Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Since the murder of George Floyd, discussion about racism and how to address it has been brought much more to the attention of many white people and the media. Hopefully this time it will be the #metoo moment that makes the difference, and we won’t still be having these same discussions in fifty years with no change in sight.

Here is a collection of resources which I will add to to help us all learn more about racism in ELT and what we can do about it. Please comment if you know of other resources I’ve missed.

General resources

The TEFLology podcast has a list of resources on racism in ELT, including research and journal articles.

IATEFL has an Inclusive Practices and Special Educational Needs Special Interest Group (IP&SEN SIG). They have a website, facebook page, and Twitter account. One section of their site is dedicated to racial inclusion including a huge range of other links not shared on my list here.

IATEFL’s Global Issues SIG (GISIG) also have resources on a wide range of subjects, including discrimination.

In June 2020, English UK announced that it will create an action group to “focus on how values of anti-racism, diversity and inclusion are embedded in the sector.”

These are my bookmarks connected to racism.

Experiences and stories

Women of Color in ELT is a blog containing a range of powerful stories and thought-provoking articles. They also have a Twitter account.

Jasmine Cochran, a black American woman teaching English language and literature in China told the BBC about how George Floyd’s death changed her Chinese students. She also described her wider experience of being a black teacher in China and shares examples of activities she has done to help her students broaden their world view.

Chia Suan Chong asks What does inclusion mean to me? and provides tips on how to create a more inclusive classroom.

Racism in English Language Teaching? Autobiographical Narratives of Black English Language Teachers in Brazil is a research article from the Revista Brasileira de Linguística Aplicada (Brazilian Journal of Applied Linguistics).

Abstract

A hundred thirty years after the abolition of slavery and post-slave trade in Brazil, Black people remain the minority amongst teachers in English courses of private and public schools. This situation is tagged in their professional situation insofar as an aftermath of racism and coloniality are concerned, as I shall argue here. In this study, I seek to examine the ways race can be negatively or positively expanded in the performance of the identities of Black English language teachers, framing themselves as either resistant identities in/through language (using the language as a strategy to resist) or resistant identities to language (negating themselves as capable speakers or teachers).

Hiring practices

You don’t look like a ‘native speaker’: Racism in ELT on the TEFL Equity Advocates blog talks about how hiring practices and advertising can be damaging.

The TEFL Training Institute podcast did an episode on racism and ethics in teacher recruitment.

Ahmar Mahboob wrote a chapter called Racism in the ELT industry in A. Mahboob & C. Lipovsky (eds.) Studies in Applied Linguistics and Language Learning (2009) for Cambridge Scholars Press. The link takes you to a pdf version of the chapter on Academic.edu.

In the classroom

Film English has a B1/B2 lesson plan based on a video called Racism is Real.

Hana Ticha shares a lesson plan for helping students to realise what it feels like to be discriminated against.

Adi Rajan has an activity using images to help students explore their biases.

The Lexical Lab blog has a post about handling conflict in the classroom, including how to respond when students express racism, homophobia or other opinions which can be difficult to know how to respond to.

One of the best TED talks I’ve ever seen (I don’t have a lesson plan for it, but maybe you do?) is The danger of a single story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

Materials writing

Varinder Unlu talks about representing ethnic minorities in materials in the second section of this post on the MAWSIG (Materials Writing) blogpost.

Emily Hird talks about the importance of representation in ELT materials and how it can affect engagement.

Nappy is an image bank of black and brown people available for free under a Creative Commons license. This image by Catina K Taylor was taken from the collection:

5 DOSsing years

Last Friday marked the end of my fifth year as the Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz. When I moved here I thought that I would be a bit bored with the job after 5 years and it would be time to move on. I’m very surprised and happy to say that that is not the case at all, and I’m not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. I’ve written this post to share some of the things I’ve learnt from five years as a Director of Studies and some of the highlights of the job for me.

The first photo of me in Bydgoszcz, August 2015

What I’ve learnt

Perspective is difficult to achieve, both for teachers and for you. Once you’ve got it, it’s both important to remember and hard to understand that others might not have it.

Time helps.

Patience helps, both with yourself and others.

Emotional reactions are a normal part of any job, but you need to learn when it’s OK to let them happen and when it’s better to wait.

You’ll deal with the same issues and hear the same complaints repeatedly, and it’s a lot less frustrating when you accept this.

The timetable is a monster.

The effort isn’t seen, the results are. Think about how they’ll be perceived.

There will always be accusations of favouritism, regardless of how much work you put into making things as fair as possible. 

Difficult decisions are still decisions that have to be made. Know that they’re the best decision you can make at that point in time and move on.

Communication is key.

Gratitude makes a huge difference to how everybody feels. Express it sincerely and often.

Managers need feedback just as much as teachers do, but it’s hard to create an environment where you get it. When you get negative feedback, don’t fight it or get defensive about it. Accept it and learn from it. Show gratitude for it. Model how you want your staff to respond to feedback.

Crisis points are where huge amounts of learning happens.

Sometimes your teaching gets neglected when there are so many other things to think about.

You have to take care of yourself and your physical and mental health.

You are not alone.

What I’ve loved

Watching teachers develop.

Seeing their confidence and skills improve week on week and year on year.

Seeing what they go on to do next, and how our school has help them to do that.

Watching senior staff develop.

Seeing how they grow into their roles.

Helping them develop their skills.

Watching myself develop, as a manager, trainer and person.

Learning how to be kind to myself and accept the decisions I’ve made, including when they go wrong.

Improving my communication skills.

Seeing our school grow and change.

Seeing students progress through the school, especially when I’ve made decisions about their progress in the past.

Working with fantastic colleagues who make going to school something I look forward to.

What I’m looking forward to

Trying new things out at our school.

Watching our students continue with their progress through the school.

Hearing about what our teachers do next, both inside and outside teaching.

Continuing to grow and learn, and help others do so.

Seeing what happens next.

Conversation shapes

Have you ever watched in despair as students have a ‘conversation’ which is actually just two monologues? Or tried in vain to interact with a student who only gives one-word answers, however encouraging you are?

I know when I’m B1 or below, it’s difficult for me to pull my weight in a conversation and I need a lot of support from whoever I’m talking to. In the classroom we can provide this support in a variety of ways. We can supply sentence stems that students can complete, we can show them the first two or three turns of a conversation, or we can provide them with a whole range of questions or other functional language which might be useful in the conversation they are having.

These are all interventions we can make before or during students speak in class. But what about after the conversation? How can you help students to reflect on the success of that conversation? Here’s one idea I haven’t tried yet but it would like to: show students the conversation shapes below and ask them these questions:

  • Which shape is like a conversation you might have in your own language?
  • How would you feel in each of these conversations if you were a person A or person B? How actively would you participate in the conversation in each example?
  • Which shape is like the conversation you just had? Do you think you were person A or person B?
  • How successful do you think it was as a conversation?
  • What could you change in the conversation you just had to make it more like shape 3? What help do you need from the teacher to do this?

Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with A talking a lot, and B saying almost nothing Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with both A and B producing a single long monologue Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with A and B taking turns of varying lengths, sometimes overlapping

You can download a PowerPoint of all of the images at Conversation shapes if you want to adapt them for your own lessons, though please retain the credit.

I think this activity is an example of metacognition, which is the act of monitoring and making changes to learning strategies you use. The reflection helps learners to become aware of the processes they use when they are having a conversation, and what they can do to have more successful conversations in the future. Here’s a beginner’s guide to metacognition from Cambridge.

What other strategies do you use to help learners have more successful conversations?

On 26th June 2020, I took part in a panel for the IATEFL Leadership and Management Special Interest Group (LAMSIG) entitled ‘What now?’ with Nik Peachey, Sandra Pitronaci and Josh Round, and moderated by Jenny Johnson.

This second question-and-discussion led webinar provides a forum for ELT academic managers to connect with a panel of expert academic practitioners to understand and share our understanding and response to Covid-19 and how we prepare for the future. How much will return to our familiar “normal” and how much will be a “new normal”?

My role on the panel was to consider the academic implications of restrictions on physical distancing (a.k.a. social distancing), gatherings and class size. The management/financial implications were discussed in a business management panel two weeks previously.

What is social distancing and why is it important?

image of two schoolchildren with a double-headed arrow between them and a mask below the arrow.

Image by Katherine Ab on Pixabay

Social distancing is a term which has come into wide circulation since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but each country has its own rules on what that distance is (there’s a helpful infographic in this BBC article). It’s therefore important to check what the requirements are where you are teaching and stay up-to-date with any changes.

Social distancing is important because coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets – packed with the virus – into the air.

These can be breathed in, or can cause an infection if you touch a surface they have landed on, and then touch your face with unwashed hands.

Virus transmission is less likely when ”fresh” air is involved – usually when people are outside.

– Quote taken from the BBC on 23rd June 2020

As I write this, some countries allow people to be closer together providing they wear masks, have plastic screens between them, or sit side-by-side rather than face-to-face. There may also be legal requirements for ventilation (the virus seems to spread more indoors than outdoors, direction of any fans/drafts can influence the direction of the virus) and frequency and depth of cleaning.

Timing is also a factor – the longer you spend with someone, the more risky it is.

Timing is also key. The longer you spend in close proximity with an infected person, the bigger the risk.

Scientists advising the UK government say spending six seconds at a distance of 1m from someone is the same as spending one minute at a distance of 2m.

Being exposed to someone coughing is riskier. Being 2m away from a cough carries the same risk as someone talking to you for 30 minutes at the same distance.

– Quote taken from the BBC on 23rd June 2020

All this means that when setting up classrooms for face-to-face teaching, we need to consider:

  • the amount of space between people
  • the number of people present
  • which direction they’re facing
  • whether masks are required or not
  • whether we use other methods of screening people from each other
  • ventilation of rooms
  • cleaning of surfaces
  • the amount of time spent together

Apart from this, we also need to have clear procedures in place if students or teachers show any symptoms or get the virus. This includes notifying anybody who might have come into contact with people showing symptoms to tell them to self-isolate, and may lead to whole schools being shut down again.

Getting back into the classroom with social distancing

Many schools do not have the option of using bigger classrooms, and there’s a limit to how many students we can lose and still maintain a viable business. We need to get smart with the spaces we have available. Our classrooms have chairs with folding We’ve played with various options at our school, though none of them are fixed yet. We won’t be trying any of them out until September 2020, so please let me know if you have other ideas!

  • Creating boxes marked with tape on the floor of the classroom to show which space each student should be in. Instead of our normal horseshoe pattern, it would be a grid using every part of the room, with all students facing forward (which feels like complete anathema to an experienced EFL teacher!) The first student to enter goes to the furthest box and the last student is in the one closest to the door. This also helps us to work out/manage exactly how many people can be in each classroom. The teacher has a slightly bigger box including the board.
  • Asking students and parents/carers to wear masks as they move around the school, until they arrive at their seat.
  • Telling parents/carers that they cannot come into the school building – they must drop their child off at the door.
  • Keeping windows open where possible to provide ventilation (not sure how that will work in the Polish winter though!)
  • Combining face-to-face classes with online ones (a hybrid approach), having one of each per week rather than two in the classroom.
    • This provides the benefits of both types of lessons, and means that if we have to go into lockdown again, students are already used to an online environment.
    • It also reduces the amount of time people spend in the school in relatively small rooms with groups of people, and therefore should reduce the risk.
    • This means we can use our bigger rooms for twice as many groups, as they will only be in school on one of their two lesson days, instead of both.
    • For off-site lessons, it reduces the need for teachers (and students!) to travel on one day a week.
  • Creating a code of conduct for students/parents to sign on how they will behave when in the school and in class, including staying the correct distance away from others.
  • Attempting to stagger class start and finish times to reduce the number of people moving around the building at the same time.
  • Having teenage group breaks in the classroom instead of moving to a communal space.
  • Requiring students to bring all of their own resources (pens, paper etc.). No resources will be lent to students by the teacher or by other students.
  • Using this large common space as a classroom, instead of a meeting place.
  • Working out a cleaning regime that can be run between lesson times, not just at the end of the day.
  • Ensuring there are large enough bins in every classroom for tissues so that they can be disposed of as soon as possible.
  • Changing the way that we teach, again.

A(nother) new way of teaching

Same same, but different: we’re back in the classroom, but not as we know it.

Students have their own boxes in the classroom which they must stay in during lessons, so we can’t change pairs or groups at will.

They can’t share resources, so we can’t do activities which involve passing paper or mini whiteboards around.

Both of the above mean that they can’t stand up and write on the whiteboard, as that’s a double-whammy of moving past other people and touching shared board pens.

Children can’t move from their seats, to the floor, to moving around the classroom. No more running games, or gallery walks with information stuck to the walls.

Teachers can’t walk around the room monitoring how successfully students are completing an exercise.

So what can we do?

  • New pairs can be formed by students turning in different directions, for example working with somebody from the box in front of them, to the left, to the right, or diagonally.
  • Include movement breaks or exercise breaks, with students standing up and moving around within their box but in a prescribed pattern so that they continue to stay the right distance away from others. Alternatively, they could put masks on while doing these activities.
  • Continue using some of the online resources which students are familiar with, for example Quizlet or Google Docs for collaborative writing. These can create a sense of team work.
  • Play Quizlet Live Cacophony (my students loved this when I did it in a non-socially-distanced way last year!)
  • Ask students to write large and legibly enough for the person in the box next to them to read their work. When they need to do a peer check or get a second opinion, they can hold up their notebooks so that their neighbour can read it.

The useful links section below has more ideas.

Potential problems

As lockdown has been lifted in Poland over the past few weeks, we’ve now arrived at a point where a lot of people seem to have forgotten that there’s such a thing as coronavirus, and we’re still at risk from it. Some people still wear masks and gloves, but most don’t. As I write this on 26th June, it’s 13 weeks until we start teaching in September, and only 14 weeks since we went into lockdown on 16th March. As we’ve all learnt in the past few months, a lot can change very quickly, so who knows how people will feel about social distancing in September.

I feel like some students and/or parents might refuse to follow the rules, creating potential conflict situations. We need to make our expectations very clear and explain that we’re putting these rules in place to ensure the safety of all of our staff and students. We don’t want everyone in the school to have to go into isolation because one person came in with the virus.

Another problem might be a lack of rapport in a group which has only met online or in a socially distanced space. If they can’t easily work with everyone in the group, it could be harder for them to feel comfortable using their English in front of their classmates.

The upsides

It’s not all doom and gloom: students can benefit from a socially distanced classroom too.

If we have a first-in-sits-furthest-from-the-door policy, this could mean that people are working with different students each lesson because of the order in which they arrive.

Students will have to enunciate more and/or use clarification strategies if they can’t hear/be heard by classmates, rather than getting closer to each other.

We’ve got another chance to be super-creative with our teaching, and I know we’ll all benefit from that, however hard it might be at first!

Useful links

These are all of the links I’ve managed to find so far for social distancing in the classroom. There don’t seem to be very many as I write this in June 2020, but I’m sure that will change! I’ll update the list as I find more.

ELT

Sara Davila wrote about social distancing and young learners (and teens) for the Pearson blog, including ideas for helping them to deal with stress and think critically. I think the discussion she suggests could be adapted as part of a first lesson, though the post seems to be aimed at teachers working with the same group all week, rather than a couple of lessons a week as our school does.

Alex Case has social distancing variations on his TEFLtastic classics.

Miranda Crowhurst suggests 19 ESL games to play while keeping social distance.

If you want to discuss social distancing with your students, you might want to use this lesson plan about distance dining from LinguaHouse.

General education

After many attempts, the most successful search term I found was ‘activities for the socially distanced classroom’.

Sara Devila’s article (above) had a link to an article about a clever idea from primary schools in China: one-metre hats. A headteacher in Amsterdam had a different idea about keeping her distance by using a large skirt (though I’m not sure about the cleanliness of hand on the stick!)

Teaching experimental science in a time of social distancing includes some great experiments students could try at home, and shows how another branch of education is completing rethinking how they work.

This article from Spaces4Learning has some useful questions if you’re considering a hybrid approach (some face-to-face, some online classes) to help you think about what you do in each lesson.

These social distancing games shared on Twinkl are for primary school children, and many of them require a large open space, but they could provide some inspiration.

Asphalt Green has a bumper list of Kids’ Games for Social Distancing.

 

Please add to the comments if you have any extra ideas or useful links to add. Good luck!

ExcitELT 2020

One of the positives of the situation in the last 3 months is the fact that many events are now held online and are therefore accessible to people from a wider range of locations. This was the case for the ExcitELT conference, held online on Sunday 14th of June 2020. I joined around 40-50 other teachers from all over the world to talk about overturning norms in ELT. As the conference was based in the Japan time zone it meant 7 a.m. start for me, but it was well worth getting up for!

The format of the conference is worth mentioning as I think this was one of its great strengths. Each one hour block was broken into three sections. First we had a short presentation from one or two people interested in that area. Then we went into break out rooms on Zoom in small groups of three to six people. We had access to a Google Doc containing questions to help us talk about the topic. We made notes in the document during or discussions and the final few minutes of the block involved a summary of interesting points which came up. This format works really well as it allowed us to dive into a topic in more depth and share our experiences of it. I feel like this led to a richer conference experience and I hope more conferences are run like this in the future.

(Note: you might also be interested in reading Zhenya Polosatova’s much more concise and pro-active reflections on the event!)

Overturning norms around teacher conformity – Anna Loseva

This was the first of two topics from the conference which I had never considered before. Anna invited us to think about which areas teaching involve conformity. Examples might be the feeling that we need to get particular qualifications to progress in the career, the pressure to conform to student expectations like playing lots of games, or perceived market pressures such as the perception that students only want teachers who grew up speaking English.

Anna started to think about teacher conformity when she was looking for a job in Vietnam. A lot of people advised her to get CELTA to make the job hunting process easier, including me. Anna decided that if she did this and got a job it would validate the system which says that CELTA is worth more than a teaching degree and the many years of experience which she already had, though she also acknowledged the usefulness and worth of a CELTA course. She managed to get jobs and has proved to herself and others that it is possible to work in a foreign country teaching English without getting a CELTA first. This prompted her to ask when conformity is and is not useful, which was the topic of our group discussions.

How can conformity be helpful?

  • It helps us to learn new things from people around us as we trying to fit in. This is especially true for new teachers fitting into the profession.
  • Our group discussed the need to know what the rules are or might be before you feel comfortable breaking them.
  • If we conform to a particular set of requirements, for example how a course works within a school, it can make it easier to support each other. We have a common point of reference for discussions and a kind of shared language.
  • Having restrictions can push our creativity.
  • It helps us to learn the culture of the system, for example how a local education system works.
  • It helps us to know when we have met expectations.
  • It allows us to set standards, and develop and evaluate ourselves and others against those standards.

How can conformity be detrimental?

  • It can lead to burnout, frustration and disappointment.
  • Students and teachers can end up losing motivation.
  • Students don’t necessarily know what is best for their education, so if we conform to their requests or expectations all the time it might be detrimental to their education.
  • When people conform without questioning it can lead to keeping guidelines which we no longer need.
  • The rules which we conform to might be outdated or inhibit creativity. They can limit autonomy and differentiation.
  • We might end up doing things which we do not understand the reason for or the point of.
  • Constructive disobedience can lead to progress and innovation. Making mistakes and trying something new are useful paths towards development.
  • We can forge our own path.

Thinking points

Anna left us with two questions to consider.

  • Do you see some of the accepted norms in our industry as questionable? Should they be questioned?
  • Is gaining approval important where are you? Is it a big part of ELT culture?

This session was a great way to start and really set the tone for the rest of the day.

Overturning norms related to teacher well-being – Tammy Gregersen

Tammy introduced us to the concept of positive psychology. She described the difference development based on strengths can make compared to development based on a concept of deficit and what’s missing. She introduced us to the work of Seligman, who says that if you use your ‘signature strengths’ you:

  • Have more ownership over development and feel more authentic
  • Have an intrinsic motivation to use your strengths
  • Have a more rapid learning curve
  • Feel invigoration, not exhaustion
  • Have a sense of inevitability with the feeling of ‘try and stop me’
  • Excited about displaying what you are good at
  • Feel creative and one stupid shoe projects revolving around your strengths
  • Engage in continuous learning
  • Own your strengths

(Apologies for any mistakes while paraphrasing – its from 2008 but I could find the original list!)

Tammy asked us to do a survey our strengths. We had to take the top five and find two of them which we had in common with another member of our group. We then had to consider two ways we could use our strengths in new or novel ways in the next 2 days.

Since I did the survey, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the top five things which came up from my list. I was very pleased with the points that it picked out because they are all things which I have consciously tried to develop in myself:

  1. Hope
  2. Curiosity
  3. Love of learning
  4. Gratitude
  5. Leadership

When discussing it with my friend later, we talked about how this type of survey could feel like an equivalent of a silly quiz in a magazine telling you what kind of person you are, but the fact that it keeps going round in my head means I think that this could be a very interesting avenue to explore. I’d be interested to know how similar or different the ranking of the 24 strengths on the list would look if I did the survey again in a few months or years. I also want to find out more about positive psychology and Seligman, starting with exploring his website Pursuit of Happiness in a lot more depth.

Overturning norms around ELT conferences – Shoko Kita, Tim Hampson, Peter Brereton

One of the reasons which I wanted to attend this conference was the fact that the ExcitELT team have been running interesting conference formats for the past few years. In this session they asked us to think about three main areas:

  • How to make conferences more diverse
  • How to narrow the gap between the presenter and the audience
  • How to make conference has more friendly and accessible, including more affordable

They started with this quote from Haruki Murakami:

'If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.'

The questions which we were given to consider are useful for anyone who wants to plan a different kind of conference I think. They were:

  • How can we address and balance all areas of diversity?
  • How do we reach a wider range of participants?
  • How do we follow up on new presenters?
  • What can we do differently to make parents more welcome and make sure we have an affordable family policy?
  • Can video or online sessions be used for people who are distant? How can video sessions be more interactive?
  • What are the time demands of social events organized alongside conferences? Does this affect who got to them?
  • How much time is optimal between sessions for discussion?
  • How can you overcome the problems of one-time workshops?

By organizing an online conference which included a lot of group discussions and responses to participants’ experiences, the ExcitELT team started to work towards answering some of the questions that they posed. I will be interested to see how new modes of training and conferences develop in the post-pandemic era.

Overturning norms around second language teacher education – Geoff Jordan

Geoff started his presentation by describing the current training norms in place for elt. He described the craft model of CELTA where you hone techniques to become a teacher and the applied science model of university degrees where you learn the theory and think about how to apply it to the classroom. Norms in in-service teacher education include observations, sponsored courses, seminars and conferences, and perhaps also visiting trainers.

Geoff says that these methods of training pay little attention to how people actually learn a second language and lead to inefficacious teaching as most teachers use a course book to implement a grammar-based synthetic syllabus.

He described a common norm now of training focusing on teacher cognitions, which requires teachers to understand and articulate their own beliefs, assumptions and knowledge (BAKs) about the subject matter and pedagogical practice. These BAKs explain the mismatch between what teaches are told and what they actually do, and between what teachers say they do and what they actually do.

Geoff would like us to change the norms of second language teacher education sorry that we concentrate on doing real, relevant things in the target language, not just talking about the target language. He would like our teacher education to support and sustain this model, recognizing that implicit learning is the default mechanism of second-language learning. Focusing on BAKs ignores the elephant in the room of the form of the syllabus and how it is delivered.

To make these changes Geoff wants us to push for reform of the CELTA, conferences, and in his words ‘globetrotting gurus’. He wants us to encourage locally organized second language teacher education, promoting teacher collaboration, local teacher organizations, and ensuring that local teachers can discuss local issues. Above all he says that the guiding principle of second language teacher education should be to promote efficacy.

Neoliberalism in ELT – Tim Hampson

Tim’s talk was a replacement for a presenter who couldn’t attend and I’m glad to have seen it because it was another idea which I had never considered before. Despite having listened to the BBC sociology podcast Thinking Allowed for many years I had never really understood the concept of neoliberalism, so I will start with one definition which Tim gave us which I think was very clear.

Neoliberalism believes that free markets and competition maximize human well-being.

Harvey (2005:21)

One of the key points of neoliberalism is the fact that it seems to be a pervasive ‘truth’. It’s difficult to imagine a world that is not neoliberal, and it just seems to be the way things are. Some of the ideas that this leads to can be questioned. For example there is an idea that when individuals make choices, the result of your choices is what you ‘deserve’, but my choices as a white British middle-class woman with a university education very different to those of poor black man in the deep south of America. Another idea is that competition drives progress, but we can ask what that competition is, what that progress is, and whether it is actually beneficial.

Linked to neoliberalism is the idea of cultural, linguistic, economic and social capital introduced by Pierre Bourdieu. For example by learning English you might gain linguistic capital which you can turn into economic capitals by getting a job, or social capital by using your accent to fit in or helping you to interact more smoothly which leads to social connections or a job. Examples of English being seen as cultural or linguistic capital include learning English to get into a university course as a basic requirement, even if the course doesn’t require you to use English. English is also used as part of a drive to internationalize universities. Some people have to get an English certificate to look good in the job even though they may never use English at work. There is also the thorny question of learners asking how they can sound more like a native speaker, as there is a perception that a native speaker accent could give you more capital. In a neoliberalist view of the world it might feel like everyone is trying to gain capital, as it is hard to see the world in a different way once you know about this theory. But are they really?

Tim pointed out that we might view learning English for social or linguistic Capital as being preferable to learning full economic capital, but often you have to be in a place of privilege to even have the choice of prioritizing social or cultural capital Iva linguistic capital. Learning a language to get a job is just as legitimate as learning it for social or cultural reasons.

In our discussions Tim asked us to consider what kinds of capital are present in ELT and how we think about them. As he said, this idea of capital is an interesting lens through which to consider our profession.

Overturning language ideology norms – Heath Rose

The final session of the day was led by Heath Rose, who writes a lot about global Englishes. He started by telling us about how we might teach English as an international language, based on proposals by Galloway and Rose (2015:203):

  1. Increase World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) exposure in the curriculum. This will reflect ‘the complex reality of how English is used worldwide’ (Saraceni, 2009).
  2. Emphasize respect for multilingualism.
  3. Raise awareness of global Englishes.
  4. Raise awareness of ELF strategies.
  5. Emphasize respect for diverse English-using cultures and communities.
  6. Change teacher hiring practices.

Heath suggested ideas such as using a listening journal to encourage students to listen to a wider range of English voices, or you think a presentation to ask them to research different types of English. He talked about getting students involved in discussions about Global Englishes, raising their awareness and helping them to consider the identities as multilingual language uses. Accommodation strategies which we could teach students include helping them to deal with speakers of greater or lower proficiency than themselves, dealing with speakers with different accents or cultural norms, and helping them to join different linguistic communities.

Some of the barriers we discussed were the lack of suitable materials, knowing how to assess language and the requirements of particular exams, teacher education and training, an attachment to ‘standard English’ by stakeholders such as parents, and teacher recruitment practices. In our group we focused a lot on the final points and on the fact that in some countries it is very difficult to challenge days due to circumstances beyond the school’s control, such as national visa policies. However we all agreed that it is very important to do what we can.

Overall thoughts

As I hope you can say from what was described here, this was a very different kind of conference and one which has given me a lot of food for thought. If you get the chance to attend, I would highly recommend it. Thank you to Shoko, Tim and Peter for organising it, and to all of the attendees who shared their ideas and experience.

Podcasts are how I get a lot of my information, and how I broaden my perspectives on the world. The storytelling and sharing in a really well-produced podcast can change how you think or how you see the world in less than an hour, in a way that no other medium I know can do so consistently.

Here are four podcast episodes I’ve listened to in the past week which have done just that.

TED Radio Hour: Clint Smith

The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.

If you only listen to one of these four episodes, this is the one. It draws together problems which I kind of knew about and others which I had no idea of, and shows how important and wide-ranging the impact of all of these issues are, but particularly silence. I’ve listened to it twice, and I’m sure I’ll listen to it again. The reflective nature of Clint’s conversation with the host, Manoush Zomorodi, the poems he reads, and the decisions we all have to make, but especially black parents, are all important to listen to. He emphasises that this is an intergenerational job, and we all need to play our part to move towards the world we want to create. And if you didn’t already realise how powerful and important education is, this episode would prove it.

TED Radio Hour: Ingrained Injustice

As protests for racial justice continue, many are asking how racism became so embedded in our lives. This hour, TED’s Whitney Pennington Rodgers guides us through talks that offer part of the answer.

Whitney Pennington Rodgers is the current affairs curator at TED. She selected four talks which show how racism affects all of us, regardless of what colour we are, and suggest ways that we can start to do something about it:

  • Baratunde Thurston: How To Deconstruct Racism, One Headline At A Time
  • Heather C. McGhee: Racism Has A Cost For Everyone
  • David Ikard: The Real Story Of Rosa Parks — And Why We Need To Confront Myths About Black History
  • Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa: Black Life At The Intersection Of Birth And Death

All four of these talks made me think about what I can do, and how lucky I am to not have to deal with these issues myself. The final poem was particularly powerful and emotional, and reflected what Clint Smith said in his talk too. These are things which should be self-evident, but clearly aren’t. We need to work to change that.

Desert Island Discs: Your Desert Island Discs

Listeners choose the music that has been special to them during the weeks of lockdown. With Jane Moss, Hugh Mullally, Ailish Douglas, Professor Jason Warren, Niti Acharya, Margery Hookings, Simon Spiller, Clare Raybould and Garry Greenland.

Each of the eight pieces of music shared here is accompanied by a story from the person who chose it, all from the general public. They cover all aspects of dealing with the pandemic and how it has changed lives in both negative and positive ways, and many of them made me cry. As a piece of cultural history which truly captures a moment, this podcast episode should be saved forever.

Reduced Shakespeare Company podcast: Lockdown Shakespeare Pioneer

Rob Myles, along with his producing partner Sarah Peachey, is the creator of The Show Must Go Online, which, since March 19, 2020, has been creating fully if madly rehearsed productions of Shakespeare’s canon in the order in which they were written, once a week, using actors and fight directors from all over the world. With over 100,000 views on YouTube in just 12 weeks, Rob talks about how this has become huger than he ever imagined, and how he’s learned to work in this new space; how his early studies in psychology led to understanding characters and delivering an actor-driven experience; excellent new opportunities for both audience engagement and audience research; iambic discoveries expressed in actual iambic pentameter; developing his singular obsession; shout-outs to The Barnsley Civic; being leaders in a movement rather than a company; and the realization that our moment cried out for a Rob Myles — and thankfully we have one.

This is a much more upbeat episode than the three previous ones, and is a fantastic example of the creativity and innovation that this pandemic has created. It shows the ingenuity of humans, and how we can all pull together in extraordinary ways. Rob’s story of going from somebody who hated Shakespeare at school, with a working-class background which meant that drama didn’t even really cross his radar through to somebody who became completely obsessed with it and is now co-producing every Shakespeare play in the order they were first produced. The last two minutes of the podcast are particularly important, as I completely agree with Rob Myles that Shakespeare is and should be for everyone.

These episodes have stayed with me, and will for a very long time. Podcasts really are special.

Alastair Grant and Florencia Clarfeld have been doing amazing work over the past couple of months, running a weekly gathering on Zoom called ‘We’re all in this together’. I saw Alastair share links on facebook to the resources they created, and it seemed like an intriguing and original response to the crisis and the need for teacher support, so I asked Alastair to tell us more about what the community is and how it’s organised. Here’s his response. Thanks for writing this Alastair! (Note: the post was written on 4th June, but I’ve been slow to upload it so some of the time references are wrong.)

Crises bring out the best and the worst in people, especially on social media. And by midnight on Friday 20 March, a few hours after quarantine was announced here in Buenos Aires, there was plenty of both.

Facebook here is the preeminent form of media (social or professional) for teaching. From posts asking how we would be able to teach our students now, to offers of help with online tuition (most of which came at a price), Facebook seemed have become a pedagogical free-for-all in a matter of hours.

I coordinate the English department of a local secondary school and my teachers wanted ideas and so did I. But it wasn’t only us – everyone seemed to be asking for the same, whether it was advice on using Google Classroom, what Zoom was and how to use Live Worksheets, there was a huge and sudden need. And I wouldn’t call it a need for help with what I’ve seen described as “emergency teaching”. I’d describe our situation more as “response pedagogy”, whereby the way we lead our students (as the original Greek suggests), needs to effectively respond and evolve to fit with a new situation.

Back to Facebook, and there was everything and nothing on offer at the same time. But certainly what there wasn’t, was a space for people to share or ask for advice on teaching under lockdown. Nonetheless, Facebook was still the connecting thread for everyone, so I decided to create a forum for people to share material and experiences of this new way of teaching. And it was a way of teaching that needed to be constructed pretty fast, as here at least, we were in lockdown in a matter of hours, with only the weekend to prepare for a new world on Monday morning.

My partner, Florencia Clarfeld, who has been working on this with me since day one, chose the name of the event which is now a weekly meeting: “We’re All In This Together”. I love the name, because it feels like a counterpoint to the social distancing that has been enforced. We decided that the event should be held on Zoom but that they were to be meetings, rather than webinars. I wanted to give teachers a space where they would be able to share their experiences and ideas rather than just listen to one person speak, because that was not the point at all.

The first invitation to the event drew nearly 200 enrolments. Now, when you ask 200 people, most of whom have never met, to starting chatting about a totally unfamiliar situation, you might well be met with total silence. So I prepared some PowerPoint slides in advance to help things along. The slides were a collection of about six games and warmers and my idea was to show/demonstrate one and then ask the teachers if they had anything similar. So that was the plan. But would it work?

Not only did it work, but something very unexpected happened. As soon as I asked people if they had any similar activities to the one being shown, the Zoom chatbox flooded with links, website names, activities and apps that teachers were using. Without wishing to sound corny, it was quite an emotional moment. So then it became clear that the meeting was going to do its job, whereby the chatbox became the main source of material.

Now after every “We’re All I This Together”, I put the session video and the PowerPoint into a Google Drive folder. You can find the link at the bottom of this page. But, like I say, the real “pull” of the sessions is the chatbox transcript. In every chat transcript (we’ve had eight session so far), there are hundreds of tips, ideas, suggestions, games and activities shared by teachers from all over the world. Each session has its own topic, so future teachers coming to the Drive folder will be able to find them.

For the first Zoom meetings, I had only room for 100 people, and for a while there were many people left outside, which was a great shame. Then we were offered a 500-person Zoom room by a bookshop from called Advice here in Argentina and since then we have had space enough. Until, that is, I invited Dr. Stephen Krashen along to be interviewed on his thoughts about teaching during Coronavirus and his parting of the ways with The Natural Approach. The meeting was oversubscribed but well over two hundred people, so we had to live-stream it by Facebook, the video to which has now been viewed nearly 18,000 times.

