Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Tag: Teaching Tips (Page 1 of 3)

Ask Lingua: Website Review

I hope you have had a good week with all your teaching. It has been a while since I have reviewed a website for teaching or potential learning opportunities for students. Funnily enough, I was asked to review one website which is aimed for language learners which is similar to the game that I used to play as a child called ‘Guess Who’. The website in question is Ask Lingua.

You are greeted on the first screen whether you wish to choose American English, British English, or Spanish. Some guidance is provided but I feel that a brief video on repeat detailing this information would be better. Nevertheless, if you have played ‘Guess Who’, then the main principle is intuitive.

You compete against the computer, with both you and the website selecting an individual character. During the game, you must ask controlled questions such as ‘Does the person have green eyes?’, ‘Does he/she have long hair?’ or ‘Does he/she wear a hat?’. The computer or yourself, answers ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and over a short while, characters are removed. The aim of the game is to decide which character the computer has chosen, and vice versa. The winner is to successfully determine who the chosen individual is.

I played the game twice: the first time I managed to win within five minutes, while the second time I lost. What I found beneficial for potential students is the fact that learners can reinforce question formation structure and asking questions: ‘Does he/she have …?’, ‘Is he/she …?’, etc. There are a variety of tasks to aid learners with question structure – similar to DuoLingo in a way: word ordering, typing, and multiple choice question selection.

Students are able to create question forms using a variety of tasks such as the word ordering activity above

The website is accessible on both laptop and mobile devices – I tried both. The game is fun and engaging, particularly with young learners, and it reinforces potential language focus: question formation and describing people. Personally, it would be a fun website to be used in the class with an interactive whiteboard, encouraging learners to compete against the computer. It would certainly be more interactive if learners were able to compete against each other with a person-to-person function. However, it is a great little application which you could get online learners to use as part of you lessons.

The overall score regarding this website is four out of five. It has great potential for both the physical and online classroom, but there are possibilities for it being made more interactive and connected in both virtual and physical classrooms. Nevertheless, one website to bookmark and use with students.

Overall Score: 4/5

Developing Materials for Online Lessons

Welcome to another daily blog post where I look at another aspect of online lessons, and today I am look at develop materials for remote purposes. In this post, I’ll be sharing personal thoughts that I have regarding the creation of materials more suitable for online lessons.

One of the biggest challenges faced by tutors moving from a physical classroom to a remote environment, or possibly newly certified English language teachers, is the development of materials for potential online lessons. Essentially, teaching material should be engaging, memorable, and accessible, which helps supplement the overall aims and strategies of the lesson.

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Feedback In An Online Teaching Environment

Today’s blog follows on eight hours of online lessons over the course of a day – probably one of the longest stretches of teaching remotely – so apologies for the lack of readability or stating the obvious. Anyhow, in this post, I thought that it would be best to focus on the aspects of feedback provision within an online environment, after previous posts on dealing with first lessons with private students and another with online activities to get students speaking.

When one is not within the constraints of a physical classroom, an English teacher may find the online distance further enhances the separation to provide feedback in a prompt and candid manner. Most students that book private lessons, explain that they have received little feedback from previous teachers, and the main reason for finding another tutor is due to this. Thus, it is crucial for all online private tutors to provide a level of feedback that is expected by students.

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Speaking Activities for Online Individual IELTS Students

Teaching individual students can be a challenge to be honest, especially when learners expect their teachers to contribute more during online lessons. After teaching privately to individual students, especially for those that are preparing for IELTS, I wanted to share some of my favourite speaking activities that I tend to incorporate during online lessons to get my students speaking and communicating more.

Activity 1: Wheel of Words

Wheel of Names can be used for various purposes; randomly nominating students or choosing conversation questions

Wheel of Words is a great tool which I tend to use for a variety of purposes – one of which is to randomise conversation questions. Essentially, you write in your conversation questions or copy and paste them into the text box on the right of the website.

I tend to share my screen when spinning the wheel, and once a question is chosen, confetti shoots up and the question is displayed fully. Students find this rather engaging and entertaining, then proceed to answer their question. The best thing about this is you can save questions in Word and then import them into Wheel of Words, or refer to the Internet TESL Journal website for inspiration on questions to ask on particular topics. Otherwise, you can choose a variety of common questions which may arise on certain topics within the IELTS exam and randomise the choice of them by using this website.

Activity 2: Tell Me Why / Give Three Reasons

A huge thanks to David Sweetham for sharing this activity with me on Twitter (refer to his Tweet below), but I have found this a joy to incorporate into most of my conversational lessons.

