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Top Tips To Keep Your Students Motivated During Online Learning

bored student in an online lesson

Who would have known, this time last year, that online learning and teaching would become such a huge part of our professional lives? If only I’d bought some shares in Zoom…

Everything has moved onto online communication; family catch-ups, work meetings, lessons, lectures, theatre plays, even criminal trials. Whether this is a temporary replacement during the days of COVID, or the reality of the future in the age of COVID, a huge number of education professionals and students will be delivering and accessing learning online for a while yet.

As a teacher, many of us have used technology as part of our courses. But for the majority of us, physical teaching in a classroom has been the heart of our offer. It’s what we trained for, what our students love, and we know how to do it well.

One of the biggest issues teachers have faced is keeping students interested in and motivated by their online courses and lessons. Under 50% of all students regularly attended online lessons, and while the reasons for this might include technological issues, connectivity, family issues or other factors, it’s clear that we can all benefit from thinking about how we can get our students motivated to learn online, and how we can keep them motivated. I’ve spoken to many teachers over the past few months about this, and I’ll share with you a few “top tips” which have come up.

1. Understand your students

Just like in a “normal” classroom, we want to know what our students react well to, what they enjoy doing and what they find interesting. We can ask them to vote on the activities they have done in online lessons. One teacher had primary students make and decorate large emoji-style paper cutouts (a smiley, 😊, a thumbs up, a thumbs down and a question mark) and use them for collecting feedback on the activities. This way, the teacher gave students an opportunity to understand the students’ perceptions of the lessons and activities.

Another teacher encouraged teenage students to choose the topics they wanted to study during the online lessons, to make sure that topics were engaging and interesting for students. Online lessons can be great for encouraging students to prepare presentations to deliver for the whole class on a topic of their choice.

2. Think about communication

One of the great features of tools we use for online teaching is the ability to easily communicate to individual students and the whole group. We can send individual messages to students (Well done! / Concentrate more / Is everything OK?), and we can also break groups up into rooms for group work. Many teachers have successfully used communication tools the students are already comfortable with, such as WhatsApp and Facebook groups, while some teachers are using a platform which has similar functionality. Whatever communication tool works best for you and the students is the right one to use. Primary teachers have also used Whatsapp groups to communicate with parents, usually in their language, to report on what has been studied in classes on a weekly basis.

3. Patience…

WiFi issues? Your computer suddenly decides it’s time for a software upgrade? Someone doesn’t know how to mute? Whatever the reason, we need to be prepared for the unexpected. Many teachers have told me that they recorded their lessons with the content they wanted students to focus on, and then used their synchronous lessons for communicative activities. The ability to communicate well in a video call setting is a skill in itself – and one that our students are practising in their online lessons. We, the teachers, are also learning, and we need to remember that, sometimes, things can be tricky.

Don’t beat yourself up about it! If your son or daughter decides that they would like to interrupt the lesson, let them come in and have the students ask them a question. If poor connectivity is preventing your teenage students from understanding each other, have them communicate in chatboxes. We all need to be patient and try different possibilities to find the best solutions.

4. Progress

Recording, demonstrating and celebrating progress is a key factor in motivating students. Online learning fits beautifully with video and audio recording. Some primary teachers have made video recordings of their students practising a song, and then made a final video of a well-rehearsed song. Children don’t instinctively know that “practice makes perfect” – they need to learn this. By seeing, hearing and then sharing the result of their hard work students felt a sense of pride, having learnt that this is the result of hard work. Online platforms allow teachers to easily track students’ progress, allowing intervention where necessary. Teaching online can be used for assessment extremely successfully.

The principles of teaching don’t change with different settings. Take time to understand your students, make lessons engaging, show students the value of what they’re learning…These are all factors which help to get and keep students motivated. There’s no magic formula, but one thing for certain is that by sharing our experiences as teachers (and learners!) we can all learn something.

