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

Posts tagged ‘online’

How do we teach when teaching online (guest post)

Laura Edwards talk on teaching online at the IATEFL Global Get-Together a couple of weeks ago was one of my highlights. If you’d like to watch the talk, it’s available to IATEFL members in the member’s area. Find out how to join IATEFL. She’s kindly agreed to share her ideas here.

This month I was part of the Global Get-Together, an online conference run by IATEFL. I was asked to present by telc language tests and I thought I’d talk about something connected to my work there in test development. But everything I came up with seemed irrelevant when most conversations with my teacher friends and colleagues revolved around coronavirus and their anxiety and frustration at having to suddenly teach online. I knew those feelings were completely valid. I have a Master’s in Education and Technology and ample experience with online teaching and I still felt overwhelmed. I also noticed that many articles and blog posts about teaching online explained the merits of various video conferencing tools, but few mentioned actual teaching. The implication seemed to be that once you get the hang of the tool, everything will fall into place, but that’s not the reality, which is why I decided to talk about how we teach when teaching online.

With schools suddenly shut, we find ourselves having to design materials suitable for online learning, change our assessment techniques and find new ways to manage student interactions, with very little preparation time. We’re also dealing with the stress of the situation, concern for our students’ well-being, and for self-employed or freelance teachers, there’s the potential loss of income to consider. 

Overwhelming really is the word for it! 

Adapting to the situation

I started my talk with a few inspirational quotes. This one from H. Jackson Brown, Jr. seemed particularly fitting.

Let perseverance be your engine and hope your fuel

As well as effort and perseverance, we need patience, hope, humour and plenty of self-compassion to help us face this challenge. 

It’s unfortunate that many teachers see teaching online as something to suffer through. Of course, it’s difficult to be positive about something that’s forced upon you. I can rave about how it creates great opportunities, frees us from geographical limitations, allowing us to learn whatever we want, wherever we are. But we’re human – we require time to grow accustomed to new ideas, technologies and teaching methods. The habits and biases we develop during our lives can cause us to reject alternative ways of thinking or acting. We face what’s known as the Adaptability Struggle. Change is difficult and some may question the appropriateness of a tool or initially dismiss something that doesn’t fit their perception of learning. Talking to students about their feelings and discussing the benefits of online learning definitely helps. If there’s a moment when your students aren’t reacting as you’d hoped or you’re feeling frustrated, remember it could be the Adaptability Struggle.

How learning happens

When it comes to actual teaching, the first step is to consider how learning happens in your classroom.

I teach large groups of mixed-ability adults, who are returning to education having worked for several years. To tap into their knowledge, deal with the differences in abilities, and make sure that in a group of 30 students everyone has a chance to speak, I incorporate a lot of pair and group work, projects, and peer feedback into my lessons. 

Make a list of the activities or approaches you use in your physical classroom and refer to it for guidance when planning your online lessons.

Exploiting the technology

Then think about the tech tools you have at your disposal. The SAMR Model helps us evaluate our use of a technology. SAMR stands for

  • Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change
  • Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement.
  • Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign.
  • Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.  

The first two refer to the enhancement of learning, the second to transformation. 

One example of the SAMR model is …

  • Substitution: Instead of writing texts by hand, students type them out. 
  • Augmentation: Students type their texts using word processing software, with spell check and formatting tools.
  • Modification: Students use Google docs to share their texts with classmates and get feedback, perhaps even working simultaneously on the document.
  • Redefinition: Students use their texts to make video presentations which they share online.

The goal is to move beyond merely replacing traditional tools, tasks or resources with digital ones, to a situation where technology is facilitating new ways of learning. Of course, under present circumstances, we may not be ready to think about transforming our teaching just yet. We might be thinking at the enhancement level, which is fine.  

The SAMR model helps us reflect on how we can use the tools we have to help our learners best reach their goals. 

Exploiting video conferencing

Many of us are using a video communication tool now. How can we change our lesson design to take full advantage of the tool? Can the tool offer an improvement?

One idea is inviting a guest speaker to join the lesson (if allowed by your school). This is something you couldn’t do as easily without the video conferencing tool. As you and your students are online anyway, it’d be easy to add a friend, colleague or family member to your meeting to be interviewed by the students. Even 10 minutes would be sufficient for them to talk about their job or industry, answer questions about their daily life, or give people a quick tour of their house (ideal if you’re teaching things in the house). It can be informal, even fun, while involving multiple tasks for students:

  • Researching the speaker, for example using LinkedIn
  • Writing an email inviting them to join, explaining why you are interested in speaking to them 
  • Preparing questions 
  • Planning who asks what
  • Conducting the interview
  • Writing a thank you email, outlining what you enjoyed or found useful
  • Preparing a post-interview report

If the conversation was recorded (with the guest’s permission, of course), the video can be replayed for comprehension and vocab activities. So much learning from just a short video call! 

Recording your lessons or parts of your lesson is another example of using the tool to transform learning. Students can watch the videos as often as needed, the repetition helping them notice things they didn’t catch initially. This also helps them reflect on their own contributions. We’re often so focused on expressing meaning, we’re not as aware of our language. Students could transcribe short sections of their speech and reflect on their language. 

The SAMR model reminds us to be open to the opportunities that teaching online offers us, rather than seeing it merely as something to tolerate until we return to the classroom. 

The downsides

Moving to online teaching isn’t without its issues. In some cases, students’ verbal participation decreases, causing you to wonder if they’re paying attention at all. There are many reasons why this might happen. Students may be shy, uncomfortable with the technology, distracted or having tech issues. But they might also be unsure about when they should speak or trying to avoid the situation where everyone is speaking at the same time.

