Return to Simplicity in the Language Classroom

I have recently attended two local online events, namely the conference Učíme jazyky online and an event organised by the Digitální lektoři duo. Both events were very useful, enlightening and actually served as a wake-up call for me. I had recently been through a professionally strenuous time, teaching a Business English course and a Czech-for-foreigners course, both of which required a lot of my own materials-writing and careful planning. Even though each of these courses was a simple 1-1 class, there was a lot of effort and planning that went into it and I saw myself spending an evening planning a single 45-min lesson. The simple activities proposed at these events really helped me to rethink the way I organise my time. I believe this is something all of us teachers struggle with, so here are a few points I have in mind and a few “core” processes that can be adapted to any classroom. Just to note, neither of these activities was shared at the online events and I designed them only because I was inspired by them. No plagiarism intended and hopefully not committed.

So what are some strategies to lighten up your classes and streamline your processes?

1, Use more images in the classroom and invite your students to speak about them more. I won’t go into this any further because I would just be repeating what Digitální lektoři said and you should follow them if you want to know more (and speak Czech😊 ) I simply want to add that simple though it sounds, I myself found it a bit counter-intuitive, because I had always seen myself as a text-based person. If you ask me to design a lesson from scratch, the first thing that springs to mind is to choose an appropriate text. It might also be due to me teaching, until Covid happened and we all switched to online teaching, only face-to-face, constantly striving to limit the time spent at the printer and with strict limitations on printing in colour. However, sharing images online is so much easier!

2, Use videos – everyone seems to love videos. I am very fond of the Fluentize materials and video series by Chasing Time English, which have awesome dialogues (this is not a sponsored post, just genuinely sharing what I find useful and helpful, as well as affordable to a freelance teacher).

3, Think simple. Instead of drafting complex worksheets based on your videos, pictures, or texts, like I tend to do, invite your students to speak about them or make dialogues based on them.

Some activities:

1. Hidden images

Take an image/cartoon/photo full of action and details. Cover it with numbered sticky notes. The students tell you which number they want, you remove the card, the student describes what is underneath it. Very suitable for low-level classes.

Variation for higher-level classes:

Use the same image, but instead of numbers, write some grammar words or linking devices on the cards. The students have to use them as you reveal the image. Careful, more technical-minded people find this challenging, as they may not be able to think of what to say.

2. Basic video procedure:

Before the lesson, watch the video you plan to use and take 6-8 screenshots of the interesting moments. Put these jumbled on an interactive whiteboard/Jamboard. Let the students predict the order in which they will appear in the video.

Play the video and adjust the order of the pictures. At this stage, there tends to be a fair amount of emergent language and you can seize this opportunity to provide some reactive on-the-spot feedback. Play the video again and ask the students to write up as much language as they can. Check with the whole class and try to reconstruct the language. Play the video again if needed.

Present the students with the script of a dialogue from the video. Clarify any unknown language and let the students read the dialogue aloud. Tell your students they will now be acting the dialogue, so they need to listen again to it while paying attention to the way the characters say it (pronunciation, word stress, sentence stress, fast/slow pace, body language). Play the dialogue again and give your students time to rehearse it in break-out rooms and then act it out in front of the whole classroom.

To finish off this part of the lesson, answer the comprehension questions about the dialogue, which are often present somewhere in the materials that go with the videos, or write your own. Or don’t bother with writing them at all, just ask them orally😊 Or ask your students to write some.

In your next class, ask the students to write and act-out a new dialogue based on the theme of the video.

3. Simple dialogue procedure:

If you want to use situational dialogues – at the post office, at the doctor’s, at the police station, at the pub, you can either use dialogues written by professional writers in textbooks or you can write you own – they will probably be better targeted at your students’ needs and sound more natural, although you need to make sure to grade the level accordingly.

Write the dialogue up in your shared document or on an online whiteboard. Add the translation if needed (I am now using this when teaching complete beginners Czech).

Read the dialogue several times, and follow the typical dialogue procedure: repeat in chorus, individual students repeat, do the boys and girls, open pairs, closed pairs. This is a fairly standard procedure, though, and you don’t have to stop here.

Here is how you can up your game:

After the model dialogue has been clarified and drilled, I like to do some kind of dialogue-reconstruction task. One thing you can do is to use Wordwall and enter the lines of the dialogue as term and definition in the Match up mode. You can then invite your students to reconstruct the dialogue. Another useful Wordwall feature for this is Random card – turn a card and ask your students to tell you the line before and after the one on the card. If you don’t know Wordwall, you can read Peter’s review of it here.

Then elicit some changes to the dialogue and adapt. For example, if in the dialogue Petr invites Alena to the movies, but Alena excuses herself because she needs to study, elicit other places where you can invite others, and brainstorm more excuses – this is usually a lot of fun. Roleplay more dialogues. Ask your students to attempt similar dialogues with real people over the week for homework, and ask them to report to you in class next time.

A nice listening variation to dialogues is to have some “profile pictures” ready.

The teacher reads a dialogue between the two people in the pictures and the students tell you which of the people are speaking and what the details were.

