Working with minimal resources - teacher training in Mongolia

Teaching with minimal resources can seem a daunting prospect for those of us lucky enough to work with coursebooks, photocopiers, audio and IT facilities in our schools. Karen Waterston recently returned from Mongolia, where she ran an in-service teacher training course. Here she writes about how she adapted to her new working environment.

Working with minimal resources - teacher training in Mongolia - resources article

A new start
I resigned from my job with the British Council in February 2008 to start an in-service teacher training course in a small town in the North East of Mongolia. For 3 months, I saw more sand storms than I have ever seen in my life. I moved house twice, saw horses parked outside the bank, and was joyous to see green leaves in summer.

I worked with the most incredible teachers who had relatively little in terms of resources, and so during that time I had to become good at teaching and training with next to nothing. The teachers I worked with have no teachers' books, no cassettes or CDs, and would have nothing to play them on even if they did. The students share a course book between 4 or 5, sometimes more. Photocopiers are scarce and often locked in a room – the key nowhere to be found. Computers are slow and the sand storms meant that the connections disappeared on a daily basis. So, here I was, with an empty training room, eager teachers, a chalk board, no resources, and me.

What I did

  • I managed to find some small notebooks and gave one each to the teachers to use as journals. Every week the teachers wrote to me about their classes and what they found hard, needed help with and also what had worked and what the students liked. I used this to feed into my training sessions.
  • I became an actress. To demonstrate different types of teaching techniques I became two or three different teachers. We couldn’t read case studies and analyse them because there was no printer and paper was like gold dust. I acted the scenarios, as a teacher-centred teacher and as a learner-centred teacher. It wasn’t easy but with a smile and some energy, the teachers saw what I was trying to illustrate.
  • We did a lot of TPR activities using words and actions of everyday life - relevant to the local situation - such as chopping wood, collecting water, cooking, herding animals.
  • I cut down on my use of paper. I became an expert at only using the paper I needed so I put 2 or 3 activities on one page and photocopied it for teachers to share. I then cut away the margins and kept these to use for games such as pictionary. One thing I noticed was that memory becomes better when you don’t have everything on hundreds of pieces of paper.
  • For bingo activities, the teachers drew grids in their books and we used to come back to this to practise areas such as giving instructions and the use of imperatives.
  • I exploited language and stories from the teachers’ own lives rather than made up dialogues and situations in books. I asked them to bring stories from their classroom situations and we used these as material for discussion.
  • At the end of each session, I asked teachers to summarise what we had done, and we put bullet points on the board which they copied into their notebooks.
  • I went to schools and observed the teachers and in exchange I taught their classes. This became useful material to use as illustrations of the differences and similarities between our teaching styles. I encouraged student participation and for students to provide words, sentences and situations for dialogues and games. It’s amazing how much we all have in our heads that can be tapped into. And it’s real.
  • Teachers had access to computers, but as internet was limited, sharing resources was difficult and I couldn’t find a solution to having shared online space. So I saved everything on my work computer and transferred materials, sessions, websites and resources (along with photos I’d taken) onto the teachers USB keys, which most of them had.

All in all, it was a very rewarding time. I had to be creative and realise that we don’t always need a huge amount of resources to be a good teacher. Energy, creativity and a sense of humour go a long way. Oh, and being flexible really helps too.

Do you teach or train in a similar situation? Why not leave a comment on this article and tell us about it, or start your own blog.


Submitted by teacherjoe on Fri, 01/23/2009 - 16:35


I now teach in Beijing, China, but my first job was in China was in a small university in a small city. I had a blackboard (well actually just an ordinary piece of wood painted black) and chalk. The classroom had 20 desks for 40 students. I had no access to a copy machine. I brought my own computer with me and had internet access in my apartment, but there was no way to display anything in the classroom. In the end, I discovered that I had just one resource, but it was the best resource you could imagine.

Should I tell you what that resource was? Or should I keep you guessing? You can come back here for the answer in a week or two... No, I can never bear to feel the suspense build, even when I know the answer to the question myself! The greatest resource I had, the resource we always have, was the students. At first, just their body language was enough to communicate their messages to me. When asking simple questions in pairs (which we practiced out loud as a whole class first) the students came up with some very good sentences that served as shining examples for others or they came up with some not-so-good sentences that served as a grammar exercise.

I also taught the Young Professors of English, and they had some wonderful hopes for their own classroom that they could share in our discussions. As in Karen's class, we used a lot of TPR but also played simple games (mostly quiz games with questions written by the teachers themselves), sang songs, did timed readings, held informal debates, among other activities. It was a good time!

Teacher Joe

Submitted by mceupc on Thu, 04/09/2009 - 19:04


Dear Karen,

I am very pleased to congratulate you for your dedication, creativity, and great efforts so as to provide teachers with very positive insights, helping them grow both personally and professionally.

What I found particularly interesting in your article was the way you exploited language and stories from the teachers' own lives "rather than made up dialogues and situations in books." This was a really humanistic approach, I believe. Also the summarising activity at the end of each session would certainly work out as an important feedback to you as well as a positive exercise of reflection for the trainees.

Well, although I am keen on technology tools, I also agree with you on saying that "we don't always need a huge amount of resources to be a good teacher." As Pete Sharma put it "It is important to understand the respective roles played by the teacher and the technology in the learning process." We should use the technology "to complement and enhance what the teacher does."

Hope to read further articles from your experience.


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