 

Need help planning your digital lessons or looking for ideas for using digital in your teaching? Take a look at our page for lots of helpful tips and resources! Go to our Using digital in your teaching page:

Using digital in your teaching

 


Nick Cherkas is an experienced educator with a background in teacher training, academic management, project management and materials writing. Educated in the UK, he has been based in North Africa since 2011. He is DELTA and MA qualified, and passionate about helping teachers and learners achieve their goals. He enjoys training teachers on working with limited resources and mixed ability groups, and making the classroom a more enjoyable place.


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Tips and Free Lesson Plans For Using Photographs In Class

photography day link imageIn a world where images are present all around us all the time, teachers can easily use photographs to motivate students and make the classroom experience so much more rewarding. We know that students learn more when new language is accompanied by memorable and engaging photographs.

To help you make better use of photos in class we’ve enlisted the help of 2019 Wide Angle Photography Competition winner Mehtap Özer Isović to build a series of easy-to-use lesson plans. They’re all segment-based, click the buttons below to access the lesson plans!

Young learner button

Teenage learner button

Adult learner button


Found these useful? We’d love to know how you got on with these resources, please do leave a comment!

Also, feel free to share these with a colleague. Just send them this link, and it’ll direct them here -> https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2020/08/17/using-photographs-elt


Five Tips for using Photography in your Classes.

OUP Publisher Marc Goozée has put together a really helpful list of photography lesson ideas, applicable for any classroom.

1) Take advantage of students’ own photographs and experiences

photographs: of a young girl making a pose and looking at her shadow on the wall

Now that every smartphone has a camera we can take photos easily. Ask students to bring their own photographs into the class and tell it’s ‘story’ using the prompts below. Alternatively, this can be an instant activity for pairs of students who show images from their smartphones to each other.

  • What was the photographer thinking as they took the photograph?
  • Who or what is the subject?
  • What was happening during the shot or before?

Good photos to use could be of something your students have done over the holiday, a recent celebration they attended, or a new place they have discovered. You can use this photograph from the Wide Angle Photography Contest 2019, to model the activity for your students.

2) Run a photography competition

Following on from the activity in tip one, you can prepare a slide show of photos from a recent competition (you can download the photos and stories from the Wide Angle Photography Contest here) and ask students to be the competition judges. If you choose a different competition, try and find the judging criteria to give students a framework for justifying their decisions. You may want to simplify the criteria if they are complicated.

As an alternative, choose a theme and organise a photography competition in which students submit their own photographs anonymously to be judged by a panel of teachers or students from another class.

3) Film stills from popular releases

Talk with students about their favourite films and then bring a selection of film stills, using your phone or computer to take screen-grabs. Ask students in pairs to answer such questions as:

  • What is the name of this film?
  • What is it about?
  • What are the characters talking about in the scene?
  • What sort of relationship do the characters have?
  • What happened before this scene/what happens next?
  • Talk about other films have the actors been in.
  • Tell us about them?
  • Talk about other films the director has made.

This could also be set as homework. Students source photos from their favourite film/a series they are currently watching and as a paired starter activity they can share and discuss them as above. To make it more challenging, get students to start with the image half-covered if it is easy to guess what film it is from!

4) Use photographs of famous personalities

From students’ own culture, find a selection of photographs of pop stars, politicians, actors, presenters, sports’ personalities, etc. Use the internet to find images or cut them out from magazines or newspapers. Bring them into the classroom and lay them out on the table/stick them on the wall and ask students in pairs or groups to choose two or three and then share their opinions about them.

5) Be creative with grammar

photographs: cat avoiding the feet of pedestrians, black and white

Either with students’ own photos or ones you can find on the internet, choose an area of language you want to practise and approach it in a creative, imaginative way. In this example, using one of the Wide Angle runner-up photographs, students imagine themselves as the cat and complete thought bubbles coming from the cat’s head. They can complete these sentence stems to practise using ‘wish’ and ‘wonder’.

  • I wish I could………
  • I wish I was …..
  • I wonder ……..

