The Budget-Friendly Starter Kit for Online ESL/EFL Teachers

The Budget-Friendly Starter Kit
My entire VIPKid classroom background cost $2 USD – from my local dollar store. The other props I already had or acquired slowly as I started teaching more. 

You’ve passed the application process for an online ESL company, and now you’re getting ready for your interviews and mocks. Maybe you’ve watched several YouTube videos with these vivacious teachers and their marvelous teaching props. Unless you have kids with a treasure trove of toys and educational gadgets, you probably don’t have some of the necessary things for online teaching. I know what else you don’t have–a ton of money. You want to know what tools you need to minimize the damage to your pocketbook while ensuring that you are successful in your new endeavor.

When I took my CELTA certification course, one of the exercises was to decide the handful of teaching tools I would bring to a deserted island. Of course, for many ESL teachers, a deserted island might be where they find a job! However, what I’ve found is that the online teaching experience is not so different. You probably have a limited amount of space as well as an even more limited amount of money. What will you put in your little five-by-five corner and how will you spend your fifty-dollar budget?

Starter Kit for Online ESL/EFL Teachers
Sure, they’re fun! Toy food is a great learning tool too–helping kids learn not only the names for what they eat, but also colors and numbers.

My Momma Told Me…

“…you better shop around!” Yet, pricing out goods is time-consuming and difficult. Online shopping is probably your most efficient way of getting a decent price on a wide selection of things, but the cheapest items aren’t always found in cyberspace. Are online prices still not fitting your budget? Then head to your local thrift shops, dollar stores, and close-out stores. They will have the best prices on toys and educational items, but they won’t have the variety of products you might see online.

Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie

It’s no secret–kids love food! A substantial portion of a language learner’s vocabulary will be food items. Thus, I have a small bin of plastic toy fruits, vegetables, and basic foodstuffs such as eggs and bread. I often see these toys at discount stores, priced very reasonably. Sometimes you can get a huge assortment in one package, which includes other foods such as bread and eggs. These are some of the most versatile props you can own. They will help the kids learn the words for various foods, colors, meals, and actions.

Budget-Friendly Starter Kit for Online ESL/EFL Teachers
Stuffed animals can be found everywhere–garage sales, thrift shops, and discount stores. 

Back to the Drawing Board

A small whiteboard and markers costing a few dollars have given me the biggest return on investment. These tools are seemingly simple but incredibly versatile. Stock up on them! Buy the boards and the markers at your dollar store, where you can get several and still stay way under budget. You will need at least three. Don’t bother with an eraser–they get grimy and they’re near impossible to clean. Instead, opt for a washcloth or reuse a square of paper towel. I think I’ve been using the same square for the past two months!

The whiteboard is great for rewards systems too. You can draw pictures of animals, flowers, or write out your student’s name in fancy letters. You can tack on glittery stars when your students complete a set of tasks. If you get a magnetic board, you can use magnets as a reward system.

I’m Your Puppet

Once again, the dollar or thrift store saves the day. Closeout and discount department stores also have a decent selection of stuffed animals, although you still might pay more than you want to. You can disinfect or clean toys and stuffed animals purchased at thrift shops. Get toys that are easily recognizable like:

  • Pigs
  • Bears
  • Cows
  • Bunnies
  • Pandas (excellent choice)

Additionally, different sized animals will allow you to teach words like small and big.

Starter Kit
Whiteboards and markers are very cheap at the dollar store! They’re so cheap that I can write on them with permanent marker to make a chart for verb conjugation/inflection, pronoun case systems, timelines, and days/months!

We Work Hard for the Money!

It’s entirely possible to spend absolutely nothing at all on your new teaching venture, but this isn’t the norm. With work-at-home jobs becoming highly sought after, online teaching is one of the few which offer a living wage. Subsequently, thousands are applying and working for online ESL companies. Why not invest a little money to stand out among the rest?

The Budget-Friendly Starter Kit
Another dollar store find–a cookie sheet for displaying magnets!

Hope you got some very well-deserved tips from this post! You can also check out