Events like this are normally paid, but I believe that under the circumstances everyone should, for example, benefit from the privilege of hearing what Krashen has to say as well as being able to ask him questions. For me, education is both a right and a privilege – but not for a privileged few.

This coming Sunday we have Adrian Underhill joining us for an interview and we expect another full house. [Note from Sandy: this has already happened as has an interview with Sarah Mercer, and the recordings are in the folder.] The generosity of the interviewees is overwhelming. People might well ask for some kind of fee but I have explained the situation and people have been more than willing to be interviewed pro-bono. In Dr. Krashen’s own words, he said, “I’d love to”.

So now the meetings have evolved, just as our teaching has evolved. Some are interviews with inspirational figures from ELT and some are workshops. We want to keep this mix as it is, so that the original mission statement, the “why”, is never lost. We’re All In This Together is a safe space for teachers to share ideas and exchange suggestions and experiences.

There’s a new world coming after COVID-19, and we, the teachers, are the ones who are helping to build it. As always.

Alastair Grant is an English Teacher, Teacher Trainer and ELT materials writer. He is the Academic Director at Colegio Nuevo Las Lomas and a teacher trainer for International House Montevideo, where he runs the Cambridge Delta 1 teacher-training course. He is a consultant on the profesorado de inglés at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional in Buenos Aires, where he has currently lectured in Discourse Analysis and Methodology.

He holds an Honours Degree in English Literature and Philosophy from the University of Warwick in the UK, has completed the International House Certificate of Advanced Methodology, all modules of the Cambridge Delta and the Cambridge Train the Trainer Certificate.

The end (kind of)

This is the last of my weekly posts, started when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in Poland. I still have a couple of weeks of work left, but my teaching is done for the year and life outside the classroom seems to be opening up again, so this is a general reflection on what I’ve learnt since lockdown started.

Personal stuff

When we first went into lockdown I thought that it was going to be very difficult for me because I live by myself. I thought I would get lonely and depressed because that’s what’s happened to me before when I didn’t have friends I could easily meet. However, it was the complete opposite. I don’t think I have ever felt more connected to the world and to my friends and family since I started living abroad. As we all discovered the power of Zoom and how easy it is to connect groups of people for all kinds of different reasons I started to have regular group meetings with three different lots of friends as well as regular conversations with my mum and with two other friends. Together with professional conversations and online events, my social life has been very full, including games afternoons, pub quizzes and just having conversations on every topic under the sun, starting with the inevitable “What it’s like for you there now?”

Apart from the social side of things, I have continued to work on my cooking and baking. I can now confidently bake with live yeast, and have added a range of meal options to my menu, including pizza and experimenting with chickpeas. I have had more time to cook and bake than previously and I hope to maintain this to some extent when life opens up again completely.

Health-wise, it was a challenge not having physio for so long and since I went back a couple of weeks ago it has been quite painful, but nothing I haven’t had to deal with before. I have bought a bike and started to use it in the last couple of weekends and I’m really enjoying the new places it can take me to, including where I am standing right now. I dictated most of this post into my phone while standing in the forest taking a break from a bike ride. 🙂

I have hugely enjoyed all of the cultural offerings which have been made available to us during lockdown. I have watched almost all of the productions from the National Theatre and have learnt to notice staging in a way I never had before because of their simple but incredibly effective productions. I have filled a lot of gaps in my Shakespeare knowledge, watching at least five plays which I had never seen before, and appreciating all over again why he is such an amazing playwright. I’ve also seen a few musicals, and other plays and productions I would never have considered watching if it wasn’t for lockdown. I have given money a few times and hope to continue being able to support the arts in more ways after this.

Final lessons

My final two lessons with my groups were a grammar, vocabulary and writing test which involved me making sure they could all access the test successfully, then waiting for them to finish and providing activities for the fast finishers.

In the final lesson I shared the test results and we looked at websites that the students can use to practice English over the summer.

In the last Polish beginners lesson we did general revision from our 20 or so hours of lessons this year. We started with an ELTpics image of a person which my students had chosen and they answered simple questions about the person in a Google Doc. To help them do this we had Quizlet breaks, replaying set from earlier in the year including demonstrating the Gravity function. Pat way through the lesson we added a second image to the document and they answered more questions about that lesson. The lesson was only 1 hour long, so we didn’t have time to create conversations between the two people set in some of the locations we have practiced language for this year, for example the supermarket, the train station, or the police station. I think the structure of this lesson works nicely, particularly for the small group of three students I had, and it’s a lesson that worked very well in an online setting because we could move smoothly between the documents and the Quizlet sets.

My teaching

Like pretty much every teacher in the world, my teaching has undergone a huge transformation over the last 3 months. I have gone from knowing nothing about Zoom to being able to run a range of lesson types on it and integrate lots of different types of activities and tools to make sure that my students benefit from the lessons. I have learnt that it’s an incredibly versatile tool, and I know that it will be a part of my teaching from now on. I have also been able to incorporate many things that I probably could have used in a face-to-face classroom but never had the incentive to do so, or tried once a long time ago and never used again. There is no doubt in my mind that my teaching has developed a lot due to the challenge of the last few months, and I have found it very exciting and interesting to try to work out how to teach in this different way. I wish that it didn’t need to have happened in this way but I think that education will be richer for it.

Training and conferences

Today I attended the #excitELT conference online, which was a great format – 15-20 minute presentations, followed by 20-30-minute discussions in small groups with Google Docs, followed by a 5-10-minute round-up and a short break before the next session. This is just one of the new training formats I have been privileged to take part in over the last three months. I previously wrote about the IH Moscow event which I attended which had short presentations by lots of different teachers, and I will shortly be sharing a post by Alastair Grant about the weekly We’re all in this together meetings which features very vibrant chats run via Zoom based on prompts or guest speakers. If you know of any other interesting new training formats, please let me know.

All of this has come about out of the need to provide training and support with the sudden move to online teaching, and it has yet again demonstrated the innovation of the teaching community. A lot of conferences have had to move online and this has broadened access to these events, and enabled a wider range of speakers to take part. I hope that these models are maintained when the pandemic is over, and we can continue to look for new and innovative ways of supporting as many teachers as possible.

Management

The pandemic has probably thrown up the most challenges for me as a manager. Working with the rest of the management team, we were lucky enough to have two days to make the transition to online teaching and be able to provide training for our teachers to make this move as effective as possible.

I have had to learn to be more effective with my email communication, as in the beginning there was so much information which needed to be given to the teachers, and the only way to pass it all on seemed to be via email. I tried to speak to every teacher over the phone or on Zoom at least once a week. While this was not always possible I know I managed to speak to people at least every two weeks. I created a virtual staffroom on Zoom so that people could meet me easily and I could remain as accessible as possible, as I would in my office at school.

We continued with weekly meetings and workshops, and I tried to maintain the social aspects of this by having some time for us to have a chat at the beginning of the meeting before we started the main event. I’m not sure how successful these things were, and the last three months have shown areas where our admin needs to become more efficient, as it’s not possible just to pop into another room and have a quick chat with somebody if there’s a problem. When you have to make an appointment or send yet another email, it’s all more screen time and shows up the holes in the system.

We now have two weeks at the end of the school year to try to work out some of these problems before the summer, and I have time during the summer to think about what I can do to improve the situation. The fact that we will inevitably enter some new mode of working in September gives us the chance to have a kind of reset. I’m not sure we would have done that without the need to work in such a different way during the pandemic.

Reflection

Writing weekly posts since the beginning of the pandemic has allowed me to really think about what has happened to me and to our profession and lives over the last 3 months. I have thought about my teaching more deeply than for a long time. Overall, I know that I have been very lucky to always have a little bit of freedom during lockdown, to continue to have work to keep me busy, to have a range of challenges, and to not have to deal with the challenges of having children suddenly at home. I have been very grateful for the support and comments I have received in response to my posts.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I hope that the end is in sight for you as well before too long. I hope that the end is really here for us in Poland too, and that it’s not a false sense of security before a second wave comes. As always with these major events, we are reminded that life is short and we never know when it will change dramatically, so we should continue to live every moment to the best of our abilities, including when we are in lockdown. Good luck and stay safe.

Tips and useful links

If you need to present from PowerPoint via Zoom, go to File > Set up show > Browsed by an individual (window). (Thanks Kelly Cargos)

If you’re having trouble downloading the chat now, there’s been a setting change in the latest version of Zoom, which you may need to change back. (Thanks Ruth)

John Hughes has five activities for introducing Zoom to students, including functional language they may need to use when things go wrong.

Peter Clements talks about peer observation, and what’s changed with it since he’s started online teaching.

Rachel Tsateri talks about connecting classrooms using Flipgrid.

Jade Blue suggests four activities to help teens build social connections.

ELT Campus has some incredibly useful tips for giving instructions online, and a whole series of webinars for teachers on how to teach English online. Thanks to Katherine Martinkevich for bringing their site to my attention on her ever-useful blog. She also led me to this Padlet of fun activities for the Zoom classroom.

Sharon Hartle reflects on the experience of teaching online at Verona University, and provides tips on using a combination of Moodle and Zoom.

Leo Selivan has a Zoom activity using the photos of the week on BBC, The Guardian or The Atlantic.

James Egerton talks about how IH Rome Manzoni have taken the CELTA course online.

Hana Ticha was back in the classroom with some of her younger students.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Testing times

This is my penultimate post in this series of weekly reflections on the current goings-on, as I finish with my groups next week. This week my two lessons were both tests: the first was reading and listening, the second speaking. In this post, I’ll describe how we ran the tests and what I’ve learnt about Zoom this week.

Before I start, I’d like to stress that systems we’ve been using to test our students are the cumulative thought process and reflection on experience of the teachers and management team I work with at IH Bydgoszcz, and we’re refining it all the time! Thank you to my colleagues for all of their input and feedback!

Testing listening and reading

Before the lesson:

  • Create a Google Doc with your questions. Check that these are relatively easy to complete on a computer even if you have minimal technical skills, particularly for the listening.
  • Make one copy per student, with the student’s name in the file name, plus a demo document.
  • Create an extra document. In this document, make a list of all of your students’ names, with the edit link for the document under their name. Leave a space after each name/link pair. This makes things easier during the lesson!

During the lesson:

  • Have all of the students’ listening or reading tests open in a single set of tabs.
  • Remind them to put all phones, books etc, away from their device (unless they’re using a phone of course!)
  • For reading, tell them that you would like to check their reading, not Google’s, and therefore they shouldn’t copy and paste the text or any of the questions (this happened in a couple of my colleagues’ lessons!)
  • Show students the demo document, particularly any question types/exercise types which they might not immediately be able to work out how to complete. This includes how you want them to complete e.g. a True/False question. Should they underline it? Highlight it? Delete one? The last is probably the easiest by the way!
  • Put the list of links into the chat box. Students click on their link. If students aren’t logged in to Google (they don’t need to be), you should see a little coloured circle in the top right corner saying ‘anonymous wombat/ifrit/walrus’ etc appear when they’re in.
  • Ask students to type their name at the top of the document when they get in. This helps you to check that the right student is in the right document. Go through each test and check it matches the file name.
  • Ask everybody to mute their microphones. Mute yours too.
  • For listening, tell students that if they can’t hear or there’s a problem with the audio, they should say ‘Stop, help!’ as soon as possible. One or two colleagues had students who got to the end before saying they couldn’t hear anything!
  • Start the listening – make sure you’re sharing your computer audio! It’s best to have the file on your desktop, rather than streaming it, if possible.
  • While the students are completing the reading or listening, flick through the documents to see whether they’re filling it in correctly, as in completing the tasks in the way you want them to. Help students if they’re having problems. Create a manual breakout room to move a student to if you need to speak to them.

If you suspect cheating, you can look at previous versions of the document to see how the student completed it by checking how they edited it over time.

Testing speaking

We had some lessons where the teaching did the testing, and others where there was a guest examiner. In all cases, the students worked in pairs in breakout rooms on a revision activity throughout the lesson. Mostly this was them creating a game, and they then switched games with other students to play in the second half of the lesson. I saw various types of game:

  • Creating a Kahoot.
  • Creating virtual board games in Google Docs or using Tools for Educators. Thanks to Ruth Walpole for leading me to that website.
  • Completing a list of challenges which each have points values, with the aim of getting as many points as possible.

The teacher set up the main activity at the start of the lesson, then put students into breakout rooms. The speaking examiner dropped in to each breakout room to test the students, then moved onto the next room. If it was a guest examiner, they could put up their hand so that the teacher knew it was time to move them to the next room. This system seemed to work pretty well. 🙂

The personal stuff

Things seem to be returning to some level of normality here in Poland. You no longer have to wear masks outside, though I still generally do, apart from when I’ve been on my bike far away from other people. It’s almost like nothing happened in many ways, which seems quite strange!

Useful links

Edutopia has an article about how to reduce the likelihood of teacher burnout during the pandemic, as a lot of us seem to be working a lot more hours now (though luckily mine are pretty similar).

I’ve listened to three episodes of TEFL Commute Who’s Zooming Who? this week: Realia, Guests and PowerPoint, all full of useful ideas. Find the full back catalogue here.

Anka Zapart has great ideas for teaching YLs on her Funky Socks and Dragons blog. Here’s a whole list of ways to work with songs, both online and off.

Alex Case has materials for teaching language for checking and clarifying on Zoom, something we all need!

James Egerton has a range of tips and activities for teaching on Zoom in this blogpost.

David Petrie is blogging again 🙂 Here’s his reflection on blogging and teaching in the time of COVID-19.

Jacqueline Douglas talks about all the things she’s noticed about running CELTA online.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

On 3rd June 2020, I presented a webinar for IH Bucharest demonstrating how to exploit activities in lots of different ways, with minimal planning required by the teacher. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to use every activity in the same lesson, but the ideas I shared were designed to demonstrate how you can make a single exercise lead to a much wider range of practice activities, depending on what your learners need help with. The slides are here (though they’re much more useful when presenting than referring to them later! See below the slides for a more useful link!):

All of the ideas in the webinar were originally designed for a face-to-face classroom, but most of them can be used as is or with only minimal adaptations in an online classroom. They were originally shared on my blog in the post One activity, multiple tasks, based on a task from ELT Playbook 1. ELTPB 1 is a book of short tasks for teachers to help them reflect on their teaching.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is also available, both at prices designed to fit a teacher’s pocket!

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

During the webinar, I mentioned Sarah Mercer’s CAN DO for improving engagement:

Competence (mindsets and self-determination)

Autonomy (give choices, learning strategies)

Network (of relationships: T-S, S-S)

Do (action to beat boredom)

Oh! (grab and keep their attention)

(from Sarah Mercer, IH Barcelona conference, 7th February 2020)

You can find out more by watching her webinar, the foundations of engagement: a positive classroom culture. She has recently published a book with Zoltan Dörnyei called Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (Amazon affiliate link). I haven’t read it yet, but I have no doubt it’s full of useful advice!

If you’d like more ideas to make your planning easier, 101 things to do with a coursebook page (all of which take less than 5 minutes to prepare!) covers a whole range of different ways to adapt coursebook activities. Why should they care? has lost of ideas for helping students engage with the materials or activities you are using.

My ebook, Richer Speaking, costs less than $1, and contains 16 ways to adapt speaking activities to help students get more out of them. You can find four of the ideas for free in this post.

Richer Speaking cover

If you’d like ideas specific to teaching online, particularly using Zoom, then try ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom. Some of these may take a little longer to prepare, but I’m a firm believer in teachers doing less work and students doing more!

Let me know which ideas you’ve tried out and how they go with your classes.

Enjoy 🙂

normal: ordinary or usual; the same as would be expected

Definition from the Cambridge English Dictionary, 31st May 2020

My Zoom lessons

I chose the title of this week’s post because over the past ten weeks teaching on Zoom has become normal, something which is no longer worthy of comment when planning or teaching. My students understand how to use every feature of Zoom I use in the lessons, including screen sharing in rooms. They use Google Docs with ease, and ask for favourite activities again. When I don’t make instructions clear, they ask me: chat or notebooks? We’ve all settled in to this new way of teaching and studying. And this week was the end of that: I’ve got four lessons left with my groups, three of which are test lessons, followed by our final round-up lesson. So no more normal teaching with them any more!

Having said that, this week was also the one where I had the most number of connection and technology issues since we started on Zoom, so it wasn’t completely normal.

In group one, one student appeared six or seven times in the waiting room but couldn’t get in – in the second lesson she finally managed to connect by borrowing a different device. I started with 10 students and was left with only 7 as people lost their connections in the first lesson. In the second lesson I started with four students I could see and hear, one I could hear but not see, and one who we could only connect with through the chat box. Another student was an hour late due to connection problems. In the second class we had fewer connection issues, though two students dropped out multiple times and one dropped out fifteen minutes before the end of both lessons. Another student was fine in the main room, but his microphone wouldn’t work in breakout rooms. I’m lucky to have escaped for so long without all of these tech problems!

What shall we do today?

Our first lesson introduced some verb phrases which I thought my groups might already partially know, so we looked at them quickly at the start. Students had a few minutes to play with the vocab on Quizlet, then matched vocab and pictures in their books, then wrote what they could remember in the chat box.

We listened to two cousins discussing what to do and when and where to meet, with students guessing what they might do and listening to check their predictions the first time, completing a table to check understanding of specific information the second and third time, then filling in gaps in the conversation with target language phrases the fourth time.

What ____ we do today? Why don't we play _____? OK. Where shall we ____? Let's meet at the bus _____. etc.

I elicited the phrases for suggestions by writing gapped sentences onto my mini whiteboard and holding it up to the camera. These phrases had already appeared in last week’s story. I tried to show that “Shall we play tennis?” “Why don’t we play tennis?” and “Let’s play tennis.” all have the same idea of suggestions/the same meaning, but not sure how clear that was at first. To practise, students completed a transformation exercise in their workbooks where they saw a suggestion in one form and had to change it to the other two. With the first group, we ran out of time at that point because of all the technical problems. The second group had time to write their own version of the dialogue and perform it to the class.

What do you remember?

We had one full revision lesson before our tests start on Monday. This was particularly important for me to see what the students could remember as they’ve had lessons since September, but I’ve only taught them since February. There was a puzzle to start the lesson, which my students really got into once they’d figured out how it worked:

Read the clues to find the letters. Use the letters to find Martin’s birthday present. the fourth letter in Easter the third letter in the twelfth month The sixth letter in holiday The eighth letter in geography The twenty-third letter of the alphabet His present is a ____________

Jude created a quiz with a couple of short exercises for each unit of the book. This was on a master document. During the lesson, we copied a couple of exercises at a time into a running document. Students worked in teams in breakout rooms, with one student sharing the screen with the questions on it. They wrote their answers in their notebooks. They had about 7-10 minutes to complete each round, after which we returned to the main room, checked their answers and added up their scores. This worked really well with both groups: I managed three rounds with group one and four with group two, and it showed up really well that they still have trouble with irregular verbs and choosing direct and indirect pronouns, but are fine with everything else from the first half of the year.

Jude also included some brain break challenges, though my group didn’t do any of these. This was partially because I forgot about them, and partially because they were so into the quiz and there was enough variety in the format that they didn’t seem to need them. I think they’re great ideas though! Here are two of them:

Break round! Which team can make the healthiest meal? You’ve got 2 minutes to get 5 items of food from your kitchen. Ask first! Show your team your food. What can you cook together? ‘We’ve got some…” We’re going to cook

Break round! What’s the weather like? (It’s your idea!) Find clothes for that weather.

We now have plenty of revision material for our final few lessons, alongside the Quizlet sets we’ve been making all year to go with the book.

Zoom tips

This week I discovered two things you can do with videos: hide non-video participants (thanks Ruth!) and hide self-view. The first is useful if you are being observed and you want to forget the observer is there 🙂 It’s also useful if somebody has to connect on two different devices: one for video, one for sound – you can hide the non-video/sound-only box on your screen. Hide self-view is great for any time you don’t want or need to see yourself, especially while in gallery view! I found it useful for meetings and chats with my friends.

To use these functions, hover over your video. Click on the three dots which appear in the top-right corner to see a menu. This should display both options.

I wouldn’t use either of these during lessons as I find I have to consciously remind myself to include students who are sound only when I can’t see their faces, and I think it’s important to see what your students can see in your videos, especially if you’re trying to show them something.

The personal stuff

Tomorrow (Monday 1st June) Poland enters the fourth stage of our four-stage post-lockdown plan. That means that masks are necessary on public transport, but not in open spaces. When I went out on Friday and Saturday there were already a lot of people not wearing them, or not wearing them properly (covering their mouth and not their nose: what’s the point?!) Kujawsko-Pomerania, the region I live in, had it’s last new confirmed case on 25th May, so six days ago. We’ll see what kind of second wave there is, as many people don’t seem to be paying much attention to the rule that you should stay 2m away from others.

I’m still staying at home a lot, but I went out on three consecutive days this week: first to my flamenco class, then to physio followed by a meal at a restaurant, then to pick up some shopping which I can’t get online. The meal was nice because I didn’t have to do any washing up 🙂 but I realised again how much my cooking has come on over the past six years! Restaurants for me are about eating in different places, and perhaps trying different combinations of food, but I’m so much more adventurous in my cooking now anyway that that side of restaurant eating is much less important for me now.

Useful links

Anna Loseva describes her experiences of teaching on Zoom without any prior training. The post is full of useful tips for anyone new to Zoom. I especially like the idea of having a running document for students to type questions into during lessons. Her university in Vietnam has now returned to face-to-face classes.

10 minutes of listening to this episode of TEFL Commute, and you’ll have plenty of warmers for your upcoming lessons.

Katherine Martinkevich shares links connected to taking your students on a virtual field trip. This could be particularly useful for summer school courses. She also shares a link to/summary of a Q&A session with Sarah Mercer on wellbeing for teachers and managers.

Rachel Tsateri is linking classes together through Flipgrid, and is looking for volunteer teachers to join her.

Cristina Cabal shows how she’s used ClassroomQ in her classroom. It looks like a simpler version of Mentimeter in some ways, where you’re able to ask a question and see the order your students answer it in.

James Egerton has tips on how to consciously build your post-quarantine habits. Habits are something that I’ve worked on a lot over the last few years, and they’ve made my life a lot more positive through the small gains building up over a number of years.

Sue Swift talks about the value of task repetition/repeating activities, and shows how a little challenge can be added in future lessons. This applies equally both online and off.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Personal stuff

A week ago I wrote about how frustrated I got every time I went outside my flat. After a relaxing weekend, a chance to talk over my feelings with friends and family (thank you!), and a chance comment on Tuesday about case numbers in our region being pretty low (10 cases in the last 7 days as I write this), I started to feel a lot better.

I’ve been for three walks in the last week, and while I still got frustrated with people, I was able to calm myself down much faster. This was easier when I closed my eyes and waited until they had gone past, in the manner of a small child: if I can’t see them, they’re not there 😉

After those small steps, there were two huge ones.

Our flamenco teacher is allowed to have classes with up to 5 people, so that’s how many of us were in the room on Thursday night. I live by myself and have been getting shopping delivered, so being in a room with actual human beings for an hour was an adjustment. It felt normal quickly, but I wanted to notice it and remember that feeling. The lift home which my friend gave me was also strange: the first time I’ve been in a vehicle of any kind for about 10 weeks.

The other step is something I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time: I finally got around to buying myself a bike. That means I now have the freedom to go further afield if I want to without having to rely on public transport. I just need to motivate myself to carry it down and up three flights of stairs every time I want to use it!

So as you can see, I’m in a much better place this week. Thank you to everyone who sent me a message after last week’s post!

My Zoom lessons

Our teen elementary lessons this week were extra practice of ‘have to’ and a break from all grammar!

Do we have to do this all again?

The concepts of ‘have to’ and ‘don’t have to’ really challenged our students last week, so Jude and I decided it was worth dedicating another lesson to it.

We also wanted to do a bit more work on adverbs, so for the warmer students worked in teams in breakout rooms to add sentences to Google Docs to describe pictures. For example, She acted badly. He shouted loudly. This activity showed that about 80% of the students have got the idea of adverbs, and none of them remembered ‘suddenly’ from last week.

The homework check showed that both groups continued struggled with the form of ‘have to’ or avoided it completely.

With group 1 the rest of the lesson went:

  • Dictation (see below).
  • Rewrite the text in groups in breakout rooms, replacing ‘I’ with ‘she’ and making other necessary changes so the grammar agreed.
  • I highlighted the question and negative forms again and they copied them into their notebooks.
  • Go back to your homework, try to correct it, then we’ll confirm if the answers are right or not.
  • 5 minutes left: in the chat answer the question: What jobs does your mum/dad have to do in the house?

With group 2, they’d got enough of the homework right to check it then, and I’d prompted them while they were comparing answers in breakout rooms to deal with the remaining problems. Their lesson went:

  • Dictation.
  • Rewrite text.
  • Question and negative forms again.
  • Write sentences about a mystery job for other students to guess (they only had 10 minutes for this, so the guessing happened next lesson).

For the dictation, they all wrote this text in their notebooks.

A day in the life of a teacher! I don’t have to get up early because my lessons start at 3pm. I have to correct some tests and check my students’ homework. I have to plan my lessons, so I have to read about grammar. When the lessons finish, I don’t have to cook dinner, but I have to eat, so I’m going to order a pizza. After dinner I want to watch Netflix, but I can’t because I have to plan my lessons for tomorrow. Luckily, I don’t have to go to bed early - I can stay up as late as I want. What do you have to do?

To help them manage the process, I said I’d read each sentence three times and held my fingers up to show which repetition it was. They could then ask me to repeat it again if they wanted me to.

In hindsight, we should have done some kind of pre-listening gist task, raised interest a little more first, had some elements they could change…but hindsight is 20/20.

In general, the lessons seemed fine when we were planning them, but when we taught them they felt uninspired and only partially engaging. The students seemed to enjoy the challenge of the transformation and they concentrated during the dictation, but I’m not sure how much they’ll remember this in future. On the other hand, they needed this focus on the grammar to fully understand (yes, I know that’s not ideal).

Look, it’s a penguin!

After lots of consecutive grammar lessons, it was time to take a break. We had a tiny bit of grammar at the start, with group one playing a wheel from wordwall. They read the prompt, then wrote the sentence in the chat box. They really enjoyed it and asked for more.

Group 2 read their sentences from the end of the last lesson in groups in breakout rooms. The other students guessed which job it was.

We used a story page for the basis of the lesson. We started with a couple of screenshots from the story, with students writing ‘I see…’, then ‘I think…’ sentences in the chatbox – a routine they’re familiar with. I encouraged them to use adjectives and adverbs, make predictions using ‘going to’ and say what the people ‘have to’ do. A couple of students got very into this.

I played the video for them to check their predictions.

In breakout rooms, they completed a gapfill comprehension task in groups where they had to finish the sentences by reading the story.

With group 1, I did a memory challenge. They saw frames from the story with words blanked out which they had to remember. Then I played the video, paused it, and they told me what’s next. They then went into breakout rooms to practise acting out the story in groups of 3, came back and performed it. However, they weren’t listening to each other as they were all telling the same story.

With group 2, I skipped the memory challenge. Instead I walked them through the story and got them to change details. For example, instead of a lost penguin, they chose another animal. Instead of going to the park, they went to the zoo/beach/mountains. In breakout rooms they chose their favourite idea for each bit of the story, then rehearsed it. When they acted it out, the others were a bit more engaged because every story was different.

Teacher training

Friday 22nd May was the 12th IH Teachers Online Conference, 10 hours featuring 30 talks from teachers across the International House network. You can watch all of the talks on YouTube. My favourites were by Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone, Shannon Thwaites and Danny Coleman. Here’s the full programme. My talk was on making and using paper fortune tellers. I got so many ideas from the talks, and only have a couple more lessons to try them out in before the end of the year! Thank you to everyone who gave talks, and to Shaun Wilden for putting it all together.

On Sunday 24th May I took part in an event organised by IH Moscow (thanks for inviting me Anka Zapart!). I really like the format, which is manageable :

  • 10 minutes of house rules
  • three 20-minute presentations
  • 10-minute break
  • three 20-minute presentations
  • 10-minute general Q&A session

Each presentation featured activities teachers had tried out in class, and there were a few bonus activities in between. There’ll be a recording which I’ll also share. Lots of the teachers use Miro.com in their lessons, which I hadn’t seen before. It looks like a very versatile tool. You can have three virtual whiteboards with the free account. Vita Khitruk has compiled an example board with different ideas for games – I love the idea of ‘climbing’ a mountain with little challenges.

A series of post-it note pictures with challenges on them for students to complete - the notes follow the shape of the mountain

Some of the other things I learnt about/was reminded of were:

  • Playing noughts and crosses with an image behind the grid. To win the square, students have to describe that section of the picture. (Anka Zapart)
  • Duckiedeck.com/play has lots of games for young learner classes, for example this costumes game which you can use to get kids to describe what she’s wearing and practise words like put on/take off, or room decorating. You need Flash. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • Sesame Street has a restaurant game that kids enjoy too. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • WheelDecide can be used for lots of different ideas – here’s an example for present simple questions. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • WaterAid has some topical games which you can adapt to the classroom, including Germ Zapper, which you can use to practise objects in a room and prepositions. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • SentenceDict allows you to get good example sentences for any word, including being able to search for simple sentences only. (Vita Khitruk)
  • A reminder that Tekhnologic templates are very versatile and easy to adapt. (Irina Chan-Fedorova)
  • Kids can be very motivated by habit trackers, such as ticking a box for each of four challenges every time they do them: do homework, use Quizlet, watch a video in English (Masha Andrievich)
  • Use a ‘discourse clock‘ to help very young students say a lot more when doing mini presentations. (Anka Zapart)

A paper clock with moveable hands showing (at different times) big and small, a colour wheel, food icons, a house/a fish tank/trees

You can watch the full recording here:

Useful links

James Egerton has a lesson plan for upper intermediate and above learners based on an article about Zoom fatigue. James Taylor has one on working from home, with an entertaining video showing different ‘types’ of home-workers. He also wrote an article for the IATEFL Views blog on the resilience and creativity of English language teachers. Jill Hadfield’s IATEFL Views post shows snapshots of lockdown life in New Zealand, and a few activity ideas too.

Nik Peachey has a one-page interactive summary of six areas teachers need training and support in to successfully teach online.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

As the last few months have proved, it’s impossible to know what the future holds. However, we’re all trying to figure it out, especially those of in education trying to work out what schools will look like.

To that end, I’ve written a very speculative SWOT analysis with a few ideas about the possible future of private language schools. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and is often used by businesses for strategic planning. This article from MindTools tells you how to do one.

You can read it on the IATEFL blog. I’d be interested to see in the comments what you think of these ideas.

Blackboard reading strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats

It was the 12th IH Teachers Online Conference (TOC) on Friday 22nd May 2020. Nearly 40 people presented for 15 minutes each on the theme of online teaching.

For my presentation, I decided to go for something low-tech that you could still do online, and what’s better than making a fortune teller. It’s a very simple origami project, one I think most of us have probably made in the past. Here’s a video of how to make one:

 

My decision maker

As a lot of us are working on our mental health while we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, my fortune teller was a way to choose your response to different people in different situations. The three sets of choices are:

Who are you talking to?

  • your boss
  • your colleague
  • your student
  • a parent

What are you talking about?

  • an activity you tried
  • how you feel
  • your plans tonight
  • something you’ve read
  • the news
  • IH TOC 😉
  • your lesson
  • your day

What do you say in that situation?

  • I give up!
  • I need chocolate!
  • Thank you!
  • That’s great!
  • Tell me more.
  • Help!
  • What should I do?
  • (Don’t say anything…take a deep breath!)

Other ways to use them

You could also use fortune tellers for:

  • predictions
  • practising spellings
  • practising lexical sets
  • question forms
  • making decisions in a role play
  • choosing with activity/game you’ll do next

And they’re not just for children: you can use them with teens and adults too with the right topics. Most people like to make things 🙂

What else could you use them for? Have you tried them out with your students?

Here’s the video if you want to watch the whole presentation:

Smouldering

Personal stuff

We’re very lucky that in Poland that coronavirus case numbers have been relatively low. That means our lockdown is being lifted, and phase 3 begins on Monday 18th: restaurants and cafés will reopen, as will hairdressers. More people can travel on public transport, and some sports facilities will reopen.

The night before reading about restrictions easing, I read a reminder that coronavirus may never go away. I knew that, but it’s different thinking it and seeing it written down.

Those two sets of information played against each other in my mind.

If a problem or unpleasant situation smoulders, it continues to exist and may become worse at any time.

– Cambridge English Dictionary, accessed 16th May 2020

I couldn’t help but think about my stress levels every time I go outside my flat. I get frustrated and angry at people not wearing masks, or not wearing them properly, at those not distancing or moving away from me or others. I’m not particularly worried about catching the virus – I know there’s a very slim chance of that, and I’m doing what I can to protect myself: wearing a mask and gloves, washing my hands, using alcohol rubs, keeping away from crowded areas. But there’s no cure for the actions of other people. I can’t control any of that and it makes me very stressed, and means that going for a walk is not particularly relaxing right now.

These are natural feelings right now, and they’re things I know that I need to face up to and deal with. I can’t stay in my flat forever as Poland begins to open up again. I can’t avoid people completely when I’m outside. I don’t have the option of leaving my flat, hopping in a car and driving to somewhere quiet. To get to ’empty’ places like the forest, I have to walk through populated areas.

All this going around in my head led to a complete breakdown on Friday morning. 30 minutes of tears and overwhelming emotion with my very understanding director, as I worked through my feelings about reopening after lockdown and how I will deal with that.

I hadn’t put any of that stress into words before, but it was all there under the surface, waiting to emerge.

If a strong emotion smoulders, it exists, but is prevented from being expressed.

– Cambridge English Dictionary, accessed 16th May 2020

I feel much better now, but it’s not problem solved yet as I do need to start to get out more.

So how will I deal with it?

I’ve found a way to get groceries delivered from a local shop, with fantastic fresh fruit and veg. I’ve even had ice-cream delivered from a business I would like to stay open. That means there’s no need for me to go to supermarkets or shopping centres.

Each weekend, I aim to go out for a longer walk early in the morning, at least a couple of hours and preferably somewhere in nature like the river or the forest.

The Botanic Gardens across the road from my flat is open 9-1 Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll go down for at least 30 minutes at 9am on both days before other people really start to arrive.

Just doing those three walks should be the first steps towards getting used to being outside again. And at some point cinemas will reopen, and I really miss them, so that will probably push me a little more…watch this space.

Management

Today is our two-month anniversary of teaching on Zoom – we started on 16th March. It feels simultaneously much longer and much shorter than that! This week has been a longer week than usual, which probably contributed to my state on Friday…I’d tired myself out, and need to keep an eye on this in future weeks.

