Hooks for the online classroom

A short but sweet resource for today: how about a choice board from the great ELL 2.0 team? There are eight language-learning activities to start the lesson with a bang (or rather, a hook)? A lot of them are applicable to the face-to-face classroom, with some modifications. It’s great to have these ideas in one place, in a visually attractive format – and even though Padlet and Jamboard have become a staple of our work, there are less well-known webapps and sites to explore. Exciting!

P.S. There’s more on hooks in one of my previous posts.


Four strands

As I was listening to a podcast about learning Chinese last weekend (that’s a story for another day), I got reminded of Paul Nation’s famous principles, or as he called them, ‘the four strands’. For a successful language course, you need to have comprehensible input (yes), meaningful output, focus on form and fluency development, and the study time given to these strands should be roughly the same. There are two articles on his website, from 1996 and from 2007. The former is written in more accessible language and has a good description of the 4-3-2-1 activity for building fluency, and the latter has quite a bit more evidence to support the importance of strands.

What can I say? From Nation’s perspective, my own attempts to learn yet another language have been woefully inadequate: self-study gives me loads of comprehensible input and focus on form, but I really don’t want to make myself communicate (or even start a diary!).

As for work, it never hurts to look back on your lessons and ask yourself: did I strike a good balance?

A case against minimalism and for memorability

During one of my wilder Internet searches, I stumbled upon this article by a group of Canadian researchers about the effect simple and graphically embellished charts have on the reader. Their conclusions are clear: attractive visual elements are not ‘chart junk’. They don’t interfere with short-term recall and, most importantly, improve long-term recall. And they are more enjoyable to look at, which is also a plus!

How can this help ELT teachers? Why not explain to the students the value of a good infographic, improve our own boardwork or even spice up those IELTS preparation charts. We just have to be mindful of seductive details ๐Ÿ™‚

Exploring the Web with WebQuests

Did you know that there are people who are quite serious about web quests (or, more correctly, WebQuests)? We’ve all used a web quest or two on Halloween or Women Independence Day, but there is so much more to be gained from this little activity – especially nowadays. You’ve probably seen the new web quest-type activities from NASA, but I bet you’ve never used this cool collection. Yes, some of the pages look rather dated, but there are loads of inspiring ideas, complete with rubrics and teacher’s notes.

And if you’d prefer to create your own, here’s a nice article about WebQuest components.

Type it in the Chat

Here’s a great post by an ELT teacher Olivia about using the chatbox in online lessons for better student engagement, more effective feedback and a more inclusive and personalised environment. I particularly like the types of activities like interactive storytelling, secrecy games and modifying model texts. So much fun to be had in such a small window! The only thing that stops me from using the chat more is the typing speed of some learners – any advice on that?

Online personalities

I’ve recently read a BBC article about rather interesting research results: apparently, in the world of online work it’s not the charismatic people who are getting promoted nowadays. It’s the ‘working horses’ who do not rely so much on their charm and prefer to get the job done. The author of the article quotes one of the researchers: ‘Virtually, we are less swayed by someoneโ€™s personality”.

Naturally, I’m thinking about how this applies to the online classroom. If you tend to be a charismatic teacher, how well has this translated to the online medium? And who are the best teachers now? And, most importantly, how can we become the best teachers? Thinking…

The Reflect EFL conference

Do you agree that online conferences are the new normal? I wish it were not so, but for the time being it’s the best way to exchange ideas and make new contacts in the field. As one of the invited speakers at Reflect (a big shoutout to the organisers!), I was able to see other presentations for free, sitting in my own home – CPD has never been more convenient.

It was a one-day event with three strands, so I couldn’t see as much as I wanted to. Still, I really liked Svitlana Salova’s presentation about teachers’ well-being (remember that ‘the situation is not as bad as it seems‘), Maria Penner’s talk about teaching young learners online (‘The contents of your lesson are on both sides of the screen!‘) and Hugh Dellar’s take on how not to plateuau if you are an advanced learner (the best advice for busy teachers: ‘build language development into lesson planning‘).

My own presentation can be found here; it’s an update of my last year’s Wizard’s First Rule (with one more rule added) for teacher trainers. I try not to revisit the same topics again and again, but this time the conversation felt truly different: we’ve all come an awfully long way since March 2020.

Spin the web of speaking

Here’s a useful article from Edutopia by Emelina Minero about adapting traditional techniques for student engagement and participation to the online medium, both synchronous and asynchronous. I’m particularly concerned with the former: for example, how do you plan a think-pair-share? Do you need to introduce rules for using the chat? And an absolute cherry on top: you can do a spider web discussion! If you haven’t used it before, do check the original article: it can be done both online and offline and looks incredible (as long as you have a few nice markers).
So, which strategy would you like to try or revisit first?

The power of PowerPoint

All week I’ve been looking at presentations, showing presentations, speaking about presentations… And what do you know? I still don’t hate PowerPoint. In fact, I like it more and more every day: for example, today I accidentally converted a SmartArt matrix into a set of figures and it solved a long-standing formatting issue ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, there are lots of teachers who are much better at this, and this collection by Matt Miller at DitchThatTextbook.com proves it. Some of the ideas are for the teacher, others for collaborative or individual student work, and, most importantly, there are ready-made templates you can download and save yourselves quite a lot of time!

In positivity we thrive

Here is an interesting article by Katy Asbury from the wonderful LearnJam – you can trust these guys to come up with new approaches to learning, especially learning online! In fact, I had to take a page of notes before I could write this paragraph because some ideas were less familiar to me. In a nutshell, Katy suggests a way to deal with the affective filter by introducing a kind of ‘positive framing’ which helps learners to self-regulate their emotions, cast their learning ‘story’ in a more positive light and thus get better learning results. How exactly can this be done? By constructing a special ‘learner persona’ which describes the goals, motivations and frustrations of the learner.

I suppose having a persona like this will help learners distance themselves somewhat from their learning pains! According to Katy, it will help if learners refer to themselves in the third person. … Hmm, maybe this teacher/blogger should start experimenting with herself and reframe her weak attempts at learning Chinese? ๐Ÿ™‚