Ideally, you should provide some reactive feedback at various stages of the dialogue. Focus on pronunciation, pace of speech, grammar and vocabulary use in the freer activities. If you are recording the class, listen to the recording after the lesson and analyse your students’ language. In a perfect world, the students should be doing it, but I know mine just won’t.

That’s it for today. I hope this has been helpful and you have found some inspiration for your classes and as always, happy to see some WordPress notifications – they are my favourite!

What are your basic, low-prep activities to use in class? Let me know in the comments here or on Twitter or Facebook.

5 thoughts on “Return to Simplicity in the Language Classroom

  1. Hi Kamila,

    I’d planned to read this post much sooner but then it got buried under more recent posts. The thing is, I wanted to do it justice and not just skim read it. I think I may have discovered the reason for my forgetfulness – I don’t read things carefully enough. :/

    Anyway, thanks for all the ideas. I found myself nodding in agreement when you said it’s much easier to share images when teaching online. The fact that no printing and photocopying is required is a huge advantage (for me, at any rate). Over the past semester I’ve only made copies of exam papers, which was a first for me too, despite teaching asynchronously for many semesters now. Normally I would print and photocopy materials for the classroom sessions, but last October, when we weren’t sure if I should be handing out photocopies and if students should be touching them – plus they weren’t supposed to sit close enough for pairwork anyway – I adapted all the classroom activities so no handouts were required. (Of course, students could & did still use their notebooks.)

    Also, thanks for all the visuals you added. I see you’ve been using Miro, which I haven’t had a chance to try out yet but I see looks a lot like Google Jamboard. How do they compare?

    Finally, I’m glad you made it to the end of a busy semester and hope you have a lovely summer break!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Vedrana and thanks so much for the comment!

      As for sharing materials and worksheets – I’ve had to revamp most of my materials to suit the online environment and now, if I go back to the classroom in September, which is the plan, I will have to readjust them again. But I will try to find a way to make them more interactive and limit the pages to be printed.

      I found out about Miro at the conference I mention in the post. There was a presentation about it and I gave it a try, because I needed a whiteboard that integrated with MS Teams and Google tools don’t work particularly well. I also was not much impressed by MS Whiteboard. First thing to understand is Miro is a tool for companies mainly. You are allowed to three free boards and if you open an account from another email address, Miro merges these two together and gives you an additional two boards. The subscription cost is quite high for a freelancer. But the space is unlimited, so with good organisation, you can have everything on one board. You don’t need one for each class.

      If you want your students to collaborate, you have to invite them to the board, which involves asking the students to create accounts and dealing with technical issues and for me it is just not worth it. But I know a teacher who does that and her students can do the matching activities, fill out stuff etc.

      Myself, and many other teachers in our community, we use it as a bank of materials which the teacher has a control of. So the students would tell you which card they want removed etc. If I want sts to collaborate, I will use G Jam.

      But otherwise, it is a really convenient platform. The copy&paste feature is easy to use, so you can share materials, move them around easily, create frames as little “activity files” and do pretty much anything, so I definitely recommend getting that free account and spending an evening playing with it and learning how it works.

      Hope you have an easy going summer and you enjoy the well-deserved break!

      Cheers
      K.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much for the detailed description of how Miro works! I’ve already got a few tools I need to try out – one is Wordwall which you also recommended and I’ve heard good things about – so Miro is going on the list. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hana Tichá

    Hi, Kamila.

    I know I’m a bit late for the party but here I am … catching up. 🙂 While reading your post, I caught myself subconsciously discarding anything related to technology. The prime reason is that I’m totally fed up with it (for obvious reasons) and also, I just can’t be bothered with anything that requires registering (even though it’s free). Yes, this is what isolation and months of teaching online did to me. So what stood out for me immediately was the activity in which the teacher covers parts of an image with sticky notes. How simple and practical! I doubt I’ve ever used it, which is surprising because I’m ancient now. 🙂 Anyway, I thought that it would be a good idea to turn it into a pair work activity – I would ask each student to pick an image from their coursebook and cover parts of it with sticky notes (pieces of paper or any small items of their choice). They would then work in pairs and describe each other’s pictures. They might have the same picture, with different parts covered, or different pictures.

    One way or the other, I’m definitely going to try it out. Thanks for sharing.

    I hope you’re enjoying the summer. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Hana, thanks for the comment and please don’t apologize! It’s great you are back to blogging and blog reading and anyways, I need to catch up on both as well! I actually feel I have made the switch to digital teaching quite smoothly (after being adamant about it for so long) that I don’t mind, but obviously I don’t have 25+ teenagers in my classroom:-) And I love the fact pictures can be shared digitally and not printed. But otherwise I am pretty minimalistic about the digital world too and there are many tools that I just decided not to use for the moment (Genially, for example). I am still more after sound classroom procedures than tools. Also, it looks like I’ll be going back to the real classroom in September again, which means changing my mats again:-) That picture activity just came to me. I don’t know how else to explain it. We must be the same age and I had never thought about it before either, so there you go:-)
      Have a great summer too!
      K.

      Liked by 1 person

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