I’m very proud of the beautiful spreadsheet I produced working out the details of the end of our school year, when lessons end (so many groups were interrupted in the shift online), and various other bits and pieces – I do like a good spreadsheet!

We’ve been working on the details of how we’ll run our end of year tests, and starting to prepare them. Fingers crossed it all works out!

It was also the week of PDIs, Professional Development Interviews. We normally do them in March or April, and they’re a chance for me to have individual meetings with each teacher and help them reflect on their progress over the past year and look forward to their future careers, either with us or elsewhere. I love these interviews because they help teachers realise just how far they’ve come, and this year they also showed me just how much effort many of our teachers have been putting into their professional development beyond what our school is offering. They were also a chance for me to personally thank each teacher for all the amazing work they’ve done in the shift to online teaching, and praise their enthusiasm and creativity. We’ve been teaching on Zoom for exactly two months today, and they’re like pros now! I’m so proud to work with them.

My Zoom lessons

This week our two teen elementary lessons (mine and Jude’s) were revising adjectives and adverbs, introduced last week, and introducing ‘have to’ for the first time.

A partially successful lesson

We didn’t have much time to practise adjectives and adverbs last lesson, so we wanted to give students a chance to use them this time.

With group 1, my lesson went:

  1. Warmer: Simon Says (e.g. dance slowly, eat carefully, drive dangerously)
  2. Homework check (with a nomination chain for questions like What do you do carefully? What do you do well?)
  3. Correct the mistakes (one sentence at a time in the chatbox)
  4. Copy the corrected sentences into notebooks (they were still having problems with a few areas)
  5. Sentence expansion (see below)

With group 2, it went:

  1. Sentence expansion
  2. Homework check
  3. Correct the mistakes
  4. Copy the corrected sentences into notebooks
  5. Expand your own stories (written as homework ready for last lesson)

Sentence expansion is laying out a sentence vertically, then asking students to add to it to make it as long as possible, while still remaining logical. For example, the sentence below might produce ‘The tall thin old man and the short young lady walked slowly and carefully to the beautiful sunny beach.’

This took ages with group 1 because I tried to elicit their own basic sentence first for all of us to expand on, i.e. eliciting nouns and a verb. I then used the annotate feature to show how to make the sentence longer. That meant when they went into breakout rooms they all thought they should create their own sentence from scratch and didn’t really use adjectives and adverbs. With group 2, I shifted it to the warmer as they don’t really get into activities like Simon Says, and I gave them the sentence shown on the slide, meaning the activity worked much better.

The lessons went OK, but they still need a lot more practice with this. Adjectives aren’t really a problem, but adverbs confuse them because the word order is generally different in Polish, and they sometimes overuse the adverb form.

On a technical level, I finally managed to persuade both groups to click ‘Ask for help’ in breakout rooms when they had a problem instead of waiting for me to turn up (it’s only taken 8 weeks!)

What do I have to do to get your attention?

For the second lesson, we started with a word cloud of adjectives and adverbs for students to write their own long sentences in the chatbox. This showed up very clearly which students still need extra practice with differentiating adjectives and adverbs, and with adverb word order. I did a lot of verbal correction and getting students to rewrite sentences.

We played Quizlet live with film genres which they’d looked at for homework. They asked to do it in breakout rooms, and this worked really well. They were actively working together, and in the first group each of the three teams won one round each 🙂

To introduce the grammar point ‘have to’ and link back to films, we showed an image of The Rock and told them he’s making Jumanji 3, reprising his role as Dr Smolder Bravestone. Here’s some of his smouldering intensity in case you haven’t seen it:

They had to come up with things he has to do each day. In the first group I tried to do this verbally, which worked to some extent, but not really. We then moved to them listing two things in their notebooks which they thing he does every day when he’s working. A few students protested they hadn’t seen the films, but I said they should write what they think any actor does every day. (If you too haven’t seen the two new Jumanji films, please do. Thank me later.)

During breaktime with group 1, I had a flash of inspiration, which resulted in possibly one of the funniest classroom experiences I’ve ever had 🙂 I changed my profile picture and name to The Rock.

I quickly installed the voice moderator Connor told me about last week. This allows you to change how your voice sounds to other people. With the free version, there are random voices available. I chose the deepest one, and when the students came back from break The Rock was running the lesson. It was hilarious, and I had to try not to giggle and destroy the illusion 🙂 The look on their faces was brilliant, and there was much discussion (in Polish!) about whether it was me or not. One student even went on Wikipedia to try to quiz me by asking The Rock’s age. But they did get into it, and were asking me questions as if I was The Rock. This is something that absolutely wouldn’t be possible in a physical classroom! (Tip: if you use this voice mod, you may need to delete it from your computer afterwards – it kept switching itself back on again during Jude’s PDI the next day!)

The actual aim of the activity was for them to ask questions starting ‘Do you have to…?’ to find out about The Rock’s day on a film set. They used the notes they’d made and quizzed me.

I had a slide prepared to elicit language into:

Once they’d remembered some of the things The Rock said, I checked the meaning by asking the questions on the right and doing gestures – finger wagging for I have to… and two hands upturned and moving (so hard to describe!) for I don’t have to. I dragged the boxes with the summary onto the slide.

I have to go to the swimming pool. I have to go to the gym. I have to have muscles. I don’t have to brush my hair. I don’t have to go to Poland. I don’t have to eat sweets. (in boxes: next to 'have to' Can I choose? Maybe? Maybe not? NO! Next to 'don't have to' Can I choose? Maybe? Maybe not? YES!

I highlighted the relevant parts of the structure using the annotate function.

They wrote a couple of examples of things they have to/don’t have to at home into their notebooks, as well as copying the rules. They wrote their sentences in the chatbox so I could check and correct them. ‘Don’t have to’ is a particularly challenging concept, and students also confused ‘have to’ with ‘have’ as in ‘I have to a cat.’

With the first group we ran out of time to focus on the question/third person forms, so I wrote it quickly in the chatbox at the end for them to copy into their notebooks ready for their homework.

With the second group we had a few minutes to do that, and they also had time to imagine they’re a celebrity and write their own sentences. In breakout rooms, they quizzed each other asking ‘Do you have to…?’ and had to try and guess which celebrity it was.

This lesson really showed up how challenging it is to take in lots of new structures in quick succession: despite us spacing out our lessons to provide extra practice with ‘going to’ and adjectives and adverbs, the students were trying to combine them all here and getting very confused. Some of the sentences they wrote were things like ‘I have going to the garden.’ When they wrote their own sentences, they asked me ‘With adjectives?’

I’d like to space this all out more, but we only have a few lessons left before we reach the end-of-year tests. Some students can take it all in, but it’s too much for a couple of them. Luckily we have one or two lessons for revision at the end of the year, though we do need to look back over the whole year. (Yes, I know, coursebooks. Tests. Yes. But that’s how are classes work.)

Zoom problems

Two of our teachers had new problems with Zoom this week. Nothing that’s going to stop us using Zoom, but things that are useful to be aware of:

  • One had a 121 who couldn’t join the Zoom meeting. Apparently he was just sat in the waiting room, while from the teacher’s perspective nobody was there (meaning he couldn’t admit anyone). This problem stayed after he’d re-started the meeting too!
  • The other kept getting removed from the meeting despite being the host. All students who weren’t in breakout rooms were also removed from the meeting.

Useful links

Last week saw the Cambridge three-day At Home event (summaries of day one, two, three). Skimming through the programme, I like the balance of practical ideas for the classroom, stories being brought to life by famous readers, and things to help our wellbeing, such as a workout for beginners and a cook-along. I watched this ‘inspire session’ by David Valente on using songs with young learners, and it’s probably one of the best webinars I’ve ever seen: practical, clear, fun, and instantly usable. Rachel Tsateri summarised some of what she learnt from it in this post.

 

Naomi Epstein writes about her feelings as her school reopens at full capacity on May 17th. She’s based in Israel, where cases have decreased a lot according to Worldometers. Here’s an article from the Times of Israel about schools reopening.

Pete Clements talks about settling into a new job at a new school when you’re meeting everybody online for the first time.

TEFL Commute did a 10-minute podcast episode about how to use pictures in the online classroom. TEFL Training Institute spoke to Russell Stannard about what you need to put in place to help learners become more autonomous.

I remembered the existence of Telescopic Text, which is very simple to use and allows users to play around with sentence structures. Make sure you sign in if you want to save your work – access old texts again by click on your username. Here’s a strangely fitting example I produced for my students a few years ago.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Last weekend my colleague Ruth shared a poem by her friend, Jenna Edmondson. It made me laugh and I think a lot of teachers can empathise with it right now. Jenna kindly agreed to share it with the wider world on my blog. Thanks Jenna!

TEFL (Online) Tantrums

Just a second, I’m logging on

Teacher can you hear me?

Oh no, what’s wrong?!

I didn’t realise I was doing a hearing test today

Teacher can you see me?!

Yes I can, go away

I’ve 2020 vision of how this will pan out

Now please be quiet, no need to shout

Wait a moment are we all here?

Maria was signed in, now she’s just disappeared

Pablo please, can you unmute your mic

I can tell you’re not listening, you’re playing fortnite

OK class, cameras on please

I want to check you’re not watching TV

Great, now Maria’s back let’s begin

Teacher I can’t see you

(Honestly it’s fine)

Have you tried logging out and back in?

Let’s not waste any more time.

Can we check the homework? Page 52

I haven’t done it teacher, I didn’t know what to do

Well, the instructions were there in the chat and classroom

I had too much work

                           a project

                        a test

Ok class, just give me a rest,

Teacher Maria’s in the list twice

Great, I don’t know why

Maria is that your evil twin

Perhaps one of you

could speak or type?

I don’t mind which

ignore the glitch

Just please join in

Teacher Can I go to the toilet?

Yes…you are at home

You can do what you like

Just don’t take your phone

What’s that sound

Quick run for cover

Oh you’re just eating your mic

Or were you fighting your brother?

Maria, Question 1; oh, where has she gone?

Can you please tell me the answer, anyone?

Teacher you’re muted

We can’t hear what you said

OK, I type, let’s do some speaking instead

Can I work with him

Can she work with me

Teacher Sara can’t talk

OK you can work in 3s

5 minutes, great off you go

Pablo click on the link

Leave me alone

Give me time to drink a tea

Give me strength

For my headache to leave

I join the room

SPEAK ENGLISH please

And what is this you’re drawing

All over slide 3?

Answer the questions,

That’s all you’ve to do

Or there’ll be no more games or breakout rooms.

TEACHER kahoot!

Is that my name now?

Right let’s try

Everyone-phone’s out

I’ve got no data

The wifi’s gone

What’s the code

My battery’s run out

(Turn down the kahoot theme tune

This is torture, can we end this soon?)

Teacher I’m bored

Thanks, me too

I’m trying my hardest

What about you?

Time for a video

Let me share the screen

no, mute your mics,

just listen to me

now there’s an echo

I can hear myself speak

God I sound awful

I can’t hear myself think

Let’s stop this now

It’s time to say goodbye

Oh Maria, you’re back!

With your parents… hi!

No I can’t go through her progress with you right now

If she was here the whole class we’d have something to talk about

Teacher it’s the time

Teacher bye

Bye Teacher

WAIT I haven’t given you the homework yet

Now half the class has gone

and we’re back to square one

I’ll mute myself before I say something I regret

The Teacher Show has come to an end

I’m slowly going round the bend

I’ve planned for hours and taught for less

Please believe me, I’m doing my best

I can see my flaws on the screen for six hours straight

I’m not a vain person but this angle’s not great

I struggle through when the tech is down

And try to ignore family in the background

The reality is that the time goes quite fast

I think most students enjoy this virtual class

As I do too, now and then

But I can’t wait to be in the classroom again!

 

Dear Class,

With each day we’re closer to the end of term

And I hope there’s a lot you’ve learned

Hopefully patience; to be kind to others and yourself

To know you’re resilient and to appreciate good health

That the book doesn’t have the answers

Maybe your parents or teachers don’t too

If you want to learn something it has to come from you

Go from these few months knowing you can cope

And see you back in the classroom soon, I hope.

My name is Jenna Edmondson and I’ve been teaching English for 13 years. I’ve worked in Hong Kong, Sydney and now Spain. In my free time I love writing poetry (and occasionally performing it) painting and making silver jewellery. I really enjoy teaching and the connections we make with people, and putting these small observations into words. I studied English Language with Linguistics at the Uni of Sheffield and have always been interested in word play and sharing a love of the language with other people. I currently teach at ELI (English Language Institute) in Seville.

On Thursday 7th May I did a 60-minute Zoom training session on how to use Zoom…meta! I worked with about 20 teachers from Urban School and other language schools in Barcelona, showing them how to use Mentimeter and word clouds in their online lessons, and in the process answering questions on a few other aspects of using Zoom. Thanks to Urien Shaw for organising it.

Mentimeter

We started by playing with Mentimeter, which is interactive presentation software.

I used an open-ended question displaying a flowing grid so we could get to know each other a little:

What's your name? What's one interesting thing about you?

To answer a question, participants go to http://www.menti.com and type the code from your presentation.

Here is a full list of all of the Mentimeter question types and how to make them. The Mentimeter blog has lots of ideas for how to use the different types of questions which are available, including lots of examples.

Multiple choice, word cloud, open-ended, scales, ranking, image choice, quiz, select answer, type answer

Here are some ways you can use Mentimeter in class:

  • Multiple choice
    Which (form of this) activity do you want to do? Gist reading/listening questions. How much time should I give you?
  • Word cloud
    Vocab revision, what vocab do you already know, word association as a lead in (i.e. what do you associate with this topic), produce examples of a grammar structure, what do you know about this person/thing/place, what do you remember from last lesson
  • Open-ended
    Brainstorming ideas, get feedback on your lessons, getting to know you, lead in to a topic, what do you remember about…, create example sentences using this grammar structure/word, correct the mistake
  • Scales
    Do you prefer X or Y? To what extent do you agree with this statement? How much do you like/enjoy…? For feedback on your lessons/particular activities…
  • Ranking (participants can only choose one option)
    Class survey of most/least popular anything (food, book, animal…)
  • Image choice
    Which holiday type/item of clothing/animal/celebrity/computer game… do you prefer?
  • Q & A
    Brainstorm questions for a guest speaker/the teacher/other students, what questions do you expect this reading text/audio/video will answer, what questions do you still have after watching/listening, what would you ask the person in the video…
  • Select answer – scores appear after these slides
    Any closed multiple choice quiz questions
  • Type answer – scores appear after these slides
    Open quiz questions where any answer is possible

The free account allows you to include an unlimited number of PowerPoint-style presentation slides, two ‘questions’ and five ‘quiz slides’. You can have an unlimited number of presentations, so if you need more of these slides in a single lesson you can just make more than one presentation.

Students can make their own questions, though they need to open an account to do this.

Word clouds

Next we used a word cloud to discuss ideas for doing feedback or error correction in online lessons. The ideas in this word cloud were taken from a workshop at IH Bydgoszcz a few weeks ago (thanks again to our great staff there!). I then showed how you can produce very different word clouds using the same input data with the simple insertion of ~ between words to keep them together. So these two things appear differently in a word cloud:

  • highlight problems and they rewrite
  • highlight~problems~and~they~rewrite

Words which appear more frequently in the source text appear larger in a word cloud, as can be clearly seen in the second word cloud above. www.wordclouds.com is my current favourite tool to produce word clouds.

Here are some ways you can use word clouds in the EFL classroom (the links take you to lessons on my blog using this idea):

  • As a lead in to a reading/listening, put the text/transcript into a word cloud and students predict what they’re going to see/hear.
  • Use the same word cloud afterwards for them to remember what they saw/heard.
  • Challenge students to find all the phrases in a word cloud.
  • As a prompt for students to remember particular grammar forms, e.g. comparatives and superlatives, or irregular verbs.
  • Use as a prompt for debates.
  • Ask students to create a story using the words in the cloud.
  • Students can ask you about vocabulary they don’t understand.
  • To show possible answers for a controlled task, once students have had a go at it themselves first.
  • Students can test each other by defining a word for others to guess.
  • To summarise ideas generated during the lesson.
  • Students make their own about a particular topic/place/person/thing.

Tips:

  • Make sure the words are spaced out as much as necessary for them to be clearly visible.
  • Use a legible font.
  • Ensure the contrast between text and background is clear.
  • Use a theme with various colours in it, rather than just one or two.
  • Check that words don’t run into each other if you need students to write them out in some form (for example, with the word cloud below one student wrote: crowdedsunny, more crowdedsunny, the most crowdedsunny, highlighting the mechanical nature of this task beautifully!)

I have lots of bookmarks connected to using word clouds: https://bit.ly/sandywordclouds and it’s one of the first things I ever presented about and wrote up on my blog, way back in February 2011. Writing this post was a trip down memory lane!

The personal stuff

I’m aiming to be more conscious in how I use words right now, as I’m more and more aware of how much impact tiny changes in wording can have (social distancing/physical distancing anyone?) As Terry Pratchett says in A Hatful of Sky:

“There's always a story. It's all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything's got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.”  ― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Things I’ve stopped saying/writing:

  • In these difficult/challenging times
    They’re as difficult/challenging as you feel they are, this differs for everyone, and nobody needs to be reminded.
  • The new normal 
    Yes, I know I wrote a post called that a few weeks ago. Normal is what you decide it is.
  • As soon as this is over, I’m going to… / I wish I could…
    These phrases frustrates more than help. There is no end date on this thing, but one day we’ll look back and it’ll be in the past. It’s like growing up: there’s no fixed point when you become an adult, but you definitely look back and you’re not a child any more. Why not say ‘Next week, I’m going to…’ and give yourself things that are manageable now to look forward to? And create a jar of post-lockdown plans.

Things that frustrate me when I see/hear them:

  • Now that you have all of this time on your hands…
    An assumption that is not universal. My workload has stayed pretty similar, and I know others who are busier than ever and are not necessarily taking breaks as they would have before. I know we are lucky to still have work and things to do that are similar to pre-coronavirus times, but you are lucky to have a different range of stressors than previously (I’m not going to say to have nothing to stress you out, because I know that’s not true either). Yes, we might not be able to do all the things we would like, but there are so so so many things we can choose to do. 
  • We/I don’t know what’s going to happen.
    We never do. Now is no different. We need to change what we can and accept what we can’t.

I entirely realise you may not agree with this, but that’s why it’s the personal stuff…it’s how I feel, and you’re allowed to feel different. We’re all allowed to deal with this in our own way. 

However, one thing is always true: if you’re finding it difficult to deal with, please don’t do it alone: ask people for help. You are absolutely not alone, and this is more true than ever before. COVID-19 affects the entire human race and, quite literally, none of us are immune to it or the side-effects of restrictions that it brings along with it. Look after yourselves, and don’t bottle up the frustration.

Here’s some fantastic advice from Stephen Fry on dealing with anxiety and stress whilst self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s 2 minutes and 39 seconds of time well-spent to listen to him talking. And here’s Phil Longwell’s post on Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing for teachers. 

My Zoom lessons

This week our lessons with elementary teens introduced a story, the longest text they’ve read so far, and worked on adjectives and adverbs.

Are you sitting comfortably?

I decided it was finally time to teach my students how to use annotation themselves – previously only I had used it. We had 10 minutes at the start of the lesson where they could write or draw whatever they wanted on a blank slide. I turned on ‘Show names of annotators‘ so I could check who was doing what. We were going to play a game, but it took so long to figure out the annotation that we didn’t bother!

They’d finished 8 sentences for homework where they wrote about things they and their family were (not) going to do. In breakout rooms, the students compared their plans and helped each other improve the grammar if needed. As a mini writing assessment, they copied the sentences in the chat box. I told them I was testing their writing and I wanted to check their work, and only one student complained slightly 😉 

By this time, it was break time – a prime example of how everything takes so much longer in Zoom!

The story we were using came with pictures to put in order. Before listening, students wrote sentences starting ‘I see…’ (e.g. I see a boat. I see a boy. I see a computer.) then ‘I think…’ (e.g. I think he’s good. I think the computer is important.) in the chat box to engage them with the story.

The first time they just read and listened to it, then showed thumbs up/down/in the middle on their cameras to indicate whether they liked it or not – the first time I’ve included a pure enjoyment reading/listening task in my lessons!

In breakout rooms, students put the pictures in order. They underlined the part of the text which went with each picture. I had to go to the rooms a few times to clarify how to do this as we’d never done this before (the readings we used were never really long/challenging enough in the rest of the book, or were far too hard and we skipped them!)

The final part of the lesson was a reading assessment which we did using a Google Form. There were seven three-option multiple choice questions, with images to support their understanding of the options.

With the first group, we had just enough time to manage this. With the second, we had a few extra minutes but not enough time to do anything else, so I told them their scores and encouraged them to keep resubmitting. This was very quick and easy because the form was self-marking (yay, multiple choice!) and they all submitted it at least three times in the time we had available, some more, focussing on the questions they had problems with. The image below shows only the resubmissions, not the original ones – there are 8 students in the group!

I used conditional formatting to show problem questions (thanks Ruth!) so I could tell the students which ones to retry quickly.

As you can see, question 5 was a particular problem. By the way, this is a rare example of some coursebook reading which provided a good level of challenge – most of the ones I come across are either far too easy or far too hard! 

Making things interesting

The homework from the previous lesson was to write a very short story, around 3-4 sentences. Whenever I’ve set non-workbook homework before, only one or two students have done it. This time, only one or two didn’t in each group 🙂 One girl wrote two 1.5 page stories – I know she used Google Translate to help her, but I don’t really care – I’m so impressed at her motivation!

The lesson started with them in breakout rooms reading their stories to each other. The ones who hadn’t written one were in a separate room and had to write something very short: who went where to do what. The aim was to use the stories at the end of this lesson, but realistically I knew that probably wouldn’t happen, so they’ll be used on Monday instead.

To set the context, students looked at the pictures from Monday’s lesson and retold the story. In both this activity and the one where they told their own stories, I only heard a couple of adjectives and no adverbs, so I knew the lesson would be useful 🙂

We looked at four sentences from the story with and without adjectives. I asked if 1 or 2 is better in a story and why (2, because it’s longer and more interesting. I get a better picture in my head.)

I was pretty sure the students wouldn’t know the names for parts of speech in English, but would in Polish, so I had a list of the translations on my plan. I showed them the ‘2’ sentences with adjectives and nouns highlighted, elicited the parts of speech, told them the English word, then asked them to write down ‘Adjectives talk about nouns.’ and colour it in as on the following slide.

(Adjectives are yellow. The nouns they describe are blue.) Justin Time was in a strange room.   What’s that horrible noise?   Chelsea was there too. She was very sad.   ‘Well done! The world is safe again now,’ said Justin. (The next part is in a box) adjectives   nouns   Adjectives talk about nouns.

This was the beginning of a very staged process to give them a really clear written record. In a physical classroom or with older students, I would probably give them a worksheet to go through and fill in the gaps working at their own speed alone or in pairs, but this was the only way I could think of to keep everyone with me in a Zoom lesson.

We worked through four different adjective sentence structures and they wrote then read out their own versions of the sentence, and colour-coded it. This gave them the chance to personalise the grammar point. Fast finishers could write extra sentences. 					   (in/on/at)   (a/an)   ADJECTIVE     NOUN  Justin Time was   in       a    strange   room.  Justin Time was   __      _   ______   ____.

After break, I showed them three different things from my flat. They had to ask me questions using an adjective and a noun e.g. What’s that brown bear? Who’s that cute baby? I answered with an adjective and a noun too: That brown bear is my favourite teddy bear. That cute baby is my friend’s daughter, Megan.

They then got three things of their own and played the same game in breakout rooms.

We repeated the grammar introduction process with adverbs and different colour-coding, but didn’t have time to practise them in this lesson.

(Adverbs are purple, verbs are orange) She laughed horribly.   I think we can escape easily.   Chelsea took the boat safely back to the harbour. (in a box:) adverbs   verbs   Adverbs talk about verbs.

The students were generally engaged in the grammar introduction process because it was broken down so much. I probably got them personalising the language a lot more than I would have done in a lesson I’d taught in a physical classroom previously. This is definitely something to remember later!

Zoom thoughts and tips

When using the annotate tool, students on phones and tablets only have the ‘pen’ option. They can’t type, stamp, draw boxes, or any of the other fun things those on computers can do.

On Thursday I did a Zoom training session which I’ll be sharing later. Dan, one of the participants, suggested assigning each student a question number from an exercise. They type the answer to only that question in the chat box. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before 😉

My colleague Connor has been playing with the free VoiceMod software with his young learners. This allows you to change how you sound with a huge range of effects. He used it to add some fun to pronunciation drilling, with the kids trying to copy the way his voice sounded. It’s Windows only at the moment, with Mac and Linux versions in development.

I’ve been trying to get my second teenage group to consistently have their cameras on because it makes a huge difference to how the lesson feels. This recent Twitter thread made me frame my thoughts differently (click this tweet to see the whole thread):

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

It might be worth showing reluctant students that they can use speaker view and pin the teacher’s video. When using full screen they can hide the rest of the students, including their own video. It may just be that they don’t want to see themselves – I get it, I tend to try to minimise my video when I’m just chatting to one or two people on Skype or similar. 

Useful links

Scott Donald has a thought-provoking post about why you shouldn’t necessarily ‘hover’ in breakout rooms when students are doing activities, but instead give them some space to get on with it. 

Jane Maria Harding da Rosa’s blog is back 🙂 In her most recent post, she shares personal anecdotes about chanting and how it helps students remember new language. I’d highly recommend her articles called Creating Chants and Don’t Drawl the Drill if you’re looking for ways to improve your drilling and help students remember new language for longer, both in the online and offline classroom. If you’re teaching asynchronously, you could do this through recordings.

The Virtual Round Table conference happened on 8th and 9th May. I attended Graham Stanley’s session demonstrating how to set up an escape room in your online classroom. The recording is here:

There’s lots of useful information on escape rooms in ELT on this blog, including the definition of an escape room if you’re new to them: https://escaperoomelt.wordpress.com/

Hana Ticha is teaching asynchronously (i.e. not via a video conferencing tool like Zoom). She talks about the pros and cons of synchronous and asynchronous teaching, and how she aims to overcome the cons of asynchronous teaching in this post.

Kate Martinkevich shares a post from the Learning Scientists blog on six strategies for effective distance learning and notes how it could be applied to ELT.

Jim at Sponge ELT describes how he includes experimental lessons in the teacher development programme at his school, and some things teachers have been experimenting with when teching online.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m absolutely privileged to work at International House Bydgoszcz. Our staff are motivated, engaged, and creative, and always willing to share their ideas. Everyone really cares about teaching and doing the best for our students.

For the last couple of weeks, our Friday workshops have become brainstorming sessions. We start a Google Doc on a specific aspect of teaching online, then head into breakout rooms to share ideas and add to the document. They add their names, and when we return to the main room we ask for clarification or explanations of anything we don’t understand. So far we’ve covered warmers, feedback and error correction, and now movement.

In just 30 minutes on Friday 8th May, IH Bydgoszcz teachers past and present produced this fantastic list of ideas for adding movement to online lessons, and they agreed to let me share it on my blog. I’ve organised them into categories and removed school-specific terminology, but apart from that, they’re as written during the session. Thanks to everyone who added to this list! If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments.

Please note: if you share this post (thank you!), please credit ‘IH Bydgoszcz teachers’, rather than me!

At the computer

Flash card, touch body – two flashcards on PPT or in hands. T says – word. If it is one flashcard – SS touch nose. If it is other flashcard, SS touch head. = receptive stage (Flash and touch – Jodie??) 

Debate – They show you how much they agree/ disagree with a statement physically i.e. how much they stand up. Then, you group them with people who have the same/ or very different points of view in BOR for activity.  (Jodie)

Body parts vocab: students stand up, T says show your ankle, S .. (Lotte)

Using mime to revise body / sports vocab using mime and the others guess. (Ranmal)

Use standing up/sitting down for feedback e.g. stand up if you agree. (Ranmal)

Storytelling- Ss suggest actions for parts of the story/ characters particularly repeating words that they do while you tell the story (Helen)

Alphabet actions- do an action for each letter of the alphabet (Jude G)

Mime a TV programme scenario to revise TV vocab (Jude G)

Simon says (Jude F)

True/false game (with kids): Come up with a random movement for true/false, e.g. stand up and wiggle for true, pat your head if false. The teacher or a student says a sentence about a picture. Ss do the movement for T/F. (Char)

“Board” slap > notebook slap – Ss write/draw words in notebook and touch. Or on post its to stick on walls in the house (Shannon, via Sandy a few weeks ago)

One student goes outside/behind the computer for 30 seconds with their sound off – the rest of the students make a shape/start doing an action. That student comes back and has to guess what the word is. You can do it with the waiting room function too, but this is potentially more fun. (Sandy)

Play some music for everyone to dance to. When it stops, they need to make a shape that represents a recent piece of vocab. Everyone then calls out what they can see: James is an elephant, Sandy is a lion, etc. (Sandy)

Away from the computer

Scavenger hunt- items, vocab, fun (Lee and Ash)

Mute mic and run – T has list of vocab on the board. Class is in 2 teams. T says ‘which one is…. + def’. Then, says two SS names. The ss run (by which I mean walk sensibly) and start the microphone and say. Fastest = points. (Jodie)

Vocab: Find something you can describe as ‘______’ i.e. ancient. (They go find one of their many ancient artefacts at home). (Jodie). 

Ask students to get something from different rooms in their house – practicing rooms in a house (Ranmal)

Let students get a book or another prop from their room or house. Give them a time limit (Lotte)

Birdwatching. I taught young learners the names of some birds & some bird vocab. Then they could go to their window/balcony, do a spot of birdwatching, and tell each other what they saw. (Gareth)

Show us your garden! Connections and gardens permitting (Helen)

Run and get something to introduce to the group related to grammar vocab for that lesson – this is my dog which I…, this is my sister who.. (Jude G)

Give Ss 3 mins to run and find something to explain a concept from the lesson. In my advanced adult group they had to find something to explain the concept of time (Katharine)

Go and find something to tell a story about and other Ss have to guess if it’s true or false (Katharine)

Find an object to describe using new vocabulary e.g. pretentious art adjectives (Katharine)

Go on Pet Safari to practise present continuous. Follow a pet around the house and narrate what they are doing. Can use a stuffed toy if they don’t have a pet (Ruth)

New vocabulary such as films or books – (adjectives for or categories) get ss to get up and find as many examples as they can in their house and show to each other on the camera. (Monica)

As mental breaks

Star jumps etc. as a little break for young learners. (Lotte)

Random brain breaks (for kids): (Char)

  • rub your belly and pat your head
  • try to lick your elbow
  • pinch your nose with your right hand and touch your right ear with your left hand, then swap
  • find something (green)
  • be a (cat, chair, rock)

Yoga for kids’ – share video via YouTube and Ss do at home (Shannon) 

Click your fingers: one hand click a triangle, one hand click a line (Lee)

Dance to a Super Simple Songs video (Sandy)

Get Ss to dance along to old 70s/80s aerobics videos (purely for teacher’s entertainment but also as an energy burner) (Connor)

Useful links

Here are two other posts about how to add movement to your online lessons:

https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2020/04/10/adding-movement-to-online-lessons-guest-post/

https://jamesegerton.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/i-like-to-move-it-move-it-webinar-let-off-quaransteam/

What we do

There isn't a way things should be. There is just what happens, and what we do. Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

The personal stuff

Last week would have been Terry Pratchett‘s birthday, hence the quote above. It was also the 30th anniversary of Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. To mark the occasion, and to provide a little light relief, Gaiman and team have put together this conversation between Crowley and Aziraphale:

I’ve been really enjoying all of the culture that we’re now able to access from our homes. Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, National Theatre plays (consistently showcasing the most amazing staging I’ve ever seen!), Royal Opera House performances, and Shakespeare plays from The Globe. That’s why I donated to Acting for Others this week – I’m lucky enough to still have money coming in, but many performers are out of work for who knows how long. If you have a few spare pennies at the moment, consider donating to a charity that means something to you as a lot of charities are struggling right now (and if you don’t have any, don’t worry about it! I hope you do soon!).

The other change that I’ve really enjoyed in the past few weeks is the number of international group conversations I take part in every week, both with old friends and making new ones. Also online quizzes, online games with friends and family, and Crafternoon (genius, Laura!). As somebody who’s lived abroad, moved around and lived alone for most of my adult life, this is a great way of maintaining continuity within different areas of my life and making me feel less lonely (luckily I don’t feel like this very often any more!) Thank you to all those organising these 🙂 I really hope they continue when the world opens up again (not when things go back to normal – normal doesn’t exist).

My Zoom lessons

I’m going to…no, I’m not!

I’m very lucky that it’s taken 7 weeks before internet problems have interrupted a lesson. In my second lesson on Monday it cut out at exactly 18:17 for ten minutes, then at 19:17 for ten minutes – weird! Apparently my provider had problems across Europe. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that when I came back the first time Zoom had reopened my personal meeting room instead of the room for my lesson, so I lost an extra 15 minutes before I realised that I was in one place and my students were in another. That meant a total of 40 minutes of our 90 had been lost (we only managed to get to ‘I’m going to…’ in the lesson described below). Thankfully, this was the first of two lessons on the same language point so we could make up for lost time on Wednesday.

The warmer was really successful with group one: Silent TV from Film, TV and Music [Amazon affiliate link]. Thanks to Jude for spotting it! They had to mime one of the TV genres from last week’s lesson for their classmates to guess. I put them in breakout rooms, and it was very entertaining dropping in and out as they got really into it. With group two (as expected!), they didn’t go for it at all. Instead when I went in the rooms I discovered they’d all come up with their own versions. One groups drew pictures of the genres to show classmates (like pictionary), another were listing examples of programmes from that genre, and the third were describing what you see on that kind of programme. I applauded their creativity 🙂

To test whether these elementary teen students already knew the ‘going to’ structure, we did a drawing dictation. I described my plans for the May Day weekend, and they drew pictures. At each point I showed which part of the grid they should draw in using a mini whiteboard:

These were the results from group one:

They got really into it, showing me their pictures after every couple of sentences. This also helped me to check they’d understood the sentences.

They went into breakout rooms in 3s, working together to remember what I’d said. I dropped in and out to see if any of them were using ‘going to’. One or two were attempting it, with results like ‘I go speaking with my friend.’ ‘I going play game.’ but most of them weren’t (as expected!)

I showed them the whole text so they could check what they’d remembered, and to expose them to the language one more time before presenting it.

We then went through a series of slides (I; he/she/it; we – and by extension you/they; question form), eliciting the structure using the Zoom annotation tool (so I typed ‘____ going ____’ for example)…

I sit on my balcony in the sun. I use my computer.

