You probably have been teaching online since mid or late March. Think about your lessons so far. How closely do you follow the coursebook? Do you focus on all skills and systems as you did BC (before Corona)? Are you placing more emphasis on something in particular and if yes, what is that?
I attended a webinar today, run by LLN in New York and one of the key takeaways was that perhaps we should focus on listening and speaking until we return to the actual classroom. Why?
- These two skills are usually the ones that most students identify as their weakness.
- Students can do reading and writing at home, without our presence. Feedback can be given online or texts can be used in class as a springboard for production .
- Right now, less is more.
I would add a third priority. Fun, people. Fun. I don’t know about your students, but many of mine aren’t doing well. Perhaps because I mostly teach teenagers and they’re finding it particularly hard to deal with this whole situation; not being able to go out, meet friends, vent their frustration and all that. I find it hard to cheer myself up as well when I look at their faces and see passive, demotivated and discouraged people.
Use some games or jokes or tell funny anecdotes. Lighten up the atmosphere as much as possible.
So, In this post you’ll find:
- more web tools for techie teachers.
- ideas on how to increase motivation and interaction.
- websites where you can find lesson plans and stories for your young learner classes.
- a list of very useful webinar recordings you can watch.
Open with something that will put a smile on their face. Show a silly video or meme. Why not share this link and ask your students to create their own meme next time!
Tell an amusing anecdote or a joke! You can find jokes by levels here. Audio clips included.
If you were looking for a fun game to start your class, check out this wheel of fortune here! There’s a video tutorial but don’t worry, it’s super easy to follow. You can use this game to review lexical chunks, or as a fun warmer to have students guess a song/ movie title. To say my students love it, would be an understatement!
Tools for listening classes and more
Maybe you already know these; I’ve only just discovered them and I think they’re extremely useful.
timestretch : This is a free online audio player that allows you to speed up and slow down an audio file. You can use it when doing micro-listening tasks, e.g isolate specific sentences from your text and play a slower version to help students do bottom-up decoding. Thank you for sharing this amazing tool, Cristina Cabal!
youtubetrimmer.com: I love this one. You can use it to trim, crop and share specific parts of a video or song that you need to use in your classes. Why it’s useful? Because songs might have swear words and videos might contain scenes you’d rather not show your students. I’m using it for my song activities which I will share soon, so stay tuned!
Live worksheets. This is a great tool which I’m sure most of you know and use. You can upload your pdf or word doc worksheets, type in the answers and send them to your students; they can check their answers after they’ve finished the task.
My advice is this: try to use one new tool each week, to avoid overwhelming yourself.
Are you worried that your online classes are too teacher-centred?
Many of us have noticed a drop in our students’ motivation; some are reluctant to speak, even if they were quite competent speakers in face-to-face classes. It’s only natural, as this whole lockdown anxiety might be affecting their performance.
I’m using a platform, which has no breakout room feature, so lessons can get pretty teacher-centred. When I set up speaking tasks, I usually get very short answers and not much interaction. I’ve thought of the following ideas to increase student-to-student interaction and motivation to speak and they seem to be working well.
1. Chat time
Give them a couple of minutes to interact with each other; just listen without interfering or correcting. You can do that before you start or a few minutes before you end your lesson. Tell them to ask each other questions about anything (as long as it’s in English) and share feelings and experiences. Look down and allow them to talk to each other, unless of course they address you and include you in their little chat.
useful for practising: initiating and responding, turn-taking, past tense, time phrases, adjectives to describe feelings, etc.
Storyboards are always a great idea to help learners practise speaking. You can create your own, it’s really easy.
How to make them:
• create a template/grid
• sketch out a story or
• use your photos or
• download photos from the internet or
• ask students to create their storyboard the way they prefer
how to use them
• students describe the story using the photos in the given order
• students describe the story using the photos in the order they like
• students describe a story based on the photos but they can also add more scenes (higher levels).
• students exchange their storyboards and try to tell each other’s story
Students can work in pairs or groups to prepare their story. If you’re using a platform which has breakout rooms, fantastic. If not, put students in pairs and ask them to talk on the phone or WhatsApp instead. It could work.
useful for practising: past tense, sequence adverbs, topic-related lexis etc.
Canva is a free storyboard generator that’s pretty straightforward and easy to use. Here’s what I made in less than a minute.
3. Tell your own story
Start or finish the lesson with an anecdote or a narrative. Why? To build rapport with students, to share your experience/knowledge with them and encourage them to follow suit. Ask them to narrate their experiences e.g. travel or work stories. Model active listening by asking them questions or reacting to what they say. You can use my mind map to help your students to plan their story.
useful for practising: Interrupting, asking for repetition/ clarification, back-channelling.
4. Use task-based lessons to trigger discussion and interaction.
Fluency First have shared three great lesson plans.
5. Try dictogloss to introduce grammar.
Dictogloss is a collaborative task which usually engages my teenagers and adults.
Procedure: Learners listen to a passage three times:
- the first time, without taking notes.
- the second, they write down key words.
- the third, they expand on their notes.
Then, they reconstruct the text; they can write their version on the interactive whiteboard or a google doc. Next, they compare theirs with the transcript, what Wilson (2003) calls the discovery stage. At that stage, you can focus on the target language.
I love this British council lesson plan. Students complete a worksheet after searching for objects and words found at home. Ideal to get YLs moving around a bit. You can tweak it and ask them to bring the items and show them to each other!
Have you heard of vooks? They have a 30-day free trial and I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re teaching young learners. I’ve found some beautiful stories, most of which are just 5 minutes long. My primary students loved them!
cbeebies is also a nice website where you can find short videos for young learners, games and puzzles. Go to shows and check out Andy’s wild adventures!
1. Don’t miss Scott Thornbury’s webinar recording, P is for Performance. I particularly liked what he said about Lapaire’s notion of grammar as a kind of performance or drama.
2. Active language, a school in Cadiz Spain, have their own YouTube channel, where you can find recordings of the webinars recently hosted about teaching online:
Zoom: The Basics
Ideas for teaching young learners
Ideas for teaching teens
Ideas for low-level learners (YLs, teens and adults)
3. British council have uploaded the recordings of these 3 webinars run by:
4. An interesting Pearson webinar run by Michael Brand
I’d like to end this post with two comments from Robert Martinez and Ceri Jones:
-Don’t use technology that you don’t have a basic understanding of.
-The WHO recommends that people working (teaching, learning) from home should take a 3-minute break every 30 minutes.
Wilson, M. (2003). Discovery listening–improving perceptual processing. ELT Journal, 57(4), pp.335-343.