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Top 10 Tips To Help Your Online Lessons Run Smoothly!

Teacher frustrated at online lessonsFor many of us, it’s been a while since our teaching world got turned upside down and we found ourselves moving from a physical classroom to online lessons in a matter of hours. It feels like a lifetime ago since we were left wondering what the best practice for online teaching was. In this initial online period, often referred to as the period of emergency remote teaching (ERT), the best advice for running a smooth lesson included such sage things as to ensure you have a good microphone and lighting.

Fast forward to the present day and we’re moving out of the ERT situation and gaining confidence in our online teaching. In this light, I asked a number of teachers around the world what advice they would now give for ensuring the smooth running of online lessons. From what they told me I have collated the top ten tips to help your online lessons run smoothly.

1. Manage the technical stuff

Just because we are now more settled into the online rhythm doesn’t mean we should get overconfident with how things work. As such the initial advice of check your sound and video, make sure your internet connection is stable, still hold true. As many of us have learned just because things worked in one lesson it doesn’t mean they will in the next, so always check. If you’re just beginning with online lessons then follow some basic rules:

  • If you can, make sure you have a quiet, uncluttered space that you can run your lessons from. It should have good lightening so that when you are on webcam you can be seen clearly.
  • Be as close to your internet router as you can. If you have the possibility of using a cable for your internet then do as this can give you a more consistent connection.
  • Wear headphones when you’re teaching as this will cut down feedback caused by you and your students having their mics on. Encourage students to wear them as well.
  • Before your first lesson, familiarise yourself with the platform you are using. While platforms vary in their functionality, for your first lesson make sure you know how to switch on sound and vision, use the chatbox, and share your screen. This last one will mean you can show materials to the students.
  • Don’t worry about becoming a platform expert overnight, it is more important to make sure both you and your students feel comfortable with the key features. To that end, use your first lesson to teach students how the room is used, don’t assume they will simply work it out. If you’re looking for more support in this area there are a plethora of resources on the Internet though you could start with OUP’s digital teaching resources.

2. Assume the students are not tech-savvy

To quote a teacher in Portugal, “Just because you’ve spent the last 7 months in online lessons, becoming tech-savvy, don’t presume your learners have!” Always make sure in first classes that you give the students the language they need to operate i.e. “How do I turn on my camera?”. Make sure you’ve explained or introduced any new tools or features of the room before the students are set a language task.

3. Expect the unexpected

Rather like falsely assuming your mic and camera will always work, it would be wrong not to be ready for the unexpected. You never know what the online classroom might throw up. For example, what happens if the students’ connections are having a slow internet day? Is there a low-tech solution? You could send any lesson materials in advance so the students have the chance to get and access them before the lesson begins.

4. Adopt a positive mindset

Many teachers still yearn to be back in the same physical space as their students and continue to find the lack of proximity a major hurdle to their lessons. However, a positive mindset will rub off on everyone in a lesson and as a result should make the lesson smoother. To aid that make sure you aren’t trying too hard, teachers often seek lesson perfection and then dwell on any aspect in a lesson that didn’t quite get to that level, overlooking the many things that went well.

5. Write it down

This is a multi-layered tip. First, it refers to planning. While many of you are bound to make detailed plans already think in the planning stage about elements that encourage the students to talk. One thing you’ve probably noticed is that your online lessons have been quite teacher-led, so now is the time to think about creating opportunities for the students to speak and interact more.

Next, it refers to physically writing it down for students. Have you noticed in a lesson when you rely on oral instructions that you have to repeat it so many times and still not everyone gets it? So, have written instructions to put on-screen to aid your words. You can have these on a slide that you can display by screen share at the appropriate moment.

And last but not least, write it down refers to making use of written comments. Though you’re meeting in a virtual classroom there are still many ways writing is used in your lesson. For starters there is the chatbox, ensure you reply to comments and answer questions in the chatbox so the students feel acknowledged. If your room allows it, use private messaging to do things like praise a student or give them extra support. Furthermore, if you use an external collaboration tool like a Google Doc or a discussion board, leave comments there so the students know the teacher is ‘there’ if needed.

6. Use your classroom tools purposefully

In other words, don’t confuse technology with teaching. A lot was made at the beginning of ERT about what virtual rooms can do and what tools can be added to them. It perhaps led teachers to the expectation that lessons needed to be all bells and whistles. While you’re probably ready to do this now, do remember that your room tools should be used purposefully. For example, there is arguably no point in putting people in and out of breakout rooms for short tasks. While you might feel like this brings a more student-centred lesson, you’re in fact making for a very stop-start sort of lesson and inadvertently giving over a lot of time to managing the classroom. One longer meaningful task will ensure more time for the students to meaningfully work together.

Whatever external tools you choose, stick with them. There is nothing wrong with using the same tool, in fact, the more you use it the more the students get to know it and the smoother the lesson becomes. Chopping and changing to try and utilise the current tool of fashion just leads to confused students and dedicating lesson time to showing how the tool works rather than getting on with the teaching.