…then showing the full structure with colour coding to highlight the different parts.

I'm (blue) going to (pink) sit (underlined) on my balcony in the sun.

As a written record after each slide, the students wrote personalised sentences using that form. For example, ‘I’m going to play in the garden.’ ‘My sister isn’t going to watch Netflix’. I was able to correct the form of all of these as the students asked if they could read them out – everybody ended up reading out their sentences to the whole class, which didn’t take that long as they finished at different times.

In hindsight, I should have include the time marker in the sentence e.g. On Saturday. We did this verbally, and I clarified that it was the future repeatedly, but visual support would have helped.

They then drew their own weekends. The final step was to go into breakout rooms and guess what their partner was going to do. If student A got the right answer, student B had to show them the picture. This worked really well and students were attempting to use the form, and seemed to enjoying the guessing game.

And you?

The second lesson started with ‘find the mistakes’ based on form problems both groups had had on Monday. I copied the sentences into the chatbox one by one for them to correct.

I’m going watch Netflix. Marta going to read. You is going to go shopping. They are going to seeing their friends. I’m don’t going to play Minecraft. My mum not going to make lunch. We are no going to see my grandma. We’re going to cinema.

With the second group, I then asked them to copy the following into their notebooks – this was a replacement for the part of the lesson we’d missed on Monday.

You are going to go shopping. (NOT You going) They are going to see their friends. (NOT seeing) I’m not going to play Minecraft. (NOT I don’t going) We’re going to go to the cinema. (NOT going to cinema)

The homework slide used the same colour coding as the previous lesson, and I spent time with the second group to make them check the forms carefully in their workbooks, as we hadn’t been able to go through them on Monday. They had much more intensive correction throughout the lesson, including brief pauses where I clarified aspects of the form that group one had grasped by the end of Monday’s lesson.

(I'm = blue, Are = orange, is = yellow, not = red, infinitive = underlined) 2 I’m not going to miss The Simpsons. 3 Are you going to watch it all? 4 I’m going to watch that. 5 Are you and your brother going to finish your homework? 6 I’m going to record In the House. 7 Dad is going to watch the football. 8 Mum is going to see her programme. 9 Karina isn’t going to miss her reality show. 10 I’m going to do some work.

To introduce a short listening activity, we did a chain drill of ‘Are you going to… on [day]?’ ‘Yes, I am.’ ‘No, I’m not.’ – student A asked student B, student B asked C, C asked D, etc. I drilled them all chorally first so they would be more confident producing them. This allowed them to personalise the topic a little and understand the prepared them to match the phrases they heard to the pictures (taken from Project 2 4th edition).

Are you going to...? Yes, I am. No, I'm not. (images of football, homework, piano, bed, swimming pool, messy room)

The listening answers provided the context for more short answer practice: Is Marco going to go swimming? No, he didn’t. Are Di and Kris going to do their homework? No, they aren’t. By the way, I insisted on ‘going to go’ not just ‘going’ as some of them understandably confused the structure with one of motion, and all of their examples were things like ‘I’m going to my grandma’s.’ ‘I’m going to the video games.’ I think it’s clearer when they include a full verb every time when students first learn this structure, even if it sounds a little odd.

For the final practice I prepared breakout rooms for pairs of students, but didn’t start them yet. Instead, I told them who their partner would be – first they just had to write down their name: ‘Sandy, write Emma.’ ‘Emma, write Sandy.’ Then they had 5 minutes to write as many predictions as they could in their notebooks about their partner’s weekend, including family members, e.g. ‘Sandy isn’t going to go to the cinema.’ ‘Sandy’s mum is going to speak to her.’ When they went to the rooms, they had to ask Yes/No questions to find out if they were right or not and tick/cross the sentences. To round off the activity in the main room, they wrote as many correct sentences as they could in the chatbox in five minutes.

Again, this lesson worked really well and the students were engaged throughout. I feel like both groups now understand the structure of ‘going to’ for future plans and can spot and correct the mistakes they make. Let’s see if they remember it next week!

Thoughts and ideas

Char and I were chatting about why young learner classes are much more tiring for everyone concerned when they’re online than in the classroom. She pointed out that you no longer have all of those little transitions or natural breaks that you would in the physical classroom, for example when they move from sitting on the floor to sitting on the chair, or those routines that always seem to take ages, like putting their coats on and getting their bags at the end of the lesson (5 minutes at least!) These give everyone a mental break in the lesson. We talked about finding activities to replace them that aren’t too cognitively demanding, such as adding in some song routines at the start and end of the lesson, or adding in little dances between activities. Is this something you’ve noticed? How do you deal with it?

When preparing the drawing lesson, I discovered Google AI experiments, some of which I think have a lot of potential for the online classroom.

In AutoDraw, you scribble on a whiteboard and it suggests images you might be drawing. You can click on the one you want. Here’s the first very random picture I produced when experimenting with the features:

Submarine under waves, with a yellow and blue monster holding a red suitcase (yes, it's as disorganised as it sounds!)

In Semantris blocks, you write words which are connected to the ones in the blocks. The AI guesses what you’re talking about and removes that block, plus any of the same colour which are connected to it.

In Semantris arcade, you write words which are connected to the one with an arrow next to it. If it’s classed as highly associated with the target word, it moves below the line and all the words below the line disappear. The game gets faster as you play. (Both of these games make more sense when you play them than from my description!)

Thing Translator works by taking a picture, identifying the object, then telling you the word in one of 10 languages.

Useful links

James Egerton shared ideas for including movement in lessons. I had an idea inspired by James which might work: play some music for everyone to dance to. When it stops, they need to make a shape that represents a recent piece of vocab. Everyone then calls out what they can see: James is an elephant, Sandy is a lion, etc.

Alex Case writes about how to organise drawing games on Zoom and useful language for giving instructions on Zoom.

Kate Martinkevich shared this post from Ditch That Textbook with 10 tips to support students with slow internet.

The TEFL Commute are producing a series of short podcasts called ‘Who’s Zooming Who?’ featuring conversations between Lindsay Clandfield and Shaun Wilden about teaching online. So far they’ve discussed what language to teach students to help them with Zoom, online whiteboards, and Zoom itself.

Reading a letter seems like a lovely idea, and something students could get involved in – that genuine authentic reason for reading aloud that some teachers have been looking for for years 😉

And here’s Caitlin Moran’s contribution to the series with advice to parents who are homeschooling:

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Laura Edwards talk on teaching online at the IATEFL Global Get-Together a couple of weeks ago was one of my highlights. If you’d like to watch the talk, it’s available to IATEFL members in the member’s area. Find out how to join IATEFL. She’s kindly agreed to share her ideas here.

This month I was part of the Global Get-Together, an online conference run by IATEFL. I was asked to present by telc language tests and I thought I’d talk about something connected to my work there in test development. But everything I came up with seemed irrelevant when most conversations with my teacher friends and colleagues revolved around coronavirus and their anxiety and frustration at having to suddenly teach online. I knew those feelings were completely valid. I have a Master’s in Education and Technology and ample experience with online teaching and I still felt overwhelmed. I also noticed that many articles and blog posts about teaching online explained the merits of various video conferencing tools, but few mentioned actual teaching. The implication seemed to be that once you get the hang of the tool, everything will fall into place, but that’s not the reality, which is why I decided to talk about how we teach when teaching online.

With schools suddenly shut, we find ourselves having to design materials suitable for online learning, change our assessment techniques and find new ways to manage student interactions, with very little preparation time. We’re also dealing with the stress of the situation, concern for our students’ well-being, and for self-employed or freelance teachers, there’s the potential loss of income to consider. 

Overwhelming really is the word for it! 

Adapting to the situation

I started my talk with a few inspirational quotes. This one from H. Jackson Brown, Jr. seemed particularly fitting.

Let perseverance be your engine and hope your fuel

As well as effort and perseverance, we need patience, hope, humour and plenty of self-compassion to help us face this challenge. 

It’s unfortunate that many teachers see teaching online as something to suffer through. Of course, it’s difficult to be positive about something that’s forced upon you. I can rave about how it creates great opportunities, frees us from geographical limitations, allowing us to learn whatever we want, wherever we are. But we’re human – we require time to grow accustomed to new ideas, technologies and teaching methods. The habits and biases we develop during our lives can cause us to reject alternative ways of thinking or acting. We face what’s known as the Adaptability Struggle. Change is difficult and some may question the appropriateness of a tool or initially dismiss something that doesn’t fit their perception of learning. Talking to students about their feelings and discussing the benefits of online learning definitely helps. If there’s a moment when your students aren’t reacting as you’d hoped or you’re feeling frustrated, remember it could be the Adaptability Struggle.

How learning happens

When it comes to actual teaching, the first step is to consider how learning happens in your classroom.

I teach large groups of mixed-ability adults, who are returning to education having worked for several years. To tap into their knowledge, deal with the differences in abilities, and make sure that in a group of 30 students everyone has a chance to speak, I incorporate a lot of pair and group work, projects, and peer feedback into my lessons. 

Make a list of the activities or approaches you use in your physical classroom and refer to it for guidance when planning your online lessons.

Exploiting the technology

Then think about the tech tools you have at your disposal. The SAMR Model helps us evaluate our use of a technology. SAMR stands for

  • Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change
  • Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement.
  • Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign.
  • Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.  

The first two refer to the enhancement of learning, the second to transformation. 

One example of the SAMR model is …

  • Substitution: Instead of writing texts by hand, students type them out. 
  • Augmentation: Students type their texts using word processing software, with spell check and formatting tools.
  • Modification: Students use Google docs to share their texts with classmates and get feedback, perhaps even working simultaneously on the document.
  • Redefinition: Students use their texts to make video presentations which they share online.

The goal is to move beyond merely replacing traditional tools, tasks or resources with digital ones, to a situation where technology is facilitating new ways of learning. Of course, under present circumstances, we may not be ready to think about transforming our teaching just yet. We might be thinking at the enhancement level, which is fine.  

The SAMR model helps us reflect on how we can use the tools we have to help our learners best reach their goals. 

Exploiting video conferencing

Many of us are using a video communication tool now. How can we change our lesson design to take full advantage of the tool? Can the tool offer an improvement?

One idea is inviting a guest speaker to join the lesson (if allowed by your school). This is something you couldn’t do as easily without the video conferencing tool. As you and your students are online anyway, it’d be easy to add a friend, colleague or family member to your meeting to be interviewed by the students. Even 10 minutes would be sufficient for them to talk about their job or industry, answer questions about their daily life, or give people a quick tour of their house (ideal if you’re teaching things in the house). It can be informal, even fun, while involving multiple tasks for students:

  • Researching the speaker, for example using LinkedIn
  • Writing an email inviting them to join, explaining why you are interested in speaking to them 
  • Preparing questions 
  • Planning who asks what
  • Conducting the interview
  • Writing a thank you email, outlining what you enjoyed or found useful
  • Preparing a post-interview report

If the conversation was recorded (with the guest’s permission, of course), the video can be replayed for comprehension and vocab activities. So much learning from just a short video call! 

Recording your lessons or parts of your lesson is another example of using the tool to transform learning. Students can watch the videos as often as needed, the repetition helping them notice things they didn’t catch initially. This also helps them reflect on their own contributions. We’re often so focused on expressing meaning, we’re not as aware of our language. Students could transcribe short sections of their speech and reflect on their language. 

The SAMR model reminds us to be open to the opportunities that teaching online offers us, rather than seeing it merely as something to tolerate until we return to the classroom. 

The downsides

Moving to online teaching isn’t without its issues. In some cases, students’ verbal participation decreases, causing you to wonder if they’re paying attention at all. There are many reasons why this might happen. Students may be shy, uncomfortable with the technology, distracted or having tech issues. But they might also be unsure about when they should speak or trying to avoid the situation where everyone is speaking at the same time.

What can we do about this?

Start with Small Talk

Begin each lesson by greeting students individually and asking them how they are, giving each a chance to say something. Then ask students to write something in the chat box: what they had for lunch, what they did yesterday. This easy warm-up allows you to check that everyone’s equipment is functioning. It also allows students to try things out, get accustomed to the situation and connect with their classmates.

Create and discuss guidelines for communication

This is a must. Should students mute their mikes? Should they raise a hand (visually or using the function in the tool, if it exists) or type something in the chat box to indicate they want to speak, or can they speak at will? Do they have to turn their video on, or can they participate by voice only? Are they allowed to record the video call? (Consider privacy regulations.) These things should be communicated clearly in the first meeting or beforehand. It’s also helpful to explain why you set each rule.

If your expectations are unclear, you risk intensifying the adaptability struggle, resulting in some students initially rejecting the technology. We cannot expect students to participate the way we want them to if they don’t know what that is. This may sound logical, but we’re all guilty at times of assuming students understand our intentions and motives when, in fact, they don’t.

Try chatting

A lot of interaction in the classroom is spontaneous. The frowns indicating which students haven’t understood the task, the rolled eyes at your jokes, the groans when you announce an upcoming test, the witty comments. So much impromptu communication gets lost online if everyone’s on mute or has to wait their turn before speaking.

One way to facilitate this valuable communication is by encouraging written communication. The chat function in video conferencing tools is often used by teachers as a place to type corrections, but that shouldn’t be its only use.

Instead of asking questions to students individually, ask the group to respond in writing in the chat box. Give them enough time, then tell them to hit send. You can go through the answers to compare responses, ask follow-up questions and point out improvements.

You may consider moving some of your discussions to the chat box altogether. This takes a little getting used to but works essentially like a group chat on whatever messaging app you’d use on your phone. A written discussion gives everyone time to think up a response and prevents discussions being dominated by more confident or out-going students. This would also benefit the less confident speakers among our students who just prefer writing anyway.

It can be a bit chaotic but it’s worth it, as the use of this function not only helps increase participation but, going back to the SAMR model, we see it is transformative in that it allows for greater inclusion.

Using forms

Further ways of increasing interaction would be to use tools like Google or Microsoft Forms to share listening or reading comprehension questions with students. As the students complete the activity, you can assess in real-time how well each understands the material and quickly discover where misunderstandings lie. Questions can be multiple choice or open-ended, students can see which ones they get wrong or right, and you can display the results to the group for discussion. Gaps in knowledge are quickly identified, and you can deal with these questions without wasting time on the ones everyone got right.

Use the same tools to create feedback forms for your students to be used at the end of the session or week. Find out what students like most and least, and if there’s anything else they’d like to cover in the lessons. This gives students a voice, increases their engagement and aids your own development.

Many teachers find that once they move their class online, they suddenly become the centre point, through which all communication flows. They feel pressure to keep things moving and teacher talk time increases. The use of chat and survey forms can help prevent that.

Promoting engagement

What else can we do to ensure student engagement and interaction? Let’s return to the question of how learning happens in your classroom. If you were in the classroom, what would you be doing that you’re not doing online?

My big challenge teaching online is pair work and peer feedback. For me learning is a social activity and communication and collaboration with others are essential. Although some tools allow for break-out rooms, it’s not always practical. If your students can’t conduct pair work during your live session, how about moving that to outside the allotted class time? Give students a task to complete for the next session and assign them a partner. During the following lesson, the pair can report back to the group.

Peer feedback is another collaborative activity that increases students’ engagement and self-awareness as learners. The key to making it effective online is sharing the task rubrics with the students. Explaining to students what they have to do to complete the task successfully brings transparency to the evaluation process, and helps them effectively evaluate and help others. To really enhance the reflective process, students can create the rubrics or evaluation checklists with you. This further helps them develop a common language to use when giving each other feedback.

Students can also give feedback more informally. During speaking tasks, those listening could use pre-assigned emojis or a comments sheet with short sentences like ‘I agree’ or ‘Good vocabulary’. These could be quickly copied and pasted into the chat box, helping students give feedback faster while eliminating typing errors. The added advantage of this is that it builds community among learners, which is even more important when we are not all sitting in the same room together.

All of these things take practice, which I guess was the main message of my talk. We’re in a difficult situation, and it takes time to adapt to any change so we need to be kind to ourselves. I hope this post gives you a few ideas to help you along the way.

After university, Laura left Ireland to work as an English teacher. Now in Germany, she teaches adults and creates content for digital and print language tests. She has Master’s degrees in Education Leadership and Education Technology. She tweets as @edlaur. In her free time, she turns all devices off to read a good book.

Calmer seas

The title of this week’s post is inspired by Zhenya Polosatova. I’ve just read her post comparing the current situation to being in a boat – you can’t decide how the sea behaves, or what the weather conditions are, but you can decide what’s happening in the boat. I feel like this is the first week that’s been anything approaching a standard 5-day work week since the middle of March when all this started. The seas are definitely calmer now. About 90% of what I did was what I’d normally be doing at this time in the year: teaching, helping teachers, admin work for this point in the year, and some forward planning for next year. I feel like most of us have now reached the acceptance stage of the change curve, and some are moving to the problem solving stage.

1. Blame others. 2. Blame self. 3. Uncertainty/confusion. 4. Acceptance/Rationalisation. 5. Problem solving. 6. Moving on

Away from work, I’ve been going back to some of my favourite books in the past few weeks. I read Winnie the Pooh again after a gap of at least 20 years. I’d forgotten how full of wisdom it is. Here’s my favourite, a reminder not to worry about things you can’t do anything about:
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?” “Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought. Piglet was comforted by this.

My Zoom lessons

Testing times

Our first elementary teen lesson this week was a test lesson as we’ve reached the end of the unit. Revision was creating sentences from pictures using all the different forms we’ve studied, and a few minutes playing collaborative Quizlet Live with a bumper set of vocabulary (I described how to play this on Zoom here). The test was done through Google Docs, as described in the ‘Testing’ section of last week’s post. These were some of the problems I had and how we resolved them:

  • Before they started, I shared my screen and demonstrated how to fill in the test.
  • One student couldn’t copy and paste the link, then was pasting it in the search bar, not the address bar (she’s 11). The other students explained to her in Polish, and I managed to get her to share her screen to check she was pasting it in the right place.
  • Another student couldn’t open the link at all. I sent her a version of the link I’d shortened using bit.ly so she could type it out more easily. (Top tip: you can edit the link so it’s words instead of a random string of letters and numbers. Don’t use capital letters as the links are case sensitive.)
  • The same student then couldn’t edit the document. She hand-wrote the answers in her notebook. I saw her notebook and know she did this, but am waiting for her to email them to me!
  • Speaking to students to solve problems disturbs the others. For the second class, I created three breakout rooms. You can rename rooms, so I called them ‘Doing test’, ‘Problems’ and ‘Finished test’. Once all students had their tests open, I moved everybody from the main room into ‘Doing test’. You can move students from one room to another as needed during the test by clicking ‘reassign’ next to their names. This is also a good way to keep fast finishers engaged.

Problems, Finished, Doing the test

  • I had all of the tests open in separate tabs so could see that everyone was working, and roughly how far through they were. This is a low stakes unit test, so I’d asked them to put their books and phones on the other side of the room, but wasn’t too worried if they cheated – at least they’d learn something that way (I know none of mine did though – the test was well within everyone’s capabilities!)

With the first group, dealing with the test problems meant it took almost the whole lesson. With the second group, they had a few minutes at the end. When asked what they wanted to do, they said play Quizlet. Half of them played Match, posting their fastest time in the chat box, and the other half played individual Quizlet Live. This worked really well for 10 minutes, and I know they were all actively engaged, though I wouldn’t do it for much longer than that in a lesson as both of those are receptive, and there’s no productive practice there. It was a nice reward for getting through a whole unit of the book while being taught online 🙂

Pacing makes all the difference

We started a new unit in the second lesson, Entertainment. The first set of vocabulary is TV programmes. I thought that since the students enjoy Netflix, this would be very motivating for them. This was true, but it was too much so in the first group! It felt like chaos at certain points, when they all shouted over each other debating which shows are good and bad entirely in Polish. This was entirely my fault: I’d let test feedback drag on for too long in the first part of the lesson (20 minutes instead of the 10 I managed in the second lesson), and they’d lost interest, which meant that it was hard to get their focus back, and chaos ruled for most of the rest of the lesson. One student out and out told me he was bored!

As part of the test feedback, I experimented with annotation tools for the first time, having seen a teacher use them successfully during a drop in observation on Tuesday (thanks Ash!). I only realised I could do this once I’d already lost the first group, so it wasn’t very efficient as I tried to work things out on the spot. With the second group it worked like a dream, and I could hear them asking in Polish ‘What’s teacher doing to the screen? How’s she doing that?’ 🙂 I’ll definitely use annotation tools again, but plan more carefully how and when.

To introduce 12 items of vocab, we broke it down into 4 groups of 3, with the following sequence:

  • Look at four pictures on the slide. What kind of shows can you see? Call out.
  • Reinforce any they already know. e.g. Yes, well done! 4 is a reality show.
  • Fill the gaps by introducing the other words, combined with the drilling below. If they were confused, elicit Polish examples of each type of programme.
  • Drill the words a few times. Go backwards and forwards to keep reminding them, in as fun/pacy a way as possible. e.g. word 1, 1, 1, word 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, word 3, 3, 3, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1 2, 3 2, 1 3, word 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 4, 3, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1, 2 3, 4 3, 4 2, etc.
  • They copy the four words into their notebooks, along with an example of that kind of show (in Polish if necessary).
  • Repeat the cycle for 5-8. When drilling flick back to the 1-4 slide sometimes and re-elicit some of the words. Then repeat for 9-12, going back to 1-4 and 5-8 sometimes.

This kind of sequence works well in a face-to-face classroom, and I think it was passable in Zoom, but I feel like there are probably other more efficient ways to introduce these words. Let me know if you have one!

I held up a mini whiteboard and demonstrated step-by-step the creation of a TV guide, inspired by another drop-in observation (thanks Jodie!). The students made their own in their notebooks as we went along, ending up with something like this:

Sandy vision: Tigers on TV, Tram time!, Science today

They then copied two questions into their notebooks: ‘What’s your TV channel?’ ‘What’s on at 6?’ This enabled them to go into breakout rooms and get a fuller TV guide. I realised afterwards that I should have added ‘What’s that?’ to give them a clear question for the genre. Both groups were engaged with this task, and there were some very creative TV programmes.

With the second group, there was time to drill this conversation and for them to practise it in breakout rooms:

What are you going to watch? I'm going to watch _____ What's that? It's _____. That sounds great! Me too! / That sounds boring! I'm going to watch ____. It's a ______.

This is their first encounter with the grammar we’re going to (!) study next week. Thanks to Jude G for suggesting the use of pictures and colour-coding to make the turn-taking clearer and to brighten up the slide.

Polish

In our Polish lesson we had a similar short dialogue between a victim, a police officer, and a thief. As well as using pictures and colour-coding, I also held different toys up to the camera who was speaking as I introduced then drilled the conversation. We all agreed that this made it much clearer which student (there were only 3!) should be speaking at each point.

Bydgoszcz bear (the victim), an IH money box (the police) and the penguin from the Wrong Trousers (the thief)

Bydgoszcz bear (the victim), an IH money box (the police) and the penguin from the Wrong Trousers (the thief)

Mini reflection

If nothing else, teaching on Zoom has finally got me into the habit of providing very clear functional language and making sure students write it down, something I’ve only ever done sporadically before.

However, yet again there was no movement in any of my lessons (apart from at break time!). I’m finding it challenging to incorporate movement seamlessly with these groups, and the activities I’ve used previously involving movement meant me speaking a lot, and the students not really producing much (an 80-20 ratio according to the observer who saw me run it). Something to think about more for next week…

Management

The only major thing that came up this week was figuring out a way to test the youngest students’ progress (beginner/elementary 7/8 year olds). We realised that if you display the questions one at a time on slides, the students can write the answers in the chat box and you can then download the chat to mark later. For students with minimal literacy, they can be given two options and just type 1 or 2. To push them a little, you might have a choice of words for an item, or you show them the vocab and they type the word. (Thanks Char!)

Of course, this is also an excellent time to re-consider the place of testing in our classrooms, and decide how necessary it actually is. This ‘long read’ from the Guardian is worth it to see what one family have learnt from two months of home schooling in Italy, and how it’s changed some of their attitudes to education.

Useful links

Lots of teachers are sharing their reflections on the current teaching situation. Here are a few I know about:

  • Rose Bard in Brazil, teaching small groups in Brazil
  • Hana Ticha, teaching secondary in the Czech Republic
  • Emma Johnston, teaching private language school students in Chile
  • Rachel Tsateri, teaching private language school students in Spain
  • Naomi Epstein, teaching deaf and hard of hearing students in Israel

I’ve linked to one post per blog, but it’s worth exploring: there are lots of useful things on all of their blogs. It’s interesting to hear how different people are adapting to the situation, and what they’re learning in the process.

If you prefer to listen rather than read (well done for getting this far down my post!), TEFLology created a podcast episode with the reflections of Anna Loseva (in Vietnam), Rob Playfair (in the UK) and Mustafa Nazari (in Iran). TEFL Commute have started a new series of short podcasts called Who’s Zooming who?

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Last weekend IATEFL offered a weekend of free professional development for the ELT community in place of thre IATEFL Manchester face-to-face conference. I was privileged to be part of the final panel discussion which was called Moving Teaching Online. IATEFL have kindly decided to share the recording of the discussion for free on their YouTube channel.

Recordings of all of the other sessions are available for IATEFL members in the members’ area of the site. Highlights were Laura Edwards’ tips for online teaching, Alex Warren talking about using TED talks, and Tammy Gregersen discussing teacher wellbeing. Here’s how to become a member if you’re not already: https://www.iatefl.org/get-involved/membership

Thank you to Shaun Wilden and Ros Wright for organising it, and to everyone whis given us such great feedback on the discussion.

Katie used to work with me at IH Bydgoszcz. She previously appeared here writing a guest post about DIY festive homework, and is back now to explain how she’s teaching in a student-paced way using an asynchronous model, a great contrast to the fully synchronous model I’ve been working in, with only live lessons. Here’s what she’s been doing:

A bit of background

Much like everyone else on my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds I have had to move my classes online. Unlike most of those people, I don’t have a class full of students who have reliable internet access and regular schedules at home. Although a few of them are sitting at home with wifi and no work to do, a lot of ESOL students are what our government has started calling “key workers”. In my classes I have shop staff, factory workers, warehouse workers, care assistants, cleaners, and of course, full-time mums.

I have a university lecturer who almost always uses a website called Nearpod in her lectures with us, and we follow along on our phones, seeing class results immediately on her screen at the front. She mentioned off-hand once that it was a useful website for setting work to be done at home, as it also has a function for “student-paced” lessons. Unfortunately, as I discovered when I tried to use it, you need an upgrade to use the student-paced lesson function. Fortunately, Nearpod is currently offering a free upgrade! It was a bit fiddly to get one, but it was eventually sorted out. I had to fill in a few forms, and even had a Zoom call with someone about what I needed. There was an option to become a “school” account, and link other teachers to mine, but I went for a simpler option to have the upgrade just to myself.

How do you use it as a student?

The easiest way to introduce you to the site is probably by using a demo lesson, so I’ve made you one (be warned, it’s not remotely professional in tone) Access is very similar to the Kahoot process.

  1. Go to join.nearpod.com
  2. Type in this code: JTOGF (this code expires on 16th May 2020, so get in touch if you miss it and you want to give it a go)
  3. Put in a name or nickname

How do you use it as a teacher?

I’d say that once you get over the initial hurdles of getting an upgrade, you only need a little while to find your way around the website. If you have done the lesson above you will know a few of the possible features, but of course there are always more. If you want different classes to do the same lesson but keep their results separate, you can launch it more than once with different codes. This is helpful if you have many classes of the same level with different teachers.

Giving feedback

Once you’re ready, scroll down on the left side until you see “reports”. Each lesson is listed, and on the right there is a house-shaped icon with a pen on it. When you click on that you’ll be taken to a summary of your students’ results. At the top of that summary you can select “downloads” to view the results either by the whole group or by students individually. I download the student reports and email them individually to each student with feedback or suggestions of particular things to practise. This is very time consuming!

Pros and Cons

Although feedback takes longer, you are obviously not spending any time actually in class, so that does sort of balance out. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of options for students using phones to respond with audio, so they tend to spend a lot of time writing. After the Easter break we’re going to have a go at doing a mixture of Zoom and Nearpod.

Has anyone else tried asynchronous online teaching yet? What tools have you been using?

Katie is an EFL teacher back in her hometown in the UK, teaching ESOL part time at the local council and studying for her MA TESOL part time at the University of Warwick.

Half a week

We were lucky to still be able to take our Easter break – I know that some teachers had to work, and I hope that you’ll be able to recover that time at some point. We were off from Thursday to Tuesday, so working for only three days this week, with one English lesson and one Polish lesson. I used the time off to blog, catch up with friends, play Jackbox games with family and friends, and watch some of the fantastic online cultural offerings that we are currently privileged to be able to access, like Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and shows from the Royal Opera House.

My Zoom lessons

As we’re at the end of a unit, we wanted to do something a bit more project-based to pull everything together. I got inordinately excited (genuinely, I was jumping up and down and clapping my hands after I finished the plan!) at the Top Trumps lesson I planned, involving the students creating their own cards. Needless to say, the students were nowhere near as excited as me. It also only worked up to a point, but we live and learn…

The warmer worked excellently, with students writing a range of sentences about superheroes using all of the structures we’ve looked at in the unit, and asking for any adjectives they didn’t know, all based on this slide:

After a quick homework check, these two slides introduced Top Trumps. I asked a couple of students who were familiar with the game to explain how it works in Polish, then demonstrated using the number of pets the two presidents have.

To create our own Top Trumps cards, I first wanted students to come up with their own categories. I gave one example, highlighting the adjective ‘strong’ and not worrying about the noun for the moment.

They had 2 minutes to write 2 ideas each in their notebooks, then copied this functional language into their notebooks.

I demonstrated using the language to negotiate choices, then students went into breakout rooms in groups of 3-4. As they’re elementary students, I expected them to need to translate a few ideas, and told them this was OK, but found my group actually stuck to quite basic ideas. In their group they had to narrow down their 6-8 ideas to 2 ideas. When they returned to the main room, they wrote their ideas in the chat box. I then created a poll out of their suggestions:

  • Go to https://fast-poll.com/ (there are lots of different free instant poll creators, but I liked the ease of this one)
  • Copy and paste the question: Which Top Trumps categories do you want?
  • Copy and paste possible answers from the chat box.
  • Tick ‘Allow multiple votes’
  • Click ‘Create your poll’
  • Copy the link into the chat box for students to vote. Share the results on screen.

It was break time, but only took 2-3 minutes so if you have it prepared you should be able to make something similar quite quickly in your lessons.

As the students were voting I screen shared the results, and they were spontaneously calling out to the others which categories they wanted their classmates to vote for.

I copied the winning five categories into the categories slide, either as nouns or adjectives, depending on what the students had used. I added nouns/adjectives to the other side, and students copied all of the nouns into their notebooks.

Next I wrote each adjective into the chatbox, with the students suggesting the comparative and superlative structures they’d need to say to play Top Trumps. In hindsight, they should have made their cards first, then done this afterwards, but I planned it this way to help their understanding. I actually think it confused them more. The final slides from our four groups (mine and Jude) looked like this:

You can spot Jude’s groups by the much more creative categories they chose 😉

Then students had 5 minutes to create their own cards. They already had the categories written down.

They produced beautifully drawn cards, with the template carefully copied into their notebooks in most cases. The points scores were quite confusing in the first group (it originally said ‘You have 100 points’), and I should have given an example of how to divide 100 points between the six categories. Most, but not all, of the students interpreted my instructions as 100 points per category, so I updated this for the second group. This confusion meant we didn’t have time to play in the first group.

The second group went into breakout rooms in small groups to play the game. I wanted them to say how many points they had in the category they chose, then make a comparative/superlative sentence, but when I dropped into the rooms this wasn’t happening at all, despite having done what I thought was quite a clear example with a couple of students in the main room first. Instead they were just saying ‘Coco, speed, 20’, ‘Wonder Woman 2, speed 40’, then moving onto the next set of scores. I think I need to have clearer functional language for them which they could copy into their notebooks again. I’d be interested in any other suggestions here, as I’m planning for this to be the fast finisher activity in our test lesson next week.

Overall the students were engaged in the lesson, and we revised the structures to some extent. They had the chance to be a bit creative (something that’s been lacking somewhat in recent lessons), but I don’t think I was able to push their language as much as I wanted to.

Management

One of the privileges of being a manager is that I can observe other teachers. Watching the lessons has highlighted how good teachers are at giving clear instructions, supporting them by showing things on the camera and making notes in the chat box. They are using the technology confidently and in a range of interesting ways. There is a variety of activities and interaction patterns. The biggest problem, and one I’ve had too, is the feeling that we need to fill the silence, especially when students are writing in the chat box or working in their books. I’ve started to mute my microphone, or put my finger on my lips to stop myself from speaking at these points. I also try to make sure that comments add value, for example by giving named students specific feedback on what they’ve written in the chatbox.

Testing

Testing has been the other major topic of the week, conducting my first online placement test, discussing testing and assessment with IH DoSes from around the world, and building on the work of Jude F at our school who came up with a strategy for us to run tests for adults and teens. This is what we’re doing at the moment:

  • Create a test in a Google Doc.
  • Make one copy of the test per student with their names.
  • Put the tests into a single folder.
  • During the lesson, when it’s time for the test remind them to go to the toilet and get a drink before they start (thanks Lucie!) They put their books/phones somewhere out of reach of the computer (if they’re using one) to make it a little harder to cheat.
  • Then share the folder link with edit permissions. You can share the whole folder, or if the group is small enough send a private message to each student with their link (prepare these before the lesson).
  • Students can switch off their microphones while doing the test. If they have a question, they can come on the microphone or type in the chat box.
  • When they finish the test, they tell the teacher. The teacher makes the test view only, then puts the student into a breakout room with a fast finisher task.

We can never be completely sure if students are cheating or not, but as long as the test is low stakes, we need to trust them. If we’ve been assessing them throughout the year, formally and informally (as our school does), we’ll be able to see if there are any huge differences between their offline and online scores. This has worked well for teen and adult students, and we’re currently working on assessing young learners. If you have any ideas, please do share them.

Here are a couple of tips:

  • If you upload a test containing pictures into Google Docs and the pictures don’t show, right click and choose to display the picture ‘in line’ – this made them reappear when I did it.
  • Don’t use activities which involve spotting a mistake. The red/blue underlining of the checkers will give away the answers!
  • Make sure that students will be able to manipulate the test easily, even on phones. For example, ask them to underline words in a multiple-choice activity, rather than circling them.

