Teachers are very busy people, and it’s always a struggle to find enough time to put together high-quality content for lessons. The problem is perhaps more acute for online language teachers, who often deal with learners of very different ages, needs and levels of ability. Factor in unsociable working hours and the effort of turning print resources into digital resources and you’ll understand why teachers need all the help they can get!
That’s why I’ve decided to throw together a list of some of the websites I’ve turned to over the years. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I wanted to cover as many types of learners as possible, from young to old, beginner to advanced. I’ve provided a brief explanation of what to expect on each site, but my advice is dive in and take a look for yourself. Hopefully you’ll find something that makes life easier when the time comes to throw together a last minute lesson.
Anyone who’s been an English teacher will probably have used (or at least heard of) Breaking News English. The concept behind the site is simple: take popular stories from the mainstream news and simplify them for English language learners. Each text has been written at several different levels of difficulty, which is incredibly handy when teaching groups of mixed ability learners. Each story also has a detailed lesson plan with a wide variety of different activities including: gap-fills, matching, free writing, discussion questions, etc. I use the site mainly for texts and create my own activities, but there is plenty of pre-made content readily available. One word of caution for those who intend to use Breaking News English, the site is plastered with advertising, and it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the content from the ads. Careless clicking will land you in unexpected places.
Easy to navigate for students and teachers, the content on ESL Video is organized into five different levels from Beginner to Advanced. Clicking on the tab for the desired level will present a range of videos on different topics. Each video includes a multiple choice quiz and a gap-fill, both of which can be taken online and automatically graded. There is also a PDF for each lesson that includes a transcript of the video and quiz questions, enabling you to take the activity offline should you need to. Another thing I appreciate about the lessons on ESL Video is that each PDF contains a QR code that takes learners directly to the online version of the activities. I should mention that all content is mobile friendly. Interestingly, the site also serves as a platform for face-to-face live lessons via Zoom.
This is a very professional and well-maintained site. Unlike many of the others on this list, you’ll see no pesky adverts here (except those for the British Council’s own self-study courses). The site is divided into areas for kids, teens, and teachers. There is also a free online level test available that provides a rough estimate of a student’s level in 10 to 20 minutes. The audio and video resources on this site are better than any other that I’m aware of. These include lots of podcasts and short videos on a range of interesting topics. This is also one of the few sites that has content dedicated to business English. There is an ever-growing body of resources available on the site including quizzes and printable worksheets that allow you to take the content offline.
This site describes itself “as a way to learn English and other languages through music and the lyrics of your favorite songs”. At last count, there were songs available in 13 different languages from Japanese to Finnish to Catalan. However, the vast majority of the Lyrics Training library is English. The site is intuitive and easy to use. Learners search for a song then select a level of difficulty from Beginner to Expert. (It’s worth pointing out here that even my best learners are challenged by Intermediate, and not even a native speaker can cope with Expert). As the song plays, the lyrics are displayed along the bottom of the screen with occasional words missing. Learners must choose the appropriate word from a list of options while keeping time with the music. If the learner fails to answer, the song will pause until a word is selected. Much like a video game, the learner has a certain amount of life at the beginning of the song, answering incorrectly or too slowly drains life. If the learner’s life reaches zero before the end of the song, she or he loses. Great fun for learners and teachers alike.
After the fun of Lyrics Training, it’s time to get down to some serious study. Students who are learning English with an eye to attend a university in America, the UK, Canada, Australia, etc. will probably take the TOEFL test at some point. For those of you who are not familiar with TOEFL it is (along with IELTS) the most widely used measure for determining whether a student’s English ability is sufficient to cope with academic programs at the university level. TOEFL Go Anywhere is operated by ETS, the foundation behind TOEFL, TOEIC and many other prominent tests in education. Although the site is oriented toward selling preparation materials for the TOEFL test, there are a number of very good resources available for free. Most importantly for teachers, there are preparation materials and practice tests. Very useful.
Formerly EFL Digital, this site can serve as a mini online learning platform for teachers who don’t have the resources to subscribe to a paid service. You can easily set up an account with Google or Microsoft at the click of a button. From there you create classes and add students. Although you create the content yourself, the tools are simple to use, and within an hour or two you can create enough content for many lessons. There are eight different task types available including: Multiple Choice Quiz, Video Gap-fill, Written Report and Text to Test. What I really like about this site, however, is how simple it is for students. There’s no need to create accounts or login. Each time the teacher makes an activity, a link is generated which the students use to access the task. Brilliant!
This site is loaded with content that has been curated into the broad categories of Learn and Teach. I’m not sure how much students would benefit from exploring the site on their own, but there are plenty of resources aimed at learners. For me, the best part of English Club is the Teach area. Here you can find lesson plans, worksheets, activities and projects. There are also practical resources such as teaching tips, job postings, information on training programs and discussion forums. This is not a site where you can expect to go in five minutes before class and come out with a full lesson plan (not that you should anyway). It’s best to take your time and look around carefully. Once you’ve got a sense of what’s there, you’ll be sure to go back for more.
The name stands for the Internet TESL Journal, a website that contains both theoretical and practical information for teachers of English as a Second and Foreign Language. The part of the site I’ve linked to here is basically a large collection of conversation questions for English language learning. It won’t win any awards for website design, but it is a tremendous resource for anyone teaching conversation lessons. Every topic imaginable is represented, along with a fair few that wouldn’t have occurred to me (like fire safety and telepathy). Behind each topic link are literally dozens of questions that can keep conversations going much longer than either you or your students would have expected. Visitors to the site are actively encouraged to add their own topics and questions. Perhaps I’ll write something about Japanese bath etiquette.
English Listening Lesson Library (ELLLO)
There is an interesting backstory behind ELLO. It started way back in 2004 as a college graduate school project exploring the ways that children learn. It gradually morphed and now focuses on lessons for language learners based on unscripted monologues and conversations. The lessons feature international speakers from over 100 different countries, so students are exposed to a wide range of accents. There are currently more than 3000 free lessons available on the site on every imaginable topic. Many of the lessons have a free printable study pack that includes QR codes to the media files. If you sign up to the site, you can get free lessons consisting of a downloadable MP3 and PDF delivered to you for free every week! It’s hard to beat that level of service.
Much of the content on this site is accessible only with a premium membership, but I’ve included it here because there is still an abundance of free content that can be very useful in preparing for lessons, whether online or in person. There are lots of games and a selection of song lyrics that can be turned into gap-fills, listening comprehension activities, and pronunciation practice. There is also a student site that enables learners to work independently on a wide variety of topics such as grammar and test preparation.
Well, that’s it, my top 10 sites for when you find yourself short of material (or inspiration). There are plenty of others out there, and I hope that you’ll share your favorites in the comments section below. Some of you may feel that you’re cheating your students when you don’t create all of the materials yourself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking some time to explore the pre-made materials available online can enrich your classes with new ideas and influences that will benefit your learners.