Top tips for online English teaching & iCafs

If this title reminds you how mindboggled and bamboozled you have felt recently by all this online stuff, stick with us as we try to de-code some of it for you.  Seldom has there been such an intense time of change and adaptation required as we are experiencing at the moment.  We are sure that many of you have done everything you can to keep connected with your learners; maybe more effectively than we have!  Whatever you are doing to keep these relationships going with your precious learners and friends we want to encourage you to keep going and keep getting better at it.  We hope these tips might help you on your way.

Practicalities

  • Decide what online platform you want to use e.g. Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Meet, Google Meet etc.
  • Learn how to use that platform – concentrate on one function at a time e.g. scheduling a meeting, mute & unmute/chat box/breakout rooms/whiteboard/sharing a screen etc.
  • Set up a meeting and practise with your family and friends!
  • Do an online tutorial to help you make the most of the chosen platform.
  • Think about your backdrop. Can you host the meeting in a space with as few distractions as possible?
  • Do you have a good clear microphone and speaker in your computer or would it be useful to invest in a set of earphones with an inbuilt microphone/a freestanding speaker and microphone?
  • Use your classroom assistants to oversee some of the functions e.g. the breakout rooms.
  • Consider delivering shorter lessons or having a break after 40 minutes. ‘Screen’ sessions are quite intense! Zoom provides 40 minute sessions for free which creates a natural place to have a break. You can then re-commence for a further 40 minutes.
  • Learn how to mute everybody when the class starts to avoid echo and then invite people to unmute as and when they contribute, especially when it is a larger group.
  • Establish some ground rules with your teaching team i.e. invite people to contribute by name, making sure you include all of the learners. This will prevent stronger learners dominating the speaking time. People can raise their hand if they want to speak.
  • Remember to smile and look at your camera! That way you are looking at the learners. Use your hands and facial expressions too to bring life and fun to the session.

Ideas for online teaching sessions

We have to be intentional to keep conversational English as our focus while using screentime. Here are some ideas (some of which require particular Zoom functions) we may wish to consider:

 

  • Keep the lesson simple! Everything seems to take longer online and remember that paper, pen and small whiteboards are still useful and easy to hold up to your camera. It’s easy to make a whiteboard: put a blank A4 card in a plastic sleeve, write on the card with felt tip pen and  rub it out with a cloth!
  • We may need to consider moving away from our planned teaching schedule and being less structured. However if you choose to continue with your chosen curriculum make the most of your online time by preparing your students well off-line for their sessions. This may mean giving learners the topic ahead of time with short activities to prepare in advance. Make sure instructions for these activities are clear and learners know how to complete them ahead of the teaching session. This will give you a good foundation from which to start your lesson. Remember where screen time is concerned ‘Less is More’.
  • Using your breakout rooms – These are good for pairwork/small group activities and your groups can be randomly or manually selected according to ability. Here learners can discuss a topic, brainstorm an activity, list, rank or compare things. They could think about seasonal items, a simple recipe, food groups, things you need in a lockdown, bucket list ideas, things that make them happy. They could discuss the most important stories in the news at the time, the criteria for a good job, Desert Island essentials, top 10 books they’ve read or their top three movies and why they like them, what items they might put in a time capsule, the best technological discoveries in the past ten years ………
  • ‘Ping pong’ questions and answers are helpful. You start off by asking a question, a learner answers and then asks another learner the same question. This is good for controlled practice if you are focussing on a particular grammar point.
  • Ask questions about objects you see in the rooms the learners are in – photos on the wall/paintings/objects on a bookshelf beind them. These all provide opportunities for emerging language.
  • Total Physical Response & realia – suggest learners go and find real objects in their home. Choose a topic, choose a room, talk about the objects, their uses, describe them, find a photo and tell the story behind it, memorise the vocabulary.  Try the usual ‘Simon says’ then do it with objects found in the learners’ homes. e.g. ‘Simon says…find a pen…’ etc.
  • Using instructions to make things like origami or writing recipes/doing a craft activity.
  • Storytelling – Tell a short story and have the learners retell the story to each other. Highlight particular grammar points.
  • Music/chants/raps/poems – learners find objects to create a rhythm with and then write a poem/chant to practise specific sounds/grammar points.
  • Drawings and pictures – Describe something and have the learners draw it. Provide the learners with half of a shape or half a picture and get the learners to complete the other half on paper. Learners could use their phone cameras to show the finished drawings on a shared screen or show their drawing to camera. Use two different photos or pictures for learners to compare and contrast. Using whiteboard function, play Draw and Describe! You draw an object on screen and learners describe it or you describe an object and learners draw what you are describing.  Learners can take turns to do the same for the group.
  • Memory games – can be adapted for any level – In two separate breakout groups learners could study two different photographs or pictures. They could then return to a plenary session where one or two learners describe the picture/photo to the rest of the class. Games like ‘I went to the supermarket and I bought…’ can be a lot of fun, where learners take turns to add a new item to the shopping basket beginning with the letter A and moving through the alphabet. Each time the learner repeats all the items already mentioned before adding their item beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. You can do this with different topics. It can also be adapted to include different tenses e.g. Yesterday I …(past simple), This week I have….  (practise present perfect), Next year I will… (practise future), During the Coronavirus lockdown I….(mixed tenses)
  • Word games – take a long word and see how many words learners can create from the letters in that single word. Use this activity to practise pronunciation. Use chat box function for any new vocabulary that crops up during the lesson and drill new words.

References