Teacher training

Our weekly workshop was very different this week, based completely on sharing. Teachers suggested ideas they’d tried for conducting error correction, post-activity feedback, and revision activities. As they did this, I added everything to a Google Doc. There were lots of useful

Beyond our school, another shift I’m watching with interest is in how CELTA courses are being run, with many fully online courses now taking place, including online teaching practice. CELTA trainers are actively discussing the impact of this shift, a discussion I’m trying to keep up with. Because I only work on one course per year, I can’t see how this is affecting CELTees directly. As a recruiter of many CELTA graduates, I’m currently considering what extra training we might have to provide to CELTees who have never stood in a classroom before. So far I think we’ll need to work on:

  • classroom presence
  • ability to use classroom space
  • monitoring a group speaking simultaneously (not in breakout rooms)
  • including consistent pair/peer checks

What else would you add to that list?

Zoom learning, tips and activities

To share sound only (for example for a listening activity), click on screen share > advanced options.

If you’re sharing a video, make sure you optimise for video. Otherwise it skips frames and is very jumpy from the students perspective.

The classroom timers from Online Stopwatch are a great way to help learners keep track of their break times, though you may want to stick to a more basic one for in-class activities! (Thanks Char)

Useful links

If you’re concerned about security on Zoom, this guide has comprehension information about how to prevent ‘Zoom-bombing’ and keep your meetings as secure as possible.

General Plan IH Shanghai are just starting to emerge from the other side of the COVID-19 lockdown. Their Academic Director Simon Cox explains how it has affected them and what might happen next.

The IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG) produces a regular podcast called Developod. The latest episode includes tips for teaching online.

The IATEFL Global Get-Together took place on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th April, two days of sessions on a wide variety of topics. The recordings are available for IATEFL members after the sessions. Sessions I found particularly useful were Tammy Gregersen talking about teacher wellbeing, Hala Ahmed talking about working with second language learners who have experienced trauma, and Laura Edwards on how we teach online, all of which included practical tips and activities. Here’s how to become a member if you’re not already.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

My IATEFL history

Today was supposed to be the first day of IATEFL Manchester 2020, but what with one thing and another during The Great Pause, plans have changed, and instead it’s the first day of the IATEFL Global Get-Together. Inspired by Katherine Martinkevich and a huge bout of nostalgia, here is a self-indulgent post of some of my favourite photos from the IATEFL conferences I’ve been lucky enough to attend, along with links to my talks from each year. Putting it together led me down a lot of rabbit holes of talks and links I’d forgotten about!

Glasgow 2012

My first conference, which I attended when I was lucky enough to win one of the two IH John Haycraft classroom exploration scholarships, alongside Ana Ines Salvi, who has now become a friend.

Go online: getting your students to use internet resources was my first IATEFL presentation, and I’m very pleased to see that the tools I spoke about then are almost all still available. Quizlet and Edmodo are particularly useful right now. These two photos were taken at the end of my talk, and summarise the key part of the IATEFL conference and organisation for me: the people.

The PLN after my talk

The PLN after my talk

The Twitterati after my session

The Twitterati after my session 🙂 (photo by Cecilia Lemos)

Liverpool 2013

One of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever had, with these wonderful people:

I presented about the Personal Study Programme at IH Newcastle, where I was working at the time.

Harrogate 2014

This photo is in my office:

It was my first IATEFL birthday, with Ela Wassell getting lots of people to sign a card for me.

My IATEFL 2014 birthday card

The day ended with a birthday meal at Wagamamas, with a waiter holding a lighter over a plate of plain rice and chicken for me to blow out while my friends sang happy birthday. This was the second week of my crazy diet – without my IATEFL friends, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to go to restaurants and push them to cater for me.

My presentation was Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening.

I was also very excited to take part in the Pecha Kucha night with these fantastic people, talking about 19 things I’ve learnt about as an EFL teacher. < You can still watch the PKs in that post.

Manchester 2015

A great quiz night team:

Quiz team

Ela’s surprise baby shower:

This was the first year I attended a Materials Writing Special Interest Group pre-conference event, probably the single most useful day I’ve ever spent at IATEFL. It was called The Material Writer’s Toolkit.

My talk was called Write more! Making the most of student journals.

I shared lots of other conference photos in this summary.

Birmingham 2016

This was the first year that I attended as part of the IATEFL Membership Committee (now the Membership and Marketing Committee), and the first year I mentored another presenter. This was the year the IATEFL blog was born, which I curated until September 2018, and through which I met a lot of wonderful people and enjoyed hearing their stories. (The blog now lives here and is called Views.) It was great to feel like I could give something back to this community that has given me so much.

I was excited to see my name in print for the first time:

My talk was Taking back time: how to do everything you want to do.

Here’s my summary, with lots of my people photos.

Glasgow 2017

I took part in the Pecha Kucha debate on whether teachers should be paid more than bankers. There’s a recording in my summary blogpost. I didn’t present as my talk wasn’t accepted (completely justified – my idea was very wishy-washy!)

Apparently this was the year of no photos – I was clearly too busy having fun, including another IATEFL birthday, this time on the day of the MAWSIG PCE 🙂

Brighton 2018

By this stage, IATEFL is about meeting up with old friends.

James Taylor, Sandy Millin, Phil Longwell

James (who appears in both of those photos) showed a group of us around the stunning Brighton Pavilion, seen in the background below beyond other friends.

I presented my first How To session, jointly with Mike Harrison. We told people How to use social media at IATEFL and beyond. Mike also produced a fantastic Sketchnote version of my talk, in which I introduced ELT Playbook 1 for the first time:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

My conference summary is here.

Liverpool 2019

The inaugural TEFL Commute Games Night took place in Liverpool, immortalised in this podcast episode:

It was the third time I had an IATEFL birthday, my favourite kind of birthday 🙂

I How To-ed again in Liverpool, this time on How to present at an international conference. This morning was supposed to be a reprise of this talk for Manchester. My main talk was called Examining the impact of a low-level of teacher proficiency on student learning, in which I described my experienced of teaching Polish with a B1 level in the language.

I haven’t got round to writing up my tweets into posts from Liverpool yet – it’s a good job I’ve got another year to do it 😉 though hopefully it won’t take that long!

2020 online get-together

This year life is all a bit different. Instead of another MAWSIG PCE yesterday, and day one of the conference today, it’s day one of a two-day online get together. It’s open to anyone, and videos will be available to members afterwards. So far I’ve attended two fascinating sessions by David Crystal on language change and Tammy Gregersen on teacher wellbeing. The full programme is here. I’ll be speaking as part of a panel on online learning at the end of day 2. See you there!

This is a short post I’ve written from Cambridge University Press summarising four things I think it’s key for online teachers to do (not just of teens!) The short version is:

  • Be their teacher first
  • Keep it simple
  • Include variety
  • Experiment and reflect

You can read the full version on the CUP blog.

The new normal?

Yesterday marks one month since the day I first used Zoom, when Shaun Wilden trained IH DoSes in the basics, and tomorrow it’s a month since we trained our teachers to use it. It’s amazing just how quickly life has changed. During my crazy year of CELTA, I realised it took me three weeks to settle into a new place, and from this situation I now know it takes me three weeks to settle into new habits of any kind. I wonder if it will be that quick to settle back into ‘normality’ again afterwards? Or how long we’ll feel we need to keep 2m away from other people for?

Thanks to Lesley Cioccarelli again for this entertaining video from Wellington Paranormal, and shared by the New Zealand police, on how to get people to stay 2m away from you:

My Zoom lessons

I teach two groups of elementary teens, in tandem with Jude, who has two other groups at the same level at the same time. We plan our lessons together, and share the materials making. In the last few lessons, all on Zoom, we’ve looked at comparatives and superlatives, and words for features in a town (see links at the bottom of this post).

Quiz time

In our first lesson this week, we worked up to the students making geography quizzes.

As the students entered the lesson, I displayed this word cloud of all of the adjectives we’ve studied recently, made with wordclouds.com.

They had about 7 minutes to write as many of the adjectives in the chat box as they could, along with their comparative and superlative forms, while we dealt with tech problems and late arrivals.

After checking their homework, which included some quiz-style questions from the workbook, students played Quizlet Live in teams with the ‘My country‘ vocab. This is one of their favourite activities from class, and worked really well online too. I have 8-11 students in regular attendance, so we played in the main room on Zoom. Everyone put their microphones on. They got K points (our classroom management system) for speaking lots of English while playing, with phrases like ‘I’ve got it.’ ‘I haven’t got it.’ ‘It’s [cliff].’ While they played I had a screen share with the Quizlet scoreboard and a Word document which had the useful phrases and a copied list of who was in each team (I have two screens, but you could arrange everything on one equally well). They enjoyed it so much that it was the first thing they asked for in the next lesson! [Tip: mute the annoying music or they can’t hear each other! If you’ve forgotten to do it before the game starts, on Chrome you can right-click on the title of a tab and choose ‘Mute this tab’.]

Quizlet Live on Zoom

Next up: error correction. I copied each of the following sentences, one at a time, into the chatbox, with students writing the corrected version. I told them the information is good, but the English is bad. Again, the group were really engaged with this.

  • Asia is biggest continent.
  • London is more expensive Warsaw.
  • Cat is smaller than horse.
  • Polish is the most easy language to learn.

The next part of the lesson didn’t go very well for the first group, as I didn’t make it clear enough that we were going to make a quiz. It reminded me that my expectations need to be clearer than ever. With the second group I told them straight away and it went smoothly. On a slide, I showed them an example of a quiz question about the UK for students to answer:

The highest mountain in Great Britain is in…

  1. a) England
  2. b) Wales
  3. c) Scotland

Then I displayed the question structure and students copied it into their notebooks:

The [superlative] XYZ in Poland is…

a)

b)

c)

The [superlative] XYZ in Poland is in

a)

b)

c)

We then looked at how the structure mapped onto the example question. Then we repeated this for a comparative question:

London has got a bigger population than Scotland.

True / False

…with the structures…

ABC is ___________ than DEF.

True/False

ABC has got a ____________________ than DEF.

True/False

To set up the task, we had the instructions on a slide:

Make your geography quiz! 

Work with your team. What’s your team name?

Write in your notebooks.

Minimum:

  • 3 questions
  • 1 superlative
  • 1 comparative

Good luck!

Once they were in breakout rooms, I copied and pasted the instructions into the chatbox in each room. They had 10-15 minutes to make their questions.

Being online has forced me to think much more carefully about the support that I give students before they complete a task, particularly in breakout rooms, because I know it will be harder for them and me to spot and remedy any problems. This is good for me and them!

With the first group, technical problems meant everything had taken quite a long time, leaving only 10 minutes at the end. One student from each group chose a question to ask the whole group, who wrote the answers in the chat box. In the second group we had about 35 minutes, which meant they could quiz every other pair. I put them into breakout rooms with the following pairings:

  1. AB / CD
  2. AC / BD
  3. AD / BC

After each round they came back to the main room and I added up points to give us an overall winner.

As a filler for the last couple of minutes, we had a slide of pictures of various things in groups of 3 (e.g. Mars/Venus/Mercury, or elephant/hippopotamus/rhinoceros – thanks Piotr!) Students wrote sentences with comparatives or superlatives in the chat box using these items, and some of them spontaneously made them into quiz questions.

I think this was the most engaging, varied and interesting lesson we’ve had so far on Zoom, mostly because it’s the first time there’s been plenty of time for them to play with the new language with a real purpose. Everything takes so much longer to set up and run on Zoom, and I haven’t been great at prioritising having a purpose for practising the new language so far: definitely something I should continue to work on.

Also, that was 6 activities for the whole lesson, 5 if you count the quiz setup and making it as a single activity. That’s a lot fewer than I would probably include in a plan for a face-to-face lesson – I’m learning to take my time a little more and not try to squeeze too much in.

As blue as the sky

The second lesson this week introduced as…as… comparisons through a range of similes like ‘as white as snow’ or ‘as big as an elephant’. Our warmer was Piotr’s pictures from last lesson, with students making quiz questions again. The context was the camping story from last week. Here’s how we clarified the structure:

The tent is dry. A bone is dry. = The tent is _as_ dry _as_ a bone. as ______ as ______ =

I also clarified with a few more examples from the things around me at my desk.

They had time to complete the matching exercise in their coursebooks, then to play Quizlet match and send me their fastest time (another favourite game in class, including trying to beat my time), then to test each other in breakout rooms, one student with their book open, one with their book closed. To round off, they wrote the phrases they could remember in the chatbox.

So far, so normal.

Then, we tried a movement activity which was more thought-through than last week, although with the same general idea. One student selected an as…as… phrase from the book. Everybody had 1 minute to find an object which matched that description and bring it to the screen. As they brought it, I told them what they had (if I could work it out!) and wrote it in the chatbox. They then wrote a sentence using their item and the phrase. Two of my favourites were ‘My watermelon is as big as an elephant.’ and ‘My foot spa is as white as snow.’ 🙂 They produced lots of language, and because they had to hold the phrases in their heads while they found the items, they will hopefully remember them for longer.

Management

We did our first Zoom drop ins this week. It was fascinating to see how other teachers (who now all have far more experience than me!) have adjusted to the new medium. As in a physical classroom, it’s immediately obvious to students that somebody new has arrived, so it’s important for the teacher to introduce the observer, and for the observer to briefly come on the camera and say hello so that the students know who’s watching. Apart from that, being able to sit in the background with camera and video off is fascinating. Thank you, teachers and students!

I also attended two lots of international training via Zoom. The first was a session for IH DoSes run by Barrie Roberts, the DoS at IH CLIC Seville, about online placement testing. This is something I’ve wanted to instigate for years, and now we have no choice. About time too!

The second was run by Giovanni Licata and Michael Haddock for AISLI, the Italian language school association, about including every student in our lessons. We looked at examples of how materials can be inclusive to different identities, and accessible to students with different SEN. Key tips were to remove time limits that might create extra stress for students, to provide choices whenever possible, and to include a wide range of different activities (my favourite was how many times could our group jump on one leg/hop in one minute) and interaction patterns, both of which I’ve been trying to do anyway. If anybody else has tips on working with students with SEN via Zoom, I’d really appreciate them.

I really hope this kind of training format becomes more common after the current crisis is over. I really like the fact that we can share our ideas internationally on an equal footing.

Zoom learning, tips and activities

  • When you’re a student/participant and someone is sharing a screen, you can switch the video and the screen share. You could tell students to do this briefly if you need to draw attention to something on the video but don’t want to wait for the screenshare to stop and start.

  • If you’re sharing your screen but need to see the participants’ videos, share the window, not the whole screen. Resize the window to make it fill half of the screen, then use gallery view on the videos to see everyone’s faces. I’ve also just discovered the side-by-side mode, which I think will do the same job.
  • To stop yourself from talking when the students are working, put your fingers on your lips. This helps to combat the feeling of awkwardness when everything has gone quiet and you can’t see what they’re doing.
  • Get students to put them thumbs up, either literally or digitally, when they’ve finished what they’re doing, or when they understand the instructions. I use this a lot, especially when they’re copying things into their notebooks.

Lesson planning tips

It’s more important than ever to avoid unnecessary presentations of language that students already know, as things generally take much longer on Zoom. Assume that they know at least some of the target language until you find out that they don’t. Use tasks that prioritise eliciting/using language before you move into presentation mode. Simple examples for low levels would be ‘What can you see?’ with a slide of all of the items that you’re going to work with that lesson. For higher levels, try out task-based learning. At the very least, use a controlled or freer practice activity at the beginning of the language part of your lesson, then present afterwards, filling in the gaps you’ve noticed from students.

Break down long language presentations into smaller chunks, particularly with younger students. Again, this is good practice anyway, but more important than ever. Deep dive 2-3 items, then repeat for the next 2-3, then repeat the next 2-3, rather than working on 9 shallowly, then going back over all of them. For example, if you have 8 phrases for buying clothes accompanied by images, here’s possible sequence (which I estimate would take 60-75 minutes, depending on the students’ confidence):

  • Show them all of the images on one slide. Ask them where it is (a clothes shop). This sets the context.
  • Ask them to write what they can see in the chatbox. This shows what they already know. Maybe that includes a couple of the phrases.
  • Take the first 3 phrases. Try to elicit phrase 1 in the chatbox or on the microphone. Perhaps give them the first letter of each word as a clue. This mental processing and challenge will help the students remember the phrase. Once they have it, students repeat it 2-3 times, perhaps with an action if they can think of one. Repeat for phrase 2. Then get them to repeat phrase 1,2,1,2,2,1,2,1 switching between them quickly – make it fun! Add phrase 3. Repeat all three: 1,2,3,3,3,2,2,1,2,3,1. Play with the phrases, and keep the pace up.
  • Ask students to write the three phrases in the chatbox. Help them as needed. Once they have the correct version, they copy it into their notebooks and draw a picture to help them remember. They number each item to make them easier to refer to later.
  • Repeat for phrases 4-6.
  • Then phrases 7-8.
  • Send students into breakout rooms. They can use their pictures to test each other on the sentences. You can pop in and out and help with form or pronunciation problems.
  • Bring students back to the main room. Challenge them to remember as many phrases as possible in the chatbox. If they need extra support, show them the images again. This will show which parts of the form they’re still having trouble with.
  • Then students can create their own dialogues in a clothes shop, which they can practise in breakout rooms. Perhaps, they can use clothes they have at home to ‘buy’ and ‘sell’. This gives them a chance to move around. Again, you can do error correction and feed in extra language in breakout rooms.
  • Any students who want to can perform their dialogue in the main room. Praise all of the students for their effort.
  • Put one or two problem sentences into the chatbox for students to correct.
  • If time at the end, challenge them to remember all of the phrases again.

Include more ‘beginnings’ and ‘endings’ in your lessons to help students stay engaged and remember the new content. Again, this is good practice generally, but at home students have so many more distractions. By creating more natural breaks in the lessons, students can process the content more. Breaking down the language above into three smaller groups creates 3 beginnings and endings instead of just 1 for example. (This is definitely something I read about when preparing a session on engagement last year, but I can’t find the link now! Any ideas where it might be?)

Random thoughts

These have come up during discussions with colleagues through the week – thanks for asking the questions or making the statements that prompted them!

  • In the gallery view on Zoom, we’re all equal. Teachers and students are the same size, or trainers and trainees. What influence does that have on our and their perceptions of the lesson/training session? (Thanks Julie Wallis for pointing this out)
  • Parents are watching our lessons. While this might seem quite worrying at times, it’s actually a fantastic opportunity to show the range of activities we do with their children in class. For some children, it may mean they are reluctant to speak at first, but give them time and hopefully they’ll get used to it. It may be the first time some parents have ever heard their children speak English!

Questions I have

What are the safeguarding implications of being in a breakout room with one or two under 18s, when you are the only adult there? How can we work around this? Does anyone have any guidelines for this? (Apart from just not being in the room – but sometimes tech failures mean you end up in that situation.)

Is there anything extra or different we should be doing/thinking about when working with students with SEN that we wouldn’t need to consider in a physical classroom? We’ve tried to address the needs of our students as well as possible, but I’m wondering what we might have missed.

Useful links

Sarah Mercer, Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre would like teachers to complete their questionnaire “to inform understandings about the effects of the move to online and remote teaching on teachers’ health and wellbeing” as part of their ongoing research into teacher wellbeing.

5 of our teachers from IH Bydgoszcz share activities they’ve tried out with teen or young adult students in this post on the IATEFL Young Learners and Teenagers SIG blog (all I did was compile them in one place!)

The IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG (LTSIG) are presenting a webinar every Friday on How to teach English online. I attended Graham Stanley’s session on engaging students, including how to exploit the Zoom virtual backgrounds. I hadn’t tried them before, but am now trying to work out how to exploit them in my lessons. You can find the full list here, including highlights from webinars which have already happened.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

My friend Olga Stolbova posted these suggestions on facebook a couple of days ago, and agreed to share them on my blog. Thanks Olga!

Some simple tips on how to add more movement to your online classes. These are some of the things I do and they work for kids and adults.

1. What do you have in your fridge?

For lower levels

Ask your student/s to stand up, go to his/her fridge and remember 5-7 things that they have have in their fridge, allow 1-2 minutes. Then they return to their online classroom and tell you what they have.

For upper levels

Ask the students to check their fridge and tell you what they may be running out of and what they need to buy, ask them to check their fridge and make a list using the words for packaging ( cans/ pack, carton, bottle etc.)

To make it more interactive

Write a list of words that you think a student may have in his/her fridge, and the student/students make predictions about their teachers’ fridge. Set a time limit of 30 seconds – 1 min depending on their level, then you read the items from your list and the students go to the fridge and check. Take turns. It can be done in different formats. If you have a 121 class, then it is teacher-student; if you are teaching a small group, students can work in pairs or you can do it as group. You can use different questions depending on their level. For lower level students you can just read the list, for slightly higher levels you can use: Do you have any bread? Is there any… in your fridge? Is there a bottle of milk in your fridge? To focus on containers you can ask clarifying questions for the second round. e.g. Do you have a carton of milk or a bottle of milk in your fridge?

2. Can you name all the green/pink/blue/white objects in your bedroom/kitchen/living-room?

Students need to walk to their room and check the objects. You may ask them to take pictures of all green/pink/blue etc. objects and send them to you, though make sure you have parents’ permission for them to do this.
You may either set a time limit or ask them to take pictures of limited number of things, e.g. Take pictures of 4 green things in your flat)

3. How many rectangular/oval/triangular objects do you have in your flat/room/kitchen?

(This idea is from Lisa Margolina. Thanks a lot!)

Students are given some time to walk around and take pictures of all/some shapes at home, similar to the one with colours. They may not know the name of the objects, so you can help them with that when they show the object to you or send you a picture of it (with permission), or you can ask them to use an online dictionary to find the name. Set a clear time limit for that one.

4. What can you see from your window?

A student is given 1 min to go to the window and describe what he/she can see outside. If the window is far from the computer, allow 1 min for the task and make them remember/note down 4-5 things. Then they can tell the rest of the class what they can see. Then you may ask several students to compare it with their view. Encourage them to find more than 5 differences. Again, this can be done teacher-student, student-student, teacher-students.

5. Where’s the mirror?

Make 2 lists of 5 objects each: 5 pieces of furniture and 5 objects, e.g. list 1: a pillow, a vase, a mirror, a cat, keys. List 2: a desk, a bookcase, a bedside table, a bed, a windowsill. One student shows his list to the rest of the class. The students and the teacher make predictions about where the objects are. Those who guess correctly, get one point for each correct answer, and the objects are crossed out from the list. Take turns.

Olga Stolbova

Olga Stolbova is a freelance teacher and a teacher trainer, based in Sevastopol, Crimea.

She has taught English in the USA, China, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, Russia and Ukraine and has run more than 30 CELTA courses around the world.

She loves teaching, travelling and coffee.

If you’d like more ideas for teaching on Zoom, including how to incorporate movement into lessons, read Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom.

The world is changing

The title of this week’s post is inspired by this cartoon from Michael Leunig which appeared on my facebook stream this week:

The world is changing - it's always changing. Our lives are in danger. We are in lockdown. Life is always dangerous. We were never free. Many of us could die. We all get our turn. Nobody knows what's going to happen. Nobody _ever_ knows. This makes life interesting. We don't know what to believe any more. Keep an open mind. This also makes life interesting. We are living in strange times. When were we _NOT_ living in strange times?Thanks to Lesley Cioccarelli for bringing it to my attention.

The personal stuff

This week has been my first full week of being at home – I left the flat on Saturday morning to do lots of food shopping, then the next time was Friday morning to treat myself to a 30-minute walk for my birthday (which was far more stressful than I expected as I was constantly looking to see what everyone else was doing).

I live by myself, so the thing I was most worried about when I knew that we might end up being at home was feeling isolated, but actually I think I feel more connected than ever. Yes, I don’t have actual humans in front of me, but I’ve had more social conversations with friends in the last few days than I have for a very long time, and my birthday was far more fun than I expected. It included a virtual birthday party (thanks Laura!) and a group of teachers playing online games from Jackbox (thanks Connor!).

It’s been a week of learning to adjust to the new normal, and of maintaining a sense of perspective: my birthday was the day the world hit the milestone of 1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide. Just over 20% of those people have recovered, but over 50,000 have died.

If you’re not already, please, please, please STAY AT HOME. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, the weather is getting nicer in the northern hemisphere as spring arrives. Walks are good for your mental health, but how far do you need to go? Can you stay close to home? Have you got a garden you can go out in instead or a balcony you can use? By staying at home, you are protecting other people, and giving health services and scientists valuable time to respond. You’re also reducing the likelihood that COVID-19 will enter your home in the first place. Please also think before you buy anything that needs to be delivered – do you really need it? Is it worth putting that delivery person at risk?

THANK YOU to those who are continuing to do essential jobs, like working in health services, making deliveries of food and medicine, and caring for vulnerable members of the community, and to every single one of you who is staying at home.

Management

On Tuesday and Wednesday I worked my way through all of the teachers, having a 10-15-minute chat with each to find out how everything’s going. Somebody from the IH DoS group suggested this – I can’t remember who, but thank you very much! This covered each teachers’ groups, their 121s, whether the tech was working, their general mental health, and any other problems or questions. I’m really glad I did this, and hope to repeat this periodically while we’re still on this pattern. I learnt that attendance is generally very high, barring a handful of students with tech problems (many of which were resolved between the first lesson and second), some exam students are handing in more work than ever, some teen groups are speaking more English than ever (they can feel the need for it now!), teachers are experimenting with functions on Zoom, and we’re still a strong community.

My Zoom lessons

This week we revised comparatives and added in superlatives in my elementary teen lessons.

At the start of Zoom lessons, I prefer to have something that students can get on with using the chat box for the first few minutes while we wait for everyone to join the lesson and deal with any technical problems. We repeated the comparatives challenge from last lesson the first time round, then in the second lesson one student called out an adjective, and everyone had to race to write the comparative and superlative forms. This helped me to see what aspects of the form students remembered and what they needed to revise.

Exploiting the chat box part 1: functional language

In the first lesson, the context for introducing superlatives was a multiple-choice quiz about geography. For example: Which is the longest river in the world? In order for students to do this in breakout rooms, they need some functional language. Here’s how I staged this:

  • Get them to open their books to the quiz page and show me.
  • Lay the book face down (I showed them this on my camera).
  • Tell them: “You’ll work together to do the quiz. You need some English to help you. Look at the chat box.”
  • Paste the first phrase with one word blanked out (I had them all prepared in another document). Elicit the missing word – a student comes on the microphone to say it.
  • If nobody can guess, give them the first letter.
  • Gradually add letters until somebody knows it.
  • Ask all students to copy the phrase into their notebooks.
  • Repeat for the other three phrases.
  • Paste all four phrases into the chat and ask students to check they have them all.

We had four phrases in total, and the chat looked like this by the time we’d finished:

Exploiting the chat box part 2: post-activity feedback

As students returned to the main room after they’d completed the quiz in breakout rooms, they wrote all of their answers in the chat, but nobody pressed enter until I counted down 3-2-1. That way I could see everybody’s answers at the same time, and there was no risk of copying from other people. It’s also a good way of double-checking that everyone participated (though I knew they had from popping into the breakout rooms). We then checked the answers as a group, with me telling them the answer and them debating if they disagreed. Feedback took 5 minutes, but they were definitely engaged throughout. Here’s what our chat looked like at the end of this stage:

Both of these strategies worked really well and I’ll definitely use them again.

I didn’t think this one through properly…

In contrast, the final activity of the lesson absolutely didn’t work the way I wanted it to. The vision:

  • A student calls out an adjective.
  • Everybody runs to find something ‘superlative’ matching that adjective, e.g. the oldest, biggest…
  • We choose which is the ‘superlative-est’ in the class.
  • Students write a sentence in the chat box using the superlative.

The reality:

  • A student chose ‘long’.
  • Everybody went to find the longest thing they could. This took about 3-4 minutes.
  • I tried desperately to get students to produce a superlative sentence in the chatbox.
  • Instead, they told me the measurements of the thing they’d got, and in some cases wrote it in the chatbox (the funniest was the pug who accompanies most lessons, who I now know is 26cm long thanks to T and his ruler!)
  • I realised that any sentence they produced needed the word ‘thing’ as we hadn’t specified a noun and few people knew the names of the things they’d grabbed.
  • I tried not to laugh at the inappropriateness of the sentence I was trying to elicit: ‘XYZ has the longest thing’. Oops!

The whole process took the final 7 minutes of the lesson – thankfully I’d already set their homework, so I could just let them go once we were done.

If anyone has an idea for how to exploit students’ environments to produce superlative sentences at elementary level, please comment!

Raising interest

The second lesson was based around a cartoon story in the coursebook about the characters going camping. I had the first panel on a PowerPoint slide, and used a simplified see – think – wonder thinking routine to raise interest. Students wrote sentences starting ‘I see…’ in the chat box for 90 seconds, then ‘I think it’s / he’s / she’s…’ for the next 90 seconds. I tried to elicit potential problems when you go camping, including some of the language they’d shared in the chat box – the first group didn’t get it, but the second group did (they’re a little older). We then watched the story video to check their predictions. I’m still feeling out how much I can push this level – my teen experience is limited, and I’ve only had these groups since late February.

Performing a story

After checking comprehension of the cartoon story, I wanted to experiment with students performing it. I’ve had mixed success with this kind of activity in the physical classroom and haven’t tried it with these groups before, but it seemed to work quite nicely in the end, with students generally engaged, and a few of them getting really into it.

  • (Group 1 only) Microphones off: I read the story line by line, students shadowed my reading.
  • (Group 2 only) Microphones off: I drilled some of the words group 1 had struggled to pronounce.
  • Breakout rooms: in pairs, students decided who’d play each character. They read out the story a few times. When I dropped in, I corrected pron and encouraged them to add emotion.
  • Main room: pairs performed one panel each, with everybody performing the punchline of the story together.

Zoom learning, tips and activities

  • Various posts/articles have been shared about privacy/security problems with Zoom this week. Zoom are working hard to combat these issues as quickly as they can. We’re already using waiting rooms on all of our classrooms, so teachers have to approve anyone who joins. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to read any of the links, but thanks to Phil Longwell for linking to this video produced on April 3rd:

 

  • When students are having connectivity problems, try communicating with them using the ‘rename’ function, as they may not be able to hear you or use the chatbox. I haven’t tried this year, but it might work.
  • There’s a lag of 5-10 seconds between when you share a screen and when the students can see it.
  • Some students appear twice in the room, with a separate video/audio feed. We suspect this happens if they’re on mobile devices and use the ‘dial in’ function for audio, though we’re not sure. This is a function you can disable in the settings. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • If students are working in groups on different Google Docs simultaneously, you can have them all arranged on your screen at the same time. You can then highlight anything that’s a problem for them to sort out. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • If you want to screen share and also see all of your students at the same time, arrange your screen(s) so that the software/document to share only takes up half of the screen. Share only that document, not the whole screen. Then use the other half of the screen for their videos: click on the gallery view icon, and resize the box until all of their videos are there. This is particularly useful if teaching young learners. (Will hopefully have a screenshot of this next week)
  • After setting up breakout rooms, go to each briefly to check everyone is on task. Then stay in the last one for a little longer to do some correction/upgrading. Vary which room is last each time. If time, sit in one or two other rooms for a longer period too. This ensures students still get hot correction/upgrading of their spoken language, without it being in front of the whole class.
  • Breakout rooms have various options, including:
    • Move all participants automatically – this means students don’t have to click on anything.
    • Close automatically after X minutes – good for timed activities.
    • Countdown timer after closing – I’ve found 30 seconds allows students to finish what they’re saying and come back. 60 seconds is too long if everyone comes back except one student!

Zoom breakout rooms options

  • Post-activity feedback ideas:
    • Teacher reads out answers (good if only one or two are there)
    • Student reads out answers
    • Nomination chain
    • Chat box simultaneous typing (see above)
    • Chat box – fast finisher types
    • Teacher types in chat
    • Display on slide/doc and screen share
    • Display with one or two mistakes for students to find
    • Display on course book software (if you have it) and screen share
    • Any other ideas? Please comment in the chat
  • ‘What’s missing?’ works really well and can be run in a range of ways (thanks Jodie!) For example, a series of pictures on a PowerPoint slide with a white box on one of them. Screen share the slide on edit mode, students say/write what’s missing. Stop screen sharing, move the box, share, repeat. Alternatively, students go to breakout rooms. They show the pictures in their books/on homemade flashcards, but cover one up. Their partner says what’s missing.

Questions I/we have

All ideas gratefully accepted – please add comments!

  • How can you quickly ensure students have successfully completed activities in their course books/notebooks during the lesson, especially if their video isn’t working or the image is poor? (I’m mostly taking it on trust at the moment, but maybe you have other ideas)
  • Providing feedback on spoken language is challenging to do evenly across the group (and I only have 8-11 students!) I feel like the balance has shifted from the physical classroom. There I can give hot feedback on speaking to everyone throughout the lesson, and spend a little more time with individuals on writing while ‘ignoring’ others at that moment (obviously not ignoring them, but that’s the best description I can come up with!) Online, they get lots of hot feedback on writing in the chat box, but when speaking in pairs/groups I have to ‘ignore’ the others as I can only be in one breakout room at a time. It’s great that everyone is getting so much writing practice and feedback, but we don’t want to neglect their speaking. Apart from ‘sitting’ in a breakout room as mentioned in the tips above, any other ideas for what we could do to increase feedback on speaking?

Useful links

Laura Patsko did a webinar called Moving your instruction online – fast!

Russell Stannard continues to add to his Zoom playlist, including ideas for keeping lessons student-centred.

A timely reminder from Kirsty D. Major, just as I was about to post this: Walk a mile in their shoes – or stay a day in their self-isolation house.

And, as every week, this one: Phil Longwell’s Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing post.

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Here’s a selection of links I compiled for our teachers following up on a workshop I ran on Friday 27th March. I showed them around a few online dictionaries and corpora, and we briefly talked about how students could make use of their notebooks to record language. I know there are many other useful resources, but this is what we managed in 60 minutes. Feel free to add them to the comments!

BYU corpus word feature screenshot

Dictionaries

http://www.oald8.com – Oxford. Good for having a really short link (!), clarity of information and layout, checking levels of words, finding out if words are academic (they have academic word lists), depth of information

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/ – Good for checking levels of words (3* = most common, 0* = not common at all), really new words (people can suggest additions), the ‘red words’ game

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/ Good for the Essential British English dictionary, some bilingual dictionaries, checking levels of words, the grammar reference

https://bab.la/ Polish-English bilingual – good for seeing example sentences in both Polish and English, starting to expose students to reading definitions in English (not just translations)

https://www.wordreference.com/ bilingual dictionaries in a range of languages – has some example sentences (though bab.la has more). The forums can be quite useful, though students should use them with caution as there are occasionally incorrect explanations.

Corpora

https://www.english-corpora.org/ has a collection of corpora. When choosing, think about the date the language was collected (how recent is it?), the sources (spoken/written/internet/balanced?), and the language varieties (British? international?)