What can we do about this?

Start with Small Talk

Begin each lesson by greeting students individually and asking them how they are, giving each a chance to say something. Then ask students to write something in the chat box: what they had for lunch, what they did yesterday. This easy warm-up allows you to check that everyone’s equipment is functioning. It also allows students to try things out, get accustomed to the situation and connect with their classmates.

Create and discuss guidelines for communication

This is a must. Should students mute their mikes? Should they raise a hand (visually or using the function in the tool, if it exists) or type something in the chat box to indicate they want to speak, or can they speak at will? Do they have to turn their video on, or can they participate by voice only? Are they allowed to record the video call? (Consider privacy regulations.) These things should be communicated clearly in the first meeting or beforehand. It’s also helpful to explain why you set each rule.

If your expectations are unclear, you risk intensifying the adaptability struggle, resulting in some students initially rejecting the technology. We cannot expect students to participate the way we want them to if they don’t know what that is. This may sound logical, but we’re all guilty at times of assuming students understand our intentions and motives when, in fact, they don’t.

Try chatting

A lot of interaction in the classroom is spontaneous. The frowns indicating which students haven’t understood the task, the rolled eyes at your jokes, the groans when you announce an upcoming test, the witty comments. So much impromptu communication gets lost online if everyone’s on mute or has to wait their turn before speaking.

One way to facilitate this valuable communication is by encouraging written communication. The chat function in video conferencing tools is often used by teachers as a place to type corrections, but that shouldn’t be its only use.

Instead of asking questions to students individually, ask the group to respond in writing in the chat box. Give them enough time, then tell them to hit send. You can go through the answers to compare responses, ask follow-up questions and point out improvements.

You may consider moving some of your discussions to the chat box altogether. This takes a little getting used to but works essentially like a group chat on whatever messaging app you’d use on your phone. A written discussion gives everyone time to think up a response and prevents discussions being dominated by more confident or out-going students. This would also benefit the less confident speakers among our students who just prefer writing anyway.

It can be a bit chaotic but it’s worth it, as the use of this function not only helps increase participation but, going back to the SAMR model, we see it is transformative in that it allows for greater inclusion.

Using forms

Further ways of increasing interaction would be to use tools like Google or Microsoft Forms to share listening or reading comprehension questions with students. As the students complete the activity, you can assess in real-time how well each understands the material and quickly discover where misunderstandings lie. Questions can be multiple choice or open-ended, students can see which ones they get wrong or right, and you can display the results to the group for discussion. Gaps in knowledge are quickly identified, and you can deal with these questions without wasting time on the ones everyone got right.

Use the same tools to create feedback forms for your students to be used at the end of the session or week. Find out what students like most and least, and if there’s anything else they’d like to cover in the lessons. This gives students a voice, increases their engagement and aids your own development.

Many teachers find that once they move their class online, they suddenly become the centre point, through which all communication flows. They feel pressure to keep things moving and teacher talk time increases. The use of chat and survey forms can help prevent that.

Promoting engagement

What else can we do to ensure student engagement and interaction? Let’s return to the question of how learning happens in your classroom. If you were in the classroom, what would you be doing that you’re not doing online?

My big challenge teaching online is pair work and peer feedback. For me learning is a social activity and communication and collaboration with others are essential. Although some tools allow for break-out rooms, it’s not always practical. If your students can’t conduct pair work during your live session, how about moving that to outside the allotted class time? Give students a task to complete for the next session and assign them a partner. During the following lesson, the pair can report back to the group.

Peer feedback is another collaborative activity that increases students’ engagement and self-awareness as learners. The key to making it effective online is sharing the task rubrics with the students. Explaining to students what they have to do to complete the task successfully brings transparency to the evaluation process, and helps them effectively evaluate and help others. To really enhance the reflective process, students can create the rubrics or evaluation checklists with you. This further helps them develop a common language to use when giving each other feedback.

Students can also give feedback more informally. During speaking tasks, those listening could use pre-assigned emojis or a comments sheet with short sentences like ‘I agree’ or ‘Good vocabulary’. These could be quickly copied and pasted into the chat box, helping students give feedback faster while eliminating typing errors. The added advantage of this is that it builds community among learners, which is even more important when we are not all sitting in the same room together.

All of these things take practice, which I guess was the main message of my talk. We’re in a difficult situation, and it takes time to adapt to any change so we need to be kind to ourselves. I hope this post gives you a few ideas to help you along the way.

After university, Laura left Ireland to work as an English teacher. Now in Germany, she teaches adults and creates content for digital and print language tests. She has Master’s degrees in Education Leadership and Education Technology. She tweets as @edlaur. In her free time, she turns all devices off to read a good book.

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!)

Adding movement to online lessons (guest post)

My friend Olga Stolbova posted these suggestions on facebook a couple of days ago, and agreed to share them on my blog. Thanks Olga!

Some simple tips on how to add more movement to your online classes. These are some of the things I do and they work for kids and adults.

1. What do you have in your fridge?

For lower levels

Ask your student/s to stand up, go to his/her fridge and remember 5-7 things that they have have in their fridge, allow 1-2 minutes. Then they return to their online classroom and tell you what they have.

For upper levels

Ask the students to check their fridge and tell you what they may be running out of and what they need to buy, ask them to check their fridge and make a list using the words for packaging ( cans/ pack, carton, bottle etc.)

