Why Teachers Need a "Bag of Tricks"

A "Bag of Tricks" is essential for all teachers however this probably not something that you were taught in your TESL/TESOL course! So what exactly is a teacher's "Bag of Tricks"?  It is basically a bag (backpack, tote bag, rucksack or any of type of bag) that contains everything you think you might need during your lesson(s).  Think of your own "Bag of Tricks" as a portable mini-classroom.

Here are a few reasons why all teachers should have their own “Bag of Tricks”.

1. Many new teachers start out as supply teachers. You may end up facing a class full of students that you do not know (e.g. language level, personalities, prior learning). It is different to plan an effective lesson when you really don't know the learners.  Having a "Bag of Tricks" may help you adjust your lesson, if necessary and help you get through what could be a long day.

2. If you are new to the school, you may not have any idea where the supplies and/or resources are located.  Having everything with you will save you time and reduce your stress level.

3. If you teach in a large facility, your desk may be quite far from your classroom.  It is not always possible to leave in the middle of your class to get something that you might need or want for your class.

4.  In some schools, teachers change rooms, not the students so you cannot leave things in the classroom. This is all the more reason for your own personal "Bag of Tricks".

5. A teacher's "Bag of Tricks" can sometimes be a "survival" bag.  I think that one of the worst things that can happen to a teacher is to finish your lesson early, and you have nothing else prepared.* This happened to me on more than one occasion in my early days of teaching.   I remember looking at the clock quietly panicking inside.  I wish someone had told me about having a "Bag of Tricks"! 

*So what do you do if you finish your lesson early?  First, stay calm.  If it is appropriate, have students take a short break so you can gather your thoughts.  Then go through your "Bag of Tricks" and see how you can plan for the rest of the class time.  My good friend Gwen Zeldenrust has been teaching for more than 15 years.  This is her advice for new teachers: 

“In the beginning it's always best to over plan.  It's much better to have too many activities than to run short.  You never know how quickly your students will work through the materials.  If you don't happen to need all the activities you planned for, you can use them in subsequent classes”.

What should be included in your “Bag of Tricks”? Here is a list of some essential items:

  1. coloured markers, pens and pencils (students often forgot to bring pens to class)
  2. eraser
  3. correction fluid
  4. small dictionary
  5. lined paper
  6. coloured paper
  7. scissors
  8. tape
  9. a USB drive with reproductive material or other handouts
  10. videos
  11. stapler
  12. three hole punch
  13. Warm Up Activities (go my to free download at https://patrice-palmer.mykajabi.com
  14. small prizes
  15. flash cards
  16. band-aids
  17. cough drops
  18. dice for board games and board games
  19. old magazines
  20. daily newspaper
  21. deck of cards (use them to get Ss into pairs/groups)
  22. soft ball (to ''randomly'' choose a student to answer a question in class. Afterwards, they can toss it to whomever they like to answer the next question)
  23. conversation cards (download 100 cards from https://patrice-palmer.mykajabi.com
  24. music CDs or music on your phone
  25. candies (use them to get students into groups based on the flavour or colour)
  26. Post-it Notes (check out some great ideas for using them here - thank you Faten Romdhani http://tesolconvention2012.blogspot.ca/2016/02/sticky-notes.html)

Other items that are absolutely necessary include a bottle of water, snacks (crackers or chocolate bars for energy) and an extra pair of shoes for tired and sore feet. Don’t forget to pack some of your favourite things as well. Happy teaching

Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A. TESL has 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada and Hong Kong. Patrice has taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP and language programs for new immigrants. She now spends her time creating resources for teachers which are available at https://patrice-palmer.mykajabi.com