by Aggie Chapman
Teaching online, although vastly different to our usual teaching, doesn’t mean that we have to give up on all the cool things that we used to be able to do in the classroom.
To me, a massive kinaesthetic learning supporter, it came as a massive disappointment at first. It felt like all my movement-based activities went straight out of the window. Sure, some will have to wait until we are back to school, others longer still – when, hopefully, social distancing will be not much more than a sad memory. Though thinking about how difficult it is for the students to focus for hours in a traditional classroom, I can see that implementing brain breaks and some elements of movement has to be part of the online classroom. So, I’ve been racking my brains about how to break away from the rather daunting perspective of simply spending a long time staring at the screen and smuggling in a bit of fun, just like I would in a normal class.
Soon after starting to teach online in spring, I felt that I had to try to adapt some of the activities and games I’d normally use in class. I asked my students beforehand if they were happy to show their rooms and different belongings on camera, and luckily for me, all of them were fine with the idea and quite curious about what we were going to do.
Here’s a brief wrap-up of what ideas I used, which worked quite well. They can be used to practise a language point, or serve as filler – a bit of breather in the middle, or at the end of the lesson.
1. Treasure hunt
You may want to set up the activity in advance and ask the students to prepare certain objects, or just surprise them during the lesson.
I practised comparative forms with this game and students really enjoyed it. Think about the adjectives you are going to practise in the lesson and objects that your students are likely to have at home that illustrate them and can be used to form comparatives. I used: big, small, long, short, soft, hard, light, dark, and heavy. I played this game in 2 ways, and both worked fine.
Don’t be surprised when the students decide to use their rules to measure which object is longer/shorter…
“Show me something small, please.” (Students show 1 object each to the camera. You may ask a few of them what they have.).
“Now, show me something smaller.” (Students should now hold an object in each hand to show the difference in size between the 2 objects. Ask a few to make sentences about their objects using the comparative.)
Teacher shows an object to the camera and asks the students what it is + elicits the adjective describing it. Then with their thumb up they elicit a comparative – “Can you show me something …. “(students say the comparative). Then they go to find an object that fits the description.
It may be an idea to set time limits with a sound signalling the end of time, plus rules like – you must find an object in your room, to avoid students taking an unplanned break from the lesson. 😊
If you want, you can nominate the students to give the instructions after a couple of examples from you. The activity can be a whole-class one (I found it easier that way), or played in smaller groups in breakout rooms, with more mature students.
2. I-spy (Veo, veo… / Vedo, vedo…) with a twist
The traditional version of the I-spy game one person says something like “I spy, with my little eye something beginning with “g”/ “e”/ “n” etc.” other players look around the room and try to guess the object. The person who guesses correctly, takes over and says the I-spy line next, with a different object this time.
In the online version it can be a teacher-led activity, where students need to find a bring the object – show it on their camera. They can get points for each correct object, or only the first one can get a point. However, students can just enjoy the game, even if they don’t score points, in bigger groups looking at many cameras to see who’s first may not be possible (they’re not always all on the screen at the same time).
The game can also be modified using colours, shapes, materials etc.: “I spy, with my little eye something blue / yellow /red etc.”, “I spy, with my little eye something long / short /square / made of paper etc.”.
Students can also take turns to give instructions to others.
3. House vocabulary / prepositions of place.
This one isn’t so much about movement, but it does include an element of personalisation and quite realistic communication practice.
In breakout rooms – students describe their rooms: the furniture, decorations, etc. + their locations.
a) Find similarities or differences (or both) between your bedrooms
Students take turns – the first student says a sentence about their room e.g. My desk is next to the wardrobe. / My bed is white. /There are 3 pictures on the wall.
The next student’s task is to continue by pointing out a similarity or difference in their room. Each time they say a sentence, they should show it on the camera to prove that they’re correct.
b) Questions & short answers about the partner’s bedroom
Students take turns to ask each other about their bedrooms, for example: Is there a big carpet in your bedroom? Have you got any plants? How many windows are there? Where is your wardrobe? Etc.
The answer should be confirmed by showing the thing in question on the camera
c) Online spies
This one adds a competitive element, as the students get a point for each correct sentence about their partner’s room. They take turns, and of course they can start by using what they see on the camera to help them score a point, but then they should continue making guesses about the things they can’t see.
They ought to produce sentences such as: “I think your carpet is pink.” / “Your bed is opposite the door.” / “There are no posters on the walls.“
It’s also a good opportunity to raise some points about online security – what can people see on your camera?
The activity could be adapted to do as a whole-class one, as not all schools allow breakout rooms etc. In this case students may take turns – the first student makes a sentence about their room, and others try to find something similar (or different) in their room. We used the “Hand up” function on Zoom – the first student to “put their hand up” was the one to speak. Another way can be to ask the students to nominate the next person to speak, but they shouldn’t be choosing someone who’s already spoken, of course.
Of course, not everything will appeal to all students and class management is a whole different thing in the case of online teaching. I realise I was pretty lucky with the students who were really well-behaved and motivated. Learning online was a completely new thing for them, so perhaps the novelty factor also helped. The fun-loving part of me though, keeps thinking that perhaps by creating some completely different, fun activities we can show the students that learning online is so much more than just staring at the screen for hours on end.
If you have ideas for more activities or how to modify the ones above, do let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear (read) your thoughts!