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

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!)

Comments on: "The world is changing" (4)

  1. Rachel Tsateri said:

    Hi Sandy, thanks for this great post. Glad you had a nice birthday, considering all that’s happening. Here are some ideas that I hope might help: Using students’ environments to practise superlatives. How about asking them to take a picture of their environment and send it to you. You can put all the photos in one slide and ask them to compare them. Bright colours, long curtains, big chairs, tall bookcase are things they can compare. About feedback on language, what I do is use a template where I take notes of students’ output, then I copy and paste errors/correct examples on the whiteboard and elicit correction. ( This was inspired by Meddings and Thornbury’s book, Teaching unplugged). By categorizing mistakes like this, it’s easier and faster to deal with them. Was it a phonological error, wrong word, good language use that you want to praise? Do you want to ask students to research it and find out for themselves? Here’s my google document. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DbQRZTGmnlRurFg1uE719w_-g_c-lSE1ZPUICc3d4s8. Feel free to use it. When it comes to giving feedback on task, I just show them the key and ask them which ones they got wrong, so we can focus on what they find difficult. I ask them if they have any questions.Then, I use a kahoot for further fun practice. Use open-ended questions ( they have to type the right answer) and give them double points, which is more motivating. Make sure you give them at least 30 secs, as they might have to go back to the book and check. As a back-up in next class, I reuse the same kahoot, I find that this routine really helps to retrieve the target language. I also try to recycle it in next classes, e.g. in a warmer such as who do you think is the most attractive singer? Who is the tallest basketball player, etc. Or think of a famous person. Now everybody guess what this person’s extreme quality is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Florencia Velasco said:

    Hi! Thanks for your blogs, they’ve been really useful! As regards your 2 questions, I use other tools to check student work and give feedback on speaking: 1) you can transfer the most important practice activity to a Google Form, you can set it as a simple questionnaire with open-ended questions (you can make answering them obligatory but without scores) or a quiz (gives fb on correct/incorrect answers and assigns an automated score). 2) as regards speaking, I like Flipgrid (https://info.flipgrid.com/) because it’s relatively easy to use and you can control how you public you want their material to be and whether they can interact with each other or not.
    Unfortunately, both ideas take time and cannot be integrated to Zoom. (:

    Like

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