To make it more interactive

Write a list of words that you think a student may have in his/her fridge, and the student/students make predictions about their teachers’ fridge. Set a time limit of 30 seconds – 1 min depending on their level, then you read the items from your list and the students go to the fridge and check. Take turns. It can be done in different formats. If you have a 121 class, then it is teacher-student; if you are teaching a small group, students can work in pairs or you can do it as group. You can use different questions depending on their level. For lower level students you can just read the list, for slightly higher levels you can use: Do you have any bread? Is there any… in your fridge? Is there a bottle of milk in your fridge? To focus on containers you can ask clarifying questions for the second round. e.g. Do you have a carton of milk or a bottle of milk in your fridge?

2. Can you name all the green/pink/blue/white objects in your bedroom/kitchen/living-room?

Students need to walk to their room and check the objects. You may ask them to take pictures of all green/pink/blue etc. objects and send them to you, though make sure you have parents’ permission for them to do this.
You may either set a time limit or ask them to take pictures of limited number of things, e.g. Take pictures of 4 green things in your flat)

3. How many rectangular/oval/triangular objects do you have in your flat/room/kitchen?

(This idea is from Lisa Margolina. Thanks a lot!)

Students are given some time to walk around and take pictures of all/some shapes at home, similar to the one with colours. They may not know the name of the objects, so you can help them with that when they show the object to you or send you a picture of it (with permission), or you can ask them to use an online dictionary to find the name. Set a clear time limit for that one.

4. What can you see from your window?

A student is given 1 min to go to the window and describe what he/she can see outside. If the window is far from the computer, allow 1 min for the task and make them remember/note down 4-5 things. Then they can tell the rest of the class what they can see. Then you may ask several students to compare it with their view. Encourage them to find more than 5 differences. Again, this can be done teacher-student, student-student, teacher-students.

5. Where’s the mirror?

Make 2 lists of 5 objects each: 5 pieces of furniture and 5 objects, e.g. list 1: a pillow, a vase, a mirror, a cat, keys. List 2: a desk, a bookcase, a bedside table, a bed, a windowsill. One student shows his list to the rest of the class. The students and the teacher make predictions about where the objects are. Those who guess correctly, get one point for each correct answer, and the objects are crossed out from the list. Take turns.

Olga Stolbova

Olga Stolbova is a freelance teacher and a teacher trainer, based in Sevastopol, Crimea.

She has taught English in the USA, China, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, Russia and Ukraine and has run more than 30 CELTA courses around the world.

She loves teaching, travelling and coffee.

If you’d like more ideas for teaching on Zoom, including how to incorporate movement into lessons, read Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom.

Separating work and life when you’re quarantined in one room

As more and more people are forced to work online due to Coronavirus, how can you make sure that you look after your mental health and create clear boundaries between home and work life, especially if everything happens in the same room? I’m particularly thinking about English teachers in shared flats who don’t have a living room or another space to escape to.

  • Create a very clear area that will be dedicated to work. If you are lucky this can be a desk. If not it might just be a chair that you only sit on for work or a part of a table that is for work. Be consistent and disciplined about using the space for work and nothing else.
  • When you’re not working, cover this space with something so that you can’t see it, for example a blanket or a spare bed sheet. If you have something nice to decorate it with, why not add that? This might be a plant or a teddy or a cushion, something to make it a bit less obvious that it’s a work space that you’ve covered with a sheet!
  • Create signs for yourself that say what you’re doing at each part of the day. This might be teach, admin, relax, chat. Put the sign somewhere obvious so that you can see it regularly to help you remember which phase of your day you’re in. Use your down time to make the signs look pretty.
  • Create a routine for ‘going to work’. For example, walk backwards and forwards in your room 10 times, ritually remove the sheet from the workspace, and then sit at your chair. If you have a slightly larger living space, for example a separate kitchen or living room, walk out of your working space and back into it a few times before you start your working day. Reverse the routine for ‘leaving work’.
  • Other routines could also be useful. Include routines for breaks, exercise, and regular meals. If you have the possibility of going outside, think carefully about when to incorporate this in your routine so that you got the maximum benefit from it. If you have options about when to do this, Crowdscience says that an hour of daylight in the morning is the most beneficial. You could also get this on a balcony if you have one. Daylight is enough, sunshine is a plus!
  • Include social contact that isn’t work-related in your daily life. Put a call out your social media to find out who would like to have a video chat (if your internet is up to it). I’m sure that you will find other people in the same situation as you and not everybody will be brave enough to ask for people to chat with. Get back in touch with those friends that you haven’t spoken to for years. This is a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with people.
  • If you’re working online and screen time is a problem try to keep your computer for work only and look for other things to do to entertain yourself when you’re not working. Read a book, do some sewing or repairs of your clothes, do some drawing even if you think that you’re not very good at it (this is an excellent opportunity to start practising and getting better, from somebody who also isn’t very good at it!), learn to play cards, do puzzles, build funky things out of the things in your flat and share pictures of them on social media…
  • If your computer or phone are your only source of entertainment when you’re not working, clearly delineate your computer time between work and home life. At a minimum close and reopen your computer in between working and using it for home, and get up and move away from it in between too. If you can, set up different desktops with different backgrounds on your computer, one for work and one for home. Do something completely different on your computer: many places are streaming operas, plays and concerts for example. Try something you wouldn’t normally consider. Or stick to comfort films: write a list of all the things you’ve been meaning to rewatch for years and work your way through them.
  • If you like music, have work music and home music. You could also use music as part of your ‘going to work’ and ‘leaving work’ routines. Have a song that gets you going before you start – listen to all of it attentively and mindfully, really focusing on all of the words. Then have another one at the end of the day which can transition you into your home time.
  • If you’re not doing it already, find out about meditation and mindfulness. If you are doing it, keep on doing it! Meditation is another thing that you could use at the boundaries between home and work and also if you want to take a break during your working day.
  • Start a journal of your experiences during this time, which will be very interesting for future historians and for you and your family in the future. You could also write a gratefulness journal of all of the things that you are happy are still happening or that you can still do during the quarantine period.
  • During your work time, arrange some kind of staff meeting with colleagues. This will help to retain some of the benefits you get if you have a good staff room. It allows you to let off steam with people who are in the same boat as you.
  • If you don’t have a staff room at the moment, there are hundreds of teachers in online communities who I suspect would be interested in meeting and talking to you. This is a way to have contact with other people, including perhaps meeting some new people. This gets different voices into your space that aren’t only your students or worried family members.
  • Give yourself periods of balcony time or, if you don’t have a balcony, window time, when all you do is stare off into the distance and look at what is around you. Pay close attention to all the details that you don’t normally notice in your daily life. If you’re at the window, open it as far you can. Get some deep breaths of fresh air. Appreciate the reduction in pollution because there are so many fewer vehicles on the road!
  • Have stretching breaks. Look up stretches that you can do to help you reduce potential pain in your neck, back and hips due to too much time sitting down. Plan which stretches you’re going to do during each break you take during the day. This could be one of the things you do in your routines before and after work as well.
  • Have some paper next to your bed so that if you’re feeling anxious in the night or you’re listing things for the next day you can easily write it down and empty your head to help you try to get back to sleep again.
  • Practise good sleep hygiene.
  • Find things to laugh at. Watch stupid videos on YouTube or whatever it takes to make you laugh. Stand up when you’re laughing as well – this will vary your posture and help you fill your space with laughter more effectively.
  • Make a star chart or some kind of way of recording when you have been good and stuck to your routines. Give yourself a star or a 🙂 every time you complete your ‘going to work’ routine or take a proper break or sleep for 3 hours without waking up. Whatever it is that you want to be able to do, reward yourself for it. Make the targets super achievable so you get tons of stars. Reward yourself for everything that you can and search for opportunities to be positive.
  • Listen to Tom Hanks (from 12:32).