Some of the functions are hidden behind the ‘more’ button on the search page.

  • List = examples of the language in use (these are called ‘concordance lines’)
  • Collocations = write the example word, then click POS to select the part of speech. The numbers tell you the positions before or after the word you want to search in. e.g. ‘depend’ + ______  PREP    L 0 + 2 R     gives you a search for prepositions that appear in the first and second position after ‘depend’. You can also put a specific word in the second search box, e.g. ‘depend’ + ‘on’    to only get results with that pair of words.
  • KWIC = Key Word in Context. The one that goes multi-coloured depending on what part of speech the word is.
  • Word = the one that I love 🙂 This function isn’t available in all of the corpora. It shows you everything: definition, synonyms for different meanings, topics, common chunks, collocations, and concodance lines. It also links you to the pronunciation of the word in different contexts on the three sites below:

http://playphrase.me/ clips from film/TV containing your word/phrase (though can’t see wider context) – good for comparing how a word/phrase sounds in different accents/voices

https://youglish.com/ pulls from YouTube videos. Gives link to whole video with phrase highlighted. Speed adjustable. Gives you pron tips below.

https://getyarn.io/  Pulls out the key phrase and enables you to see the next/previous clip to give you more context. Shows you more links below with the same phrase. Has a ‘next line’ quiz which could be addictive! But no clear content filter!

Another great corpus for language learners is SKELL: Sketch Engine for Language Learning. I like the Word Sketch and Similar words functions.

Find out more

https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/iatefl2016corpora/ – including links to activities using corpora, and guidance on SKeLL, which is another easy-to-use corpus to explore, specifically designed for language learners

https://eflnotes.wordpress.com/ for Mura Nava’s blog and free ‘Quick Cups of COCA’ ebook which teaches you how to exploit the COCA corpus.

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/corpus-linguistics for a free online course in how to exploit corpora and make your own (they’re also used in the social sciences, history and all kinds of arenas!)

https://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/2014/03/02/helping-language-learners-become-language-researchers-wordandphrase-info-part-1/ about wordandphrase.info – another corpus to explore. Good for checking how difficult the sample text you’ve just written might be for your students, and for finding out whether a word is more common in spoken/academic/newspaper/etc usage.

Using notebooks – examples

Maria’s notebook: https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/when-i-teach-fce-again/ (link in the flo-joe section)

https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/howtolearnalanguage/ (the ‘think about colours and layout’ section)

https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/russian2/ (the ‘writing’ section’)

This story of how one Spanish school moved online was originally written in the ‘Language school management in the time of COVID-19‘ facebook group on the 21st March 2020. I asked Alex Fayle if he would like to share it here, and he kindly consented.

When the nearby city of Vitoria was the first Spanish city to close schools, we knew it was only a matter of time before the San Sebastián schools would close as well. As Academic Director, my first reaction was panic. I run half the academy and I was terrified that my teachers would find themselves on the street in no time. Given that our tag line is “It’s the people” I couldn’t let that happen.

Not to my teachers, and more importantly, not to our students and their parents. If students were suddenly without class, they would have no social contact, and no structure to their days. For the sake of their parents’ sanity, I knew we had to be prepared before schools were actually closed.

Many people recommended Zoom, but we went a different route. We already use Google Drive and Google Docs, so we looked into Google Meet. And since our initial desire was to create a straight substitution for face-to-face classes with online classes, Google Meet provided us with a tool that offered everything we needed.

So, we wrote messages to parents, created 64 recurring “meetings” (one for each group) and got teachers set up with technology to be able to work from home. On the first full day of cancelled classes, we had an 85% attendance rate. The same the next day. And on the third day when the Monday classes had their second weekly class, we were up to our usual attendance rate.

The amazing thing wasn’t organizing all that. Many of us have experienced that pressure, the extra hours and the satisfaction of completing the challenge of getting up online in such a short time. What left tears in my eyes were the responses from parents, from students, and from teachers.

I knew I had a great team before this crisis happened, but as the academy owner said to the teachers (via our shared WhatsApp groups): “In hard times, we show who we are, and I can see only beauty here.” Every single teacher stepped up, overcame the huge learning curve and continued to give class. Actually no, they even managed to give what I believe are better classes, geared to engage and educate students.

Students who hated English a week ago are now asking their parents if it’s time for English yet.

And parents are sending message after message thanking us for giving structure to the suddenly chaotic lives of their children.

Looking back at these hectic two weeks, I ask myself how we did it, and I realize we did it because we didn’t have a choice. Our passion for what we do made it one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. And it’s that passion that is going to make us infinitely stronger when we come out the other side of all this.

Alex Fayle, the DELTA certified Academic Director at Well & Will, has – apart from his passion for English – a drive to organize and streamline. With a Masters in Library Science and as a former President of Professional Organizers in Canada, he has worked in many organizing-related fields, from records management and business process engineering to personal coaching.

Academy Description

Well & Will Language Academy, based in the city of San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Country, is more than just a language academy. We are a learning institution built on trust and personal responsibility that inspires students to expand themselves and their horizons through the medium of English. We focus on the delivery of language and on transferring the passion for English from teacher to students, making English an integral part of their lives.

The week started with a discussion with the school Director in which we decided to switch to working from home. Our teachers had been working from school for the first week of online teaching, and Poland is not (yet) on full lockdown, but it’s safer for all of our teachers to make that shift. Tuesday was about getting everybody set up at home, including me.

Management

I don’t think I’ve ever used my phone as much as I did on Thursday – 7 or 8 calls, none of which was shorter than 15 minutes, plus texts, WhatsApp messages, facebook messages, emails, and a Zoom call. It was really hard to know what to focus on! In between all of that, I did manage to update everybody’s timetables and get them sent out, but it took all day. It made me appreciate how much I benefit from being able to just pop to the staffroom or reception to pass on messages or ask questions when we’re at school. Thankfully on Friday things had settled down somewhat. We ran our weekly meeting and workshop via Zoom, looking at examples of online dictionaries and corpora.

I feel like the biggest management challenge for me in the coming weeks will be loneliness and a lack of balance in my interactions, missing informal chats in between bursts of work, as most conversations I have during the working day will inevitably be problem solving. That’s something I’ll need to actively seek out. On the plus side, it was nice to eat lunch in my own kitchen 🙂

Yet again, I’m incredibly grateful to the rest of the management team (Grzegorz, Ruth, Emma) and the office staff (Mariola, Sandra) for all of the work they’ve put into making the transition smooth and keeping lines of communication open. And to the teachers for all of their hard work!

My Zoom lessons

This week, we practised weather phrases and introduced comparatives. I’ve stuck to using the chat box, screen sharing, audio and video this week. That’s enough, I think, as I don’t want to overwhelm myself or the students too much.

I taught my first Polish lesson online too. There were three students and we did parts of the body, making use of teddies to show the parts of the body that are more challenging for the camera to get to, like ‘back’, ‘foot’, and ‘legs’! It was pretty entertaining 🙂 After every few words, the students predicted the spellings in the chat box, so we did more work on sound-spelling relationships, and looked at some plurals in the process too.

I feel like I’ve been able to do a lot more focussed correction than I can in the physical classroom, and my teen students have definitely had a lot more writing practice in the last two weeks.

I started using nomination chains, with each student saying who the next one to speak would be. This is something I generally avoid in the face-to-face classroom – I’d always associated it with feedback stages that go on for too long and in which students lose interest and the pace drops. In Zoom it worked really well for creating prompts for activities that everybody could participate in, as in the two examples below.

Drawing activity on Zoom

To test what weather students knew, they looked at a weather map of Poland and wrote their ideas in the chat box. I then filled in a couple of gaps by referring them to their coursebook and checking problem phrases.

Once I knew they had the basics, they all got a piece of (real) paper. I said a kind of weather and they had to draw it. We then had a nomination chain of what to draw next, and I joined in. After each one, they put their paper to the camera once they were done and I helped anybody who didn’t understand and commented on any similarities, for example “Look, N, we’ve both drawn a sad flower for ‘It’s dry'”. If their camera wasn’t working, they just had to say they’d finished.

I elicited the questions ‘What’s the weather like?’ and ‘What are you doing?’ by drawing a gapped sentence on my paper and getting words from the students. They copied it to their paper and again showed me when they were finished.

Equipped with the question and their pictures, students went into breakout rooms. They showed each other pictures and asked the two questions. If they didn’t have a camera, they asked ‘What are you doing?’ and the other student guess the weather ‘Is it sunny?’

This worked quite nicely for an activity I made up on the spot, but could probably do with a clear communicative purpose if I did it again.

Comparatives challenge

I choose two things, for example ‘summer’ and ‘winter’. The students wrote their ideas for ways to compare them in the chat box. I praised their attempts, especially if they tried to write more complex sentences, and corrected those who needed it, mostly using prompts: ‘W, how do you spell ‘than’?’ ‘T, you need an extra word.’ The students wrote the corrected sentence in the box without prompting. Once everyone had a couple of ideas, a student chose the next two things to compare.

This also worked well, with students being quite creative with their ideas. It was a good game to focus on the form of the comparative structure, but didn’t really have a clear communicative purpose again. Definitely something I need to focus on in next week’s lessons.

Zoom learning and tips

In breakout rooms, students can share their screen with each other. (Thanks Jude!)

Last week, Ash mentioned putting all of the Google Docs your students may need into a single folder and sending them one link. This week, he’s updated that to suggest numbering them in order to help you and the students work out what’s next. It seems like such a simple thing, but hadn’t occurred to me!

Useful links

If there’s one thing we’re not short of right now, it’s links to further development (sorry for adding to them!) Anyway, here are a few you may want to explore.

Activities

Tips and advice

  • Susan Lee Scott works in Vietnam, where she’s now been teaching online for 8 weeks. Here’s her advice.
  • Russell Stannard has a full set of Teacher Training Online videos connected to using Zoom, including a 12-minute guide to using breakout rooms.
  • Julie Moore has tips on ergonomics when using a laptop to work from home, helping you to reduce the aches and pains which I know I’m already feeling.
  • I shared Phil Longwell’s Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing post last week, and will continue to share it – so much useful advice here.

To finish off, here’s an infographic from Angelos Bollas about how to plan and run activities in breakout rooms:

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Our school, IH Bydgoszcz, has successfully completed a week of teaching teen and adult groups using Zoom. We’ve made plans (largely facilitated by Ruth and Char – thank you!) to move our young learner classes online, with a staggered start – half from Monday 23rd, the rest from Monday 30th. Our teachers are still able to go into the school building, which has made it easier for us to support them with problems throughout the week, and to continue to share ideas.

This week has truly demonstrated the power of a supportive team, as we all simultaneously became beginners again in our move to online teaching. Ruth and Emma, our ADoSes, have worked tirelessly to support teachers in their planning (often more so than me as I’ve often been coordinating other things). Grzegorz, our Director, and Mariola and Sandra, our office staff, have helped it all to come off smoothly. But of course, without the teachers’ willingness to try this, we couldn’t do anything – thank you, thank you, thank you! We’ve had generally good feedback from our students so far, and attendance has been pretty high. This is testament to everyone’s planning and hard work to make it all happen.

Reflections on my Zoom lessons


I’ve now taught three lessons on Zoom (you probably have more experience than me!), two with one group, and one with another. They were all with high beginner/low elementary (A2.1) teens, aged 11-13.

I really enjoyed them 🙂 It’s been a fantastic chance to get to know my students better. We’ve had visits from a rabbit, a dog, a cat, and a sister. 😉 One student spontaneously played her piano and violin during the break – I had no idea she was musical. We’ve also had a toy sword, spontaneous dancing, putting on make-up, and rather more eating than I would have liked!

Lesson 1 was an introduction to Zoom. We then played a guessing game. Students went to their kitchens for 3 items of food or drink (our most recent topic in class), which they had to keep secret. In breakout rooms they asked ‘Have you got a…?’ ‘Have you got any…?’ to guess what they others had. If they were right, the student had to show it on the camera. When they came back to the main room, they typed what they’d found out in the chat box. For example: ‘Sandy has got some oranges.’ ‘Sandy hasn’t got any cheese.’ This activity went down really well, lasted for about 15-20 minutes, and was a great opportunity to use their homes.

Most of the students adapted to Zoom pretty quickly, though two students still struggled to find functions at the end of lesson 2, and one student missed the Zoom tutorial in the first lesson. Another had huge connection problems in the first lesson, but this was much better in the second.

Lesson 2 was a continuation of our book (Project 2 from OUP), planned mostly by Jude (thanks!) After revision and a homework check, I screen shared a Quizlet set to introduce country vocab, with students calling out the words on their microphones, or writing them in the chat box. We stopped every few words for them to call out what they could remember. They matched the words in their books. To prepare for a short listening, I asked them to type what these measurements could be: 1000m, 6km, 10,000m etc e.g. a river, a bridge, a road. We listened to the audio – they filled in the correct number. We checked them one at a time using the chat box. I then introduced them to ‘high’, ‘wide’, ‘long’ and ‘deep’ from the listening by using gestures and asking them to draw different arrows next to the words in their books, e.g. an up arrow for ‘high’, a down arrow for ‘deep’. I set up the homework (the reading from the next page of their book) and did the first example with them. For the last couple of minutes they typed all of the new words from the lesson in the chat box.

If I taught the lesson again, I’d skip me introducing the vocab through Quizlet. Instead, I’d send them the code quizlet.com/491240605 and get them to play Quizlet match and learn modes – they’re used to doing this from classroom lessons. I’d then do a quiz, showing them three or four pictures at the same time and getting them to write all of the words. The listening and adjectives were fine, but there wasn’t much time left by this stage. I’d like to have something creative in every lesson, and I assumed we planned this but 5 days later can’t remember what it was! There certainly wasn’t time for it in the lesson.

Overall, I think my students have done more writing this week than in the entire proceeding month, and they’ve spoken to students in the breakout rooms that they wouldn’t dream of talking to in class, both without any complaints. Classroom management has been fine, because I can switch off microphones and videos if necessary – often the threat of this is enough to get students to concentrate again. If students consistently misbehave, you can put them into the waiting room for a minute or two to calm down, or speak to them individually in a breakout room (thanks for that idea Jude).

Let’s see how long the novelty of online learning lasts!

Zoom troubleshooting

  • Do a sound/video check at the start of each lesson. Get students to switch on their sound and video to make sure it’s working. If they’re having problems, put them in the waiting room (three dots in the top right corner of their video = move to waiting room) and let them come back in again. They may need to restart their computers/apps.
  • When one student is having lots of technical problems, give the others something to do while you help them out. You could put them in breakout rooms, with the ‘tech problem’ student in a room by themselves for you to help. Or give others something to do in their books. Make it clear to the other students that you’re helping the person with technical problems and how long this might take. If the technical problems are coming and going, make sure that student is in a 3, not a pair, when put into breakout rooms.
  • It’s better to have your computer plugged in or not at all through the lesson – it might not cope with the transition between two different battery settings. (Thanks Connor!)
  • If you’re having problems with the internet connection, switch off the video. If you’re at home, ask other people not to use internet-heavy apps at the same time as the lesson, like streaming.
  • If students are using Zoom on their phones, they need to be looking at the video (not the chat/participants list/screen share) when you put them into breakout rooms. That’s where the message pops up to invite them to the room. Alternatively, tick the option that says ‘Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically‘ and it doesn’t matter what they’re looking at!
  • If you’re kicked out of the meeting, one of the students will become the teacher with host privileges. Log back in, and (I think!) you’ll automatically become the host again.

Zoom tips

  • With small groups, prepare a piece of scrap paper with all of your students’ names before the lesson. Write C for computer/M for mobile/T for tablet – check what device they’re on as they come in. Don’t assume it’s the same as the previous lesson. That way, if they can’t find something, you know what instructions to give them to find it (the menus are different on different devices). I also used my list for noting which groups I’d put students in, tech problems they had, and how many K points (classroom management points) the group had got, plus reminders to myself about problems with Zoom/things to consider next time.
  • Recurring meetings: extend the date on your meetings for ages. If you let the last date pass, you’ll have to resend new links later. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • When you’re on mute, hold down space bar and speak – students will hear you only while the spacebar is depressed. (Thanks Emma!)
  • Make sure you remind students how to find functions – don’t just assume they remember.
  • In some browsers (Android phone?), the participant menu is a speech bubble with three dots in it. This is almost the same as the ‘more’ button, so students may be a little confused. (Thanks Ruth and Jude!)
  • Students can use the chat while in breakout rooms, but only they can see it. Nobody from another breakout room or the main room can see it. If you join the breakout room, you can’t see what’s come before, only what’s added after you join. A student without a working microphone can therefore still participate in the activity. (Thanks Connor!)
  • You can make the chatbox text bigger/smaller when you’re on a computer (not sure about a phone). Click into the chatbox. Press CTRL and + to make it bigger (CMD + for Mac), CTRL and – to make it smaller (CMD – for Mac), and CTRL and 0 to make it the default size (CMD 0 for Mac).

Google Docs tips

  • If you’re coupling Zoom with Google Docs, make the files directly on Google, rather than on Word then uploading them. If you have pre-existing Word documents to upload, make sure you save it as Google Docs if you want students to edit them. It’s not strictly necessary, but it makes things a little smoother.
  • If you’re using lots of Google files during a lesson, put them all into a single folder and send students the link to this before/at the start of the lesson. Then tell them which file you want them to open at the right point in the lesson. You can change from can view to can edit during the lesson if necessary. (Thanks Ash!)
  • Create designated sections of the document for students to write in. For example, we used red team/blue team/green team/purple team in the lesson I described above. (Thanks Jude!) Once students have accessed the document, ask them to write their name next to their team colour – this helps you to check instructions. (Thanks Connor!)

Lesson planning tips

  • Plan for a 60-minute lesson, not a 90-minute face-to-face one – everything takes longer! However, if you often spend a lot of time dealing with classroom management, you may find that your lessons are faster thanks to mute/stop video buttons. 😉
  • Keep the lessons simple. If you’re going to try something new, stick to a maximum of one new tech tool per lesson to avoid overwhelm.
  • Have a couple of zero-prep revision games to play at the end or discussion questions where they can go into breakout rooms, e.g. Pictionary, define the word and guess it (from anywhere in the book).
  • Put students into breakout rooms for the amount of time that you have groups. For example, if you have 3 breakout rooms, put them in there for a minimum of three minutes. If you have 5 breakout rooms, 5 minutes. 10 rooms = 10 minutes. That gives you time to check them all. It’s probably not really worth putting them in there for less than 3 minutes though as it’s a lot of faff and time, and sometimes the tech breaks!
  • Include breaks in the lesson. We normally have one 10-minute break in our 90-minute face-to-face lessons, but with my students I changed this to two 5-minute breaks. Even if you don’t normally have a break, it’s good to include stretching time and eye breaks to reduce muscle pain and eye strain. If you’re having problems with your neck or back because you don’t have an ideal position/posture, consider raising your computer. For example, put a couple of reams of paper under a laptop, or even put a chair on the desk and stand up during the lesson.
  • Include time when students don’t need to interact. For example, a drawing activity. They could switch off their video/audio while they’re doing this, then switch it on to signal that they’ve finished. You can switch off yours too.
  • You can ask students to do grammar controlled practice at home because they have grammar references, then use the lesson for problem solving, rather than trying to present the grammar from scratch.
  • For vocabulary, supplement with Quizlet sets – students can hear the pronunciation and practise the spelling.
  • Reading can be done for homework. You can check reading in class, or students can email you the answers to use it as an assessment. You can also do listening this way by emailing the audio to students (though be aware of copyright rules).
  • At the end of the lesson, consider sending an email summarising the content of the lesson, and including the homework, especially for teens e.g. Today we learnt some Zoom vocabulary from this Quizlet set quizlet.com/xxxxx. We practised how to use Zoom. The homework is WB p39 Ex 6. See you on Wednesday!

Activity ideas


Here are some activities that (might?) work via Zoom, some of which we’ve tried, some of which we haven’t. If you want more, take a look at Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom.

  • At the start of the lesson, display a puzzle, a Where’s Wally image, or an Every Picture Tells a Story ELTpic on the screen. Students write what they can see in the chat box – higher levels could imagine what’s happening, or what people are saying (reported speech revision?) This gives time for you to help people with connection problems. (Adapted from Lisa Wilson’s idea to display a wordsearch.)
  • Show an album from ELTpics that is connected to your lesson topic. Students brainstorm what they can see in the chatbox. Give them a sentence frame if you don’t want them to just write single words, e.g. There’s a… / There aren’t any…
  • To get students (of all ages!) moving, play run and touch. (Thanks Rosie!) e.g. run and touch something blue, green, red, new, old, wooden, metal, complicated, funny…
  • Ask students to make things out of the objects around them. For example, make a person, a house, etc. Other students have to guess what they’ve made. If planned with the responsible adult in advance, this could work particularly well with children – they could have a plate of e.g. pasta to make pictures out of (not rice – it’ll get stuck in the computer!)
  • With smaller groups, experiment with all of the students having their microphones on simultaneously at certain points in the lesson. For example, this worked really well with the homework check and drilling in my lessons. Students can also drill without their microphones on – they can practise repeating, then come on the microphone when they’re more confident.
  • Use Jazz Chants for drilling. Your students can make them too. They can say them with the microphone on or off.
  • Total cloze: before the lesson, write a sentence on a Word document. Set the text to white, but the underlining to black. Share the screen. Students guess what words are missing. If they guess correctly, you change the text colour to black for that word. (If you have a less fiddly way of doing this, please tell me!)
  • Organise for remote guests to visit the lesson. Students can prepare to interview them, or to listen to a short speech/presentation from the guest. There are lots of people looking for things to do right now!
  • Ask if you can observe other teachers remotely by joining their class as a student – this is much easier now. Make sure that schools and students are OK with you doing this if you’re the observed teacher before you invite anyone else in. (Please don’t ask me for the moment – I’m not quite ready!)
  • Fast finisher idea: students can build up a single picture using all of the vocab introduced during the lesson. For a few minutes at the end of the lesson, or as a warmer at the start of the next, they hold up their picture to the camera and describe what’s in the picture. You may need to demo this is a whole-class activity in a previous lesson.
  • Get students to write emails to their future selves using FutureMe. These are incredible times we’re living in right now, and it could really help them to consider that this is not how life will always be. (I hope!) 

Useful links

Here are a handful of the many, many resources that have been shared in the past couple of weeks. Feel free to add others in the comments:

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

As more and more people are forced to work online due to Coronavirus, how can you make sure that you look after your mental health and create clear boundaries between home and work life, especially if everything happens in the same room? I’m particularly thinking about English teachers in shared flats who don’t have a living room or another space to escape to.

  • Create a very clear area that will be dedicated to work. If you are lucky this can be a desk. If not it might just be a chair that you only sit on for work or a part of a table that is for work. Be consistent and disciplined about using the space for work and nothing else.
  • When you’re not working, cover this space with something so that you can’t see it, for example a blanket or a spare bed sheet. If you have something nice to decorate it with, why not add that? This might be a plant or a teddy or a cushion, something to make it a bit less obvious that it’s a work space that you’ve covered with a sheet!
  • Create signs for yourself that say what you’re doing at each part of the day. This might be teach, admin, relax, chat. Put the sign somewhere obvious so that you can see it regularly to help you remember which phase of your day you’re in. Use your down time to make the signs look pretty.
  • Create a routine for ‘going to work’. For example, walk backwards and forwards in your room 10 times, ritually remove the sheet from the workspace, and then sit at your chair. If you have a slightly larger living space, for example a separate kitchen or living room, walk out of your working space and back into it a few times before you start your working day. Reverse the routine for ‘leaving work’.
  • Other routines could also be useful. Include routines for breaks, exercise, and regular meals. If you have the possibility of going outside, think carefully about when to incorporate this in your routine so that you got the maximum benefit from it. If you have options about when to do this, Crowdscience says that an hour of daylight in the morning is the most beneficial. You could also get this on a balcony if you have one. Daylight is enough, sunshine is a plus!
  • Include social contact that isn’t work-related in your daily life. Put a call out your social media to find out who would like to have a video chat (if your internet is up to it). I’m sure that you will find other people in the same situation as you and not everybody will be brave enough to ask for people to chat with. Get back in touch with those friends that you haven’t spoken to for years. This is a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with people.
  • If you’re working online and screen time is a problem try to keep your computer for work only and look for other things to do to entertain yourself when you’re not working. Read a book, do some sewing or repairs of your clothes, do some drawing even if you think that you’re not very good at it (this is an excellent opportunity to start practising and getting better, from somebody who also isn’t very good at it!), learn to play cards, do puzzles, build funky things out of the things in your flat and share pictures of them on social media…
  • If your computer or phone are your only source of entertainment when you’re not working, clearly delineate your computer time between work and home life. At a minimum close and reopen your computer in between working and using it for home, and get up and move away from it in between too. If you can, set up different desktops with different backgrounds on your computer, one for work and one for home. Do something completely different on your computer: many places are streaming operas, plays and concerts for example. Try something you wouldn’t normally consider. Or stick to comfort films: write a list of all the things you’ve been meaning to rewatch for years and work your way through them.
  • If you like music, have work music and home music. You could also use music as part of your ‘going to work’ and ‘leaving work’ routines. Have a song that gets you going before you start – listen to all of it attentively and mindfully, really focusing on all of the words. Then have another one at the end of the day which can transition you into your home time.
  • If you’re not doing it already, find out about meditation and mindfulness. If you are doing it, keep on doing it! Meditation is another thing that you could use at the boundaries between home and work and also if you want to take a break during your working day.
  • Start a journal of your experiences during this time, which will be very interesting for future historians and for you and your family in the future. You could also write a gratefulness journal of all of the things that you are happy are still happening or that you can still do during the quarantine period.
  • During your work time, arrange some kind of staff meeting with colleagues. This will help to retain some of the benefits you get if you have a good staff room. It allows you to let off steam with people who are in the same boat as you.
  • If you don’t have a staff room at the moment, there are hundreds of teachers in online communities who I suspect would be interested in meeting and talking to you. This is a way to have contact with other people, including perhaps meeting some new people. This gets different voices into your space that aren’t only your students or worried family members.
  • Give yourself periods of balcony time or, if you don’t have a balcony, window time, when all you do is stare off into the distance and look at what is around you. Pay close attention to all the details that you don’t normally notice in your daily life. If you’re at the window, open it as far you can. Get some deep breaths of fresh air. Appreciate the reduction in pollution because there are so many fewer vehicles on the road!
  • Have stretching breaks. Look up stretches that you can do to help you reduce potential pain in your neck, back and hips due to too much time sitting down. Plan which stretches you’re going to do during each break you take during the day. This could be one of the things you do in your routines before and after work as well.
  • Have some paper next to your bed so that if you’re feeling anxious in the night or you’re listing things for the next day you can easily write it down and empty your head to help you try to get back to sleep again.
  • Practise good sleep hygiene.
  • Find things to laugh at. Watch stupid videos on YouTube or whatever it takes to make you laugh. Stand up when you’re laughing as well – this will vary your posture and help you fill your space with laughter more effectively.
  • Make a star chart or some kind of way of recording when you have been good and stuck to your routines. Give yourself a star or a 🙂 every time you complete your ‘going to work’ routine or take a proper break or sleep for 3 hours without waking up. Whatever it is that you want to be able to do, reward yourself for it. Make the targets super achievable so you get tons of stars. Reward yourself for everything that you can and search for opportunities to be positive.
  • Listen to Tom Hanks (from 12:32).

Good luck. And well done: you are doing this to help your community at large.

Spring flowers in Bydgoszcz

If you have any more ideas, please share them in the comments.

As has happened in much of Europe, Poland has now closed schools, universities and other places where people might gather in the hope of reducing the spread of coronavirus. Our school had its last normal lessons on Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday dedicated to training our teachers how to use Zoom. We start teaching on Monday 16th, so my total experience with Zoom so far has been in the training process. However, I wanted to share what we’ve done and some of the ideas we’ve had for our adapting our standard EFL face-to-face lessons, in the hope that others will be able to build on this.

Useful links

International House World arranged a live session run by Shaun Wilden on Tuesday 10th, in which he introduced us to Zoom. He has summarised tips for moving to online teaching in these two blogposts on the Oxford University Press blog:

I’d also recommend Ceri Jones’s posts on the Cambridge University Press blog:

Other useful posts:

On 20th March 2020, Lindsay Clandfield and Carol Rainbow will run a webinar for Teaching English British Council on using your coursebook online and ideas for breakout rooms (see below for a definition and our ideas).

There’s a very active hashtag on Twitter called #coronavirusteaching, which you can view without having a Twitter account. It’s full of ideas and experiences, and is a rich source of information.

I posted this tweet:

There are lots of great replies, with more being added – see this thread for access to all of them.

Technical arrangements

We’ve compiled a beginner’s guide to joining Zoom for our students (in English and Polish). Teachers will email meeting links and join IDs to each of their groups, with student emails in BCC so that we’re not sharing their contact information with each other. Students can email the teacher if they’re having technical difficulties during the lesson and can’t access Zoom.

We’ve signed all of our teachers up for individual Pro accounts so we don’t have to worry about the 40-minute limit on free Zoom accounts. If you have a school domain and teachers have school emails, Zoom have temporarily removed the 40-minute limit on the free account, but this doesn’t work for private emails such as Gmail or Yahoo.

We’ve also suggested that teachers using Google Docs to complement Zoom, so we’ve asked students who plan to use their mobiles to download the Docs app in advance.

The rest of this post is an adapted version of our guide for teachers, including lots of activity ideas which we came up with/found as we were writing it. Please feel free to share more! Thank you to Ruth and Emma, our ADoSes, for helping me put it together, and to all of our teachers for being amazing at suggesting ideas and trying to work out the kinks in the system so that we’re ready for things to run as smoothly as possible on Monday.

Zoom functions

Managing participants

As the host of a class/meeting, you can manage participants such as renaming, muting, stopping video and other controls for participants. For more, visit this page. 

If somebody joins the room late, or has been kicked out (e.g. due to connectivity), a notification will pop up for you to allow people to join the group.

The participants list also has options for students to give you simple messages:

These appear next to their name in the list. You have a ‘clear all’ button to switch them all off.

Students also have raise hand/lower hand options. A hand will appear on their video.

Participant video

As students join the room, a box with their name will appear. Once students click to give Zoom permission to access the camera, this will change to a video. 

This shows you the range of possible video layout options on Zoom.

  • If you want lots of people to speak at the same time, ‘gallery view’ is much less chaotic. I’d recommend telling students to generally use this view.
  • We don’t think there is gallery view on mobiles.
  • If you’re using ‘active speaker view’, whoever is speaking will jump to the top of the column. This can get very distracting if lots of people are talking as it changes all the time. If you want students to show work they’ve produced on paper, ask all students to change to ‘active speaker view’, then ask the relevant student to unmute their microphone and start talking – their video will jump to the top.

As the host, you can switch all of the videos off if you want to. This reduces bandwidth (and is better for the environment!). 

Tip: Switching your own video off when students are doing individual work gives you a breather and allows you to check what’s happening next. It also means students aren’t looking at your funny faces while you figure out what’s next 🙂 It will also mean there is less to distract them!

Tip: In the first lesson, we recommend keeping the videos on so that students know this could happen, and so you can make your expectations clear about this online classroom environment.

Tip: Having all students with their videos off makes the room much more smoothly as it uses a lot less bandwidth.

Participant audio

When students join the room, their microphones will be on mute. (We recommend our teachers choose this setting when they set up their Zoom meetings.)

It’s best if you only unmute microphones for students who need to speak – otherwise it can get quite chaotic.

For drilling, you could unmute all microphones at the same time, but warn students before you do this!

Allow silence during your lessons – don’t be afraid of it, and don’t feel like you need to fill it. It’s a little strange initially when you feel like you’re not talking to anybody because you can’t hear them responding when students are on mute, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

Tip: Mute your audio when you’re typing/opening up the next bits of your lesson. 

Sharing your screen

Tip: make sure you have everything you want to share open and ready before you start the lesson.

You can use the screen share function to:

  • Show powerpoint
  • Show a picture
  • Show a document/gapfill
  • Show the coursebook software
  • Share computer sound (to play a listening, or background music before the lesson starts)
  • Share a video (see below)

You can share the full desktop, a particular window only, or a portion of the screen (i.e. part of a picture). Here’s how. To share a portion of the screen, click on ‘advanced’ in the ‘share screen’ menu.

Screen sharing a desktop DOES NOT share any Zoom windows that are open.

If you give them permission to, students can also share their screens. Teachers can take remote control of students’ screens. Teachers can annotate students screens as well. Once this feature is enabled, all students can annotate whoever’s screen is being shared. 

Playing audio

  • Put the audio on your computer.
  • Use the ‘share screen’ function. Tick the ‘share computer sound’ box. 
  • Press play on your computer and students should be able to hear it as normal.

Audio activities:

  • Normal comprehension questions. A gist could perhaps be done as a poll.
  • Listening dictation. 
  • Write the next word. 

Tip: switch off your audio when playing audio from the computer, otherwise the students will hear you and the listening.

Playing video

  • Click on ‘share screen’. 
  • Choose the window where the video is playing.
  • Tick the ‘share computer sound’ box. 
  • Tick the ‘optimise for full-screen video clip’ to make the video smoother on students’ computers.
  • Press play on your computer and students should be able to hear and see it as normal.

Tip: Streaming Youtube videos takes up less bandwidth than playing a downloaded video.

Video activities:

  • What’s my line: write three lines from a short video clip, two which are really there, one which isn’t. Students write the number of the line which isn’t there in the chat box.

Chat box

There is a chat box in every Zoom meeting. Participants can send public messages to everyone, or start private chats. Here’s how

In teen classes, change the settings in the chat so that students can only chat with everyone publicly or privately message the teacher. It’s better for them not to be able to chat privately as you can’t monitor their communication. See ‘Changing in-meeting chat settings’ on this link.

If you send students to breakout rooms (see below) they cannot see anything that is sent to the chat box. You can only send them written messages to the room.

Also, when students return from the breakout rooms their chat box may have been wiped clean (especially if they are on a mobile). However, the host can still see everything that was in the chat box. 

You can use the chat box to:

  • Chat!
  • Have students complete a statement you give them e.g. ‘I really like using Zoom because…’
  • Elicit answers to questions in feedback stages.
  • See what questions students have.
  • Play vocab revision activities like binomials (see number 5)
  • Spelling tests. Students can also go on the video to choose the word to spell or the sentence to complete.

Annotating a screen/whiteboard

This allows you or the students to annotate a blank screen (whiteboard) or whatever you’re sharing at that point. You can annotate in the following ways:   

  • Draw – insert lines, arrows and shapes
  • Text box – including copying and pasting text from elsewhere
  • Stamp – e.g a star or a tick
  • Arrow – click to make an arrow with your name on it stay in one place. Each time you click, the previous arrow will disappear and a new one will appear.

Here is a fuller description of annotation tools and here’s how to share a whiteboard.

You can use this function to:

  • Display a controlled practice activity using a text box.
  • Draw a timeline (if you want something more permanent than holding up one on paper to the camera)
  • Copy and paste a gapfill or similar from elsewhere for them to write into (though this is probably better as an activity on Google Docs or as a Powerpoint for them to handwrite the answers to).

You can download whiteboards and send them to students.

To stop students from being able to annotate the whiteboard, i.e. to make it so you are the only person who can write on it, there is a setting in the ‘more’ menu called ‘disable participant’s annotations’. (Thanks Shannon!)

Breakout rooms

A breakout room is a way to put your students into small groups or pairs. 

Watch this 2.5-minute video to see what a breakout room is, how to set it up, what it looks like for the teacher (host) and the students (participants). You can assign students manually or automatically, and you can move students around before you send them to the rooms.
If you want something more technical, here’s Zoom’s written guide to how breakout rooms work.

You can use this function to:

  • Do the homework check.
  • Create discussion groups.
  • Divide the class into two teams e.g. to make a decision/plan.

Tip: Students cannot see any of the materials from the main room while in a breakout, or do any type chatting, so ask them to take a photo of the task or write it down. 

Tip: Remind students of breakout room etiquette before you start those stages each time.

You can’t monitor all of the breakout rooms simultaneously. You can only join one room at a time. Students can request help from inside the breakout room and invite you to join them. This pops up on your screen with a direct link to the breakout room. Your video will join the students – it’s very obvious that you’re there!

From your master breakout room list, you can broadcast a written message to all of the rooms which appears as a banner for all of the students.

  • If breakout rooms aren’t visible on Zoom, you need to go to your main settings and switch them on. This video shows you how.
  • Students may have trouble having a conversation if there are connection issues.
  • It might be a challenge to have more than 3 students in a breakout room because of sound problems/noise, but it could work for a game if there is clear turn-taking.
  • If you set a timer for breakout rooms, the timer starts regardless of whether or not the participants are in the rooms. When you close the breakout rooms, you can choose how much of a countdown the students get. 

Hands up (and other non-verbal feedback)

Students can put their hands up to draw your attention to them. To do this, they:

  • Click on ‘participants list’.
  • Click ‘raise hand’.
  • When their question has been answered, they click ‘lower hand’.

As a host, you will see a ‘hands up’ icon appear on their video. If you’re using active speaker view, ‘hands up’ should push their video to the top of the list.

You can also see a summary of how many people have their hands up by looking at the complete participants list.

There are other options for non-verbal feedback, such as ‘clap’, ‘yes’, ‘no’ etc. Find out more or see the participants list section above.

You can use this function to:

  • Find out which students want to speak on audio/camera.
  • Check understanding of a particular term/concept/instruction.

Using Google Docs

Before the lesson:

  • Create your Doc.
  • Click on Share (a blue button in the top right or go to the ‘file’ menu).
  • Click ‘get shareable link’. Make sure that it says ‘anyone with the link can edit’ – not just view!

During the lesson:

  • Check that all students on mobile phones have downloaded the Google Docs app.
  • Paste the shareable link into the chat box.
  • Students click on the link and can edit the document simultaneously. This should be fairly smooth (we hope!) as we’ve asked them to download the app before the lesson.

Tip: if you want to have students work on different specific parts of the same document at the same time, put their names at the points you want them to write/specify ‘group 1’ ‘group 2’ etc in the document. Here’s a (view-only!) example.

You can use this to:

  • Get feedback after a discussion task – students can all write their answers in the Doc simultaneously.
  • Brainstorm ideas.
  • Get students to complete a table when they have proved they can do something (like we did in the session)

Using Google Sheets

Students might not have the Google Sheets app. If you want to use it in your lesson, please ask students to download it when you send them the link to the lessons.

You can use this to:

  • Get students to complete a table when they have proved they can do something – for example, a list of can-do statements.
  • Do a ‘board race’ using a Google Sheet with columns that small groups need to add their ideas to.

Advice for planning your lessons

Start with activities you’re familiar with from the face-to-face classroom and consider how to adapt them. Look at the activities throughout this post for ideas of how you could do this. Be creative, and ask for help if you’ve spent more than 5 minutes trying to figure something out!

Best practice

Students recording lessons or taking screenshots (our advice to our teachers)

In the invitation email that we send for every lesson, students will be reminded that they may not record any part of the lesson without first asking the teacher’s permission, to keep in line with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, RODO in Polish) which is EU law. 

During the lesson, if any students ask to take a screenshot, you may NOT give them permission if any other students are on the screen. If only you are on the screen, it is your decision. If it is only the work (e.g. the whiteboard) then it is your decision. Unless the work is incomplete or there is a particular reason you do not want them to take a screenshot, then it is probably OK to say yes.

Other tips

Include a summary of the lesson right at the beginning – I think this is more important in online lessons so that students know what to expect.

Always plan an activity at the start of the lesson that isn’t crucial to the lesson as a whole – this activity can ‘buy’ the time needed to make sure everyone has connected and issues with audio etc. are ironed out. (quoted from Shaun Wilden)

Give time for activities, especially if they have to switch between apps and views. Everything will take longer, especially if things have to load. Aim for simplicity in the plan in general – fewer chances for things to go wrong! 

Include breaks for students: decide with the students what they want. You may decide to have a couple of shorter breaks, e.g. 5 minutes each after 30 minutes.

Look for as many student-to-student interaction opportunities as you can – not just student to teacher or lecture-style. It’s worth putting interaction patterns on your plan to be aware of this. Plan for every student to be on camera taking to the group at least once during the session. 

Include movement in the plan – chances for students to get up. Tell the students why you’re doing this (it is better for your brain to move regularly, and you’ll remember more English). This is also a change for you to move around and take a break from looking at the screen. Ideas include:

  • Stand up and mime the actions/ verbs.
  • 30-second stretch break. 
  • Brain gym
  • Simon Says…
  • Run and write: put books on the other side of the room. Look at a sentence, remember it, run and write it in the chat box/ on a Google doc. (A kind of individual running dictation) 
  • Run and write in pairs: as above, but with the runner dictating to the other student, who has their book hidden.
  • They’ve done an activity in their books. You say a sentence – they stand up if it’s right, sit down if it’s not. Or a little more complicated: stand up and jump, stand up turn around and sit down again.
  • After a breakout room: students stand up if they agreed / turn their back if they disagreed. Teacher can turn on their mike and they can say what they thought.
  • If all students are on phones, they can walk for 2-3 minutes from their seats, then switch videos on and comment on where they’ve ended up/describe where they are/display it on the front camera/write about it. Could also be used for modals of speculation: other students guess where they might be, then turn on the camera and find out whether the guess was correct.

Other considerations

  • On the mobile phone, students can only see a super tiny whiteboard and can’t do much except draw on it. If they need to type, it should be on a Google Doc as they can still hear Zoom but can’t see anything. 
  • Chat box activities should be focussed on only the chat box, not while doing something else (e.g. watching a video). Students on mobiles can’t look at two things at the same time with Zoom.
  • If you disconnect and reconnect, the chat refreshes and you lose all previous messages. If a student has lost the connection partway through a task that you’ve written in the chatbox, you need to copy it back into the box again.
  • Some students might not have their coursebooks in front of them. Make sure you have another way to show them the activity.

Other activities

  • Flashcard games
  • Draw pictures and hold them up to the screen
  • I can… statements on the whiteboard for students to annotate/add to the chat
  • Dictation: email half the group with something to dictate to their partners in breakout rooms, using a Google doc. 
  • Kim’s game: show a picture with various objects or various things happening. Take it away. Students list what was in the picture. Chatbots, docs, breakout rooms all work for this. 
  • Quizlet flashcards: share the screen, students write the words they see in the chatbox. With smaller groups, put the microphones on and use them for drilling. Also works with normal flashcards when you have them.
  • Students write a selection of words in the checkbox. You can take suggestions then choose one to display on the whiteboard. They then create sentences using the grammar structure. Then challenge them to add the context around the sentences: who says it/ where is it written, what comes before/ after it. 
  • Remove/ replace/add: give students a starter sentence. They have to change/add/ replace words to make new sentences. Students can also suggest the original sentences. 
  • A tour of my favourite website. Students would need to prepare this before, or have something and time in the lesson. You could also use it as a lead in to a topic, showing them around a website linked to the lesson theme. Aim for 2-3 minutes maximum four presentations like this. Alternatives: my favourite app, my favourite game, my favourite book, my favourite room where I am now. Note: this should be on a voluntary basis.
  • Research time: students have 15/20 minutes to find out about a topic and prepare a mini presentation, which they then report back to the group as a live listening. This could work really well in a breakout room.
  • Picture dictations: as a whole class, followed by students dictating to each other in breakout rooms.

Warmers

These activities are also good to maintain the group dynamic/connections between students, something which can very easily be lost if the primary communication is with the teacher.

  • What can you see: describe your room, the view from your window, a photo. Alternatives: what you can hear, what you can smell. 
  • First lines: open the first book you can find in your house and bring to the screen. Type the first line into the chat box/ Google Doc. Choose a favourite and write the next line/ continue the story/ say what happened before/ describe the character. 
  • Tell students three adjectives. They write a noun which connects them in the chart box. Ask students to come on camera to justify their choice. Alternative: three nouns, they say a verb. Three verbs, they say a noun or adverb. 
  • Odd one out: Write a list of six words on the board from a lexical set. Students have to decide which one is the odd one out. They must explain this. Once they have, then challenge them to nominate another one which could be the odd one out for different reasons. Great for lateral thinking. The variation is great too, where every time they argue one is the odd word out you cross it out and they repeat the activity with the words left until there are only two words.
  • My neighbour’s cat is… page 54 of 5-minute activities by Penny Ur. This activity is great for eliciting adjectives from A-Z. You write up all the letters of the alphabet on the board and then you begin by saying “My neighbour’s cat is awful”, and write awful next to the letter “a”. Give students a timed limit eg 5 minutes, for them to add more adjectives in any order. For online purposes, challenge your class to get from A to Z, either in the chat or on a Google doc, or in breakout rooms as a competition. Variations: My neighbour likes… with verbs (adding up) or nouns (apples)
  • Taboo: email a student a taboo card. They have to define the word, either on the video or typing in chat. Or they create their own. 
  • Display a picture, then take it away. Students write the dialogue, list what they can see, describe what happened before/afterwards… should work well in breakout rooms.
  • Students choose an object in the room with them. They share them in breakout rooms and say why they chose  that object/ the story behind it/ who they would sell or give it to. 
  • Messages to the world/ the group: questions can promote discussion. Breakout groups can discuss, then one iteration can report back in the chart or on the video to the group. What’s the best thing in the world? If you could change one thing about school, what would it be? I’d you could day one thing to the world, what would it be? Also works with Thunks
  • Mind reader (I’m sure there’s a way to adapt this!)

The online teaching activities index has loads more ideas, though not all for live classes.

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

IH AMT conference 2020

This year’s IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference happened in Greenwich from 9th-11th January 2020. As always, I enjoyed the conference and learnt a lot, which I’m looking forward to putting into practice as much as possible.

You can read about previous AMT conferences I’ve attended in 201420152016, 2019 (I’ve attended them all since 2014, but forgot to write about some of them!)

ih logo

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about at this year’s conference. (As always, any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own, not those of the speakers – please correct me if needed!)

Managing performance in ELT

Maureen McGarvey asked us to draw the organisational structure and consider the organisational culture of our schools. She emphasised that without knowing the structure and culture of our school and how teachers perceive them, we can’t effectively manage performance at our schools. We need to clearly articulate the culture of our school to teachers, as you bring the culture with you from previous places you’ve worked. This can be one source of frustration for managers, and may lead us to think staff are being pig-headed, when in fact they’re butting up against the culture of the school and their perceptions of it.

She surveyed staff about how they want to be managed, using 5 questions:

  • What do you expect/would you like your line manager to do for you in terms of support and development across the year?
  • How would you like your line manager to manage your performance across the year?
  • What systems does your LTO (language teaching organisation) have in place for managing performance, as far as you’re aware?
  • Do you think the systems you identified are adequate? Any amendments or changes you’d suggest?
  • How would you like your line manager to deal with performance issues should they arise?

This threw up lots of interesting responses, mostly connected to personal awareness. When we talk about change and CPD as managers, we tend to present it as data. But those who changes or development are being ‘done to’ perceive it through their anxieties and fears. We need to create personal connections with staff and follow up regularly, not just check in once or twice a year. The survey showed up various variants on the idea of “regular, brief, human conversations” and “personal, face-to-face” contact, including a key focus on positives. Performance management isn’t just about managing negative performance and dealing with problems, but also about helping good teachers get better.

IH update

Every year we hear about the exciting things happening across the network. This year I was particularly interested in new IH Online Teacher Training Courses, including a new series of modules for Academic Management. If you do 5 of them, you can get the IHWO Diploma in Academic Management.

Blocked by our expertise

Monica Green summarised a Harvard Business Review article called Don’t be blinded by your own expertise.

She reminded us that an interested beginner draws on every possible resource to learn, but that as we become experts in a particular area, we often stop doing this. We can also become poor listeners as we assume we already know things.

To stop being blinded by our expertise, we need to get a sense of wonder back into what we do: ‘I wonder how this works?’ We should also ask ‘What am I not asking you that I should?’ more often to keep in touch with those who are still beginners in our area, or who haven’t reached the same level of expertise that we have. This is just a taster: there are a lot more ideas in the HBR article, which I definitely recommend reading.

ELT footprint

Christopher Graham told us about the environmental impact of ELT, for example the number of students who study English in the UK every year and are therefore flying in and out of the country. Even EU-based students tend to fly, when they could potentially get the train.

He introduced us to the ELT footprint facebook group and website. There are lots of resources available to help you if you want to start reducing the environmental footprint of your school, or teach students about it. These include a charter for a greener school, advice on good practice for events and conferences and lesson plans you can use with students. They are always looking for people to share how they are greening ELT so do get in touch with them if they have ideas.

Listening skills and initial teacher training

Emma Gowing talked about how we can refocus the training of how to teach listening to make sure new teachers are really teaching listening, not just testing it. She suggested the following ideas:

  • Help teachers to write aims that focus on developing rather than practising listening skills.
  • Highlight that comprehension tasks are a diagnostic rather than a teaching tool, to help teachers find out what learners are having trouble with.
  • Avoid right/wrong answers in listening activities. Instead use activities that promote the negotiation of meaning.
  • Get trainee teachers to take notes to identify difficulties.
  • Show how to use the audioscript to isolate difficulties and identify whether the issue was meaning or hearing related (i.e. do they know the meaning of the word(s) but couldn’t identify it in the listening?)
  • Include a ‘listen again’ stage focussed on difficult parts, helping students to recognise why the listening was hard for them.
  • When teaching staging, reduce the importance of preparation stages (lead in/gist) in favour of more in-depth detailed/post-listening activities.
  • Use authentic materials, grading the task not the text, wherever possible.

She has summarised her ideas for teachers in this article for the IH Journal.

Fun at work

Lucie Cotterill’s talk was called The Fun Factor – Let’s Play Leadership. She shared ideas that they’ve used at IH Reggio Calabria to get more fun into the school, and shared the research behind why it’s important to have fun at work. It makes us more productive, improves mental wellbeing, and increases staff satisfaction.

My favourite idea was a Christmas gift they gave their staff. They created a Google form for all staff (including admin staff). Respondents had to share the first positive adjective they thought of for each staff member. One adjective was selected and sewn onto a pencil case with the teacher’s name. All of the other adjectives were put on a piece of paper inside the pencil case. Now the teachers have a reminder of how much they are valued by their colleagues, and they can see it all the time.

Better self evaluation

Manana Khvichia described how they’ve reorganised their CELTA to improve self evaluation and help their trainees to quickly become reflective practitioners. Their CELTA now only has one input session a day and much longer feedback sessions. Self evaluation forms are created personally for each teacher, with the trainer writing a series of questions during the observation. Trainees write their own thoughts first, then look at the trainer’s questions and respond to them. They can do this because they’ve seen models of the trainer’s self-evaluation after the demo lesson on the first day, analysed this together, and had a full session on how to reflect. Feedback sessions often turn into mini inputs based on what the trainees need at that point in the course.

This was the most thought-provoking session of the conference for me, and I’ve asked Manana to write about it for this blog, so watch this space!

What I’ve learnt about teaching training this year

My talk, which is the already a post on this blog.

Drop-in observations

Diana England described what they’ve done at IH Torres Vedras to make drop-in observations more effective for their teachers. She says that having regular drop-in observations makes them a positive thing, not just something that happens when there’s a problem. It also shows students that multiple people are involved in their progress, not just their teacher.

During induction week, the teachers discuss terminology related to drop-ins, and decide on their own definitions, for example of ‘rapport’, ‘classroom management’, etc. They complete a questionnaire to show their beliefs related to these areas. The drop-in observer completes the same questionnaire, with a space at the bottom for extra comments. Post-observation feedback involves comparing the responses to both versions of the questionnaire.

The questionnaire is made up of factual statements, such as ‘I can spot early finishers and ensure they are purposefully engaged’ or ‘I know and use all my students’ names’, with the responses ‘Definitely’, ‘Most of the time’, ‘Some of the time’, ‘Not enough’, ‘I need more guidance with this’. This system has evolved over time, so that now the teachers create their own questionnaires, rather than using one developed by the school.

This is definitely something I’d like to experiment with at our school.

Improving the agency and confidence of novice teachers

Marie Willoughby talked about a workshop she ran to help novice teachers adapt coursebooks to make them more engaging. It was much more teacher-centred than her workshops used to be. She designed it this way to help teachers build their confidence and realise that they are able to solve problems and ask for help, rather than relying on their own knowledge and worrying when they don’t know something. This topic was selected following interviews with the teachers, as they said they often used coursebooks to help them plan but didn’t know how to make them engaging for students.

The workshop looked like this:

  • Brainstorm ‘What is engagement and why is it important?’
  • Examine Jason Anderson’s CAP(E) paradigm, as this is how coursebooks generally work.
  • Discuss what engagement looks like at each stage of a CAP(E) lesson and how you can evaluate this.
  • Teachers created a list of questions based on their own experience up to this point to help them consider engagement at each stage of the lesson. The questions showed up their current needs, and formed the basis of group discussions.
  • Session homework was to take a piece of material, choose two parts and evaluate whether they’re engaging, change if needed, then evaluate it afterwards. Afterwards they had to tell a colleague: I did this, it worked. OR I did this, it didn’t.

Marie said that she felt like she hadn’t taught them anything in the session, but that afterwards she got great feedback. It helped the teachers realise that they had the right to change things, and didn’t have to just use them as they were.

She contrasted classic training with agency-driven training. In class training, the outcome is pre-determined by the trainer/tasks, there is a focus on best practice, elicitation and leading questions, and a power differential in dialogue. In agency-driven training, the outcome emerges during and beyond the session, there are no right answers (open-ended tasks), a collaborative effort to explore choices and evaluate (not talking about procedures), and equality in dialogue.

By making this shift, Marie says that she has realised the power of training lies in the process, not the product, of training sessions. Returning back to Monica’s idea of being blinded by our expertise, we need to question our training routines: when are we empowering when helping and when not? Do we praise confidence, collaboration, evaluation and leave it there? Without having to give trainees the answer or find the next step: sometimes we shut down options when we help, instead of letting teachers find answers themselves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t help trainees, but rather that we should reflect on the help we give.

Sound bites

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone told us why it’s important for us to work with different accents in the classroom. She talked about how cultural knowledge includes knowing about stereotypical accents and phrases. For example, in the UK we have stereotypical images of what a policeman, farmer, Asian corner shop owner, etc sound like. We know that in real life people don’t always sound like this, but there are a lot of reference points, for example in comedy, which rely on us being aware of these stereotypes.

We should work with a range of accents to help students gain familiarity with different models of speech. The hint that an accent might be present can impede understanding, even if the person speaking if completely clear – we put up mental blocks.

Some resources Chloe recommends are:

Young learner safety

Edward Evans described what they’ve done at IH BKC Moscow to put a policy in place to ensure teachers know what to do to keep young learners safe in the school, and so that the school knows what to do if there is a concern about the safety of young learners.

He reminded us of the importance of considering safety before anything bad happens, rather than only as a reaction. This is especially important in some countries where you might have issues when working with child safety: a lack of good state school policies, an aversion to procedures, training is unavailable, or where child abuse is not a ‘hot topic’. ‘Common sense’ is not a good yardstick for behaviour, as it means different things to different people. Schools need to have clear policies in place.

At Edward’s school, they drew on UK state school procedure to put policy documents in place. These are accompanied by a clear system of which offences lead to a warning, and which lead to instant dismissal. They have reporting procedures in place, along with procedures for how to handle any reports which come in. This is detailed in a two-page document which teachers need to sign when they start working at the school, and every year thereafter to remind them of the policies.

Q & A session

Along with Ian Raby, Giovanni Licata and Jenny Holden, I was part of a panel taking questions from the floor related to various aspects of training and management. I really enjoyed this, but you’d have to ask other people what we said because I (obviously!) wasn’t tweeting what happened 🙂

EdTech

Lindsay Clandfield gave an updated version of his IATEFL 2019 plenary about mythology, methodology and the language of education technology. You can watch the 2019 version of it here, which I’d recommend if you have any interest in how we talk about edtech.

He recommended the hackeducation blog, which looks fascinating.

Coaching and observations

Jonathan Ingham asked whether an incremental coaching model can improve teaching. He works at a college where he observes English teachers, but also teachers of many other subjects, like brickwork, carpentry, and media make-up.

Jonny’s school was inspired by UK state schools who have implemented this model, summarised in this blog post. Rather than 2-3 observations per year, each with a range of action points to work on, teachers are observed every one or two weeks with only a single action point to work on. Feedback is brief and on the same day where possible, with opportunities during the feedback session to practise the changes that the observer suggests. As it is much more focussed, Jonny says that teachers have responded really well: it feels less intrusive, and changes to teaching have been really noticeable. This is something I’d like to try out at our school next year.

Jonny’s slides are available on his blog.

Visual literacy

Kieran Donaghy showed us various frameworks we can use to help students develop their visual literacy. Viewing is becoming the ‘fifth skill’ and has been added to curricula in Canada, Australia and Singapore as viewing and images have taken over from reading and the written word as the principal way we communicate.

He suggested the following resources:

  • Into Film’s 3 C’s (colour, camera, character) and 3 S’s (story, setting, sound) as a way of approaching videos – the link contains lots of examples of how to use them, and questions you can ask
  • The Center for Media Literacy’s educator resources, particularly 5 key questions and 5 core concepts
  • Visual Thinking Routines such as ‘see-think-wonder’ (I’ve used this routine a lot with my teens and they really like it)
  • Ben Goldstein on visual literacy in ELT

He also reminded us that we need to use these methods repeatedly with students – it takes 10-12 times before students can use them independently.

Emergent language

Danny Norrington-Davies described research he did with Nick Andon into how experienced teachers work with emergent language in the classroom.

They found 10 types of teacher intervention in the lessons they transcribed.

  • Explicit reformulation (live or delayed)
  • Recast
  • Teacher clarification/confirmation requests
  • Metalinguistic feedback
  • Elicitations
  • Extensions
  • Interactional recast
  • Recalls
  • Sharing
  • Learner initiated

The definitions of these are available on a handout on Danny’s website.

He also shared work from Richard Chinn into how we can help teachers learn to work with emergent language more quickly. Working with emergent language is a skilled practice, so how can we help teachers arrive at this more quickly?

Burnout

Rachael Roberts finished off the conference by help us to recognise the warning signs of burnout. She gave us the following tips to help our teachers:

  • Cut down on paperwork. Is this actually helpful/useful? For example, do the agenda at the start of meetings to keep focus. Examine marking policies and whether students benefit from them.
  • Help your staff keep boundaries. Don’t expect teachers to reply outside school hours. Expect them to take real breaks. Be clear about your own boundaries as a manager. Only check emails when you know you can actually respond to them – otherwise you’re raising your stress hormones for no good reason!
  • Examine unconscious beliefs you hold about teaching. For example: ‘A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.’ Is sacrifice really the model we want to hold about teaching?
  • Learn to say no to people and projects, and allow our teachers to say no. This includes to things that might be enjoyable, not just things that are difficult!
  • Notice your feelings and attitudes towards situations. If you have a choice, choose to be positive.
  • Where possible, empower teachers to make decisions for themselves.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions about why people might be being difficult. Avoid a culture of perfectionism, and show your own vulnerability.
  • Explain the rationale behind what you are doing. Involve and consult staff when making decisions. Be patient with their responses/reactions.

I would highly recommend reading her Life Resourceful blog and joining her facebook group which is a very active community designed to help teachers maintain their mental health.

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I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!

On 8th February 2020, I had the pleasure of presenting at the IH Barcelona 2020 conference. I shared 4 activities from Richer Speaking, my ebook of 16 ways to get more out of the speaking activities you do in class with minimal extra preparation. 

To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.

If you’d like more reflection activities, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at eltplaybook.wordpress.com. There’s a 10% discount until 29th February 2020 if you buy it via Smashwords [affiliate link] using the code WG94S.

Here are my slides:

 

I did a version of this presentation in July 2019 which I’ve fully written out here.

Thank you to those who attended my talk, and I’d be really interested to hear from you if you try out any of these activities in your classroom. And don’t forget to get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]!

A no-prep workshop*

*or at least, very very low prep!
Thursday night: nobody had suggested any queries or problems for our one-to-one troubleshooting session tomorrow. What should we do instead? There wasn’t really time for me to prep anything else, and Ididn’t know what to pick anyway. Cue a quick email:

Please think about 2 things you’re proud of in your lessons (group or 121), and 2 questions you most want answered. We’ll use that as the basis for the session tomorrow.

At the start of the 60-minute session I spread out a pile of A4 scrap paper on the floor. Everybody took a piece, folded it in half, and wrote two questions they had, one on each half. They put them on the floor for later.
They then took another piece, folded it again, and wrote the two things they were proud of. This took a lot longer, and I had to point out that ‘proud of’ doesn’t have to mean finished or perfect, just something you’ve worked at and know you’ve improved. We got there in the end! It reminded me of Sarah Mercer’s IATEFL plenary, when she told us to spot our strengths, the inspiration for the strength spotting task in the Teacher Health and Wellbeing section of ELT Playbook 1.
Everybody mingled, chatting to everybody else, holding up their strengths in front of them, including me. We talked about why we chose them, what we’d done to work on them, and asked each other questions. That took about 10-15 minutes.
I asked for a show of hands to see if any of the strengths matched any of the questions. Only 3 or 4 of the 20 teachers put their hands up, so I changed my mind about the next step.
Instead of pairing people off, I ended up putting them in groups of 4 or 5. They had about 15-20 minutes. This time they all read out their questions in their group, then chose which ones to discuss and offer answers to in a free discussion.
Meanwhile, I took photos of all of their questions and wrote them into a single list. It was an excellent indication of the range of concerns that our teachers have, from classroom management and better pacing to more effective listening lessons and challenging students more. This is a great starting point for deciding the topics of our upcoming workshops.
At the end I asked for another show of hands: who’s learnt something today that will help them with their teaching? Every hand went up.
The feedback was very positive. Teachers said they particularly enjoyed the small group work and the freestyle nature of the session. It worked well at this point in the year as everyone is settled and feels comfortable as a group. Definitely a format I’ll use again!

Not bad for one quick email 🙂

I just wrote these guidelines for post-observation feedback to supplement an MA assignment and feel like they’re worth sharing. What would you add/remove/change?

The aims of post-observation feedback are to:

  • boost teachers’ confidence.
  • develop teachers’ ability to reflect on their own teaching.
  • help them build on their strengths.
  • identify 2-3 key areas to focus on developing and come up with concrete ideas for how to do this.
  • deal with any questions or concerns the teacher may have.
  • explain, if necessary, any areas of methodology or terminology which may be useful for teachers in examining their future practice.

Effective observation feedback is

Timely / Prompt
The closer in time the feedback is to the observation, the better, as events will be fresher in both of your minds.

Factual and non-evaluative, describing behaviour without judgment
Feedback should clearly establish what, when, where, and how, and avoid commenting on why. It should address the actual lesson based on direct observation, rather than the assumptions and interpretations of the observer, or criticisms of the person (You’re not organized at all, are you?). It also avoids value judgments (The students were engaged in the activity. rather than That was a good activity.)

Specific
Feedback should address specific aspects of the lesson and provide clear examples of what was observed.

Balanced
Both positive and negative aspects of the lesson should be discussed, and always should always be reinforced by specific examples.

Something which can be acted upon
Action points should be based on things which the teacher can do something about, not things over which they have little or not control (e.g. Teachers can make sure late students come in quickly and quietly, but they can’t stop them from being late). Any suggestions for action points should be accompanied by discussion about how to work on these, with ideas preferably coming from the teacher rather than the observer.

A space for learning within a dialogue / Not over-directed
The observer should ask relevant questions to encourage teachers to come to their own conclusions as far as possible, rather than presenting them with the observer’s conclusions (How do you think the lesson went? Why do you think the students took a long time to complete that activity? rather than I thought that lesson was too difficult for the students. They didn’t understand the activity so couldn’t complete it.) If the teacher is talking more, they have the space to formulate and articulate ideas, process thoughts and form new understandings – they are less likely to do this if they are just listening. The more the feedback comes from teacher reflecting on their lesson, the more ownership they have over it, and the more likely they are to be able to act on it. Dialogue also reduces the danger of giving advice without fully identifying the problem.

Caring and respectful
The amount of feedback given should be limited to what the teacher can handle, rather than covering everything the observer would like to say. Equally, don’t be afraid to challenge the teacher to push their thinking. The teacher needs to know that we have their best interests at heart. Remember that the teacher’s nonverbal behaviour can be a clue as to how they feel about the lesson and the feedback, not just what they are saying.

Checked for clarity
You need to make sure that the teacher has understood the feedback you have given, and what they need to do to work on action points. Asking teachers to summarise the feedback at the end of the meeting is an opportunity for the teacher to tell you the positives from the observation as they understand them, plus what the teacher needs to do next, and for you to clarify any confusing points.

Part of a process
Emphasise that you don’t expect teachers to be able to resolve any issues you have noted instantly, and that it may take time to work on them. Request feedback on your feedback too, so that teachers see you as a learning observer and feedback giver and you demonstrate how to successfully receive feedback.

A positive experience, balancing feelings and rationality
For post-observation feedback to be successful, teachers need to trust the observer and feel comfortable receiving feedback from them. They also need to feel ready to receive feedback. If they are already feeling very stressed, anxious, angry, or in any other way negative about the situation, ask them if they would like to rearrange the feedback session for a later date. If you are not sure about how to give feedback in a particular situation, discuss it (confidentially) with somebody else first if you can. Teachers have the right to have an emotional reaction to observation feedback – their feelings should not be discounted. Equally, don’t be afraid to say how things in the lesson made you feel as an observer. Emphasise strengths and improvements made, and encourage confidence and positive thinking as much as possible. Make sure the feedback meeting ends on a positive note.

References

These guidelines are adapted from the following sources, with my own ideas added:

  • Diaz Maggioli, G. (2012) Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education (page 92)
  • Mann, S. and Walsh, S. (2017) Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching. London: Routledge. (page 165 and page 159-160 based on Waring 2013:104-105)
  • White, R. Hockley, A., van der Horst Jansen, J. and Laughner, M. S. (2008) From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organisations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (page 65-66 based on Porter 1982)
  • Wallace, S. and Gravells, J. (2005) Mentoring, 2nd edition. Exeter: Learning Matters. (pages 55, 58, 69, 70, 74).

This was the topic for my presentation at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference in Greenwich on 9th January 2020.

Background

Although I’ve been doing teacher training since August 2014, the last year has given me a much better theoretical background due to my MA Trainer Development module and the associated reading I’ve done for it. I discovered there are a lot more resources out there about training than I realised. It’s helped me make my training more principled, in the way that Delta did for my teaching. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learnt and how it’s influenced the training I do.

Working with humans

Pay attention to group dynamics before you do anything else, because without that nothing else will work: use icebreakers, share experience and manage expectations. In this session, I started by asking participants to write a definition of teacher training before the session started, then introduce themselves and compare their definitions. Another idea (thanks Simon Smith) is to use post-it notes at the start of a course for participants to write one thing they are excited about during the training and one thing they’re worried about. They can compare these and generally find that there are similarities with their colleagues. 

Training is about changing how somebody thinks about something. This can mean needing to get at their beliefs and that means in a small way changing who they are. Without making people feel comfortable, they won’t feel ready to share and take risks during training. I could have talked a lot more about beliefs but didn’t have much time – it’s something I’m planning to return to on my blog as I experiment with them further.

Group dynamics are also important at the end of a training session or course for a sense of completion – I’d always done some form of icebreaker at the start but never really at the end before, and had only focussed on getting to know you, not expectations or worries. I used the post-it idea on a course in the summer. We left the post-it notes on the wall all week (I’d done one too), then returned to them at the end of the week to see whether these hopes and fears had manifested themselves during the course.

Start where they are

This is mentioned in a lot of the literature, but particular in Wright and Bolitho. Start with trainees writing down questions they want the training to answer, or get them to brainstorm ideas connected to the topic. We can learn a lot from each other and this puts everybody on an equal footing, rather than the trainer being the only ‘knower’.

Brainstorms that you use at the beginning of a session can also be added to at the end and displayed. For example we have them in our kitchen so teachers can refer back to them. This helps teachers realise what they’ve learnt and shows you what you don’t need to spend as much time on in the session.

Experience-based rather than information-based

We know teaching works better when you experience it but for some reason training often ends up being more lecture-based.

I used to give people a lot of information and not really any time to think about it because I thought they’d do that later. That tends to be how I work because I’m lucky to have a good memory and I like collecting information 🙂 but I realised that that’s actually quite unusual. 

I’m learning more about experiential learning and I’m in the process of getting more of it into my training room so this is still a work in progress, but I’m moving towards less content and more depth. My past workshops might have included seven or eight activities in 60 minutes and now it’s just three or four with more processing time.

Increase impact

I’m trying to maximise transfer from the training room to the classroom with more action planning time and reflection time.

In all of our workshops we now have a section where teachers use a coursebook or a lesson plan and talk about how they can adapt it in light of the workshop. If it’s a list of techniques like error correction, they choose two or three to try in the next week and their mentors ask them about it to see how it’s gone. We aim to dedicate at least 15 minutes of a 60-minute workshop to this.

I haven’t done a CELTA recently so I’m still thinking about how to do it in that case, but if anyone has any ideas I’d really like to hear them.

