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Collaborative Learning Online And In The Socially Distanced Classroom

Cut-out paper-chain of children holding handsWhat is collaborative language learning?

One of the most satisfying experiences that I have as an instructor is when I have my class make pairs or groups and then, after a few moments, I hear lively chatter. Moving around the classroom, I hear students using the vocabulary and structures that we studied in class. Yet they are doing more than just reciting what they learned in this lesson; they are combining the learning goals of the lesson with the language that they already know in a personalized and creative manner. A casual observer might think that this was break-time or an opportunity for the class to relax. But while I hope they are having fun, I know that they are actually hard at work. This is the culminating activity that we have worked towards together as a class. It is collaborative learning in action.

The key principles of collaborative learning

Having students work in pairs and groups of three or four are key strategies in the collaborative learning approach. Together, they practice the target language and to establish meaning, in a carefully sequenced set of achievable, unintimidating, activities. From our own experience, we know the value of learning by doing. This is even more critical in language learning, where the production of new sounds, new words and new structures is so vital. To be a successful language user, it is not enough to know; students have to adapt their knowledge to create meaning and communicate with someone else. Increasing our students’ opportunities to do something meaningful in class is one of the main aims of collaborative learning.

So, what is the role of the teacher in all of this?

At the start of a sequence of activities, for example, when presenting the target language of the lesson, the method of instruction can look quite traditional; often the teacher speaks and the students listen. After the presentation phase, however, the class transitions in a way that makes the learners, and not the teacher, the focus of the class. The first step often focuses on accuracy. In pairs or groups, the students manipulate the language mechanically. They learn from each other. Crucially, the teacher moves from group to group, evaluating the progress, and correcting the learners as necessary. The subsequent activities in the sequence encourage the learners step-by-step to use the target language in more creative and open-ended ways, with activities that encourage students to combine what they have just learned with the language that they already know.

The collaborative approach is highly motivating because it allows students to communicate about things that matter to them, to be more active, and indeed, more successful learners.

Collaborative learning in the COVID-19 era

Only a few short months ago, the notion that teleconferencing technology would become an essential tool in our professional lives would have been unimaginable. Along with my colleagues, I have struggled to adjust to this new reality. What, now, are the most effective classroom management techniques? Does the collaborative language learning approach even make any sense?

When we went into lockdown in New York City, where I teach, my classroom practice probably resembled a traditional, lecture approach. Eventually, however, I was able to adapt what I typically did in a physical classroom to the virtual classroom.

4 key ways to conduct collaborative language learning in cyberspace:

  1. At the start of the lesson, I present the goals of the class and the target language. I could share my screen, where I could have a PowerPoint presentation, but instead I send my presentation materials to the students earlier. Since unconscious lip reading is such an important part of listening comprehension, I want my students to be able to see my face full size. Instead of sending a file of slides, I use the screen capture feature of QuickTime to record my computer screen and voice at the same time. (I am a low-tech person, but I have found it easy to use). Students, therefore, get a video of my presentation, which they can watch before or after class, multiple times.
  2. Most teleconferencing tools allow the host to make breakout groups. I set these up before class. It is a simple thing to conduct pair work and group work using this feature, and as in a physical classroom, I can monitor them as they work. One added advantage is that my students can video their work, (using any screen capture tool) which we can use later for student self-analysis or peer-reviewing.
  3. Many of the activities that my students do in the physical classroom involve completing charts, matching, and checking items, together. Now, I have students take a photo of their work using their smartphone, and then share it with me and their classmates using email, social media, or our school Learning Management System (LMS). We do collaborative writing activities in a similar way.
  4. In a physical classroom, I can’t imagine teaching in a room without a whiteboard. Almost all teleconferencing tools have a whiteboard feature. I find this feature cumbersome. It takes me a lot of time to write and then erase the digital whiteboard. When teaching online, I find it much more effective to use the chat function when I want my students to see something in writing. For more extended notes or hand-drawn charts, I much prefer to use a small, handheld physical whiteboard, which I hold up to my laptop screen. Some students take photos of this with their smartphone, just like they do in my regular classroom, while others take screenshots.

