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.


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.

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 🙂 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!

Human and humane feedback online

Here’s a post with a rather nifty infographic with 5 ways of giving feedback in the online classroom by Aoife McLoughlin from ELT-Connect. The suggestions are not totally unexpected (e.g. record your video or audio with annotations), but they are presented very nicely. I have a question about ‘feedback buddies’ though: the recommendation is to pair stronger students with the weaker, and we all know how it can go! Also, there will be less reciprocity in this type of feedback – use at your peril. Nevertheless, the infographic is quite useful, and I can totally relate to this thought: traditional written comments can be misinterpreted, so using your voice and visuals is one way to avoid discouraging learners too much and perhaps will result in better learning, And what do you think?

A very visual syllabus

Here is a great idea for the start of the year: before sharing the course plan or syllabus with your learners, make it easy on the eyes. Curtis Newbold at the Visual Communication Guy has a big article laying out several steps, from reducing the amount of text to adding graphics. He also mentions several tools that can be used to build infographics (I swear by Canva, but his choices are definitely more professional). This method can be used for online and f2f learning, and it’s something I’d like to try too!

Remote teaching without the Internet


If you’re a teacher, I bet you’ve sometimes wondered how we would be working now if the Internet hadn’t happened! Here is a very interesting article I read on Larry Cuban’s blog (it’s by Michael Hines, a Stanford professor).  It’s an account about teaching school subjects over the radio, with tasks sometimes published in newspapers – a real educational experiment which happened in Chicago in 1937 because of an epidemic. Michael describes how the ‘school-by-radio’ was set up, its advantages and disadvantages, the attitudes to it at the time – and concludes that even though it was the best schools could do at the time, as soon as the epidemic was over, education returned to the face-to-face mode again.

So, is it time to start thinking what’s next?

Work with what you have


Here is a very interesting polemical post by Rolin Moe: A Manifesto Against EdTech© During an Emergency Online Pivot. The author is an EdTech expert, and he warns teachers against overuse of new flashy apps now that we are in this emergency teaching situation. “The best tools to get through this are the ones we have regular interaction with, not those brought in as a panic buy.” In short, pedagogy comes first and needs to be informed by technology – and we need to choose the tools that are available to us and have already worked well for us and our learners.

What about you, do you feel you have to run and learn about this app, and that app, and feel guilty when you don’t have the time? 😉

A forest of virtual whiteboards


If you’re not happy with the whiteboard in Zoom (it has its uses, but is a bit clunky, isn’t it?), Matt Miller from DitchThatTextbook has great advice for you in this post. I like that he includes built-in boards in the apps like Flipgrid, native Windows IWB and even physical boards in his overview, and the things he picks up on are very useful whether you are preparing a screencast for asynchronous teaching or need a better board to share during your live lesson.  He also mentions Jamboard, which I keep hearing about, and Eva Buyuksimkesyan has a whole post about – the next thing on my to-try-out list!

IATEFL 2020 – Global Get-Together, Day 2

The second day began with a thought-provoking talk by Catherine Walker. She spoke about the recent changes in education, about inclusivity and how synchronous lessons by their very nature exclude people with special needs or lower income (no devices, low bandwidth.) Asynchronous learning is more inclusive and allows us to support these categories of learners a lot more, so perhaps this is the way to go. ‘We do not support technology, technology should support us’ – can’t agree more. It’s interesting how some of the presenters truly practised what they preached – for example, Catherine described every picture on her slides to support the visually impaired (incidentally, it also helped me because I was listening and cooking :)).

Then I watched Alex Warren’s webinar, or rather, workshop. It was so engaging that I dropped my spoon and started taking part in the polls 🙂 He spoke about using TED talks and offered a very workable model based on flipped learning. In short, after the learners have watched the talk at home, in the lesson the learners are asked to talk about what they remember, there is a quick comprehension check (Alex demonstrated how he uses Zoom tools for that), then there are critical thinking tasks, then creative assignments of various kinds (comment boxes on Padlet, ‘interview the speaker’, all kinds of written and spoken responses). One more important takeaway: if flipped learning doesn’t work very well for you because the learners don’t do their pre-lesson homework, stress the benefits of personalised learning they can get when they view the talk on their own. (They can slow down, use the subs, re-watch as many times as they like etc. )

Gareth Rees began his presentation with a photo of a urinal (!). The urinal was equipped with a video screen, so the idea was ATAW (viewing anytime, anywhere) – really memorable 🙂 There were lots of interesting examples from his own experience and materials, techniques that fit into a neat model (DARE: description, analysis, reflection, evaluation) and useful recommendations. Teacher’s video selfies, students making videos of the teacher demonstrating a pron task, students’ video responses – the idea was that videos work best if they become almost unnoticed everyday practice.

I had to skip Adrian Underhill’s talk and part of Laura Edward’s presentation – looking forward to the recordings. A few ideas gleaned from Laura’s talk: invite guest speakers to online lessons, use chat for more informal feedback and backchanneling, use rubrics for peer assessment that students can copypaste into the chat.

Then there was the panel about sustainable online teaching and learning with representatives of several sigs, including Andy Hockley, the Coordinator of my own LAMSIG. There were a lot of interesting thoughts about how we can move to real, not emergency, online learning, and I really liked how Sophia Mavridi expressed hers: ‘After the emergency, experts need to come to the fore’. I totally agree: eventually we need to stop focusing on the tech tools and start thinking about pedagogy, instructional design and materials.

Another panel I watched, Moving to Teaching Online, focused on the practical side of teaching in this new reality. I was happy to hear how optimistic the participants were: like Andy Johnson said, ‘You should never waste a crisis’ 🙂 Sandy Millin shared a lot of practical advice, especially useful for the teachers who are still learning to teach online; Joshua Underwood suggested that it would be useful to develop our (and our learners’) camera literacy: he recommended a webinar called ‘Own the screen’ or something like that, but I haven’t been able to find the link yet. In a nutshell, we need to learn how to be more comfortable standing up, moving around on Zoom, and teach our learners how to express themselves physically in the virtual environment. I also enjoyed the participants views of the future: Heike Philp suggested that one day, after we go back to our face-to–face teaching, we will start developing the online world again and create a rich online environment, maybe VR, 3D or something equally exciting. Sandy said that her school will probably move to a mix of online and f2f in September (this is what most of us expect, I think!); Andy expects a backlash with more physical teaching for some time, but then online teaching will be here to stay. Josh hopes that when we’ll go back to physical classrooms, we’ll improve them and make them more inclusive – and that generally things will get better. Hear, hear!

And then – too soon! — Gabriel Diaz Maggioli closed the event.


Now, I might be biased (and in case of IATEFL I most certainly am), but this was the greatest online event I’d ever watched. It was supposed to replace the physical conference, but it did a lot more: it engaged and supported a lot more teachers all over the world who had not been planning to come to Manchester. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still looking forward to Harrogate 2021, the organised chaos of the registration queue, lotteries, meetings, workshops and exhibitions, the friendly conversations with strangers and old friends at lunch or over a pint – but the Get-Together was totally worth it and I hope it will happen again, not to replace the conference, but to add to all the wonderful things that IATEFL does. Ahem, sorry 🙂 Time to stop singing praises and get back to work!

If the Internet is slow


Matt Miller from Ditch That Textbook wrote an interesting post about helping learners with poor Internet access. While a lot of the tips are geared at asynchronous learning, some of his advice can be very useful in our Zoom era! For example, I never thought to decrease my camera resolution; also, Matt makes it particularly clear that instructions should be boarded, not just said out loud.

Do you have any other tips?