7. The whiteboard is your friend

A small confession here, I struggle with online whiteboards. They are difficult to write on, I forget to give students the permission to use it and it often means stopping the sharing of one screen to share another. All things which can affect the smoothness of my lessons. However, rather than simply avoid them I am trying to make them my friend.

Since I tend to use a slide deck I’ve learned to include white slides amongst my deck that I can use as aboard. This eliminates the need to switch back and forth. I can also prepare slides as boards making me feel more prepared. Other teachers have achieved the same by using external whiteboard sites (easy to find with a quick internet search) or using a shared document. Additionally, to quote a teacher in Ukraine “a virtual board makes lessons more visual”. What’s more, you can usually save your board for future reference and to be used as a revision tool in a future lesson.

8. Keep them focused

Let’s face it even in the physical classroom, keeping kids focused is often a challenge and online this is amplified. One technique for dealing with this is to use visual cues at different points of the lesson to check the kids are still following along and not doing something. The visual clue should be a signal or action that you do at various points in the lesson and everyone has to copy as quickly as possible.

9. Community

If ERT was about a quick transformation from face to face to online, now it is perhaps time to think about how we can effectively maximise educational opportunities. A way to do this is to go beyond the lesson and turn the class into a community. Some of the teachers who sent me tips talked about how they’ve used instant messengers to create groups to allow students to discuss things like language issues and homework problems outside of class. By doing so they feel the virtual classes have run a lot more effectively. This might not be suitable for every teacher so another option is to look into asynchronous areas that can have running discussion boards and be used to distribute work.

Not everything has to be done through the live online class, especially as there is so much to achieve within that time anyway.   This will help with the community aspect and it does make language learning fairer for your students. Not all are comfortable synchronously and not everyone has the same access abilities to be online at the same time. Planning lessons that utilise various online means should lead to an all-round better learning experience.

10. Find a teachers’ room

At first glance, you might wonder how this will make your lessons run smoothly, however despite being tenth on the list it was the most submitted piece of advice. Not only are teachers missing their classrooms but they’re missing their staffrooms as well. The place they go to find support and get stuff off their chest. It’s important for both well-being and to keep the positive mindset suggested in tip 4. Looking after oneself and having good support is a fundamental step in ensuring you’re an effective educator. Teaching from home can bring a sense of isolation so if you can, find a place to act as your teachers’ room, be it the various ELT groups on social media, joining one of the many online events that ELT organisations are running or making use of initiatives like the IATEFL BESIG online breakroom where teachers can drop by and chat.

My thanks to all the teachers that gave me their advice to use.

 

Are you ready to explore digital tools for teaching and learning?

Do you need help getting started with the digital tools in your Oxford course?

Or are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?

Get into your stride with digital teaching

 


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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Step by Step: Using your Dictionary to Expand Topic Vocabulary

Topic vocabulary view on Oxford Learner's DictionariesThese days, there might only be one topic of conversation in the news, on social media, and in our own chats to friends and family. Along with new ways of working, teaching and learning, we are even adopting a new lexicon to help us talk about it. My own personal “Health” topic vocabulary has grown to include such words and phrases as self-isolation, social distancing and herd immunity.

Using topic vocabulary to enhance learning

Collecting words together in topics has long been seen as a good way to help students learn vocabulary. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to access word lists where vocabulary is collected together in this way, with words levelled according to CEFR levels, and linked up to dictionary entries showing pronunciation, meanings and examples all at the click of a mouse or a single tap?
Well, on the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries website we have done just that, and we hope that you and your students will find our new Topics pages useful. They are all completely free to access at oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com!

Using Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries Topics pages

Large topic areas are subdivided into smaller ones, and once you open a word list you can filter on CEFR level. For example, here are the words in our Health > Health and Fitness > Good health topic at B1 and B2 level:Topic vocabulary: Health and fitness topics

Here are a few activities that you might like to try:

1) A topic a week

Choose your topic vocabulary and allocate words to learn each day by using the click-through feature to check meaning, pronunciation and usage in the dictionary. At the end of the week, review and quiz!
Here is an example topic, with three words to learn per day, and a few activities for reviewing:

Topic vocabulary: Cooking and eatingFood and drink > Cooking and eating > Taste and texture of food
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/topic/category/food-and-drink

 

Example Words to learn

Monday: bitter, bland, chewy
Tuesday: creamy, crusty, delicious
Wednesday: greasy, juicy, mild
Thursday: moreish, salty, sour
Friday: spicy, stale, tender

 

Review/Quiz:

Divide the words into “positive”, “negative”, and “neutral” columns. Complete the sentences with a suitable adjective, using a different one each time:

  • Oranges are… (e.g. juicy)
  • Lemons are… (e.g. bitter)
  • Chili sauce is… (e.g. spicy)
  • Chocolate is… (e.g. moreish)
  • Fresh bread can be… (e.g. crusty)
  • Old bread is… (e.g. stale)
  • Food that is cooked in too much oil is… (e.g. greasy)
  • Meat that is overcooked can be… (e.g. chewy)