Good luck. And well done: you are doing this to help your community at large.

Spring flowers in Bydgoszcz

If you have any more ideas, please share them in the comments.

Online CPD (IH Torun Teacher Training Day 2019)

Probably the topic I’ve presented on the most, but this version of the presentation was with a twist: I had no voice! That means the slides are more detailed than usual as they had to do the speaking for me. Thanks to those who attended and read along 🙂 Since the last version (already 5 years old!) I’ve added a little bit about podcasting and about ELT Playbook.

The slides include clickable links, but for ease of blog readers, I’ve also included a summary with links below as well. Feel free to ask me any questions or add other resources you think are useful for those starting out with online professional development.

Twitter

Twitter and #ELTchat are where my online professional development started, and as I’ve written before, they changed my life. The #ELTchat hashtag is one of the most active English-teaching-related hashtags on Twitter. The peak of activity is from 19:00-20:00 UK time every Wednesday, when a single topic is discussed. This continues for the next 24 hours in a slow burn on that same topic. The whole discussion is then summarised by one person in a blog post. All of the summaries are available in the #ELTchat summaries index, a one-stop shop for a huge amount of professional development. The hashtag is active throughout the week as people share ideas, resources and questions on all manner of ELT topics.

To find ELT people to follow, look at who’s posting in #ELTchat and who they follow. I’m @sandymillin on Twitter if you want to see who I follow.

Facebook

If you have a facebook account already, this is probably the easiest way to start your online professional development. Some people have two separate profiles, or a profile and a page: one for personal use and the other for professional use. I don’t, but only because I’ve been using facebook for so long it would take me hours to separate them now – I do only accept requests from people I’ve interacted with though.

There are hundreds of ELT-related facebook pages covering all aspects of the profession. The biggest is probably Teaching English British Council, which has nearly 4 million followers at the time of writing. The IATEFL facebook group, and those of the Special Interest Groups are another way to get an international perspective, as is the #ELTchat page. For those based in Poland, IATEFL Poland has an active page. Ela Wassell compiled a more comprehensive list of Facebook groups and pages back in 2013, the large majority of which are still active.

Webinars

Webinars are online seminars which you can follow live or watch as recordings whenever and wherever you like. Access to some recordings are restricted to members of particular organisations. There are a huge range of ELT webinars available now, covering pretty much every topic you can think of.

The easiest way to find webinars is to put “______ webinars” into your favourite search engine, substituting _____ for a particular topic e.g. “teaching English pronunciation”, or any of the following providers:

  • Macmillan Education
  • National Geographic Learning
  • International House
  • Oxford University Press
  • IATEFL
  • Cambridge University Press
  • British Council
  • EFL Talks
  • Pearson

If you’re looking for something bite-sized, the IH Teachers Online Conferences include lots of 10-minute webinars. You could also look at my webinar bookmarks, or the regular lists of upcoming webinars posted by Adi Rajan on his blog, like this one for February and March 2019. Adi lists webinars both inside and outside ELT which he considers relevant.