The Hybrid Classroom

What will happen when we move to a hybrid classroom model, where we combine socially distanced in-class learning and distance learning? Can we have collaborative learning when students must be apart from each other?

Before the pandemic, I frequently had students take photos of their work with their phones, which they posted on a social media platform, and I then projected to the class. Now, I will have them share with each other, in socially distanced pairs and groups.

What activities to do online or in the socially distanced classroom will be an important decision. Right now, I am planning to present new language (vocabulary and grammar) online, in the manner that I described earlier. Writing activities, including collaborative ones, can be successfully conducted online, as can listening activities – my students can access the content on their mobile devices. But since speaking is by its very nature performative, I will prioritize the physical class time for open-ended pair work, group discussions, and role-playing. But at a distance.

 

For more practical tips, and two free activities for running pair work and group work with adult learners, visit our collaborative learning page!

Get Expert Advice On Collaborative Learning


Thomas Healy is one of the authors of Smart Choice as well as an Assistant Professor in the Intensive English Program at the Pratt Institute, New York City. He has given several webinars for Oxford University Press on how to use smart devices and social media to encourage collaborative learning including The potential of smart devices, How to use mobile technology in class and How learners can use mobile technology outside of classFind these recordings in our webinar library.


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The Complete Professional Development Guide: Books You Need To Read In 2020

man reading bookTeaching during COVID-19 has challenged us to adapt quickly and learn on the go this year! But how much time have you spent on your own professional development, and how prepared do you feel for the start of next term? As the holidays approach there is a sense of relief as we get to have a well-deserved break, but it is also a chance to get ready for the new term, whatever it may bring. To help you prepare for every scenario, we’ve created an essential reading list with English language teachers in mind! Explore the pros and cons and get practical tips for teaching online, prepare to assess your students in new ways, and learn to prioritise your own wellbeing. We’ve got you covered with best-sellers and the latest professional development books and papers written by ELT experts.

 

Our Professional Development Book Of The Year

Teacher Wellbeing book cover

Teachers… have the power in their own hands to make things better and to nurture and enhance their own wellbeing. This is a welcome message at any time, but perhaps most of all now when there is so much uncertainty in the world.

– English Teaching Professional

Teacher Wellbeing

Our book of the year serves as a practical guide to help individual teachers promote and nurture their wellbeing. Discover effective tips and strategies to help you meet your needs, and improve your wellbeing by finding techniques that work for you. You’ll also find tips to help you maintain a healthy work-life balance, and nurture your personal and professional relationships.

 

Three Professional Development Best Sellers

Bestselling professional development book covers

  • Exploring Psychology in Language Learning and Teaching: This award-winning book explores key areas of educational and social psychology and considers their relevance to language teaching. Learn learners’ and teachers’ beliefs about how a subject should be learned and taught, relationships with others, the role of emotions in learning, and more…
  • How Languages are Learned 4th edition: Prize-winning How Languages are Learned shares how language learning theory works in the classroom and provides you with practical techniques and activities developed from research. Perfect for new and experienced practising teachers.
  • Teaching Young Language Learners 2nd edition: A clear introduction to teaching young learners. It covers child development, L1 and L2 learning, vocabulary and grammar, and more by combining theory and practice in an accessible way. It draws on up-to-date international research and classroom practice.

 

Support For Teaching Online

  • Mobile Learning: Get clear guidance and essential support for using mobile devices in and outside the language classroom. Full of practical ideas and activities, it emphasizes the power of the mobile device as a tool for language learning.
  • Learning Technology: Learning Technology provides a clear guide to how teachers can introduce learning technology to the classroom. Explore different ways of putting it into practice, including virtual learning environments, social learning platforms, blended learning and the flipped classroom, mobile learning, and adaptive learning.

