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

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!)

Comments on: "Half a week" (6)

  1. Elisangela Berto said:

    Hello Sandy, my name is Elisangela, I’m from Brazil, and teach English.
    I read an article you wrote for the British Council website and I would like to check some information with you about it, because I am thinking about using the ideas there for my final article in a post-graduation programm that I am doing. Do you have an email that I can talk to you? Thank you!

    Like

  2. Great stuff. I’m finding your blog super useful, thanks for finding the time to do this 🙂

    Like

  3. Liudmyla Beraud said:

    Dear Sandy,

    I just wanted to say that I have read and loved your blog for years. Apart from your expertise, generosity and fantastic ideas, I have always enjoyed your honesty, i.e. when you write something along the lines of ” It also only worked up to a point, but we live and learn…”

    You humanise teaching and remind all of us that to err is human, and that we always try to do our best under the circumstances.

    Thank you so much for all that you’ve done for the ELT community!

    Like

    • Thank you very much Liudmyla. I think it’s important to show that we’re all human! I’m glad that you enjoy the blog and this comment is a lovely way to finish the day.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: