Mark Newman

Teaching young Thai kids with no resources!

How to be a success in the classroom with very few materials

One of the most popular questions around the online community of foreign teachers is ‘How do I teach with no resources?' If you are new to Thailand and teaching and have just started at a new school this may be useful to you.

It's a nightmare scenario but still a very common situation here in Thailand...

...your class has fifty noisy, sweaty, fidgety kids... the rusty fans that hang dangerously from the ceiling are all bark and no bite... you're on your own because the ‘Thai teaching assistant' that you were promised wasn't cloned in time for the new school year and worst of all the printing press hasn't been invented yet, so... NO BOOKS!

Your mind is blank and you've got an hour to kill. And then you've got another 19 of those hours to kill before Friday when the minivan will ferry you off to the beach and you can kick up the sand and muse over the least painful ways to kill yourself.

This is the most exhausting form of teaching. Actually, it can almost not be called teaching because your priorities have shifted from ‘proper' teaching to finding something to keep the kids (and yourself) busy. This means you'll have to come up with English language based activities in lieu of actually teaching the English language.

Of course, activities do help the cause of learning English, but in properly resourced schools they play a smaller part in the grand curriculum of things.

So - what are you going to do to earn that thousand dollars a month the agency has promised you?

(Let's assume that the school director has gone for a lower model Mercedes and managed to cobble enough cash together to put a blackboard in each classroom. Let's also assume that you've paid the friendly office girl the 500 baht deposit required for a stick of chalk.)

Simon says... you can kiss my mangosteen!

First of all, forget the ‘Simon Says' game. Every bright spark on the internet suggests this game, but I've tried it and it's a disaster. By the time you've managed to communicate the rules to the kids, it will be Friday and that minivan will be leaving without you.

So - rule number one - always choose activities with no rules!

Here are just a few ideas that I have worked for me in the past. I've chosen these ideas to share because I enjoyed them as much as the kids did.

Stick with the activities that you most enjoy because there's nothing that stretches out a period of teaching more than doing something that you hate.

The warm up!

First, let's get them warmed up...

It's strange how kids can find the energy to scream and shout in the playground but become suddenly mute when asked a question in the classroom. If you've ever seen a tank full of guppy fish at feeding time, well, you'll know what I mean.

Get all the kids to shout out loud. Making loud noises is great fun and it's good to let the kids know that it's OK to do it. Go around the class and make every kid shout as loud as he can. Some of them will be crap at shouting to start with, but they'll soon get the hang of it.

OK, everyone's had a good shout... let's get on with the class, shall we?

Let's start with a nice easy activity...

1 - The Isaan iPad!

What the f... the Isaan iPad? Yes, you too can bring tech into the classroom. All you need are some plates and some salt. Yeah, you can see where I'm going with this already, can't you!

These iPads don't have WiFi but you can still connect to the kids by getting them to write words in the salt. It's brilliant and messy fun, too. Say a word, write a word on the blackboard or show them a picture or flashcard...

There's no ‘ctrl-alt-del', but a simple shuffle of the plate gets you back to a clean slate.

See, you're already glad you clicked on this link, right?

2 - "soo pa ka la fra ja liss tee eks pee a lee do shus"

Mary Poppins to the rescue!

OK, let's try something a little more challenging but even more fun... Phonics made easy!

(I've killed hundreds of hours with this one. It's bloody great fun for me, too!)

Write ‘soo' on the top left-hand side of the blackboard. Make sure all the kids can say it. Go around the class and get them all to have a go. Now write ‘pa' next to it. Get the kids to shout ‘soo pa' while you point to the ‘sounds' on the blackboard. Now write ‘ka' next to ‘pa'... keep going till they can recognize the sounds of the letters and say the entire word.

"soo pa ka la fra ja liss tee eks pee a lee do shus"

You can make this game last all day. I promise you that the kids will have fun eventually learning the whole word. And when they have they can show off to their classmates. You can even make a competition out of it... girls versus boys.

Make sure they pronounce all the ‘s' sounds especially the ‘eks' one.

This activity is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

3 - Conversation time.

Conversation is important and can only come from a native English speaker. While the Thai teachers can teach the kids reading, some grammar and writing, only you can teach them talking. If you pop into the English classes at your school, you'll find out that the kids never do any talking so this aspect of learning English is on you.