 

Recommended Assessment Books

  • Language Assessment for Classroom Teachers: This book presents a new approach to developing and using classroom-based language assessments. The approach is based on current theory and practice in the field of language assessment and on an understanding of the assessment needs of teachers. Split into four parts, this book is the ultimate practical guide to classroom-based language assessment, with advice that can be applied in any classroom setting – both real and virtual! A professional development must-read!
  • Focus on Assessment: This book develops your ability to design, implement, and evaluate language assessment in your classroom, helping you relate the latest research and pedagogy to your own teaching context. Explore the multiple roles teachers play in language assessment such as ensuring a positive assessment experience and promoting learner autonomy, and improve your assessment competence with activities that help you to apply assessment theory to your own classroom.

 

Recommended Vocabulary Books

  • How Vocabulary is LearnedHow Vocabulary Is Learned discusses the major issues that relate to the teaching and learning of vocabulary. Written by leading voices in the field of second language acquisition, the book evaluates a wide range of practical activities designed to help boost students’ vocabulary learning, starting with ‘Which words should be learned?’…
  • Focus on Vocabulary Learning: Explore teaching vocabulary to language learners aged 5-18. Discover the considerable challenges of learning the vocabulary of a new language from a range of perspectives, and become equipped to teach with practical solutions. Find a rich variety of useful activities and examples from real classrooms, and ‘spotlight studies’ of important research, that link theory to practice.

 

ELT Position Papers

Our position papers provide expert advice and guidance on the burning issues shaping English Language Teaching today. Download them for free and you’ll also receive exclusive training and resources for your classroom.

ELT Position Paper covers

  • Global Skills:  Creating Empowered 21st Century Learners: Help every learner develop the skills they need for success in a fast-changing modern world! Get expert advice and discover the five global skills clusters that prepare learners for lifelong success and fulfilment.
  • Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000: The Most Important Words to Learn in English: Interested in expanding your learners’ vocabulary? Discover our core wordlist of all the most important words for learners to know! Deliver a well-founded vocabulary syllabus with confidence, and encourage independent vocabulary learning at home.
  • Inclusive Practices in English Language Teaching: Create an inclusive classroom, and make learning a positive experience for each and every learner. Discover expert advice to help you identify and support students with special educational needs, and pick up practical solutions for building an inclusive classroom environment.

Professional Development On The Go!

Download our free focus papers to access bite-sized insights and practical tips for the ELT classroom! Each paper is easy to use, and immediately useful, covering topics like:

  • Online Teaching
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Mediation
  • Oracy Skills
  • Managing Online Learning
  • And more!

 

Which new teaching skills are you trying this year?

Let us know in the comments below!

 


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Teacher Wellbeing: Finding Silver Linings with Tammy Gregersen

nature sceneFinding the bright side when things go wrong is a primary component of optimism, which research links to lower depression, improved coping with stress, and greater relationship satisfaction. Forget the Pollyanna complex. Many people have a tendency to look on the bright side too rarely, not too often. The following exercise is designed to help you achieve a healthier balance and improve your wellbeing.

1) Make a list

List five things that make you feel life is enjoyable and/or worthwhile at this moment (can be as general as “having good friends” or as specific as “eating a piece of chocolate”)

2) Work through it

Think about a recent time when something didn’t go your way, or when you felt frustrated and upset. Briefly describe the situation in writing or tell a friend.

3) Create a new perspective

List 3 things that can help you see the bright side of this situation. For example, perhaps you couldn’t get your hair coloured during the quarantine. A few ways to look on the bright side of this situation might be: “Well, I have a good reason to wear the beautiful scarves tucked away in my closet” or “How cool is it that I can give my hair a break from the adverse effects of hair treatments”.

 

Have you seen our other resources on Teacher Wellbeing?

Teacher Wellbeing Handbook for TeachersWellbeing tips with Ushapa Fortescue

Teacher Wellbeing: A SMART Approach | Sarah Mercer

Thinking Thoughtfully: Tips for YOUR Wellbeing | Tammy Gregerson

Coping during the COVID-19: It starts with ABCDE but is up to U

Well-being, Intercultural Competence and Citizenship in ELT | ELTOC 2020

Well-being – How teachers can support themselves with meditation

 


Tammy Gregersen, a professor of TESOL at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, received her MA in Education and PhD in Linguistics in Chile, where she began her academic career. She is co-author with Sarah Mercer of Teacher wellbeing, published by Oxford University Press. Together with Peter MacIntyre, she wrote the books, Capitalizing on Language Learner Individuality and Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Communication in the Language Classroom.  She is also a co-editor with Peter and Sarah Mercer of Positive Psychology in SLA and Innovations in Language Teacher Education. She has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and contributed several chapters in applied linguistics anthologies on individual differences, teacher education, language teaching methodology and nonverbal communication in language classrooms.


