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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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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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How to take your students on a virtual field trip | Mireille Yanow

field tripMany of us recently have had to take our classrooms online. Learning the basics of virtual teaching is hard enough! Like me, you’ve probably had connection issues and are making do with limited equipment. These challenges are all part of your daily routine and you’re meeting them head-on. As teachers, we want to continue delivering the same quality education during lockdown as we were in the classroom, but are wondering how. You might have found that many of your tried-and-tested lesson plans no longer work in an online setting, and keeping primary students engaged can pose a particular problem! Thankfully, as the rest of the world adapts, some new, innovative, and engaging options are emerging. There are learning platforms with educational games (e.g. education.com) and interactive stories, however my favourite lessons right now are virtual museum tours.

Take your students on a virtual adventure

There are a plethora of museums around the world that you can virtually visit with your students. All of these ‘virtual excursions’ can be turned into fun lessons. You can take your students anywhere in the world and truly see the world’s best museums! Personally, I’ve been taking students on weekly ‘trips’ to some of my favourite museums (details below). Before any of my class visits, I put together a few easy pre-questions, level adjusted to ensure that my students are learning English while having fun. Here are some ideas to inspire you.

  • For younger or lower-level students, I want to make sure they understand the word ‘museum’, thus I start the lesson like this: We’re going to a museum today. What is a museum? If students know what a museum is, you can have a short conversation about museums they’ve been to, or their favourite kind of museum. After the visit ask students if they were correct about what a museum was or if they liked this museum as much as ones they’ve been to before.
  • Put together a list of vocabulary you want the students to find while we are at the museum. Then, during the visit ask the students to find the objects and describe them g. Find a mammoth. What colour is it?
  • Museum visits can be tied into any lessons, for example:
    • Numbers: Count how many animals we see at the museum [for natural history or science museums, or zoos!].
    • Colours: Find xxxxx – what colour is it?
    • Adjectives: Describe what a mammoth looks like.
  • Most of the virtual museums have online floor maps that can be used for teaching directions. I love this aspect of museum tours!

Now, on to my top 5 museum tours to visit virtually (I’ve also added some teaching ideas that you could try, but make it your own)!

  1. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

There really is so much to see here! Animals, gems (including the Hope Diamond), dinosaurs, plants, geological history, etc. Teachers can use it for directions (there are arrows that lead the way virtually), naming animals, colours, comparisons, Wh questions, past tense.

  1. The Vatican, Sistine Chapel

This museum is beautiful. There are 7 other Vatican museums that can be visited virtually, but the Sistine Chapel is one we all know. Teachers can use this tour for teaching colours, adjectives, special awareness (it is huge – even online you can sense it), body parts, and again, Wh- questions.

  1. Pretend City, Children’s Museum

This museum is awesome! It is what it says on the tin: a pretend city. Teachers can use it for teaching directions, signs (lots of stop signs), names of buildings in a town, colours, measurements (there is a neat feature where you can measure the size of the room), Wh-questions (see a pattern with all the museums?), imperative, comparisons, likes/dislikes.

  1. Balenciaga y la Pintura Española exhibition at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

This exhibit is where fashion and art meet! Great for teaching clothing vocabulary and comparisons, especially “same” and “different”.

  1. Lego House Tour (Youtube Video – more advance can be used for listening)

Although this isn’t an actual virtual visit to the museum, this video takes you on a tour of the Lego House museum. The tour guide speaks at a moderate level, so it can be used for more advanced students. Younger and less-advanced students will get a lot out of this tour also: colours, size, likes/dislikes (actually all of the museums are good for this!), vocabulary, numbers, etc.

We hope that these ideas are useful! If you know of any other virtual tools or places to visit, please do add them to the comments.


Mireille Yanow spent 6 years teaching English to primary and secondary students in Greece and Spain before embarking in her publishing career. Mireille spent 4 years as an editor leading the development of a primary English Language course before moving back to the United States. She is currently Senior Publisher at Oxford University Press and volunteers at the local library as an ELT teacher.

 

 

 


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Girls and Autism: Tips and Activities to Support Your Learners

group of girls and boys at school

What is autism? You may or may not have taught individuals in your English language teaching classrooms with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is linked to brain development and can affect the way learners socialise, communicate, and behave.

