Five Tips for Online English Classes

The education worldwide has changed dramatically due to Covid-19 virus. We all have experienced closedowns and obliged to get away from our schools. However, this has opened a new way of teaching for many of us. Many of us have experienced delivering online lessons for the first time in their teaching career. Moreover, they have been introduced as regular lessons!

It has been quite a long time since March 2020, which dates the first school closures in many parts of the world. Now, most of us have completed almost two terms online! It is time to sharpen our online skills and become handy in using online tools. Here are my five tips for you to use at online English language classes along with the suggested websites to use with them.

1.More and more internet 

All your students in your online classes have a great comprehensive resource at their disposal: The internet. The students have already been using the internet for various reasons and when it comes to using it for educational purposes you might suppose that they will be reluctant to use it for learning. No matter how simple or usual that your task is, it’ll be exciting for them to do it online. It’s much better for many students to get away from the boring pencil and paper couple. When they know your task will help them learn new things, they’ll happily use it for educational purposes as they use it for entertaining themselves. Here’s a simple way to do integrate it to your lessons.

Most of the time the students can grasp a grammar topic with no problems, however, when it comes to applying it to real-life situations, problems start to rise. I think it’s one of the most challenging things for a language learner. They ask themselves: “Is it expressed like this in real English? How natural is that?” This authentication problem can be overcome with the help of the internet.

After completing your grammar lesson, give your students this internet task as a follow-up activity. Basically, it is reading the news on the internet and look for the authentic uses of the grammar subjects that you’ve covered in your lessons. At the start of your next lesson, they’ll come up with authentic sentences using the grammar topic from your previous lesson. This will be a great opportunity to revise your previous lesson and see whether your students have grasped the topic or not. Although this task has quite a simple instruction, the application of it by students might not be as simple as it looks.

I recommend using breakingnewsenglish website for this task. At this website, the news stories are converted to English teaching materials. The best part of this website is that you can find the same news adapted to different levels of difficulty, which makes the website accessible for almost all levels of English students. Besides, in the activity description, you can quickly see what grammar structures are covered in the news story. At the end of your grammar lesson, ask your students to find a news story that contains the grammar subject of the lesson at the appropriate level. After reading it they have to search for the same news on the internet to find the ungraded versions of it. In this way, their comprehension levels of an authentic news story will be much higher and more likely to encounter the same grammar structures on the internet from your lessons in authentic English. At the start of your next lesson, they’ll present the authentic uses of language and you can analyse them with your students.

2. Make online bulletin boards 

In a conventional class lesson, we normally have boards on our walls to display announcements, works of students, interesting facts about our lessons’ topics, etc. The bulletin boards are one of the things that make a class united. I believe that they are one of the things that are missed mostly in remote classes. On a remote class, the ways of contacting your students have reduced and limited to only online methods. However, in your school classes apart from bulletin boards, you have the fantastic opportunity to contact your students face to face in school time, which we do not have at remote classes. So, we have to increase our chances of meeting them online as well.

Virtual bulletin boards are life-savers on online education. They offer excellent ways of communicating with your students in a digital environment. They give a fantastic opportunity for classes to work collaboratively on the same board together. On the internet, there are many tools, virtual board websites and phone applications to create online boards for your classes. I personally use Padlet to make virtual boards for my classes. To me, Padlet is great for two things. First, it enables me to create categories on my boards, which helps my students to track and find the necessary information on the boards easily. Also, absent students can see what has been covered in your lessons via my padlets. Second, you can set passwords for boards which will help you keep things in a safe environment for your students.

Here’s the link to a collection of online exercises Padlet. It’s not one of my own classrooms’ board, but you can still get the idea of utilizing Padlet.

3. Use of breakout rooms

I think without a pair or group work, an ELT class would be like a tree without sun and water. They make ELT classes work and give an excellent opportunity for students to develop themselves in a safe environment. When it comes to arranging communication between groups or pairs of students on an online meeting, it’s not possible without the use breakout rooms feature.

Breakout rooms feature enable teachers to place students in virtual rooms in pairs or groups. With the help of it, the interaction between students can be confined to pairs or groups of students on an online meeting. Before opening the breakout rooms, you should set the breakout room rules with your students. Remember that you won’t see your students when they go into the breakout rooms. Of course, you should pay a visit to these rooms during their work.

If you use the Zoom platform for your remote lessons, there are many features of breakout rooms, which are also available in the free plan. For example, you can limit the duration of breakout rooms, which close the breakout room and make students return to the main room automatically when the time is over. Besides, you can either assign students to rooms automatically or manually. It’s great to have this feature because students want to go into rooms with the person they want to, which can be a problem for you in terms of classroom management. Towards the end of allocated time in their rooms, you can send your students a last-minute warning which will be seen in all rooms.

4. Make guides for online lessons 

Most of us have met with online education first time after school closures due to coronavirus. Although our learners spend a lot of time in front of screens, having an online live lesson is also quite a new thing for them as well. They need to learn how the system works before the very first lesson. Otherwise, you’ll experience many unsuccessful lessons with your students because of the technical problems you’ll face during your lessons. Of course, you can’t have solutions to all the technical problems, but you have to be ready for the most common ones.

I suggest you have either a short online meeting or spend the first fifteen minutes of the first lesson to present your online programme. In this meeting, you can present a guide for them, which will make things much easier for you. The guide should include your personal meeting details and also you have to show them how to mute, raise hand or share on the platform. 

Before you start your lessons with your group of students, you have to decide whether you will let attendance without cameras. It’s really boring to have lessons by addressing empty small black screens. Bsides, it effects the level and the quality of interaction between you and students. On the other hand, there are some concerns about students’ privacy. I think this decision can change according to the profile of the group that you’re teaching. You can also talk on this issue with your students in this meeting and come to a solution with them. Maybe, you'd like to stay on the border and suggest a camera-optional policy.

5. Build mind maps 

In a language lesson, it’s great to start with building mind maps. In a conventional lesson, it’s really easy to make mind maps with your students on the board. When our lessons are converted to online, we have to find a new way to introduce them to our classes. Of course, we can open a new word file and collect&note down new words around your vocabulary topic from your students. But they won’t be as interesting as a mind map created with a web 2.0 tool.

My favourite one is Mindomo. Mindomo is really user-friendly, you can get to know it in the process of creating a few maps on your own. There are also small tutorial pop-ups which also give you extra ideas to use with Mindomo.

You can either use the desktop or the web version, which both of them have free plans. On free plans, the main difference between them is the collaboration feature, which enables you to work on the same map with your students. The collaboration feature is only available with the web-based version.

There are different restrictions in the free versions of Mindomo. In the web version, you create up to three maps. Also, you can only export the maps in text format and you can’t take out your maps in PDF or as an image. You have to upgrade to premium versions to do them. In the desktop version, you can create unlimited maps but they can have up to 40 topics. However, you can export mind maps in 11 formats including pdf or as an image. If you like to learn more about how to use mind mapping for teaching a language, you can have look at this article.

Try to follow these tips for successful online lessons in your classes and please share your experiences in the comments below.


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