Podcasts

As with facebook, if you already listen to podcasts this is a very easy way to add a bit of CPD to your life. My three favourite TEFL podcasts are:

  • TEFL Training Institute podcast: 15 minutes, 3 questions answered on a given topic
  • The TEFL Commute podcast: 35-45 minutes, magazine style, “The podcast that’s not about teaching, but the subject always seems to come up.”
  • The TEFLology Podcast: Two formats:
    • 45 minutes with three areas: TEFL news, TEFL pioneers, TEFL cultures
    • 30-45-minute interviews with people from across the TEFL profession

The guys from TEFLology have also written a book called Podcasting and professional development [affiliate link] which tells you how you can start creating your own podcasts, as well as providing a longer list of podcasts related to teaching.

Podcasting and professional development book cover

Polish bloggers

Here are four blogs which are written by English teachers in Poland:

Thanks to Hanna Zieba for sharing these links.

I didn’t share any more information about blogs and blogging, because Making the most of blogs was my IH Torun TTD presentation in 2018.

Online bookmarks

I couldn’t possibly keep track of all of these links without the use of diigo, an online bookmarking tool. Here’s my beginner’s guide to diigo in the IH Journal. I’m constantly adding to my professional development links on diigo, and you can also see all of my diigo links ever. They are tagged with different topics to help you find your way around (if you can understand my thinking process of course!)

ELT Playbook

Of course, no presentation I do nowadays is complete without mentioning ELT Playbook, my series of books containing tasks to help teachers improve their ability to reflect on their careers. Each task is accompanied by reflection questions and ideas for ways to summarise your reflections in a blogpost, video or audio recording, Instagram-style post, or a private teaching journal.

ELT Playbook 1 was launched just over a year ago, aimed particularly at new teachers, but also at managers and trainers who work with them, or more experienced teachers who want to go back to basics.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is in the final stages of preparation, and will hopefully be ready to buy in the next 2-3 weeks – watch this space! It’s aimed at those new to teacher training, either in training or management positions, and also has tasks which could help those creating workshops or conference presentations for the first time.

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

This should give you a good starting point for your own online professional development. What other resources would you suggest? And what questions do you have?

Future Learn Italian course – week 3

This is a continuation of my reflection notes made while doing the Future Learn Beginner’s Italian course. You can also read about weeks 1 and 2.

One of the benefits of doing the Future Learn course in the correct weeks is that you benefit from the moderators being online. It’s possible to sign up for a course and complete it whenever you like, but during the set period of the course (in this case six weeks), various moderators are available to respond to questions in the discussion thread, normally within 24 hours. Last week I posted a comment to ask about online dictionaries, and was referred to a list by one of the moderators which included both translation and monolingual online dictionaries. I was impressed at how quickly I got a response. This was useful, though in future it might be more beneficial to have a page on the course where you can go to for extra resources like this, as I would never had found it without the moderator. Moderators would then be able to refer participants to it if they can’t find it themselves.

Another advantage of studying the course in the specified time is the ability to use the tips sent out in the summary email at the end of each week. These are pulled together based on comments and questions from the discussion threads. At the end of week 2, this included a response to user requests which I was very pleased to see:

To help you to practise listening comprehension, a downloadable audio version the dialogues will available from next week.

Perhaps the dictionary links could also have been included here?

Week 3

The video story is working well for me. I’m enjoying learning more about the characters, and am quite pleased that they don’t seem to be going down the line I’ve seen before in this kind of video of boy meets girl, lots of slightly strained sexual tension, then they fall in love at the end of the story. Instead, Mike and Anna both have partners (Sarah and Leonardo) who they tell each other about in the first video for this week, introducing descriptive language. As mentioned previously, I also like the fact that the videos are at normal speed, but you have lots of options to help you: no, English or Italian subtitles; watching at half speed, downloading the transcript, and from this week, downloading the audio.

Generally, the videos are very well produced, both for the story and the language introductions.

As in previous weeks, the ‘Try it yourself communication’ activity again relies on you being able to use the four or five phrases they’ve introduced so far, or going off and finding your own phrases/using what you know already. These are examples of what has been introduced: https://quizlet.com/132508088/focus-on-communication-7-flash-cards/ If they don’t have long, black hair or aren’t tall or thin, there aren’t many people you can describe 🙂 I know they’re trying to separate the functional language and the vocabulary sections, but I don’t really feel like commenting because I don’t know what to say. I feel like a more specific prompt would be useful. This is the task at the moment:

Do you have any questions about how to describe people and things? Are you unsure about something? Share your comments and questions in the discussion below. Don’t hesitate to help other learners if you know the answer, or to share links to helpful resources.

I clicked ‘mark as complete’ without adding anything.

The vocabulary introduction is the next stage. To me, it would make sense to flip these two steps in the course. There is an extra practice activity though you have to do a bit of guesswork – are her eyes green or light? Is her hair short and black, curly and black, short and curly?

Noun and adjective agreement video: refers back to previous grammar units very clearly, so it’d be easy to find them again if you wanted to. Slight confused by this random question at the end of the grammar quiz, which doesn’t appear to practise noun and adjective agreement, and must have slipped past whoever was checking the course!

Mike e Leonardo sono _____. gentile/studenti

The ‘Exploring Italian’ section throws out a whole load of new language again, and does nothing with it apart from showing us a couple of example sentences. The phrases include: “stare insieme con (to date someone)” and “essere fidanzat-o/a/i con (to be engaged to)” Questions in the comments section reflect this: can we have the audio or hear the pronunciation? Speculation on the grammatical forms… On the plus side, the examples mostly use the characters from the video, so at least the context is maintained. [In the end of week email, the moderators said that audio files will be available for these sections from next week. Great to see how they respond to the comments.]