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Welcome to Camp ELT Online!

ELT Camp OnlineAre you planning to attend Camp this summer? Join us for the first-ever Camp ELT Online, where we’ll have five days of free webinars focusing on virtual teaching, with handouts, social media challenges, and opportunities to connect with other ELT teachers.

Oxford University Press experts from around the globe will offer guidance on building an engaging virtual or blended class in this interactive webinar series. Camp will start with the basics on setting up your technology and move through practical support on how to build a syllabus as well as engage and assess your students digitally before applying those strategies in the final sessions of the week.

Throughout the week, join us on Twitter using #CampELTOnline to participate in Camp challenges! Everyone is welcome to Camp, where teachers will connect with each other around the world and grow their ELT community.

Camp ELT Online Schedule

Choosing your platform and tools by Andy Barbiero & Charlotte Murphy

June 22, 2020, 1:00 – 2:00 PM Eastern Time

The first steps to teaching online involve identifying what you need to successfully teach your students and how to effectively use free videoconferencing tools or school-provided LMS systems to teach your ELT learners.

Planning your syllabus and adapting to changes by Sandra Borges & Gabriella Havard

June 23, 2020, 1:00 – 2:00 PM Eastern Time

Even if you’re teaching the same classes, starting a new semester in the current circumstances requires a fresh look at your approach to pacing and assignments – and allowing yourself flexibility to adapt when you need to.

Engaging and assessing your students online by Sarah Rogerson & Christopher Sheen

June 24, 2020, 1:00 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time

Building a community where students can be active learners online involves new types of student engagement and continuous assessment. Together, we’ll discuss types of student engagement and ways to incorporate each into the classroom, as well as how to build assessment in at every stage.

Taking advantage of digital courses: Step Forward, 2nd edition by Philip Haines

June 25, 2020, 12:00 – 1:00 PM Eastern Time

How can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your textbook when you’re teaching students online? In the first session, we’ll discuss how Step Forward, our standards-aligned course for adult learners, can be used in virtual classes.

Taking advantage of digital courses: Q: Skills for Success, 3rd edition by Paul Woodfall

June 25, 2020, 1:30 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time

How can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your textbook when you’re teaching students online? In the second session, we’ll talk about the various digital components of Q: Skills for Success and how they work together.

Rounding out your course with online resources: Oxford Picture Dictionary, 3rd edition by Harcourt Settle

June 26, 2020, 12:00 – 1:00 PM Eastern Time

It’s simple to bring additional material into lessons, but is it the same when your classes are online? In the first session of the day, we’ll explore ideas to bring the Oxford Picture Dictionary into virtual classes as a supplement for adult learners.

Rounding out your course with online resources: Oxford Online Placement Test and Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, 10th edition by Diana Lea and Sarah Rogerson

June 26, 2020, 1:30 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time

It’s simple to bring additional material into lessons, but is it the same when your classes are online? In the second session, we’ll talk about resources to place your students and how to use the OALD for general English and academic classes.

 

Join us for Camp ELT Online from June 22-26, 2020!

Register for Camp ELT Online


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5 ways to Engage with Students Online (and Face-to-Face, too!)

young girl on laptopRemote teaching is new to many of us, teachers, as well as being new to many students. Even when we are teaching in class sometimes it gets difficult to keep the students on task for various reasons. With schools closing down in many countries, it can be very challenging to engage students for entire online lessons.

Embracing new digital tools to deliver lessons, shortening the hours of teaching and blending lessons with EdTech can be very beneficial for both teachers and students. There are also a few more tricks we can use to keep students focused.  Here are some ideas to spice up your online lessons with primary students. Many of these can also can be implemented in your face-to-face lessons.

