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

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!)

Comments on: "The new normal?" (6)

  1. Angelos Bollas said:

    Thank you Sandy 🙂 Re safeguarding in breakout rooms: when you record your lesson on Zoom, it records breakout room activity but only for the breakout rooms you are in. So, if you join breakout room 1, it will record what is happening there for as long as you are there. If you switch to breakout room 2, it will start recording breakout room 2. Not ideal, and definitely not dealing with real safeguarding issues, BUT you can have a record of what was going on in a room where there was one adult and one, or more, under 18s.

    Like

  2. Dear Sandy, thank you for the wonderful posts: so helpful to many of my colleagues (have been re-addressing them all to your blog!)

    You are a real support force to the teaching community in the era of speedy transition to teaching online!

    Zhenya

    Like

    • Thanks Zhenya. It’s nice to be able to write something that feels like I’m helping people, and it’s certainly a situation I want to remember about in the future! Hope you’re doing OK there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dolores Long said:

    Do you envisage laying teachers off? Perhaps we could have a blog post about that, would appreciate advice from a fellow DoS on “breaking bad news”. Basically I want to cut our teaching team by half and make those that remain “freelancers”

    Like

    • Hi Dolores,
      Thank you for the comment. I’m very lucky that at the moment we don’t need to do this, and I sympathise with anybody who does.
      I think the key think in any situation like this is to communicate very clearly to the teachers what is happening and why. Different countries have different information about the legality of the situation, and this is something you’d need to be very clear about before you start the process. It is an incredibly difficult situation for everybody, and teachers need to know why this decision has been made, especially if different things are happening to different people. If possible, ask teachers first if anybody would like to take voluntary redundancy. You may find there are one or two people who do. Those who are being made into freelancers need to know exactly what that would mean for them in terms of pay, access to benefits, promises of work etc. Here are a couple of UK-based sites which I think could be useful:
      https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/health-safety/coronavirus-employer-response-guide
      https://www.charliehr.com/blog/making-someone-redundant/
      Good luck, and I hope you and your teachers manage to get through this situation well.
      Sandy

      Like

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