Italian sounds: vowels. Aha, it turns out they can easily put in sound files, as there is one to accompany each of the words used to introduce the vowel sounds. I feel like this would be a more useful way of introducing the vocabulary, or at least they could have a vocabulary list with the audio to accompany the videos so you can listen repeatedly to particular words you want to practise with ease. Lots of comments in this case to show that the differences between /e/, /ε/ and /o/, /ɔ/ haven’t been made clear. It’s OK for me because I understand the phonetics, have lots of practise differentiating sounds, and the example words they’re using to equate the sounds are from English, my mother tongue, but a lot of the course participants will have trouble distinguishing these pairs as they are so similar. A little more explanation would be useful, or indeed, a video showing you the physical differences between the sounds, rather than just an audio file!

The directions video goes nicely with where I’m up to on the Memrise Learn Basic Italian course: level 5 is called ‘Here, there and everywhere‘ and covers directions too (and, randomly, numbers and times!) The first question in the comprehension quiz asks you where Mike wants directions to. The answer was given in the introduction to this video, when the phrase ‘post office’ is pre-taught. This is an example of the importance of choosing which language to pre-teach carefully and/or ensuring that comprehension questions actually require you to comprehend the materials! The use of a map in the video with Mike and a stranger is also reflective of my experience as a tourist. I’m enjoying seeing clips of Sienna, and like the fact that it’s not just in the sunshine! Mike feels like a real person in a real city with (fairly) real reasons for needing to speak Italian.

I like the fact that the ‘focus on communication’ video begins by the teacher acknowledging that although we often use GPS nowadays, it’s still useful to be able to ask for directions. The communication quizzes generally test passive recognition of collocations, which I think is fairly useful. There was another quiz on Learning Apps to help us, this time matching the two halves of sentences. It’s good to explore this app, which I learnt about last week. Lots of people have been motivated to post in the comments, mostly writing short conversations with directions in them. These add extra reading practice. There is also peer support when people have questions about the language, for example what ‘vicino’ means, which was mentioned in the video, but never explicitly taught. I learnt it from memrise yesterday! (They teach it in the next video)

More vocab for directions in a video (the previous video was focussed on communication, or what I would class as functional language). It’s noticeable that the previous three or four stages have had about 200-300 comments, but this stage has nearly 1000. This is the difference when there is a clear task to complete. I’m not sure if this would be possible, but perhaps the interface could be adapted so that you can post your comment, then read the others. At the moment, you have to view all of the comments to see the box to post your own, so often it’s difficult not to look at other people’s answers before you write yours. There are so many different ways that people have chosen to give directions to Mike to help him find Anna – a genuinely engaging and motivating productive task, probably the first one on the course so far!

It’s now two days into week 4 and I haven’t finished week 3 yet, and didn’t have time to do any over the last three days since the last things I wrote…

Because I know I won’t have time to catch up next weekend either, and want to finish the whole thing before I get to Milan, I’m tempted to rush (though not enough to stop writing this!) Instead of watching the full video for the conjugations of ‘andare’ and ‘venire’ I listened to enough to hear the pronunciation of the verb forms, then looked at the transcript. This was probably more useful than watching the video more times as I spent time thinking about and trying to memorise the verb forms, instead of just listening to the next thing the teacher said. I’d like to be able to see the forms and listen to them individually, as I’ve said before about the vocab. Managed to get most of the quiz right, but have trouble with tu/lui/lei endings because of Spanish – I feel like there should be an -s for tu!

Introduction to consonants – good that there are Italian example words which you can listen to as many times as you like. However, I don’t really like the fact that there are English example words because these can be misleading. For example /p/is aspirated in the British English ‘pit’, but not in the Italian ‘papà’, at least that I can hear.

Discussion point task at this point:

Write a description of you or someone that you know in the comments. You may include:

  • Hair colour
  • Eye colour
  • Height
  • Etc.

For example: Mia moglie è bionda, ha gli occhi marroni, non è molto alta, ma è molto carina e simpatica!

I have no idea! I can’t really remember any of these words and initially thought we hadn’t even studied them, then looked back up this post and realised they were at the beginning of this section. Directions in the middle confused me – seems like a very random order! Having looked back, this was my contribution, which required quite a lot of effort to produce:

Mia mama ha capelli longhi. Non ha capelli neri. Lei non è alta, non è piccola.

The final section for the week promises to introduce these things:

You will learn to ask for the time and the related vocabulary. Moreover you’ll also learn the names of public places and the present tense of the verbs ending in –ere and –ire.

This feels like a lot, though it may be the fact that it’s 21:30 as I write this. Not sure I’m mentally in the right place to manage all of this, but I want to try and finish the week!

The video has a few lines of dialogue, then some text messages. I think that’s the first real reading practice we’ve had so far on the course, and it’s an interesting and different way to introduce it, again well-produced too. The subtitles have the times in numbers and in words, which is great. In the comprehension quiz, I have no idea what some of the words in the final question mean ‘Anna incontra Mike oggi pomeriggio:’ but have managed to guess the answer. ‘incontra’ is like ‘encontra’ in Spanish, so I know that means ‘meet’, but I have no idea about the last two words.

How to tell the time: “You have already learned the numbers.” Hmm…not really. I’d recognise them at a push, but I wouldn’t say I’ve learnt them yet. Just started doing them on memrise, which will probably be what helps me to remember them.

