Do you currently use props for teaching online or are you trying to figure out which ones to use? One thing I want you to remember is that YOU are the best “prop”. There’s not one thing that can replace an excellent teacher.
But there’s still a useful purpose of props.
Teacher props are important for:
- increasing engagement
- improving comprehension
- making learning fun
Props for teaching increase engagement because you can incorporate what students like whether it’s an action figure, a superhero, a toy, or a photo.
When I was in a brick and mortar setting I made reading fun by having students pass a chubby stuffed animal around the room. They wanted to read and answer questions because they got to hold the stuffed animal, and they were middle school aged kids!
Online, I show photos to kids so they can try to make as many sentences or use as many vocabulary words as possible using what they see. Sometimes I will make it a race to really get the adrenaline going in my students.
Photos and realia also increase comprehension because students can connect a visual with the language they’re learning. If you’re new to my blog, I teach ESL so vocabulary is a huge part of my materials. I know this can be applied to any subject, even math, because we use vocabulary to do math, too.
When I first started teaching online I did not know what props to use. As a brick and mortar teacher I didn’t really have classroom props. So for Online teaching I just gathered a few items I already had in my house. Some of those items turned out to be props I still use, but I also found some really valuable ones that I heard about from other teachers. Let’s take a look at some of my favorites.
Russian Dolls for Kids
One of my favorite and most versatile props is a Russian doll. These are so useful for learning different sizes and for comparing sizes (bigger, smaller, biggest, smallest, etc.). If you buy a colorful doll, it’s also useful for practicing colors. Finally, you can use it to practice vocabulary related to family.
Russian dolls would also be great for portraying conversation. Often times students don’t understand how to respond to questions as simple as “What’s your name?” or “How are you?” Seeing something more life-like might be more valuable than a puppet in order to make the speaking more realistic and comprehendible to the student.
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Best Stuffed Animals
Use your best stuffed animals to make students feel comfortable and to engage them in conversation. I’ve got two stories for you related to my best stuffed animals. One time, my four year old student Effie was feeling overwhelmed with the lesson materials. She was in a level ESL 2 class, but she was more like a level 1. I’ll never forget her because she was the sweetest yet most determined student. I taught her several times a week in my online ESL classes at VIPKID. She was always engaged and put in 110%. That’s why I was surprised when she started crying in the middle of a lesson. I sensed something was wrong when I heard her voice start to quiver when she was repeating the vocabulary related to school rules. The amount of words was too intense for her.
When she finally started crying I stopped what I was doing and put my monkey stuffed animal in front of the screen and said, “It’s ok Effie.” I just kept saying, “It’s ok. It’s ok.” Then we switched to counting because that was something she loved doing. Monkey and counting saved the day!
My other best stuffed animal story is related to my alpaca and llama. We often have to talk about objects and letters being big or small. I love using my alpaca stuffed animals to demonstrate big and small. They are a surprising prop for students and they love how cute and cuddly they are. Kids probably see tons of teddy bears and monkeys, but I would be surprised if they see a lot of alpacas. It’s always good to introduce something new.
Having a unique stuffed animal can also make you more memorable, too. Kids likely see a handful of teachers, but if you have a special stuffed animal they will tell there parents, “I want to see that teacher with the _______!”
These two stuffed animals worked really well one time when two twin boys were struggling to speak in their first Online lesson. I used the animals to converse with each other and then the boys started answering me instead of repeating.
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I recently bought this panda puppet from Amazon and the kids absolutely love it! This panda puppet is especially unique because you can surprise students with it by only showing the bamboo first. Then slowly push the panda up and out of the bamboo to engage them with delight.
This is the type of stuffed animal that makes shy students feel comfortable and quiet student start talking. You can hide your face behind it to make the student feel like he or she is only with the panda, and then have the panda introduce you so the student will tag along and start working with you, too.
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Star wands are one of the first props for teaching that I bought. I got them from the dollar store. I use them for giving star rewards for pre-school aged kids up to age 6 or 7 depending on the student’s personality and maturity.
Kids just get an extra jolt of joy when you give them a star reward along with the star wand. I twirl the star wands toward the camera as I click the star reward button. I also use the star wands to practice counting and colors. My star wands are pink, blue, yellow and purple. They came in a pack of 8 (2 of each color).
When referring to visual props I’m talking about photos, maps, graphs or charts. You can put these on the computer screen or on a physical whiteboard.
Photos are great for prompting discussion, asking questions, and having the student extend on vocabulary or grammar. Let’s say you have a lesson about food. Show a picture of a family eating and ask some of the following questions:
- What are they eating?
- Do you think they like it?
- How can you tell if they like/dislike the food?
- What do you think it tastes like?
Of course the questions you ask depend on the topic. Also, consider the student’s English level and the vocabulary or grammar that you incorporate in the lesson.
I refer to maps anytime a lesson lends itself to geography or if we are discussing something related to travel.
Graphs and charts are great for explaining mathematical terms and ideas. Being that numbers are universal, what you draw will likely make learning the vocabulary easy. For instance, if you’re teaching time to a student who already knows fractions, you can draw a circle with four triangles to explain quarters.
One of the most important props is a gift for yourself! Get teacher furniture that supports your back. For me that meant getting a standing desk and a chair that improves my posture. I ordered my standing desk from a company called Fully, but Amazon also has some great options.
My desk looks just like this:
My chair is similar to this one:
Now my back doesn’t hurt and I can smoothly transition from sitting to standing and vice versa without students noticing.
I’m ending with teacher props because if you don’t take care of yourself how will you energize yourself enough to use props? This will make your days go by way faster because you won’t experience any pain or fatigue from sitting to long.
Now back to props for teaching. What’s your favorite prop? Let me know in the comments. If you end up purchasing one of the props above, let me know.