By Ruth Horsfall, Candida Javaid, Leonor Marin Cruz and Olena Molodek

11 February 2021 - 16:59

Woman sitting on sofa with a laptop
'Inject playfulness into exercises. Use fun and humour in your lessons to encourage the whole class to join in – not just the enthusiastic learners.'  ©

Brooke Cagle, used under licence and adapted from the original

Language teachers in Peru, Ukraine, UK and Spain share tips to boost interaction in online lessons to develop learners’ language skills.

Early years teachers can replicate the routines of the physical classroom

A familiar style and approach to lessons will help the youngest learners feel happy and secure. For example: 

Use visual props 

Create interest and prompt conversation with props. For example, if the lesson theme is ‘a day at the beach’, present items like sea shells, sunglasses or sun cream when storytelling.  

Bring physical movement into the lesson

For example, ask learners to give a physical response to a question: ‘Do you like apples? Stand if your answer is yes; wave if your answer is no.’ 

Try simple games 

Activities like treasure hunts can be used introduce vocabulary. Ask your learners to find an object in their home that is, for example, green, big or old

Use a variety of tools and techniques during video calls for older learners 

Ask everyone a question 

Maintain attention and interest by ‘cold calling’ your learners during the lesson. ('Ben, what do you think?') Keep a printed class list or seating plan by your side to make sure that you ask everyone a question.  

Use breakout rooms to give your learners plenty of opportunities to talk and write 

Try techniques such as pyramid discussion and mingling.  

Move between the groups to make sure learners stay on task and to create a sense of presence. 

Try different ways of using the chat function 

Ask the class a question and ask for responses on chat. You could try a multiple choice approach. Type several answer options and ask learners to ‘like’ the correct answer. Or tell learners to type an answer in the chat box. Wait for the whole class to do this before hitting enter. This helps to build a sense of anticipation and creates interest. 

Use apps  

Flipgrid allows you and your learners to record short video responses to give verbal feedback. Kahoot! and Quizlet offer learning quizzes and games. 

You don’t have to introduce all these tools and techniques to every lesson. It’s often best to keep things simple. Always check that your class understands your instructions. 

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Create relatable content for your learners 

Teaching topics are often guided by the teaching syllabus, but you can adapt content according to your learners’ interests.  

For example, if the topic is healthy living:

Ask your class to discuss food and drink preferences in pairs or groups. Follow up with a group task to design a healthy eating menu on an online whiteboard. 

Introduce topical debates such as ‘are gadgets having a negative effect on our health?’ Ask your class to watch a short relevant video like a TED talk. Use this content as a discussion point in your lesson. Follow up with a debate and a class vote. 

Try fun activities and encourage everyone to participate 

Use fun and humour in your lessons to encourage the whole class to join in – not just the enthusiastic learners. Inject playfulness into exercises. 

Do Zoom karaoke  

Try a variety of songs to learn new vocabulary and phases. 

Make up funny characters 

Ask your learners to choose a food item and add a personal title. Sentences can be formed like: ‘Mr Pomegranate really likes sleeping but Mrs Pineapple finds this boring.’  

Role play as TV presenters 

This is a great way to practise speaking skills. You can use frames on Zoom to replicate the TV during online lessons.  

Use different background wallpapers on video calls  

This can act as a discussion point in the lesson. For example, ask your class to choose a design to express how they are feeling. 

Ask for feedback  

Ask your learners what they enjoy in your online lessons and what isn’t going as well.  

You can do this through a quick online poll or a short survey on Google Forms. 

This shows your learners that you care about their learning experience. It will also help you with lesson planning. 

If you sense that a learner is struggling, check in with them after the class. Send a direct message. This shows your learners that you are available to help them, in the same way that you are in the physical classroom. 

The contributors to this article were panellists in a Education Exchange Digital Event

Ruth Horsfall is the Young Learner Courses Manager for the British Council in Spain.  

Candida Javaid is Head of German at The Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe in the United Kingdom.  

Leonor Marin Cruz is National English Teachers Association PERU TEC's Academic Advisor as Latin America and Caribbean Society of Well-Being President.  

Olena Molodek is a teacher of English and a class teacher at Gymnasium № 7 specialising in English, Chernivtsi in Ukraine, and a teacher trainer for the British Council Ukraine.  

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