There’s a Quizlet quiz to help you practise some of the questions. This is good for recognition, especially the scatter mode, which is the only one I can be bothered to play at this time of night. One of my bugbears in general (not just on this course, but in many online materials) is the disregard for punctuation, especially capital letters. Learners need to see how and where capitals are used correctly, as rules for capitalisation vary and some languages don’t have them at all. There are no capital letters at all in the set at the moment 😦

The second video about time has lots of examples of times, in sentences too. Very clear. It was also good that they clarified that in informal spoken Italian you normal use 1/2/3, but when talking about official things e.g. opening hours or train times, you use the 24-hour clock. The ‘try it yourself’ quiz tests whether you recognise if times are formal or informal, rather than your understanding of the numbers themselves.

The extra practice quiz involves writing out a time in words, but only accepts one possible answer in each case, which is a bit frustrating when you have something like 20.45 and there were three possible ways to say it in the video. I couldn’t be bothered with this after one question (again, time of day/tiredness).

The next grammar video introduces new conjugations for verbs ending in -ere and -ire, comparing them to -are. It’s all in a clear table on the slide, so you can see that many of the forms are the same across all three conjugations, reducing the processing load needed to retain the information. “Don’t worry if it seems difficult. It will become familiar very quickly.” – I like these supportive messages 🙂

The grammar test always puts the options in the ‘correct’ order (I, you, he/she/it etc), so if you can understand the question, you don’t necessarily need to remember the verb form very confidently, just the order. Having said that, it’s helping me to remember that -i is a second person ending, not third person (Spanish again), because I keep seeing it in the same position in the list.

The last set of consonants are introduced to round of the unit. These ones are different to English, or have no equivalent. If they have no equivalent, there is an example from Spanish, though I’m not sure these match up, at least to my South American experience. I guess many people may know those sounds, but otherwise it seems odd. I’ve just noticed that all of the phonetic symbols are there too – my eyes had completely skipped over that column with the consonants! Two new symbols in my IPA arsenal now: /ɲ/ for ‘gn’ in ‘gnocchi’, /λ/ for ‘gl+i’ in ‘figli’ and ‘gli+a/e/o/u’ in ‘familia’ etc. The latter sound is equated to ‘ll’ in Spanish ‘llave’ or ‘llamar’ which I don’t think is the same sound.

OK, it’s 22:11 now, and I’m not sure how much of this I’ll actually retain, but I’ve at least seen it. Numbers continue to be a challenge, and I clearly can’t remember the description vocabulary, so should probably revise both of them. I know it’s not going to happen though, because I’m busy and unless it comes up on the course I won’t make the time to do it.

I haven’t downloaded any of the slides or extra resources yet, and just go back to the page I need using the ‘to do’ list if I’m not sure about something. Still feel like I’m learning, but pretty passively. This is mostly my own fault, but I also don’t feel like the course is making me be particularly active at points when I should be able to produce target language. It tests you at various points, but normally before rather than after the fact.

Roll on week four…

FutureLearn Italian course – weeks 1 and 2

I’m in the process of completing the FutureLearn beginner’s Italian course, which is free to participate in, although you need to pay if you want to get a certificate of completion.

While I’m doing the course, I’m hoping to write notes on my responses to the activities from a teaching perspective. Week 1’s are a few general thoughts on the course, and from week 2 onwards they’re quite in-depth reflections on how each activity is set up, my responses to them and what I feel I have learnt/could learn from them. Not sure how useful they are to anyone other than the course creators (or even to them?!) but since I’ve written it, I thought I’d share… 🙂

Very happy that due to a couple of weekends with no other plans and a national holiday, I’m on track with the course (it’s halfway through week 2 on the timeline at the moment). I’m mostly watching the videos in between doing other things, like my physio in the morning or the washing up in the evening, so it fits nicely around life. Not sure if that will continue, but I hope so, since week six is timed perfectly to end on the day that I fly to Milan for my first ever trip to Italy 🙂

Week 1

Videos at normal speed – options for half-speed, subtitles in English/Italian, can watch as much as you like. Pre-teaching some vocab and set up context beforehand – all positive points and help the learner get supported exposure to ‘normal’ Italian. Comprehension task is more of a memory test – can you remember which city she said?

Multiple-choice questions can sometimes be guessed without having looked at the content, but better on this course than on the dyslexia one, where you really didn’t need to read the content to answer them! (By the way, I’m half-way through the dyslexia course and will write about that when I’ve finished it…currently looking like that will be at some point in August)

Jobs – spelling test. Useful! Interesting activity design.

Spelling Italian vocabulary

Scaffolded nicely through the week. Could be useful to have the vocabulary in some kind of clickable form so you can just listen to the words you want to, not all of them (they’ve done this a little with some Quizlet grammar quizzes, but not with the vocab) All slides are downloadable for review, but would be more useful with the sound too

Grammar videos, e.g. intro to regular -are verbs and fare is clear, and he says that it’s normal to make mistakes at the beginning – supportive message. Would be useful to have more time to repeat the phrases after each one, and perhaps a ‘can you remember’ type activity within the video to aid memorisation, though I know it makes videos longer than current 4 minutes.

Week 2

Clear task before you watch video: “Watch the conversation between Mike, Anna and Lisa. Who is oldest? Who is youngest?” Advice to switch off subtitles, or use Italian only – little bits of learner training are useful.

Focus on communcation (ages) – one brief question and answer, then a little test – good way to introduce functional language.