References: Images by Jamie Keddie


Marc Goozee taught English in Spain, the UK, and Japan. Since the 1990s as editor and publisher, he has enjoyed producing materials for secondary and adult students from a variety of regions including the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Europe.

Mehtap Özer Isović is an English teacher with an MA degree in English Language and Literature. She grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. She has been teaching English for twelve years in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the International University of Sarajevo. Since 2015, she has also been teaching very young learners in several kindergartens.

 


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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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5 reading activities for parents to do with kids at home

parent and child reading together at homeWith schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents (and close family members) need to keep their children learning and entertained at home. Reading stories helps children practise English in an entertaining way. To begin with, show your child several storybooks. Ask them to choose the one they want to read.

Note: allowing your child to choose the story helps spark their interest and make them curious. Put simply, ‘Choice’ makes your child feel motivated and empowered.

1) Talk about the front cover (with a new story)

Have your child look at the front cover. Say things like this:

Can you read the title?

What can you see in the picture?

What do you think this story will be about?

Let’s start reading and see if you’re right.

Note: the important thing is for your child to imagine what will happen in the story, not for them to give the ‘correct’ answer!

2) Take it in turns to read (with a new story)

Say, ‘Can you read the start of the story?’ Let your child read. Let them decode the pronunciation as they go. If they have problems, say ‘Use phonics to work it out.’ Point to the beginning sound, the middle sound, the end sound, and prompt if necessary. If a word is non-decodable, point this out, and model the correct pronunciation of the whole word.

Then say, ‘Shall I read now?’ (Read in a dramatic voice while your child follows the words with a finger.)

Note: with reluctant readers, start reading yourself and ask your child to read one line on the first page, two lines on the next page, and so on.  With a child is skilled at reading, this process will probably not be necessary.

3) What happens next? (with a new story)

While you are (or your child is) reading, stop at the end of a page and ask: ‘So what do you think happens next in the story?’ before you turn to the next page. Let your child give their ideas. Give positive feedback. ‘Really? That’s a good idea.’ Then say, ‘Shall we see what really happens next?’ and continue the story.

Note: revisit your child’s guesses later to see which ideas were close to the actual story. When your child guessed closely, point this out, and praise them.

4) Talking about the pictures in the book (with a new story)

Ask your child to look at a picture in the book. Ask, ‘What can you see in this picture?’ To encourage your child to speak at length, ask extra questions like: ‘What’s this on the left/right?’ ‘What can you see at the top/bottom of the picture?’ ‘What’s that in the background? / What’s this in the foreground?’ ‘What do you think happened just before this picture?/What’s going to happen just after it?’

Note: If you like, before you read a story, do a ‘picture walk’. This means asking your child to describe what they think is happening as you go through the book looking only at the pictures. Again, it’s not important for your child to get the ‘correct’ answer. Good readers naturally hypothesize well, poor readers need help (some prompt questions maybe?) and a lot of practice to get good at hypothesizing. While doing a picture walk, check/teach words which your child spots in the pictures that are important in the story.

5) Talking about the whole story (with a story your child has just read)

Once your child finishes reading a story, talk about it together. Ask these questions:

Who is your favourite character in the story? Why?

Which is your favourite part of the story? Why?

Would you like to be in the story? Why?/Why not?

If your child likes drawing, have them draw: their favourite character, their favourite part of the story, them in the story. Once they finish, stick the drawing on the wall with Blu-tack, on a bulletin board with drawing pins, or on the fridge with fridge magnets. Ask your child to point to things in their drawing and describe these to you.

 

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

 


Bill Bowler is a founder series editor, with his wife, Sue Parminter, of Dominoes Graded Readers (OUP). He has authored many readers himself. He has also visited many countries as a teacher trainer, sharing ideas about Extensive Reading. Bill has contributed to the book Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (OUP). Two of his Dominoes adaptations (The Little Match Girl and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) were Language Learner Literature Award Finalists. Born in London, he now lives in Spain.


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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.