Write the following conversation on the blackboard AND on two pieces of paper.

(I've presented the conversation here with bold type for boys and normal type for girls but on a board or on paper you can use different colours)



How are you?

I'm fine, thank you.

What is your name?

My name is Mary.



First, practice the entire conversation with the whole class from the blackboard.

Next, get a girl and a boy to stand up. Hand them the dialogs you have written on the paper and guide them through the conversation. You can keep the whole class involved by working through the dialog on the blackboard while the kids are saying it.

Change the colors on two new pieces of paper when you want the girls to ask the questions.

Of course, you can vary the level of the conversation to the level of your students... but always start off with very simple dialogs that they understand so they get used to speaking out loud and in front of everyone.

4 - The Dicey Numbers game!

This one does require a little more planning.

Go to Google images and print off a ‘cube template' on card to make two dice.

On one template write the numbers 1 to 6 and the other template write the numbers 7 to 12.

Make the cubes and reinforce them with tons of transparent sticky tape to make them more robust.

On the blackboard at the top write ‘4 and 9 is 13'. (Underline the two words.)

Also, write ‘100' on the board. (This is the target of the game.)

Divide the class into teams. It doesn't matter how many.

You can do boys versus girls or groups of five or six.

Each team gets a turn rolling the dice and must say out loud the total of their score as it is written on the board.

‘2 and 9 is 11' or ‘3 and 7 is 10', etc.

Keep scores on the blackboard till a team reaches 100.

You can change the numbers on your dice to the level of your students, of course.

More teams make the games longer as will a higher target.

Also, if you have time, you can ask the teams to come up with a name for themselves.

They'll come up with names like ‘Harry Potter', ‘K Pop' or ‘Hello Kitty', etc.

(It will take them ages, though and they'll argue about the name of their team forever so make sure you have an extra twenty minutes for this or you can name the teams yourself.)

And so finally...

Well, I had some other ideas that I have used in the past but I noticed that this article was getting too long. So that's it for this piece.

If you have some ideas for teachers with no resources please take the time to add them to the comments section below. Also, let us know how you get on with the ideas suggested if you have tried them.

Most importantly, as you're kicking up the sand on the beach this Saturday, remember... you are not alone.

Killing yourself is not the answer!

Good luck,

Mark Newman


Yours was the FIRST refreshing thing I have read as an ESL teacher of K2. I too am facing difficulty with my 4 year old students who can't seem to hit that light bulb moment from what a letter sounds like and comprehending the meaning of the word. Jolly phonics is big on my school but I think it's lacking terribly in teaching the kids to listen, talk, ask questions. I feel like Helen Keller's teacher most of the time. Any sage advice would be greatly appreciated ?.

By Sandra More, Bangkok (16th October 2022)

Create teams and use flash cards with words or pictures and the goal is to say the English word. Allow help from the team initially. One team attempts to read the card and if they don’t get it, then the second team had an opportunity to try. Easy way to score is by giving them the card and totalling the cards at the end. Each team has to count their cards out loud with help from the teacher and class so everyone is learning counting.

By Mini, USA (12th July 2022)

unlike you I don't get to go to the beach at the weekend and don't get paid either but teaching Thai kids is so much fun. I was looking for new ideas and your post was the most useful I came across because you have done it. My main problem is giving the class instructions because I have no clue what they are saying and they have no clue what I am saying. Nang long comes in very useful but saying it 20000 times in an hour can be quite exhausting. It sounds like hell but in actual fact we have built up a really good understanding and classes usually go quite well and we all learn something.
I will try your ideas out next week as currently I am in bed sick with yet another bug that my immune system has never encountered in its 62 years and probably passed to me from one of the kids!

By Jick, Nakhon Phanom (28th October 2020)

what can you teach a group of young Thai children (3-5) when they can say alphabet and recite numbers 1-10 (limited resources)

By Brenda , Thailand (30th January 2018)

Hi Mark, great fun. I guess most of these would work as plenary for Anuban and Prathom levels, and possibly some as warm ups for Matthayom. Love the Isaan iPad. Just so happens I found myself making a die from card and sticky back plastic this morning ;-) Check out the forever resourceful site at the British Council

By Nigel Quinn, N.E Thailand (30th May 2016)

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