Based on the activity that was shared, you choose one card for student(s) to talk about for a few minutes. As David mentioned, you can attempt intentionally wacky topics or ideas to get students thinking outside the box. It takes minimal preparation – always a bonus for me based on my Dogme-esque approach – which can then be used effectively with online IELTS conversational lessons. Here are some example conversational prompts to give you an idea of how this task runs.

  • Give three reasons why everyone should learn another language.
  • Tell me why rabbits make better pets than hamsters.
  • Present three reasons in favour for national service.
  • Give three reasons outlining why social media is harmful.

As you can see, being as creative and wacky as possible is a bonus. Students are forced to reason or justify their thoughts. This will help students gain greater confidence with dealing those challenging questions in the IELTS exam.

Activity 3: Odd One Out

It is best to keep language either topic specific or to increase difficulty try to use random verbs, adjectives, adverbs or nouns

A popular speaking activity in the physical classroom is getting students to reason why a particular object or word is the odd one out compared to the others. There is not a correct answer, as long as the reason is valid. I used to incorporate this activity in lessons and students found this task engaging and motivating, often allowing learners to develop their fluency.

You can either provide each group of words one at a time, by using Wheel of Words or by some other tool, or all at once as a document. Whatever approach you decide, you can give your individual student a short while to prepare and then allow students a short time to explain their reasoning. This task is engaging and motivating, and can be adapted for groups of students if needed. It is also a suitable activity for those learners preparing for the IELTS examination.

Activity 4: Picture This

Using Google Images can help you source suitable pictures for this fourth activity

The final activity that I enjoy incorporating into my individual IELTS preparation online lessons is getting students to respond to pictures on similar topics. It is very quick to prepare a selection of images within PowerPoint, Word or Jamboard, and then share the screen to students asking them to talk between 2 to 3 minutes explaining the similarities or differences about the pictures.

It is a task which naturally focuses on the use of comparative forms but getting students to draw similarities will require a bit of practice and creativity, especially once you have sourced rather random images for the activity. Again, it is a task which lends itself well in preparing students for speaking in English, as well as developing their confidence in communicating and expressing ideas or opinions.


What are your favourite individual speaking activities to get your online learners developing their fluency? Have you tried any of the activities shared in this post? If so, how did learners respond to them? As ever, please share in the comments.

How to Teach First Lessons as an Online Private English Tutor

Teaching trial or demonstration lessons are part and parcel of teaching privately to students, in which teachers and students should meet to ensure both parties are happy to continue lessons with each achieving that much needed rapport in the initial of online. As such, online private English tutors need to make a good impression in that first hour. If not, the tutor will have a challenge to convert the learner into a paying student – this is the crux of the matter.

So what should private tutors do to make a valuable first impression and how best to achieve this? In this post, we will review this and I will share my tips and tricks for establishing a good relationship with potential students.

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Emojis in the English Classroom

Introduction

Last week, on the Twitter sphere, Tyson Seburn was polling to see how many tutors were using emojis with their general communication with students – either in email or via class pages (such as Canvas or Blackboard).

If you aren’t following Tyson on Twitter, why not?

This got me thinking about the pedagogical benefit of using emojis within a teaching context, and I had used emojis to teach basic vocabulary to beginner online students. For example, for learners who has very little to no English, this difficulty is alleviated with the use of images or pictures, and thus emojis are a quick and easy solution. If I wanted to ask students if they liked or dislike apples, I would use the following emojis to help express the question.

As you can see, for lower levels of learners, teachers have a quick and easy way to use emojis within an online environment. However, you don’t have to stop there with regards to using emojis with beginner students. You could use emojis in a more creative manner. I have created a free emoji worksheet for teachers to use with their face-to-face or online lessons. It is probably best suited for the general English classroom, possibly younger learners, with an emphasis on adjectives and general feelings (i.e. exhausted, well off, etc.).

Lesson Material for Teachers

A screenshot of the worksheet available for all.

The first task is for learners to match emojis to their corresponding adjectives – the first one is done. The next is for learners to guess the possible translation, before learners check with their translating tools.

There is a brief discussion for learners which could be used as a prompt to discuss the use of emojis within their context. Next, there is a story, with gaps and emojis to help, which students are to complete before sharing with their fellow students. The final part of this lesson is for students to retell the story without referring to the script. I hope you enjoy this lesson activity, and a huge thanks to Tyson for the Tweet which got me inspired to create a lesson using emojis. I may even use emojis with my EAP students!

