If you can read traditional Chinese characters, I recommend the book "釧影樓回憶錄" by 包天笑 (PDF file).
It is in written vernacular Chinese, an easy read, with numerous "gems". The author talks about his own experience of learning, and attending examinations at about 1883. related chapter: p43~p54, p72~p78, p83~p114.
Briefly, when children had a teacher, or went to a private school (私塾), they were given a book (without punctuations); the teacher would pronounce a verse, students recited what the teacher said; again and again, until they can recall from memory.
While reciting the teacher's words, the students look at the characters, so they could gradually connect each character wiht its pronunciation.
Also, at the same time, students marked the pause and stop (句讀) with dots & circles.
Such activities were repeated daily, weekly, and monthly.
They started from the trimetrical classic (三字經), thousand character writing (千字文) or other "books for children learning" (童蒙讀物). afterwards, the "proper" reading materials are four books and five classic (四書五經).
Back to your question: in the past, no one cared about unifying the pronunciation; each learned in his/her dialect.
About the tools needed: just books, brush pens and black ink, red ink. Possibly a "夏楚" (a stick?) as a punishment instrument.