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

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:


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:

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