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

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.

This post has various sections (click to go straight there – this function isn’t fully working yet!):

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:

Comments on: "Moving a school online: reflections from week one of using Zoom" (7)

  1. Tamara Puke said:

    Thank you SO much.
    Your posts are always so helpful and timely

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is great. Thanks for sharing your reflections. With warm regards

    Like

  3. A great post, Sandy, thank you! You got me through my Delta, you’ll get me through this! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. stanislawsaluda said:

    Hi Sandy! Great idea to share your experience teaching online. It’s really useful to teachers who start doing online lessons. I also loved your post about Zoom for group lessons – I think it nicely sums up all the useful functionality. I’m going to share this with other teachers on my website as people are anxious about teaching online and new tools they need to use.
    I couldn’t find your email and your Twitter DM is blocked so please write to me at stan@eslbrains.com because I wanted to share with you my worksheets in Google Slides developed for online lessons. Love to hear your feedback!

    Like

    • Hi Stan,
      Thank you for the offer. I’d recommend sharing the worksheets elsewhere, as I’m afraid we don’t need them for our school. Good luck!
      Sandy

      Like

  5. […] 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 […]

    Like

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