to purchase it, here’s my affiliate link on Amazon.com:

Crocodile Creek – Make a Critter Blocks

For other issues of The Prop Report:

Classroom Dice Games

Next weekend, I’m hosting a VIPKid meetup. I’m so excited to meet other teachers in my area, and I want them to walk away with a little bit of inspiration.  So I have tried to put together some fun and creative things in their goodie bags that will help.

One of the things that I’m giving away at the meetup is a laminated packet of dice games that you can play in class, along with a super-cute die that I got at the Dollar Tree. (You guys – these came two in a pack for a dollar!) Here’s a similar, slightly smaller version available through my affiliate link at Amazon.com.

Why play a dice game in class?

First of all, it’s fun! These kids have long, hard days so I want to make their classes with me as fun as possible. Also, games can be an excellent form of extension in class. Here’s a short video I made to show how I would use this tool in action!

VIPKid Dice Games

What types of games do you play?

There is a wide variety of games you can play with a single die in class. I’ve tried to include some of my favorites.

  • Draw with me: Each time the student earns a reward, you (and maybe the student) get to draw a part of a picture. Based on what number you roll on the dice, that will determine how you should *try* to draw it. Note “try” is the key word. I’m not much of an artist, but that makes it even more fun!
  • Conversation starters: These can be great for older students in particular. You roll the dice, and you ask them a question, or they ask you a question!
  • Action games: These are excellent for younger, wigglier students. Each time they roll the dice, it will tell them a specific action to do. These can be customized to a specific lesson (Are they learning about farm animals? Act like a cow, horse, sheep, pig, etc.) Or they can be pure fun (dance party, high five, etc.)

Extension Ideas

I mentioned that these can be excellent forms of extension. At the simplest level, it gives your students experience counting. They can say the numbers or count the dots. If you are drawing, it can be a good opportunity to practice shapes. You can customize the games to be lesson-specific (and if you run out of ideas, there are plenty of others out on the Internet!) My favorite rewards are those that get the kids thinking about the lesson in new and different ways!

Where can I get these?

If you don’t happen to be coming to my meetup, don’t worry! You can download these yourself at https://www.vipkidresources.com/. This is an amazing site by Jennifer Anderson with a variety of props and rewards.

How can I customize this for other uses?

I would have loved to have used this type of game when I was a corporate trainer. I personally would have the game posted or written on the whiteboard at the beginning of class and set goals for the day. Each time we met one of our goals, I would draw part of the picture on an easel, and every student could draw on a large post it. For the dice, I probably would use something like these!

I hope you found this helpful. Have you tried this in your classroom? I’d love to hear how it went in the comments!

If you are new to VIPKid and would like some help getting started, I’d love to help with any questions you may have. Let me know how I can help you through the application process!

The Prop Report #3 – 6-in-1 Puzzles

“…they could have been looking at the VIPKid curriculum when they designed the puzzles!”

Introduction:

Welcome to the third installment of my series: The Prop Report. In this series, I plan to share my favorite props and rewards that I use in my ESL classroom. The link to the product is an affiliate link, so if you choose to purchase the item through the link, I get a little bonus. For more info about this series of posts, you can read my overview and full disclaimers here.

The product:

6-in-1 Puzzle Sets

Manufacturer:

LQT Limited

Recommended for ESL classroom?

Yes (for lower levels!) These are perfect for VIPKid level 2

Recommended for hands on learning?

Yes! But only for younger kids. Since there are only 5 or 6 pieces per puzzle, they are too simple for older kids.

Pros:

I personally have the transportation puzzle. (That’s what you’ll see in my video below.) I love it because sometimes I teach a student several lessons in the same unit, but I can do different puzzles for variety! I love that they have fun animals and bright colors (both great extension tools.) When I purchased this, it was sold as a single puzzle. Now it’s part of a set of four, and I swear, they could have been looking at the VIPKid curriculum when they designed the puzzles!

  • transportation
  • farm animals
  • wild animals
  • aquatic animals

I can easily think of lessons for each of these!

These are very easy to use in the classroom because each piece is numbered on the back. I don’t really enjoy puzzles and I certainly don’t want to figure them out on the spot with my student, so I love that they come with a small cheat piece that shows what the puzzle should look like completed.

The puzzle pieces are thick and sturdy, and they show up well on camera.

Cons:

The way I choose to attach these to my whiteboard is by magnet. While it works, it can sometimes be a little bit clunky to connect the pieces. There might be a better way to use these (maybe thinner magnetic strips?) but as long as you are comfortable with the puzzles and familiar with your student, they work great!

See it in action:

You can see my unofficial product demo here: YouTube: Prop Report #3

In summary:

This prop set is a yes if you teach level 2 with VIPKid. They will provide great variety in your class and plenty of extension opportunities!

If you would like to purchase it, here’s my link on Amazon.com:

LQT Ltd Baby Wooden Toys Puzzles Jigsaw Puzzle Colorful Animal/Traffic/Ocean/Farm Puzzles 6 in one Box Educational Table Game Toddlers

 

For other issues of The Prop Report:

Google Slides Magic

By now, you may know I love Google Slides. I usually default to the classic rewards and use them to extend on our lesson. Every once in a while, I will make a very unique, custom reward that I use for one specific student.

A couple of weeks ago, my sweet student Tracy brought some paper frogs she had drawn and cut out. They all wore clothes and crowns, and she said one was the mom, the dad and the baby. That same class, she brought her My Little Ponies to class with her.

As background, Mom used to get very upset when Tracy brought toys to class. In feedback, I explained we could use them, as long as Tracy just brought one or two toys, so Mom reluctantly agreed. As we used them more and more in class, Tracy got more excited about learning, and Mom got on board.

Fast forward… after this frog class, I thought it would be fun to make Tracy a special reward, so I wrote a story using Google Slides. I downloaded most of my images from my subscription to PNG tree, and I made up a story about the frog prince who lost his parents. Tracy is in the unit studying “feelings” so the topic was great to ask “How does he feel?”

Tracy was delighted to see that I had a custom story for her, and she recognized her toys from the last lesson!

In a rare occurrence, Mom wasn’t in class with her that week, but when I got the feedback, Mom thanked me for making the reward and asked if I could send her the pictures from the slides. (In China, they can’t get to Google Slides, even if I wanted to send her the full lesson.)Screenshot (1)

I took screenshots for her, and sent them via WeChat.

In our next class, as soon as I turned on the camera, Tracy held up a printed version of my story! She proceeded to read the entire thing to me, inserting the emotions she had learned to describe the characters. She and mom had been practicing all week until Tracy could read it on her own!

My heart just melted!

Here is a video I made so you could see how I first used it as a reward for Tracy, and then how she read it back to me. The audio is not very good from the playback, but it’s still adorable! Watch the cutest thing ever here: Google Slides Magic Video

Thank you to Google Slides and WeChat for making it possible to build such fulfilling relationships with families across the world.

If you would like more information about using Google Slides with VIPKid or are just interested in getting started in general, please let me know in the comments!

Happy teaching (and sliding!)