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Weekly Livestream: Teacher Talking Time

Episodes are currently on Mondays at 1pm (UK time)

I have decided to start a weekly livestream which is currently on Mondays at 1pm (UK time) to answer questions that others may have about teaching online, tips for teaching English or address any thoughts or opinions that you may have. Today marked the second week (hence Episode 2) and decided to do something that may resonate with other teachers.

The first week, I had some technical issues which meant I started at a later time – 30 minutes to be precise. I never realised that streaming via my MacBook would be so complicated. I was relying upon using my Sony ZV-1 as a webcam but YouTube Studio had issues recognising this, so I had to end up using OBS to stream. To eventually get everything working took 30 minutes to resolve.

Teacher Talking Time: Episode 1

This week, I started Episode 2 of Teacher Talking Time but noticed something quite odd after the livestream. I realised that the scheduled stream did not connect with OBS – I made a mistake and learned afterwards what I must do. However in Episode 2, I was able to share my screen and used this function quite regularly during the livestream. I will use this function in next week’s episode. It was great to answer questions from viewers and share a corresponding website to answer their queries. I also created a countdown timer on one screen but be sure not to watch the timer and skip the first 5 minutes of the video below.

Teacher Talking Time: Episode 2 (skip the first 5 minutes)

Hopefully from Episode 3, I will be able to use the correct scheduled link for the livestream rather than creating a new link. It would also be wonderful to get another teacher to join the livestream in the future but I will have to see how best to stream a Zoom call or other tool. If there are any other English teachers who have experience of streaming and inviting a guest to virtually join this, then it would be great to hear your advice. Another area that I would like to develop is to share particular questions on the screen asked by those in the stream. I would need to improve my knowledge of OBS and create more scenes in the future.

As ever a huge thanks to all who have contributed past and current livestreams and if any readers have questions about streaming and using OBS, then please let me know.

Three Games for your Online Lessons

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching online is maintaining learner engagement and interest. Within a physical classroom, teachers achieve this by incorporating a variety of games and activities throughout the lesson. However, this is much harder in a remote environment. In this post, I will be sharing three games that you could use with your online lessons immediately, which require little to no preparation, to boost student engagement and interest.

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Game 1: Pictionary

One popular game with learners of any age is Pictionary. If you are unfamiliar with this activity, it involves sharing a word to a student that has been taught in a previous lesson or has just been taught. The student then has to draw a picture on the physical whiteboard – no words or numbers can be used – and other students have to guess the word that has been drawn. It encourages students to be creative and spontaneous. To add a bit of a competitive edge to the game, you could place students into two groups, add a time limit, and the first group to guess the correct word gains a point. The group with the most amount of points wins the game. But how can this be achieved in an online environment?

With remote classes, teachers could either allow students to use the online whiteboard (if using Zoom) or a shared whiteboard such as Web Whiteboard. Send an individual student a private message with the word that they must draw, start a countdown time (if you wish), and then get the student to share their screen with their whiteboard and other students must use the Chat function in Zoom to send their nominated word. The first student to write the correct word gains a point. An alternative to this is getting students to use a pen and paper to draw and share on their webcam.

Game 2: Odd One Out

This task requires a little more preparation prior to lessons but nothing too different to the classroom activity. You could either prepare a Word document as a worksheet with a range of words or use a PowerPoint with each slide sharing these words (about four to five on each row or slide). An alternative is to use images instead of words. Anyhow, students must work together in small groups to decide on the odd word or image out of all others. Once learners have completed the activity (perhaps with a time limit), then they must describe why certain words or images are the odd one out. Each acceptable description by a group is awarded a point and the group with the most amount of points are the winners.

This activity is a wonderful opportunity for learners to review verbs, lexical sets (fruit, jobs, etc.) or pronunciation patterns. It is best to have this activity at the end of the lesson – the last 20 minutes of an online lesson – while students start to switch off. It will maintain interest and motivation with the class particularly at the end of the lesson, and ensure that learners end their online lesson with a positive.

Game 3: Sentence Maker

The final game that online teachers could incorporate with their online lessons is a familiar for those teachers who wish to review a range of vocabulary from previous lessons. This activity requires just a little preparation from the teacher but if you have been teaching from a coursebook, preparation would be minimal. Choose a range of vocabulary (around fifteen to twenty words) to use and they must have a range of functions (i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.). Try to create a worksheet which could be shared with learners, so that they can write down their group sentences.

