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Online Teaching Part 3: Tips to Engage and Motivate Students

teenager using a tablet in the libraryOnline teaching has been becoming more and more prominent in recent years, but for many of us, we’ve been suddenly thrown into it due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The conversation usually starts with which apps and platforms to use, but it’s important to remember these are only tools; how you use them is what makes or breaks the class. Once you’ve chosen your software, it’s all about keeping the students engaged and willing to work together online. Here are a few online teaching tips to get you started.

Ease students into working online

With a new online class, don’t throw them into a digital project straight away. We need to make sure that the students can use the software before doing any substantial learning tasks. But let’s be honest, most of us don’t read through instruction manuals, let alone remember anything from then. Instead, design some language tasks that have a duel aim of introducing the platforms as well.

  • Using a message board to communicate? Use an ‘order the instructions’ reading task for how to post to it, and then ask them to post their answers on the message board.
  • Using ‘break out rooms’? Ask the students to quickly go into break out room and answer a short ‘getting to know you’ or ‘catching-up’ questionnaire with their partner
  • Using email to communicate? Start off with a quick introduction or sharing of what you’ve been doing since you last saw each other and make sure they’re remembering to reply all (or not!)
  • Raise hand function in your webinar platform? Play a quick ‘Raise your hand if…’ warmer (“Raise your hand if you like coffee” “Raise your hand if you got up before 7 am”) at the start of the lesson

These tasks have clear language aims so the students are still motivated to complete them. The real objective though is getting students used to the systems. If you don’t make sure that they can use the systems early, it’ll become a distraction later and get in the way of their learning as you move onto more complex activities.

Build their confidence online

One of the great features of online teaching is that many people feel more confident to speak out. For many standing in front of a group of people and talking is their worst nightmare, but those same people might be quite happy to post on Twitter for the whole world to see.

But, especially in the early stages, it can be easy to damage this. Without face-to-face interactions, criticism can be harsh and encouraging smiles can be missing. Be liberal with your praise and clear with your suggestions.

  • Use a mixture of public and private praise; a short “Well done with…” instant message can go a long way for boosting confidence.
  • Avoid correcting in public during the beginning stages of a course (on the spot corrections can be sent as a private message).
  • Encourage interaction on the message board by setting tasks that require students to comment on posts: find someone who used a word you don’t know and ask them what it means, or tell two people why you liked their post (and make sure you are as well!)
  • Make sure you’ve introduced appropriate etiquette for your students to use online. Simple things like using an emoticon after peer correcting or giving suggestions can soften the tone.

Provide clear instructions

Giving clear instructions may sound obvious, but because it’s a lot harder to monitor your students during online lessons, clear instructions become even more critical during an online class. Take your time setting up activities to avoid the loss of motivation that comes from students feeling like they wasted time doing something wrong.

  1. Tell the students the objective of the activity. Keep it short and straightforward and aim for a sentence: “let’s circle five unknown words”; “Let’s brainstorm ideas for our poster.”
  2. Demonstrate the activity. If possible, show the students an example of the activity being done and ‘think out loud’ as you do it: “Here’s a word I don’t know, it’s before a noun so it’s an adjective…”
  3. Show and say the instructions step by step. Recap the instructions step by step, ideally as bullet points. Keep your language short and sweet.
  4. Check they understand before starting. Ask some questions to make sure they’re clear: “How long do you have?” “Where do you post your answers?” You can set questions to the whole group to quickly make sure they know what to do and help recap for those who might not (websites like kahoot.com can be great for this).

 

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

For more tips on getting started with Online Teaching see Part 1 of our Online Teaching series.


David Stevenson is originally from the UK but has been working in Education in China for the past ten years. He is the Senior Professional Development Manager at Oxford University Press, Mainland China and his particular areas of interest are developing student autonomy with young learners and helping teachers take research and apply it to their classrooms.


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Online Teaching Part 2: Practical Tips for English Language Lessons

man smiling while using a laptop

Getting started

When it comes to planning your first lesson remember ‘less is more.’ Since it’s likely to be the first online lesson for you and your students, things will probably take longer than you think.  As good as online teaching is at bringing people together, there are often little niggly issues, but don’t panic as this is quite normal. For example, some can’t easily connect to the room; students can’t hear you and so on.  If it is the very first lesson, then dedicate most of it to getting to grips with the platform. In future lessons always plan an activity at the start of the lesson that isn’t crucial to the lesson as a whole – this activity can ‘buy’ the time needed to make sure everyone has connected and issues with audio etc. are ironed out.

Online teaching activities to include

As your students are likely to have a coursebook, don’t be afraid to use it.  Obviously, things need a little adaptation to the online environment. For example, I perhaps wouldn’t get everyone online just to do a coursebook reading. Instead, I would ask them to do it before the lesson or for homework.  Listening should work the same way. Most platforms allow you to share your sound, so rather than press play on the classroom device, simply press play on your computer.