2) DIY quiz

Allocate a topic, and get students to create quiz questions for each other using the dictionary definitions and example sentences.
Definitions: one student gives the dictionary definition and their partner guesses the word.
Example sentences: one student picks an example sentence from the dictionary entry, and replaces the topic vocabulary with a gap.
Topic vocabulary: Appearance

Appearance > Appearance > Facial expressions

  • (Definition) Which word means to become red in the face because you are embarrassed or ashamed?
    (= blush)
  • (Example sentence) They ________ with delight when they heard our news.
    (= grinned)

 

 

Topic vocabulary: Sports

Sports > Sports: other sports > Cycling

  • (Definition) What do you call a bicycle for two riders, one behind the other?
    (= tandem)
  • (Example sentence) You’ll have to ________ hard up this hill.
    (= pedal)

 

 

 

 

Please have a look around, starting at https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/topic/. And let us know what you think!

Can you use these resources with your students?

 

 


 

Jennifer Bradbery is Digital Product Development Manager in the ELT Dictionaries department at Oxford University Press. Before joining OUP as an editor, she spent many years either teaching English, teacher training, or both in the UK, Taiwan, and Canada.


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Online Teaching Part 3: Tips to Engage and Motivate Students

Online 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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Online Teaching Part 1: Getting Started | Shaun Wilden

Online teaching in practice - a teacher and students connecting online As an unprecedented virus makes its way around the world playing havoc with teachers’ schedules, educators are looking into how to use technology as a way of filling the gap left by the closure of many schools. If you’re one of them then the first question you need to ask yourself is do you want to fill that gap in a synchronous or asynchronous way.  Or in other words, do you want to use online teaching to get the class together at the same time in a virtual classroom (synchronous) or are will you be sending out work to the students to do in their own time and report back (asynchronous).  In this post, I’ll give you some advice about getting started synchronously.

Choosing a platform to communicate with your students

The first question is probably what software are you going to use. There are many platforms to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, and going over each would make for a very long post. Given that you probably need to move quickly don’t have much time for training, I imagine you need something relatively simple. You could, for example, simply use Skype; it allows for video, text chat, screen sharing, and recording. Additional features like ‘meet now’ would allow you to put all your students in one group. The downside though is that not everyone uses Skype and it can lead to the sharing of contact details.

If your school uses Google Classroom then you can use Google Hangouts which you will find as part of that.  Zoom, a platform many schools I’ve been working with have turned to this week, is free to use for 40 minutes but for large classes, a school will need paid accounts.  One advantage of it is that people simply click on a link to join, and it has a feature called breakout rooms to use for pair and group work, plus you can make different ‘rooms’ useful for different classes.  What I like about Zoom is that it has so much support online that it is easy to get started. I am not endorsing any of these platforms, in particular, just pointing out that they’re free.  There are many more but whichever you choose, first and foremost in your mind will be “what best fits the needs of my students?”

Additional technology you’ll need

Aside from an online teaching platform, what else do you need?  Well, a good internet connection helps. These days we are all used to WiFi and this will usually do, but if you can attach your computer to a cabled network this will make for much better stability.  Bear in mind also that, depending on your countries situation, the internet is getting heavily used. If everyone is confined to their homes then naturally they’re all online and this can cause a bit of slow down here and there.

Your computer probably already has a built-in camera and you’ll need that as students will want to see you.  Will you want to see them? If so, then they will need cameras too. However, bear in mind it is the camera that takes up a lot of the bandwidth in a connection so too many cameras could lead to issues.  As well as seeing you, students will need to hear you and you hear them. While computers have built-in mics, I strongly recommend you use a headset. The one you got with your mobile phone will do the trick.   The advantages of headsets are two-fold; the mic is closer to your mouth and more importantly everyone wearing headphones will limit the amount of feedback that can be caused by everyone having a mic on.

Getting set up to teach your first online teaching lesson

My final tip for getting started is to consider where you are going to teach from.  As many of you are possibly being confined to homes, think about where you are going to sit. You need to be away from distractions such as pets or kids. Being on camera you also need to make sure that what’s behind you doesn’t give away anything private about you. Finally, you need to make sure that your chosen location has a good light source.

Once you’re set up and ready to go, take some time to have a play around your platform. Push some buttons, see what things do. Don’t be afraid, it’s pretty hard to break an online classroom.  You can also use your platform to meet up with your colleagues. Not only will this give you an idea of what’s it like to have a class but working together lets you share advice.  You can set each other quizzes to test how well you can do things, i.e. ‘how do you turn on the mic’, ‘can you show how to use the whiteboard’ and so on. My one extra tip here is don’t try and learn everything in one go. Keep the first lessons as simple as you can.

From this not only will you feel more confident but you’ll also be to help students when they first come to the platform. Additionally, if you write down some of the answers you can turn them into a ‘getting started’ information sheet that you can send to students.  It can also help you come up with some classroom rules. For example, when you’re not speaking turn off your mic or, if you want to speak, put up your hand first.

Get practical tips for planning your online language lessons in part 2 of my online teaching guide here!

 

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

 


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.