Five Foolproof Tools that Have Made My Teaching Life Easier

Being a freelance teacher isn’t anything easy.  We have to be accountants, salespeople, planners, and marketers while also finding time to be teachers, too!  Despite having to wear many different hats at the same time, its an incredibly rewarding career path.

Lori Greiner wrote, “Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.”  While sometimes that’s incredibly true, 80 hour weeks can be incredibly taxing.  Saving time and staying efficient are key to a successful, happy and balanced career.

Here are five foolproof tools that have helped me stay organized and productive.

1.) CamScanner Android App


If you’re a teacher and don’t have the CamScanner App, you’re really missing out!  CamScanner turns your smartphone’s camera into a scanner.  There’s nothing to it — point, shoot, crop and instant PDF.

Not only has this app helped me digitize some of my favorite teaching resources, but it’s also helped me save time in class.  In one of my advanced groups, we didn’t have a lot of time left to review the homework.  Instead, I quickly used CamScanner to make a PDF of the answer key and emailed it to my students all within the app.  Time saved! Homework checked! And questions answered!

camscanner 2

CamScanner is available free for Android and iOS.  A premium subscription is available for an annual or monthly fee.


2.) Google Drive


Google Drive is the online tool that you’ve probably opened a few times but never really used.  I was the same way until one of my university classes was assigned to meet in a computer lab full of iMacs.  I began to think how we could use the computers instead of beginning class with the words, “Ok guys, good morning! Go ahead and power down the computers in front of you!”

One of the great features of Google Drive are collaborative documents.  Imagine a word document with six, eight or two hundred people writing at the same time.  So, one week I tried making a collaborative worksheet for the class.  Instead of printing lots of worksheets, I digitized them into a google document, assigned pairs and invited my students to be collaborators of the document.  The result, a highly effective classroom tool!

Here’s one task from the collaborative worksheet:

Google Docs as a Classroom Tool

One section from our collaborative worksheet

As a lead-in, students were asked to make a list of Colombian gestures, eating customs and common misconceptions about Colombia.  Each pair of students had one computer, and the three pairs simultaneously answered the question.  I was able to monitor their progress by observing the document on my computer.

Using collaborative worksheets on google documents has also made giving feedback much quicker and much more effective!  Using the markup tool, you’re able to make corrections and insert notes while students are on task.  Initially it can be intimidating to see the teacher’s cursor show up in their document while they’re writing, but my students have told me the instant feedback helps with their retention.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 10.17.16 PM

A student’s writing with feedback using the markup feature

Google Forms is a useful way to gather student information and administer exams.  I built a diagnostic exam using Google Forms — student answers are tabulated in a spreadsheet, conditional formatting shades correct answers green and incorrect answers red, and a Google Drive add-on called Flubaroo automatically generates an exam score and instantly sends an analysis to the student.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 11.04.12 PM

After doing the quiz online, students’ answers are tabulated into a spreadsheet. Conditional formatting formulas shade correct answers green and incorrect answers red automatically.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 11.05.12 PM

A screenshot of the Flubaroo automatic grading sheet

3.) Google Calendar

Teachers are busy people.  Especially EFL teachers.  We have different jobs, different clients and a crazy schedule to manage.  Juggling so many different tasks can be difficult, but nothing is more frustrating than student cancelations.  Correction: accidentally showing up at a lesson that a student canceled is more frustrating.

For students who cancel frequently, I use google calendar.  If they need to cancel, they simply click “refuse” on the calendar invite to cancel the lesson.  I get a notification on my phone, my iPad, my Macbook and via e-mail.  Also, I have a written record of when the student canceled in case any cancelation fees have to be assessed.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 10.44.23 PM

4.) A Carbon-Copy Receipt Book

Sometimes in order to go high tech, you gotta go low tech.  My private students pay for their lesson every fourth class.  While keeping the exchange of cash to a minimum is nice, I know that I’ve accidentally given students free lessons.  So, I invested in a $8.000 COP (~$3.60 USD) receipt book.  After a student pays for his or her four lessons, I’ll write them a receipt with the dates of the next four lessons and keep the carbon copy for my records.

recipt book

5.) Plastic Folders

Another great low-tech solution — a $2.000 COP (~$1.75USD) plastic, closing folder from Panamericana.  There’s nothing worse than showing up to a student’s lesson with the wrong materials.  Solution – each student gets their own folder, and their lesson materials do-not-leave that folder!

Not only have these plastic folders helped me keep materials organized, but they’ve also saved me tons of time on planning!  Twice a month, I’ll have a mega-planning day to determine objectives for the students, create materials and send them for printing.


What teaching tools make your life easier??

3 thoughts on “Five Foolproof Tools that Have Made My Teaching Life Easier

  1. Annette Bryant says:

    Warren, is there a way you could email me this post? I would like to send it to Jason, but
    facebook is non existent in China and although he can sometimes get a connection, it’s flaky and we don’t depend on it.

    Hope everything is going well with you. It sounds like it is!!

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