Tell students that they will be placed into groups of three or fours for five minutes and they must use the vocabulary to create a variety of grammatically correct sentences – possibly demonstrate to learners beforehand so that they know what is expected. Share the worksheet with all learners, place them into breakout rooms, and then wait for all to return. Students share their worksheet with the teacher via the Chat and the teachers provides a point for each sentence which is grammatically correct. You could give an extra point to the sentence which contains the grammar form that was taught during the past few lessons. For example, if you had taught the second conditional and a group created a suitable sentence with the grammar form, then a point could be awarded for the sentence and another for the grammar form included – a total of two points. The group with the most points are the winners.


Those are three possible games that you could incorporate with your future online lessons which require minimal preparation. What games have you used in your online lessons? Have you adapted a tried and tested physical game for the online environment? How did it go? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Online Teaching Tip: The Webcam

In my last online teaching tip post, I looked at the use of Wheel of Names for developing student conversation skills. In this post, I will be looking at webcams and how best to make the use of it with your online lessons.

Step 1: Buying An External Webcam

If you are using a laptop, then chances are you have a built-in webcam included with it. However, the quality of the webcam is likely to be rather questionable and I would always recommend that you consider purchasing a dedicated webcam that connects to your laptop or desktop for use with your online lessons. Here are my suggestions:

  • Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam: this is a good quality webcam at 1080p that can be doubled as a microphone, and it is priced at £59.99
  • Logitech Brio Stream Webcam: although the C920 webcam is at 1080p, the Brio webcam is at 4k but is currently priced at £159.04
  • Razer Kiyo: this is a budget webcam which combines the use of a ring light and offering a resolution of 1080p, being priced at £54.99
  • Sony ZV-1 and Canon G7 X MIII: for those that wish to combine video making and use the dedicated camera as a webcam, then the solution is to purchase the Sony ZV-1 or Canon G7 X MIII, each with a price tag of £694.61 and £649.00 respectively. Each camera could be used if you are keen on photography or taking those holiday snaps or videos too

Step 2: Using A Ring Light

If you purchase a webcam which does not include a ring light (much like the Razer Kiyo), then you will discover that during darker periods of the year will impact the quality of the webcam footage. Should you wish to improve the quality of your webcam footage, a ring light would be ideal. These are some suggested investments for your home office:

  • Gskaiwen 18″ Ring Light: this is an affordable ring light for those that wish to improve the lighting with their webcam and is priced at £44.99
  • UBeesize 10″ LED Ring Light: this is one alternative ring light that you could purchase which could be used in conjunction with your webcam and is priced at £95.67
  • Elgato Ring Light: this is the more expensive alternative of ring light that is available for those that wish to improve the overall quality with a dedicated webcam or camera, but it is currently priced at £176.48

If you don’t wish to invest in a ring light, then the alternative is to get a lamp or portable light and place it behind your computer monitor or webcam.

Step 3: Look at the Webcam

When you start teaching it is natural to look at the computer monitor when talking to others, but people will notice that your sight will be focused either below the embedded webcam or away from the external webcam. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you remind yourself to look at the camera as much as possible when speaking, as listeners will feel that you are talking to them. It is natural to look at yourself on screen when teaching remotely, but the more you train yourself to keep your eye level at the camera, the more you will improve engagement with students.

Step 4: Remote Gestures

Using gestures need not be difficult

If you are standing in the classroom, it makes sense to use a variety of gestures when providing instructions or responding to students. Thus, it is important to maintain these when teaching remotely. If the connection drops a little and you do not hear exactly what the student uttered, then respond naturally and ask them to repeat but using a variety of gestures to accompany such a request. If you cannot hear what someone is saying or they are on mute gesture to your ear and explain you are unable to hear them. Just because you are not in the classroom does not mean you do not have to drop such gestures.


Thank you for reading today’s brief blog post and I hope it was helpful. If you have any ideas about using the webcam effectively in your classroom, please do not hesitate to share in the comments.

Online Teaching Tip: Conversation Questions

Getting students to communicate and practise speaking in English remotely can be quite a challenge. Here is a quick idea for getting students speaking and using questions as prompts.

Step 1: Create the prompts

Go to the website Wheel of Names and type in some questions which could be used as prompts.

You could use some prompts to get students speaking

Step 2: Share the questions

Share the question prompts with your students using the shareable function on the website, and place students into breakout rooms on Zoom. Tell students that they have a ten minutes to discuss the questions and report back when they return to the main room.

Sharing the question prompts is pretty simple

Step 3: Review questions and scaffold

Nominate students to summarise their discussions and possibly select students to share the questions that they asked. It would be a good idea to review question formation and scaffold language where required.

Elicit possible full question forms from students and scaffold language where necessary

I hope that this blog post was useful for your online classes and gives you some idea for future conversation prompts for your students. If you have ideas that you would like to suggest, please share in the comments.

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