Teaching grammar or vocabulary can be done using the coursebook, whiteboard or a PowerPoint. Many online teachers I know also screen share Google docs or Microsoft OneNote files that get students working collaboratively. By giving them the link, and then using screen share to display, students can see each other’s work.  That said, getting the student to write on paper and hold it up to the screen is also very effective.   Remember if the camera is on they can see you, so this allows you to use typical teaching tools such as flashcards by simply hold it up to the camera for all to see.

Managing student feedback

One of the trickier things is checking answers or doing feedback. This is where the ‘Hands up’ function helps.  For gap fills, get them to write on the whiteboard or annotate a slide, or type their answers into the chatbox. Try to avoid situations where just one student is talking for any length of time. When this happens in your usual classroom, students switch off, and this is amplified online.

If you’re going to do pair work or group work then put the students in breakout rooms. These are spaces within a room that allow people to talk without anyone else hearing often when you activate them the software automatically allocates people into a room so saving you time. Therefore you switch on the function, press the button and off they go into pairs. Now you can jump in and out of their spaces to monitor them just as you would in your usual classroom.  Well okay… you wouldn’t jump in and out but you see what I mean.

Managing expectations for your first online class

My final advice would be to you as the teacher.  For many of us, it’s hard to remember what we felt like when we first started teaching but your first lesson online is going to feel a bit like that.  When I am training new teachers, one of the things they seem to dread is silence and when we move online this fear comes back, but silence is fine. There is nothing wrong with setting the students a task from the coursebooks and you switching off your mic and camera while they do it. It’s a chance for you to collect your thoughts and probably take a much-needed sip of water. Likewise, timing is going feel odd so don’t worry about getting through your whole plan each time. Plans, be it for an online class or face to face, are just guides anyway.

All the skills and confidence you have built up over the years will feel a little compromised in this new online world. But don’t panic, it is the norm.  Don’t chastise yourself that things could have gone smoother in that first lesson; it may be true but remember things probably didn’t go perfectly in that very first lesson face to face either. However, after a few lessons, everything began to feel natural, just as it will in this new environment.  Good luck and don’t forget to wash your hands.

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online teaching resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home:

 

Learn at Home

 

For more tips on getting started with Online Teaching see Part 3 of our Online Teaching series.


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


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So you want to teach online?

Middle Eastern woman on laptopShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and expert in online tutoring, shares some thoughts on his upcoming series of webinars on teaching students online.

Over the last few years, language teachers have had to come to terms with a technological shift in the way they teach. Though VLEs (Virtual Learing Environments) have been used in education for many years, it is only over the last few that they have become part and parcel of teachers’ working lives as either they, their school, or the material they use have found their way online. Be it setting homework via edmodo, using Facebook to extend the classroom or using online workbooks to complement courses, language teaching is more blended than ever before.

Being thrust into this asynchronous world of teaching can be quite daunting for those of us that were trained for the face-to-face classroom. We are used to standing in front of a group of learners, setting tasks that get our learners to communicate while we monitor, react, guide and prod. We are skilled in the art of classroom management, noticing when a student is off track, reading body language to gauge if a student is struggling and knowing when a task is finished and how to wrap it up. We are comfortable working face to face, knowing our training and experience has given us the skills to handle most things that school life throws at us.

While the popularity of social networking has implicitly helped us come to terms with asynchronous communication, a tweeted conversation or discussion of the latest cat photo on Facebook hardly counts as adequate training for dealing with students online. Is it a given that a skilled classroom teacher will automatically make the transition to the online environment?

As with many of the technological changes that come to schools, blended learning is often introduced at the behest of the stakeholders, sometimes with little thought given to how the change is going to affect teachers and impact on their working routine. Likewise, they often presume this is what the students want and assume that students will jump into asynchronous learnin,g embracing in-task discussions with the same gay abandon they show when updating a social network status. However, in reality an online forum is, for many, a far more stressful entity than the physical classroom. If you have ever joined Twitter, think about how long it took you to craft your first tweet and the angst of getting it right. Will anyone read it? What does it say about me? Is my language correct? Do I have anything to say? These are all questions that tend to go through your mind. There is something about the written word that increases the stress – perhaps the permanency compared to the ephemeral nature of something said.

Having trained teachers to work online for the last eight or so years, I’m all too familiar with all these issues and the nervousness teachers feel when venturing into the online teaching environment. Even the most confident teacher can feel trepidation when taking their teaching into the asynchronous world. How do I set my class up? How do we communicate? How do I motivate them? How do I stop certain students dominating? When do I need to give feedback? Are questions I regularly get asked.

Now, you may be forgiven for thinking that starting to blend your teaching is a bit of a minefield. It isn’t. Getting started is easy; being effective is more of a challenge. So to help you get acquainted with the asynchronous world, we’re running a series of workshops over February and March. If you want to learn about the skills and being an effective teacher, join me over three webinars when we’ll discuss everything from netiquette to making sure students join in and not lurk.

To find out more about tutoring online, join Shaun’s forthcoming webinars:

Online tutoring part 1: what does it offer teachers and students?
Watch the recording of the webinar.

Online tutoring part 2: the challenges and benefits
Watch the recording of the webinar.