Did you know? Many girls go undiagnosed with autism or are diagnosed later in life because they present differently to boys. By this, I mean they behave in a different way that may cover up the signs. For boys, their autism is often externally expressed, whereas girls tend to conceal or internalise what is worrying them.

 

Masking or camouflaging: what do they mean?

When a girl ‘masks’ or ‘camouflages’ she essentially modifies her behaviour. This might be in an attempt to fit in with her peers, for example copying the behaviour or voice of a classmate, in order to be similar to the group. It may also be her way of hiding her autism or the anxiety she is feeling in order to appear calm on the surface. This means girls can spend a lot of time covering up their emotions, which must be extremely exhausting (and as teachers we certainly know how this feels!)

In fact, girls with autism are often very good at making eye contact and holding conversations, which you don’t typically expect with autism. And unlike boys, their special interest subjects tend to be similar to their ‘neurotypical’ peers, for example horses or boy bands, making it difficult at times to spot autistic traits.

 

A few tips for including learners with autism: 

1) Listen

Every girl (and boy) with autism is different. They often say their brains are wired differently so they may learn in unconventional ways. It is important to remember that what works for one learner might not necessarily work for another.

2) Support

Statistically, learners with special educational needs are more likely to develop mental health issues. As we know, there are a multitude of pressures on young girls, so openly discussing mental health and managing anxiety is essential.

3) Strengthen

Girls with autism tend to struggle with self-worth and self-belief. Helping girls become aware of their sensory issues and emotions and how to regulate these helps them understand themselves and others.

4) Talk, talk, talk…

As teachers, we’re pretty good at this one! In order to overcome the lack of knowledge in this area, we need to discuss autism. We need to speak to colleagues and parents/carers, search for and share information, but most importantly we need to talk to our students and learn from them.

 

Practical activities (expanded from Into the Classroom: Special Educational Needs)

REMEMBER: Not every activity works for every student, it’s important to get to know your learners and understand what works best for them.

1) You’re the expert

Ask students to prepare a presentation on their special interest subject. Ask the rest of the class to ask questions. If learners don’t feel comfortable presenting to the class, why not get them to video and edit a short clip? Or run a Facebook Live, you could direct the conversation, but this may be less daunting for those who are anxious as they can join from elsewhere.

2) Name the feeling

Make pairs of cards with 1) photos of people expressing different feelings (according to students’ age and ability and 2) cards with the words that best describe the feelings.

Older students can play this game as ‘pelmanism’.

3) Pelmanism: Create pairs of cards where one card has a picture of a vocabulary item, and the other has the written word. Students place the cards face down on the table and take it in turns trying to find a matching pair by turning over two cards at a time. If players find a match, they keep it and have another go. If they don’t, they turn the cards face down again. Older students can practise homophones or homonyms, or match verbs with their tense forms.

 

Bonus activity: Tell me a story

Social stories and/or comic strips are a great way to engage learners. They can help children with autism in a number of ways, from teaching them how to behave in certain situations to developing their social skills. Why not get your students to draw or design stories of their own?

 

Want to find out more about autism and special educational needs? Get your hands on our Inclusive Practices position paper:

Download the position paper

 


References

  • Autism.org.uk.(2020) Autism Support – Leading UK Charity – National Autistic Society [online]. Available at: https://www.autism.org.uk
  • Carpenter, B, Happé, F, and Egerton, J. (2019) Girls and Autism: Educational, Family and Personal Perspectives. New York: Routledge
  • Delaney, M. (2016) Into the Classroom: Special Educational Needs. 1st ed: Oxford University Press
  • Sutherland, R, Hodge, A, Bruck, S, Costley, D, Klieve, H (2017) Parent-reported differences between school-aged girls and boys on the autism spectrum. Volume: 21 issue 6: 785-794.

 

Leanne Atherton is a further education lecturer with experience of teaching both in the UK and internationally. She qualified in post 16 education at City of Bath College and has ELT experience teaching young learners in Thailand and aboriginal students in Australia. She holds a TEFL qualification, a PCGE PCET and is currently studying for her Masters of Education (Special Educational Needs) in Oxford.