Numbers and age (vocab) – all of the numbers, plus six phrases connected to stages of life (e.g. baby, teen, middle aged) in about 5 minutes. Woah! First time I’ve struggled to keep up (thanks to French/Spanish) – information overload. Receptively (the numbers he asked at the end and the multiple choice – can guess from three options), not too difficult because of other languages. Productively, no time to repeat, though you can watch the video again as many times as you want to and download the slides – lack of opportunity to drill yourself repeatedly on one word. Perhaps better to break into separate videos (0-10, 11-20, 21-100, ages), with some practice between each. A Quizlet set would also be very useful at this point (there have been a few scattered through the course so far, mostly for conjugations)

Grammar – conjugation of ‘avere’ (to have) – practise it alone, then combining it with ‘essere’ (to be) – good to see some revision. Comments on the quiz remind you of which forms you’re using once you’ve answered, though that only helps if you know grammar terms like ‘second person singular’ All quizzes have short sentences – good that it’s not just matching person to conjugation, but giving you a tiny bit of context.

Exploring Italian gives you some useful extra phrases for conversations from the original dialogues, e.g. ‘Veramente?’ ‘Really?’ – not accompanied by audio or any practice at all though. For example, maybe you could watch the original video again at this point to hear them being used in context. Or a little gapfill? Feels like this is extremely useful language that isn’t really being taught

Personal details comprehension questions are pretty impossible – the address one is OK, but you need to memorise an entire phone number, then answer a question using the word ‘indirizzo’, which hasn’t been introduced previously. ‘Mike ha un indirizzo di posta elettronica.’ – I interpreted this as ‘Mike doesn’t like email.’ (!), not Mike has an email address. Again, comprehension questions should be at same time as video, not a memory test.

Introducing formal/informal in a clear, easy way – the clips from the videos are great because they put all of the functional language into clear contexts and add a bit more language around them.

Culturally the difference between via/viale/strada is interesting, and sets you up for the quiz afterwards where you have to decide whether a word is connected to an address, email or telephone number, but that’s a minute that would perhaps be better spent elsewhere.

Lots of grammar terminology being thrown at you in the grammar videos at this point, without necessarily checking/glossing e.g. singular/plural, definite article. Should become clear as you work through the video, but a brief definition/comparison to English the first time it’s introduced might help e.g. ‘singular, when you have one, or plural, when you have many’ (see later…)

Discussion point 2/3 of the way through week two asks you to describe your family. There’s an example, but it’s before you’ve been introduced to any of the family vocab (which is the last third of this week’s course), so it relies on you understanding the example, making guesses, and using what other people have written. I guess it’s test-teach-test, but could be off-putting. Why not get us to do this after we’ve been introduced to the vocab? On the plus side – lots of reading practice in the comments. 859 things for me to read if I so choose 🙂 Comments demonstrate that a lot of the people doing the course have some level of Italian already, as they’re adding lots of things which haven’t been introduced. Fairly normal for a beginner’s course in any of the big languages, but could be off-putting for someone who is genuinely a complete beginner.

Good to see a Quizlet set after the communication video to help you practise some of the family vocab (family, sister, father, mother), along with some of the other things which have come up – extra jobs, one or two numbers. Would be good to have other key family words in there (brother, child, son, daughter, husband, wife) rather than using ‘sister’ so many times, though all sentences seem to be taken from the video – good for context. There’s one English mistake in there ‘How is your family?’ rather than ‘What is your family like?’

Family vocabulary video is good because finally the words are introduced twice over with time for you to repeat them, once in the context of Marco’s family tree, then repeated again. At the end, they ask you to find some words yourself (cousin, grandchild, uncle) ‘using the family tree and a dictionary’. It would be useful if they recommended an online dictionary to use, as for learners with no experience, they will probably just go to Google Translate. Actually, that’s what I did too. From that, I don’t know if ‘cugino’ is the same for masculine and feminine – there’s no information to support the learner as there might be in a learner’s dictionary.

For practice, there’s a link to a crossword. Would be useful to see more of this kind of thing throughout the course as an option to go further. This really tested whether I’d taken it in, and made me go back and look at the words again, something I haven’t really been motivated to do at any other point in the course so far. The only other repetition I’ve done is to watch each video in Italian twice, and to watch the numbers one twice. I didn’t bother to do any more practice with them, as I know I can recognise them, but I’m also very aware that I can’t produce many of them at all. I learnt about a new app in the process which looks brilliant – lots of options for creating interactive activities.

Definite article video is much more scaffolded than previous grammar videos, with an explanation of what that terminology means and when you use the definite article. Grammar quizzes separate the singular and plural articles, and as with all the grammar quizzes, if you get it wrong, there’s a comment underneath to help you self-correct. Might be useful to add one more quiz pulling them together and making you choose between singular or plural. I know that adds time to the week, but the two 10-question quizzes could be reduced slightly to balance it.

Summary of the week video seems a bit pointless to me (but then I’ve never been a fan of that kind of thing!) I just clicked on the transcript as it’s faster to skim. To me it would make much more sense to have the discussion task where you share family info at this point in the week, after you’ve studied it, so you can actually put it into practice.

General feelings about week 2: useful language has been introduced, but there’s a lot of it, and not much opportunity to practise. Receptively, I feel like I know more; productively, I’m not so sure, especially the numbers, and the family words which are more different to English.

IH Online Teacher Training: Certificate in Online Tutoring

I just looked at the IH YouTube channel and found my face looking back at me 🙂 I’d forgotten that I was asked to talk about my experience of doing the IH COLT course while I was at the IH DoS Conference in January.

Here’s my 3-minute testimonial about the course.

If you’re interested in doing it too, you can find out more information on the IH Online Teacher Training Institute. The courses are available to anyone, and there’s a discount for IH teachers. I hope you find it useful!

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