Online tutoring part 3: getting the most out of your students
26th March 2014


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Adapting online materials to suit your students

Students learning online

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Foundation

Our Online Practice and Workbooks (listed below) offer a variety of useful activities for students which help improve their skills, but did you know that as a teacher you can also upload your own content?  Join Michael Man in his webinar Adapting our online materials to suit your students on 23rd October 2014 from 10:00 – 11:00 or 15:00 – 16:00 BST when he will show you how to add a personal touch to your online course.

Online learning provides teachers with extra materials and students with opportunities to study further as they extend their learning out of the classroom. But what if a teacher wants to introduce his or her own reading text, speaking task or link to a website or online video? What, exactly, is possible to add and what are the advantages?

Let’s start with a scenario: you have been working on a unit on family life and your students are keen to learn more about family life in other cultures. You have a fantastic reading text you are sure the students will love, but you are already above your photocopy quota and three students are absent. Using our online teacher tools you can upload the text and any worksheets you’d like the students to work on. Students can access them through their account, and you can even send a message to the absent students to let them know the worksheets are there.

Example of adding content

Using the teacher tools you can adapt your online course and add your own content.

Let’s imagine that in the next lesson, a student comes in and tells you about a YouTube video she saw online that gives another view of family life in a little-known culture. She thinks it would be interesting for other students to see. You view it and agree with the student, so you insert the link. Students can now log in, click the link and view the video.

With students buzzing with ideas and things to say about how different family life is in their culture as compared to the others they have read about and viewed, you seize the opportunity to create a speaking task. You upload the task to the Dropbox, tell student A to work with B and off they go to record their conversation, which you can then listen to (and mark) later.

This scenario is not hypothetical; the ability to do just that is achievable and simple when teachers take advantage of the ability to add their own content to the Online Practice and Online Workbooks for their course.

Adapting our materials and adding your own content is suitable for students at any level and the tools to do it are available on every course that uses the Online Practice and Online Workbooks:

  • Aim High
  • American English File, second edition
  • Business Result DVD edition
  • English File, third edition
  • English Plus
  • Headway Academic Skills
  • insight
  • Network
  • New Headway, fourth edition
  • New Headway Plus, special edition
  • Oxford Online Skills Program: General English and Academic English
  • Q: Skills for Success, special edition
  • Reach Out
  • Solutions, 2nd edition (International, Nederlands and Maturita)
  • Speak Now
  • Stretch

Find out more about teaching and learning online.


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Improving communication skills with online tools

student laptopMichael Man will show you how to use messaging, discussions and chats effectively with the Online Practice and Online Workbooks for your course. You can take part in his webinar ‘Messages, Discussions and Chat – improving communication skills with the Online Practice and Online Workbooks for your course’ on 8th October 2014 from 10:00 – 11:00 and 15:00 – 16:00 BST.

Communication and collaboration tools

How can we give our students more individualised instruction and feedback? How can we extend communication outside the classroom? Teachers can struggle with these issues especially when large classes and teaching demands get in the way.

Individualised instruction and feedback

All the courses with new Online Practice and Online Workbooks (listed below) have integrated communication and collaboration tools. By using the Messages tool, teachers can contact the entire class with updates or announcements. This is a useful tool for reminding students of deadlines or other classroom management issues, and is also useful for relaying information about upcoming aims and learning objectives. As well as reaching the class as a whole, teachers can contact groups of students. This is not only useful for differentiating instruction, but also during stages of project work. For example, teachers can give each group targeted guidance or further instruction. The Messages tool also allows for individual messaging so that teachers can personalise feedback. In this way teachers can direct students to exercises which would benefit them, set targets to work on and send reminders related to those targets.

Extending communication outside the classroom

Learners often struggle with finding ways to use English outside the classroom. The Discussion tool provides a way for students to do this in a non-threatening environment.  Teachers can assign a discussion task as part of assessed coursework or to continue a class discussion that students may not have had time to complete. These discussions can be monitored or viewed later by the teacher who can then use them to help students build language strategies for better interaction. The discussions are also a useful resource for assessing in which language areas students may need revision or follow-up work. The Discussion tool can also be set up for use by groups so that they can meet in a virtual space to discuss project work.

The live Chat function is another way to increase contact time with English, and many students will already be familiar with if they use social media. These can be whole class chats or set up as groups. Ideas for using the chat include setting up reading circle discussions or doing role plays. Roles can be assigned to individual students within the chat – a moderator, for example, could ensure that all the students participate by inviting comments from less ‘chatty’ participants.

Live Chat function

These tools are suitable for students at any level and are available for courses with Online Practice and Online Workbooks at oxfordlearn.com:

—   Aim High
—   American English File, second edition
—   Business Result DVD edition
—   English File, third edition
—   English Plus
—   Headway Academic Skills
—   insight
—   Network
—   New Headway, fourth edition
—   New Headway Plus, special edition
—   Oxford Online Skills Program: General English and Academic English
—   Q: Skills for Success, special edition
—   Reach Out
—   Solutions, 2nd edition (International, Nederlands and Maturita)
—   Speak Now
—   Stretch

Find out more at: www.oup.com/elt/teachonline