1) Find Something Blue in Your House in 45 Seconds

Since all your students are at home, you can begin your lesson with a warm-up which takes advantage of the fact that your students are at home.  Ask your students to find something blue in the house and share it with the rest of the class via their camera. Set a time limit for this activity, or some students will wander around in the house for hours. You can begin with 45 seconds, and reduce the time span each lesson. Try changing the colour, or you can ask the students to come to the lesson with their favourite toy, book, or anything related to the topic of your lesson. You can also revise some grammar by asking your students to go to the kitchen and find 3 countable and three uncountable items. Ask the students to share why they have chosen those particular items. In class, you can apply this activity with the items in the classroom.

2) Today’s Word

Choose a word either related to the topic or not. Tell students that today’s word is ‘butterfly’, for instance. Tell your students to act like a butterfly as soon as they hear the word. If, during the lesson,  you feel that the students are starting to lose attention, out of the blue say the word out loud. You will see some students paying attention and being a butterfly, while some others trying to catch up with them. This activity may help students with lower attention spans to be more focused.

3) Add Movement

During online lessons, students sit in front of the screen and generally they do not move until the lesson is over. It is a good idea to add some movement in your virtual lessons. If you are doing an activity with multiple choice answers, for example, ask you, students, to stand up and give the answer with their body. Ask the students to raise their arms, and if they think the answer is A, they should lean to their right. If the answer is B for them, they should lean to their left. And if they think the answer is C, they can shake their shoulders. With every type of close-ended questions, for every right answer they give, they can stand up and turn around once. Adding movement in your lessons will help your students to focus more easily. You can try this in your face to face classrooms, as well. All learners benefit from being allowed to move around at regular intervals’

4) Mind Map of The Week

Before starting your lesson, especially a new unit or topic, ask your students to think of, or write, what comes to their mind when they think about the previous lesson This may be a word, a game you have played, or even a joke somebody made. Even giving the name of a character from a story you have read is a good answer. This way, with the help of each student you can create a mind map in which everybody has added something. While teaching online, you can either use a web tool like Padlet, or a big piece of paper on which you write using coloured pencils. In a classroom, you can use the board, or again a big piece of paper or cardboard.

5) Choose the Song

In both real and virtual classrooms, it is always a good idea to start or end the lesson with a song, especially with primary students. You can ask a student to choose the song they like, you can play it either at the beginning, or the end, or both. To make sure that every student takes part in this, you can nominate each student to choose the next song in alphabetical order or use a web tool like Wheel of names. Deciding the class song will give the student a sense of being part of the class. There should be a rule, and that is that the song should be in English!

Bonus

You can use an activity like attention grabbers to give the message that the task is over and you need their focus on you and the lesson. With an attention grabber, you give a cue, and the whole class respond chorally. For example, once a task is over, simply call out ‘Hocus Pocus’, and have your students respond with ‘Everybody Focus’.  Attention grabbers are always helpful in class and help you improve your classroom management. If you have not tried them for your virtual lessons, I highly recommend you add some. To add even more fun, you can whisper it, say it in an angry manner, change your voice in any way you would like. Here are some examples, and you can find more online.

Teacher

1-2-3

Holy Moly

All set

Ready to listen?

Student

Eyes on you

Guacamole

You bet!

Ready to learn

Joining a lesson and trying to focus can be very challenging for both teachers and students in this virtual learning period. Adding some activities that do not need preparation will help your students engage more in your lessons. Once you go back to the classroom, you can still try these activities to have your students engage face-to-face, too.

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page for more resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home.

Learn at Home

 


Aysu Şimşek is a passionate advocate of continuing professional development. After graduating from Istanbul University with joint honours in American Culture and Literature with Theatre Criticism and Dramaturgy, she embarked on her own teaching career. As a teacher, Aysu had the fortune to work in supportive teaching teams and personally benefited from the valuable guidance of mentors. Now in her role with Oxford University Press, Aysu meets and supports teachers from across Turkey and is proud to be an active member of a global community of dedicated educationalists. She is a holder of a CELTA qualification, has co-written articles for Modern English Teacher magazine and TEA Online Magazine.