Learning through dialogue

Reflection and discussion time is maximized. This enables teachers to learn from each other, formulating their own thoughts and getting at their own beliefs through the questions of others. 

Mann and Walsh recommend reflection through dialogue as the best way to develop and I’ve realised the importance of this in my own development since I read their book. It also helps group dynamics and helps everybody to feel valued if they’re learning from each other and reflecting together.

As part of this process, I emphasise that there’s no one right way to teach but that they should experiment with different things to find out what works for them and their students. This also comes from finding out about how other teachers talk about teaching and learning, so teachers can see what they have in common and where they differ and that it’s OK to have different teaching styles.

Model

Practise what you preach throughout. If you tell trainees to do something, make sure you’re doing it yourself! For example, if you tell them they must include a variety of activities, make sure you’re doing it too. It means that they’re more likely to respect your advice and they are experiencing what it feels like to benefit from techniques you’re recommending.

Having said that, make connections explicit between what happens in the training room and what could happen in the classroom – they can be hard to notice, especially for new teachers, when trainees are in ‘student’ mode.

Evaluate

Get feedback. We introduced a post workshop feedback form with 5 questions:

  • What do you need more help with?
  • What will you take from this session into your lessons?
  • What should we keep the same?
  • What should we change?
  • Anything else you want to tell us?

This has helped us to refine our workshops and make them more suitable for our teachers. It also models how to get and respond to feedback.

I’m still quite form-based in the way that I get feedback on training I’ve done, so would welcome ideas from others.

Follow up

Does your training follow similar principles? Will you change anything in your training based on anything here? 

If you’re interested in developing as a teacher training, you might find ELT Playbook Teacher Training a useful starting point for reflection (and there’s 10% off on Smashwords ebooks using the discount code MG24Z until 14th January).

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

There are 30 tasks with reflective prompts, and if you complete 5 of them in any one section you can get a badge to display wherever you like:

10-year challenge

You may have seen the 10-year challenge meme on facebook or Instagram. Here’s my take, and something of a reflection on the decade, one in which I’ve grown and developed enormously as a person, and learnt so much.

Here’s the first photo of me I can find from 2010, from January 9th:

Sandy sitting in an armchair

I was halfway through my second year of full-time teaching after university/CELTA. I’d completed the IH Business English Teaching Certificate and was partway through the IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners (before teens were included).

It was another 10 weeks before I presented at a conference for the first time (March 2010 – though I’d attended a few one-day events in Brno, Bratislava and Prague), 6 months before I joined Twitter (June 2010) and 10 months before I started my blog (October 2010).

Here’s a picture of me from Christmas Day, three days ago:

Here are 20 things I’ve done in the intervening period, ready to launch into 2020:

  1. completed the IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology, IH Certificate in Online Tutoring, and Cambridge Delta.
  2. started a Masters in Professional Development in Language Education with NILE.
  3. become a CELTA trainer, and worked on 14 courses with a range of great trainers.
  4. realised that I can be a Director of Studies, and been one for 4.5 years.
  5. published 674 blogposts (this is number 675) on this blog, and many posts and articles in other places too.
  6. written three books, and contributed to a few others.
  7. tweeted over 29,000 times, mostly at conferences I think!
  8. helped to curate #ELTpics and the #ELTchat summaries page.
  9. become addicted to IATEFL conferences, volunteered on the IATEFL Membership and Marketing Committee, and set up and run the IATEFL blog for a couple of years.
  10. presented at a lot of other conferences and online events.
  11. been diagnosed and learnt to live with ulcerative colitis and become a much better cook and a considerably healthier eater in the process.
  12. got a Fitbit, and drastically increased the amount of exercise I do.
  13. visited a lot of new cities and countries.
  14. learnt 2 new languages to a reasonable level, and had a go at 7 others to fuel my addiction.
  15. met a lot of fascinating people and made a lot of new friends.
  16. taken around 60,000 photos, give or take.
  17. become increasingly aware of my massively high carbon footprint, and started trying to reduce it.
  18. bought a flat.
  19. found other people who enjoy board games as much as I always have!
  20. learnt to answer back to my inner voice, deal with my thoughts in a much more constructive way, and stay calm and manage my emotions in challenging situations.

So what’s next?

The biggest thing I’d like the 2020s to bring for me is an answer to this 2016 letter, though point 20 means that it’s not even close to the issue I felt like it was before. I don’t think about it anywhere near as much as I used to, but it’s always there a little bit. I know time will tell, and I’m happy either way, but a family would be nice (yes, I know there are other ways that can be achieved!)

Apart from that, more of the same please. That includes the next ELT Playbook, which I’ll be starting soon if all goes to plan. I love my life, I don’t regret anything from the past 10 years, as even the bad things have been experiences I’ve learnt from which have made me who I am today, and I’m excited about what the future holds.

Have a great decade. Enjoy!

In August 2019 I started doing the NILE MA Trainer Development module and discovered there’s actually quite a lot of information out there to help teacher trainers, a lot of which had passed me by. This post aims to collect what I’ve found. Please let me know if there’s anything you’d add or if any of the links are broken.

Training for trainers

International House offer a Teacher Trainer Certificate. It’s a 14-week online course, with 12 weeks of input and 2 weeks to finish your portfolio. There is also a new (at the time of writing) Observation and giving feedback course, which I think is around 7 weeks long. IH teachers get a discount on both courses.

NILE (Norwich Institute for Language Education) offer a Trainer Development course. This can be taken as 2 weeks face-to-face or 10 weeks online. It can form one 30-credit module of the full NILE MA programme, the MA in Professional Development in Language Education (MAPDLE). I’ve written quite a lot connected to the MAPDLE on my blog.

IH ILC Brno run an annual trainers’ weekend. The first one was in 2019. Full details on their website.

British Council have a comprehensive teacher educator framework which you can use to help you identify gaps in your skills and work out what to develop next.

Training blogs

Jacqueline Douglas writes bite-sized blogposts covering all kinds of aspects of teacher training.

Matthew Noble currently writes the Muddles into Maxims blog, and previously wrote the Diary of a newbie CELTA trainer. Both contain lots of thought-provoking posts and first-hand experiences of training.

Zhenya Polosatova is a teacher trainer and educator from Ukraine. She regularly blogs ideas and reflections on her Wednesday Seminars blog.

John Hughes has written a lot about observation and teacher training on his blog and in various other places.

Jim at Sponge ELT has recently (at the time of writing) become a teacher trainer and has started to blog about it. For example, he wrote this post about observer effects on teaching and learning.

Jeanette Barsdell has posts about observations, connected to her book (see below).

I’ve written a lot of posts connected to teacher training. They’re all in the training category, and include this guest post by Lauren Perkins on principles for designing INSET (in-service) workshops for teachers.

Websites

Jo Gakonga shares lots of resources for teacher trainers.

Video in Language Teacher Education is a project by the University of Warwick and the British Council.

Social media

On the first Monday of each month, CELTA trainers meet on Twitter for CELTAchat. Even if you’re not a CELTA trainer, I’m sure you’ll find useful ideas there. Summaries of chats are published on the CELTAchat blog. The Twitter handle is @aChatCELT and you can read the hashtag even if you don’t have a Twitter account: #CELTAchat.

Journals and papers

The IH Journal regularly has articles connected to teacher training, all free, for example this one by Jacqueline and Alastair Douglas describing a CELTA course at IH London.

If you have an ETprofessional subscription or Modern English Teacher subscription, you’ll find lots of articles there. I particularly liked the No one told me that!

You can also get a subscription to the Teacher Training Journal.

Silvana Richardson and Gabriel Diaz Maggioli proposed the INSPIRE model for effective professional development. Both have spoken a lot about CPD, for example this IATEFL talk on inspired professional development based on their white paper.

Books

I’ve listed all of the teacher training books I’m aware of, including affiliate links to Amazon and BookDepository (meaning I get a few pennies if you order them that way) and a non-affiliate one to BEBC if possible, plus my posts about them if I’ve written one. I’m working through the backlog of books I’ve read for the MA and will be adding more over the next year or so if all goes to plan. Quite a few of these books are available secondhand a lot cheaper than you might expect!

  • Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho (AmazonBook Depository, Lulu, my post)
    Very practical: a focus on the humanistic side of training and working with the people in front of you as much as possible.
  • Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning by Gabriel Diaz Maggioli (AmazonBook Depository, my post)
    Possibly more for MA TESOL trainers? But good for general theory too.
  • Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh (Amazon, Book Depository)
    I devoured this, and got so many ideas from it – highly recommended!
  • Language Teacher Education by Jon Roberts (AmazonBook Depository)
    A classic, I believe. Great for background theory, and has lots of examples of courses.
  • Teaching Teachers: Processes and Practices by Angi Malderez and Martin Wedell (AmazonBook Depository)
    Another good one for background theory, with a worked example of how to approach creating a course.
  • Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers by Angi Malderez and Caroline Bodóczky (AmazonBEBCBook Depository)
    Specifically for mentoring and training mentors, but has some useful things for general training.
  • Advising and Supporting Teachers by Mick Randall with Barbara Thornton (AmazonBEBCBook Depository)
    Particularly good for those doing longer-term advice and support.
  • Ways of Training by Tessa Woodward (Amazon, Book Depository)
    A recipe book with loads of ideas for different ways to tweak your training.
  • Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies by Tessa Woodward (Amazon, Book Depository)
    The origin of loop input, full of worked examples of training sequences with a bit of theory at the end to tie it all off.
  • Readings in Teacher Development by Katie Head and Pauline Taylor (Amazon, Book Depository)
    A collection of excerpts from various different sources touching on a wide range of areas for teacher development, including mental and physical health.
  • The Lazy Teacher Trainers Handbook by Magnus Coney (Amazon, Smashwords (affiliate), the round)
    Ready-made workshops that largely depend on the input of the trainees and involve minimal preparation but maximum output. e-book only, but you can print it (I did!)
  • Professional Development for Language Teachers by Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell (AmazonBook Depository)
    While aimed at teachers, this is good for ideas of different modes of training.
  • The Developing Teacher by Duncan Foord (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
    Another one aimed at teachers, but covering with lots of different tasks you could adapt for the classroom.
  • Classroom Observation Tasks by Ruth Wajnryb (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
    [I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I know it’s a classic!]
  • ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook by Jeanette Barsdell (Amazon)
    [I haven’t read this one either, but have heard good things about it.]
  • The Routledge Handbook of English Language Teacher Education edited by Steve Walsh and Steve Mann (Amazon, Routledge, Book Depository)
    [The price of this 2019 617-page book means I’m unlikely to get my hands on a copy any time soon, but the sample chapters and pages I’ve managed to read through Amazon LookInside and Google Books show that this is a fantastic compendium of up-to-date information about teacher training. P.S. If you buy a copy through my Amazon link, I’ll probably be able to afford one of the other books on this list!] 😉
  • A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT by John Hughes (AmazonBEBCBook Depository) – I think this is the best basic introduction to teacher training, and as practical as the title claims.

And last but not least, the book I wrote 🙂 ELT Playbook Teacher Training:

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

…for which you can get badges if you share your responses to the reflective tasks included in the book using social media:

It’s available as a paperback through the BEBC website and can be shipped all over the world. You can also get it via as a paperback from Book Depository or Amazon’s print-on-demand service, as an Amazon Kindle e-book or an e-book in various formats (including .pdf) from Smashwords.

Podcasts

These podcasts have occasional episodes or sections devoted to teacher training or which might be useful in your training context:

Special interest groups (SIGs)

IATEFL has two SIGs which teacher trainers may find useful:

Other links

Here are my diigo bookmarks, which I’m constantly adding to:

I’ve also written other Useful links posts on CELTA and Delta which may be useful. The CELTA one contains links for CELTA trainers at the end.

Paul and I are working our way through some old posts of mine on the British Council Teaching English website. Here are two which were published in November:

You can find the full list of all of the posts I’ve written for TEBC on my Writing page. Look out for more coming soon.

And to make this post look pretty, here’s a gratuitous picture from the country where I work (there are more of those here).Bydgoszcz Filharmonia wrapped up for Christmas

Enjoy!

Issue 47 of the IH Journal has just come out, including articles by me on Work-life balance for new teachers. Amy Gowers has written about Taming Teens, which I’ll definitely be sharing with lots of my colleagues and taking note of myself! There’s even an article called How effectively are you using your PowerPoint, which I think a lot of teachers could do with reading Here is the full contents page:

IH Journal Issue 47 contents page

This is the post to accompany my first ever online workshop, where I was in Poland and presenting to rooms of people in British Council schools in Rabat and Casablanca. It was an interesting hybrid of a webinar and a workshop, and definitely something I’d like to do again.

The presentation was a (very slight) reworking of my Transitioning Listening talk, which I last shared on this blog in November 2017. The full version of the original talk presented at IATEFL 2014, including all of the audio, is also available on my blog. Here are the slides from this time around:

This is the lovely poster that Helen Chapman made to advertise it (thanks for organising this Helen!)

Poster for talk with short blurb about me and the session

In its current iteration, the talk is mostly influenced by John Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom (2008) which I read for my Delta. The main change is in my inclusion of Richard Cauldwell’s books, Phonology for Listening: Teaching the stream of speech (2013) and A Syllabus for Listening: Decoding (2018) in the further reading links. They are very readable and have continued to help me develop my ideas of what it means to teach listening in the classroom, not just test it. I’m not sure how much my presentation reflects Cauldwell’s ideas, though I mentioned the idea of greenhouse, garden and jungle speech. I’ll probably rework the presentation more next time around once I’ve finished reading A Syllabus for Listening: Decoding, which I’m currently about half-way through.

If you’d like to buy any of the books mentioned in the talk, here are some affiliate links which will get me a few pennies if you use them 🙂

What do you do to help your students improve their listening skills and prepare them for real-world listening?

Taboo ELT

Russ Mayne recently wrote two posts (Taboo, Taboo 2) sharing answers to a questionnaire he posted following this tweet:

Are there any opinions you hold about teaching that you wouldn't feel comfortable sharing with your colleagues/peers?

He shared the ideas without judgment or comment. I found them really thought-provoking, and ended up discussing with a friend which ones I agree and disagree with. My comments are in purple below, underneath the original comments which drew my attention. I encourage you to read the whole list, not just the ones I picked out, as I’m sure you’ll disagree with me too! I’d be interested to know what you think.

Agree

  • Students can learn with or without coursebooks
    Just like they can learn with or without teachers, classrooms, websites…it depends on their motivation.
  • Textbooks are a good idea. Somebody took the time to plan a course not just so that you don’t need to but because you couldn’t do a better job AND teach at the same time.
    And it’s that time factor which makes a huge difference – I’d love to teach courses that are highly specific to my students’ needs, but I have no idea how I’d ever find the time!
  • The majority of teaching (75%) in ELT is below standard.
    I’m not sure where the percentage came from, but I think that’s fairly true. However, this is mostly because of lack of time, training, funding, support, motivation, not because of a lack of effort on the part of many of the teachers.
  • We can’t really “teach” anything
    We can just create the conditions for learning
  • […] The debunking of learning styles/multiple intelligences has not really reached many of the teachers around me
    It’s a slow process, and is by no means complete.
  • Ain’t just the one way. There are so many ways to learn a language, like there are different ways to learn a musical instrument. And they *all* work to some extent – because learners are meaning-makers.
    Because *humans* are meaning-makers and we want to communicate.
  • Tired of endless arguments about methods. Grammar translation works for some students. TBLT seems hopelessly confusing and unsystematic to some students. Some students hate group work.
    Horses for courses. But we should also try different things out and see what works for our students and our teaching style, not just assume that something will or won’t work because we do or don’t like it.
  • Memorize vocabulary using word cards, lists, or vocab apps
    At some point, you’ve just got to sit down and learn it. However, this alone will not be enough – it needs to be combined with other learning strategies and context, context, context.
  • We aren’t saving the world!
    We’re teaching English! (Oh, and confidence, self-esteem, the ability to make mistakes and be OK with that, interactive communication…all that personal stuff)
  • You might be living the dream teaching now. But the lack of a pension will fuck you up in your golden years.
    Though I don’t think that’s just in our profession. It’s something I wrote about a while back.
  • ‘Listen and repeat’ is no good for practising pron. You have to get physical.
    What’s happening in your mouth? Without knowing that, it’s difficult to imitate it.
  • […] This requirement [to have a degree] is a big barrier preventing people with potential but have no degree from entering the profession.
    I have had the pleasure of working with quite a few people who have no degree but are excellent teachers nonetheless.
  • We don’t all teach EFL as a means of living in the Far East while we decide what we want to do in life. Some of us do the job in English-speaking countries as a profession.
    Not just in English-speaking countries, but yes! This is a common misconception outside the profession, and, sadly, sometimes inside it too.
  • I don’t like every student.
    Just like I don’t like every person I come across. I try to hide that dislike in the classroom though as I’m sure not every student likes me!
  • Some of the top academics often have trouble translating their amazing knowledge into practical application. They need to get their asses into a classroom again (or for the first time).
    Also some of the trainers and conference speakers. It’s all well and good telling us to do something, but unless you’ve tried it yourself or make it very clear that this is just an idea/thought not a recipe, then please don’t tell me I have to do it or try to make me feel guilty for not doing it.

Partially agree

  • Textbooks represent a lot of research and a great understanding of students’ needs. They are an excellent resource to guide students through their English learning journey.
    A lot of textbooks do, but not all, and they still need a good mediator to be used successfully.
  • Monolingual English native speaking teachers who’ve never learned another language to a decent level of proficiency (let’s say B2) lack credibility as English language teachers
    I think any kind of level is fine, as long as they’re trying – we really need to understand how it feels to learn another language.
  • Linguists teach best. If you’ve learned a foreign language as an English native speaker, you’ve got to have a lot to contribute.
    First-hand experience of learning a language certainly helps, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you ‘teach best’.
  • *Some* non native speaker teachers have accents that are difficult to understand, make countless errors, and really shouldn’t be teaching.
    The same is true of some native-speaker teachers.
  • The students improve because they are living in this English speaking country and interacting on a daily basis, not because of our courses
    That depends on the student, the course and the teacher. Some students only socialise with people who speak their own language outside the lessons, and never speak a word of English. Some are so motivated by being abroad that they learn loads more. But the course is a factor, and it’s potentially what got them to the country in the first place.
  • Within the private academies, student progression is based on customer retention and ensuring they layout out payment for the next semester. Should you raise this issue, goodbye teaching job.
    This may be true within a lot of private academies, but it’s certainly not true where I work now. 
  • That qualified & experienced EFL teachers are more knowledgable & hardworking than PGCE qualified teachers. EFL teachers never get to set work and do marking in class, EFL teachers have to satisfy a wide array of paying students and I’ve seen a lot of mainstream teachers on Twitter go crazy over the simplest of ideas that are the mainstays of EFL work. EFL teachers should be better paid and recognised as ‘proper teachers’.
    I definitely agree with the final sentence, though the money has to come from somewhere. We also have a hell of a lot to learn from PGCE-qualified teachers, and I don’t think oneupmanship helps anyone.
  • Standardised testing is overrated
    It can be useful as a guideline if the tests are reliable and valid, but we need to teach a lot more assessment literacy – an area I want to learn a lot more about myself.
  • […] pretty much every test is meaningless and all the international language exams are essentially a scam.
    Many tests are meaningless, because teachers haven’t been taught how to create effective tests and they’re not set up properly. See also my previous comment. International language exams can be hugely motivating to the students and result in real jumps in their progress, but as with any exam, they are a mixed blessing.
  • We spend 80% of our energy on the 20% who cheat, lie, and laze about.
    Though I wouldn’t phrase it anywhere near that harshly, we do spend a lot of our energy on the students who are disruptive in our classes. What we don’t necessarily do is go deeper and find out why that is happening. Is it too easy? Too difficult? Do they have other stuff going on outside that is affecting what’s happening in the classroom?
  • Teaching the IPA is a waste of time and energy for all concerned.
    We should teach the bits that students will actually need e.g. the pairs of sounds that are challenging for students with a particular first language. Having a visual reference can really help some students. There’s no need to teach all of it unless the students are interested and motivated to learn it.
  • “Everyone learns differently,” I’m not sure they do. People may have different learning habits and different strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve seen no evidence that the process of learning isn’t basically the same for everyone. I think it’s often just lip service to seeing students as individuals……before giving them all the same task to do anyway.
    I think the underlying process is the same, but the ways to get there are different for different people, and the point at which something ‘clicks’ is different too.
  • While communication is key, treating mistakes that don’t impede communication as silly and acceptable accidents so nobody’s feelings get hurt is lazy teaching and in the long run is far worse for students regardless of how or where they will use their English
    Not lazy teaching, but it takes a certain level of confidence from a teacher to be able to do this. We’re working with our newly-qualified teachers to help them decide when and how much to correct, and particularly to encourage them to do a lot more hot/on-the-spot/point-of-need correction, rather than leaving it all until afterwards…or never! Teachers also need to internalise the fact that correcting something once doesn’t solve the problem – it takes time to assimilate new knowledge.
  • The “subject knowledge” that English teachers are supposed to be experts in is LANGUAGE. So many teachers know jack shit about language as a system, linguistics, phonology/phonetics and it’s embarrassing. If I hear another teacher respond “Oh, it’s an exception! That’s just the way it is! Isn’t English wild and wacky?!!!” in response to a question about some aspect of language that is completely systematic, rule-governed and explainable, I will go crazy! It’s not an “exception”! You just don’t know enough about the subject area you’re supposed to be an “expert” in.
    First, read the article by Michael Swan that Russ has linked to in ‘language’ – it’s excellent (thanks Russ!) I don’t think we should go about calling ourselves ‘experts’ in language, especially at the beginning of our careers. However, we should know about the area of language that we’re teaching that day, and about how it actually works. We should also be aware that if the language was made of exceptions, nobody would be able to learn it, not even children. There have to be a certain amount of rules for it to be a system of communication.
  • The lack of professionalism within the ELT industry.
    Sometimes, yes, but it depends entirely on the context. I’m privileged to work in an exceedingly professional school.
  • That ultimately the private language school model is useless. Teachers have very little effect on the learners and they’d be much better off watching tv and reading books in English. The results we produce are typically down to the students own motivation/talent. For that reason it’s fine to use coursebooks as it will have the same effect as not using them.
    Again, it entirely depends on the private language school. Occasionally we have a student in a satellite school who has to skip a year because we don’t have a class available. The difference in their progress in the following years is huge because of having missed that one year, and while we do whatever we can to ensure they can catch up, it’s never the same as having completed that year. For me, that proves that we must be doing something right. And yes, they might be better of watching TV and reading books in English, but at some point they need some explicit input and the requirement to produce the language. Motivation and talent clearly have a part to play, but so do teachers, including trained teachers in private language schools who have the support of their school to support their students.
  • ‘Management’ in ELT is just a euphemism for manipulation – how to get underpaid overworked teachers to do the job without having a nervous breakdown. All talk of ‘teacher motivation’ to me is thus senseless – pay them more and give them fewer hours- it’s as simple as that, instead of spending money on plastic red buses and gadgets like IWBs that nobody needs. To become Delta qualified is a massively costly and stressful exercise, but in London the going rate of pay at this level is only 20 quid a teaching hour gross. This is, quite frankly, very insulting and the main reason why I hope never to have to work for a language school again.
    An incredibly despressing view, and I’m sorry for this person that this is their experience of the profession. It’s true that rates of pay don’t always reflect qualifications, but this is not completely the fault of schools. Students and potential students don’t understand the difference between teachers who are and aren’t qualified, and they don’t understand the difference experienced teachers can make to them either, so why should they pay more when they can pay less? This results in competing on price, meaning less money is available to pay teachers. But yes, spend the money where it should be spent, on training and support, including for those aforementioned managers, who very often have had zero training in how to do an incredibly challenging job and then take the flack when things don’t work out. 
  • Native speaker teachers (with TEFL+ observed teaching practice/CELTA ) are better than their NNS counterparts in some contexts because a) high school teachers in (eg) Italy usually have NO didactic training, neither are they observed or given feedback. Just having a degree in English is enough to be an English teacher. […]
    I don’t think the word ‘better’ is helpful here, but it’s certainly true that in some cases people can complete a teaching degree and never have set foot in a classroom, much less been given feedback on their teaching. A friend of mine in the Czech Republic trained as a French and Spanish secondary teacher – in a two-year degree, she had 12 hours in the classroom right at the end of the course, and that was only because she was teaching 2 languages. Otherwise she would have had six. Her course was entirely theory-based, and some of the theory was tenuous, to say the least.
  • We are fooling ourselves and our students in the process into believing that it is possible to learn language structures or concepts that native speakers learn over the course of their lives and have the ideal environment in which they can test their hypotheses about what they are learning.
    I’m not sure about the phrase ‘fooling ourselves’, but we certainly need to be careful in what we say to students about the learning process. We need to make sure they realise it takes a long time, and they will never be perfect (whatever that is), nor do they need to be.
  • Racism is a much bigger problem in ELT than Native Speakerism.
    I can’t comment on the comparative scale of these two issues, but it’s certainly something which is not discussed much and should be.

Disagree

  • I don’t believe that learning in a group is of any worth to anyone. If you really want to learn a language then doing so by yourself and having a one-to-one teacher is by far the best method. I don’t believe that attending a private academy/institution/language school is the best way to spend your money.
    That’s me out of a job then. Having a private teacher is potentially quite expensive. Having a good teacher is the important thing, regardless of whether you’re in a group or studying individually. Being in a group provides so many more things that just learning the language – the chance to socialise, the motivational benefits of being in a group, the accountability of needing to show up, wanting to see how your classmates are progressing year on year. It can also take the pressure off you to perform as a student all the time – being in an individual lesson is tiring!
  • ELT teachers should not be allowed to teach YLs. It is simply a babysitting service. Most teachers don’t have the skills, passion or knowledge to teach and deal with YLs. You should only be allowed to teach YLs if you have done exactly the same qualifications as someone who teaches YLs in a state school for example. Degree, PGCE and possibly a masters in specialising in YLs.
    We’d have no teachers! But they definitely need a lot more support and training, something which is definitely lacking in large parts of the private language school sector.
  • Some adolescent students are not temperamentally predisposed to language learning and therefore it is a complete waste of time teaching them. Their presence in the classroom is disruptive and counterproductive. Experienced teachers will know who these individuals are in the class within the first 10 minutes of a lesson. Exceptions will occur from time to time, but it would serve every one’s interests if these students were quickly moved into other subjects.
    And therefore we will deprive them of the joy of learning another language and seeing through other eyes. We will close off the world for them. We label them as disruptive and unable to learn, and don’t give them a chance to notice little bits of progress and build their confidence. Because that’s what we’re there for: confidence. English is a by-product.
  • A CELTA does not make you a qualified teacher.
    I’m out of a job again! It does make you a qualified teacher, within a given definition of qualified (having an initial certificate which involved being observed and getting feedback on it, and learning about a few techniques which can help you in the classroom) and teacher (for adults in private language schools). What CELTA does is give you the basic building blocks which your first jobs should help you build on. Sadly in about 90% (maybe more) of cases, this does not happen. That’s one of the reasons I wrote ELT Playbook 1, as a little step towards building on an initial qualification.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

  • There are teachers/trainees that will never be effective classroom practitioners because they don’t have the people skills (and such skills can’t be learnt/take too long to develop).
    The key word I disagree with here is *never* – anybody can do it if they want to, and people skills can most definitely be learnt. After all, infants don’t have them, and they learn them over time. However, the teacher/trainee may not want to put in that effort, and it may put some students off, so it’s a tightrope of whether it’s worth doing or not.
  • The majority of teachers, especially at private language schools, are really just washed up has beens and life’s rejects, this always being the elephant in the room when issues of exploitation, unfair treatment and teacher’s rights are brought up. In other words, there may well be reasons for management at institutions, etc., treating teaching staff as interchangeable, expendable revenue generators, their attitude being that the ‘teachers’ (whom they tend to think of in inverted commas like that) wouldn’t be at their mercy without having seriously fucked up in life in one way or another (‘take it or leave it’, basically). There are indeed teachers who are passionate and go the extra mile, along with all the incompetent dross, but the rather awkward question of how most ended up long-term in what regular society regards as a silly sort of gap year job remains.
    How exceedingly depressing. While the first statement may be true of some people, I’m lucky that I have come across very few of these people. Maybe I’m just lucky with where I’ve worked? And why does regular society still regard it as a silly sort of gap year job? Is it because they don’t have many foreign language schools in their own monolingual countries and don’t realise how much it can open the door for some students? What is ‘regular society’ anyway?  

Tell me more

  • The field caters to middle aged white ladies far too much and this robs it of racial literacy
  • I get to choose – pretty much – what I teach, but I do feel more and more uncomfortable with many of the ‘traditional’ theories of SLA. They are so monolingual and anglocentric in their view of how people use language, assuming that people speak and are educated in the same language they use at home and that a ‘second’ language is an add-on.

I’d love to know more about what people were thinking when they wrote those two comments.

As I said at the top, do read both posts (Taboo, Taboo 2) – what do you think are the talking points here?

In a collaborative planning meeting today, we came up with a plan for a speaking lesson based around a single activity from Speakout Intermediate called ‘My life in film’. The image below is taken from the 1st edition, and we were working with the 2nd edition.

A film strip with five boxes: Early days, then, later, a big decision, now

The groups we were planning for have a mix of ages from 16 to 60+, so we thought of a tweak to level the playing field and make sure everybody was starting from the same point. Here’s how the lesson goes:

Guided visualisation

Students close their eyes, and the teacher says something along these lines, pausing at appropriate points for students to think:

You’re 80 years old and you’re in an old people’s home. Look around you. What can you see? How do you feel right now? Go out of the room and down the corridor. Where are you going? Who is walking past you? Where are you going?

It’s time for lunch. What are you eating? What can you smell? What can you hear?

You get some visitors. Who are they? How do you know them? How long have you known them for? What do you talk about? How do you feel about their visit?

After a suitable pause, students tell a partner what they experienced in the old people’s home. As feedback, elicit a couple of general impressions from the visualisation – don’t ask students to repeat whole chunks of what they experienced, as the pace will probably drop and others won’t be particularly interested.

Setting up the situation

Tell students that a film director has come to the old people’s home. They want to choose somebody’s story to turn into a film.

Display the film strip from Speakout and elicit ideas for how to complete it for you (the teacher) – demonstrate just taking notes.

Planning time

Give students about 5 minutes to make notes in their own film strips, including asking you for extra vocabulary. They can be as true or as creative as they like.

Getting into role

As a class, brainstorm one or two ideas of questions/comments directors could use to find out more from the old people in the home and to respond to the stories they hear. For example: ‘That can’t be true!’ ‘What happened after that?’ Students think of more ideas in pairs. As feedback, get them to (simultaneously) write the ideas on the board or use something like mentimeter to submit them electronically.

Pitching ideas

Arrange students into a ladder, with two lines of chairs facing each other. One line will be the directors, the other the old people.

The old people have 3-5 minutes to talk about their lives, while the directors listen and ask questions to find out more.

After each turn, directors move along one seat. The old people stay seated as it’s harder for them to be mobile!

The teacher sits either beyond one row or at the end of the ladder and takes notes on what they are – we are using this activity as a speaking assessment, and this gives the teacher lots of chances/time to listen to the students.

Making a choice

The directors listen to three old people, then choose the person whose story they’d most like to film and write their name on a piece of paper in secret.

Directors and old people switch roles and the pitches and choice stages are repeated.

Off to Hollywood!

Students discuss in new pairs which stories they particularly enjoyed listening to and why. Meanwhile, the teacher looks at all of the names, then declares whose stories will be filmed as a way of feeding back on the content of what the students have said.

For language feedback, the teacher can share some of the great language they heard, and/or highlight some problem areas for students to work on.

If you try this activity out, I’d love to know whether your students get into it. It’s always fun to plan things like this, but I don’t get to use them myself very often!

In April 2019, Rob Howard edited an edition of the free online teachers’ magazine Humanising Language Teaching. He pulled together various members of the Independent Authors and Publishers group to fill an edition of the magazine with articles from across the world of EFL, including teaching, materials writing, and teacher training.

It is a with great pleasure that I introduce this edition of HLT Magazine. As the organizer of the INDEPENDENT AUTHORS & PUBLISHERS, I have the honor of working with some of the biggest names in self-publishing and this like-minded group of individuals has come together for the third year to help spread the word and give new authors and publishers a voice in the everchanging arena of ELT books, training and “socialpreneurs” that will surely make up a big part of the future of ELT.

My own article, Stopped teaching? Don’t stop developing contained a selection of ideas for trainers, managers and materials writers to continue developing their craft. Here’s the opening paragraph:

There is a lot of information out there for teachers who want to continue to develop professionally, and there are a couple of other articles in this magazine about it too. However, there is nowhere near as much information about how to keep developing if you are still involved in language teaching but not in the classroom every day, for example working in academic management, training teachers, or writing materials. Although you can continue to use many of the methods recommended for teachers, such as writing a reflective journal, it can be difficult to know where to find specific resources relevant to these career paths. This article aims to remedy that.

You can see the full contents page here – there’s plenty of good stuff to read in there!

I’m in IA&P because of my books Richer Speaking and ELT Playbook 1/Teacher TrainingClick on the links to find out more and learn how to buy them. Right now, I’m also working with Freeed to find 30 people who will win copies of ELT Playbook 1. The competition closes on September 30th 2019.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

It’s giveaway time! I’ve teamed up with Freeed.com to give you the chance to win a copy of ELT Playbook 1. 

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

ELT Playbook 1 contains a selection of 30 tasks to help teachers to reflect on what they do, centred particularly on the areas that seem to cause most problems for those new to our profession. It is based on my work as a CELTA trainer and as a manager of newly qualified teachers. There is also an associated online community where participants can choose to share their reflections and learn from others using the book, taking the first steps to building up an online support network. By sharing your responses to the tasks, you can also earn badges to display on your social media profiles or CV.

Freeed is a global discovery platform for teachers to connect and easily share their ideas and the resources they create. The new ELT community enables English Teachers to extend their professional network outside the walls of their own school and hopes to help teachers to feel less isolated when preparing for classes.

As you can see, helping teachers participate in communities is important to both myself and Freeed, which is why I think this giveaway is a great idea, and I’m looking forward to seeing your ideas and sharing my own!

How to enter

The competition is being hosted on Freeed and will run from 16th – 30th September, 2019.

To enter, you’ll need to do these 3 steps for a chance to win.

  1. Sign up or login to Freeed
  2. Write a short article in the ELT community.
  3. Share the article on Twitter using the hashtag #ELTplaybook

For more information on the giveaway, head to my Twitter @sandymillin or see the @freeedcom twitter page.

The 30 lucky winners will be announced via my twitter account on Friday 4th October, 2019.

Full terms and conditions can be found here.

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