Teaching tools

and how to use them

Humanity has always shared knowledge and information. Teaching is a vital skill. It touches every aspect of our lives: when we bring our children, when we mentor our employees, when we give feedback and finally when we decide to monetize our knowledge and teach for money.

Today the number of online and offline schools is growing faster than ever, making high-quality content and smart tools a must.

This week, we will focus on teaching and teaching tools and give some experience and details about:

  • EdTech trends;

  • tools one can use to teach.

    How COVID has changed EdTech trends 

    It seems the post-COVID way of living will never be the same, especially when it comes to learning and working. EdTechReview shared a list of things that are now trending in education. 

    At a glance:

    1. ‘Tuitions’ will be redefined

    2. Blended learning will be the new normal

    3. Interactivity will take center stage

    4. Personalization will be the need of the hour

    5. Early learning will become more innovative

    6. Vernacular learning will gain importance

    7. Digital learning tools will see greater adoption from teachers

    Top platforms to teach online 

    • UNESCO has recently published a list of top platforms for online learning and supplementary services that can make online education easier and more exciting. It contains

    • collaboration platforms that support live-video communication

    • tools for teachers to create digital learning content

    • digital learning management systems

    • resources to provide psychosocial support

    • Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Platforms

    • self-directed learning content

      You can find the full list here

    Personal experience // how to teach

    My name is Polina, and I’ve been teaching for ten years, working as a Director of studies for the last four years. Our team counts more than 70 teachers at the moment. We develop various educational programs and courses to teach foreign languages. Today I’m going to share some of my experience.

    To be honest, I love cooking. There is a certain appeal in putting together different ingredients to get something new and exciting. I always remember that scene in Ratatouille, where Remi bit into a strawberry and a piece of cheese and saw fireworks in his mind. He said that each flavour is unique, but when you combine them, you create an entirely new experience. That scene spoke to me.

    And recently I realized that teaching is very much like cooking. There is a myriad of resources and tools you use to make your lessons specifically tailored to the needs of a particular student and group. Every lesson plan is a recipe for a novel dish that will never be repeated again. The trick is to understand what things go best together and will appeal to your audience most. 

    When the quarantine started, many of us faced the need to switch to online teaching and use resources and tools that we had never used before. Personally, I had always been reluctant to try that; online lessons lacked personal touch or so-called energy flow, too much depended on the internet connection and other external factors. More than anything, I didn’t feel in control. And, frankly, I simply didn’t know how to cook it or serve it.

    A month into quarantine and I practically became an expert in online teaching (a self-proclaimed one). I can masterfully juggle tools, websites, resources, course-books, and many other ingredients to create my lessons, making them useful, engaging, and relevant. How do I do it? Well, let me give you my chef’s tips.

    Recipe N1. Adapt the course-book

    There is nothing more boring than sending a pdf copy of a course-book to your students and doing it task by task following the unit outline. Much like in offline teaching, there are multiple ways to adapt tasks and squeeze even more from what the book offers. I believe it is not so important to complete a unit as much as make your students practice vocabulary and grammar.

    Let’s take a standard reading task.

    While adapting this text we must focus on the tasks that will engage students in a conversation, generate interest in the topic and activate vocabulary. Our main goal is to create the need for using the new vocabulary or grammar.

    Consider these things:

    - Why is this topic interesting for my students? If you feel it isn’t you may change questions and the focus of the task or skip it altogether.

    - How can you generate interest in the topic and vocabulary? Make it personal for the students. Show them evocative pictures, ask to share personal experiences.

    - Think of the vocabulary your students might need to discuss the topic. Answer the questions to yourself, write down collocations and structures you feel could come up during the lesson and pre-teach them.

    - Look through the text, underline all the collocations and vocabulary your students might not be familiar with. You can then ask them to connect words and meanings, match parts of collocations or ask them to retell the text using this vocabulary.

    - If your main focus is grammar, think of how you can teach them structures without explicitly announcing so. Students are generally prone to resent any formal grammar lessons with drawing tables and extended lectures from the teacher. Is there a way you can make them discover the rules on their own?

    Having all that in mind let’s see what could be done with the text above:

    1. Show students pictures of people in a foul mood. Ask them to guess what may have caused that. Ask students to share in pairs what upsets them most. Make a list of top 5 things that can ruin someone’s day.

    2. Show students a photo of a hippo and ask them to guess how it could be connected to the topic. Write their guesses on the board.

    3. Elicit vocabulary from the text. Ask students to match collocation parts. Ask them to predict what the text will be about based on the collocations.

    4. Students skim read the text and find words and collocations along the way, share their thoughts and ideas. Alternatively, you can cut the text in paragraphs and ask students to restore the original order in pairs. 

    5. If the main focus is grammar, ask students to match parts of sentences together. One part is with Past Continuous, the second is with Past Simple. Then give students only first halves of sentences with Past Continuous and ask them to finish the sentences with their own ideas. They can work on this individually or in groups and you can even vote for the best idea (although take caution, not all groups take to competition and losing well enough).

    6. Discuss why the tenses are used in each case, students should get the idea on their own, the teacher directs and notes the rule on the board.

    7. Students tell each other or even write about their terrible days using phrases and structures you studied.

    8. Next lesson ask students to retell the text using the words and collocations you studied from the text.

    Recipe N2. Use online boards.

    In the previous recipe I mentioned noting things down on a board. But aren’t we talking about online lessons? Do not despair for in the modern time we have modern solutions. There are plenty of online boards and tools that can help you organise your lessons. If you are creative you could simply share screen and use MS Paint, or any type of word document, but the ones truly wonderful are Google Jamboard and Miro board.

    The first one allows you to create sticky notes of different colours (praise colour-coding), draw and insert pictures. The background is a limited space of a landscape oriented whiteboard with a few design options. One jam board allows you to have up to 20 slides all of which can be saved separately as images or as one pdf file. Perfect for organising your thoughts, ideas, and then send the materials to your students after the lesson. You can never do that with an actual board, can you?

    The downside is that it doesn’t allow you to write any straightforward text and the space is limited. There are a few ways around it but I still find it annoying at times.

    How you cook it:

    - use a “scissor tool” to cut out pieces from your pdf course-books and insert them in the slide. Highlight, add sticky notes and make mind maps around those.

    - use different sticky notes to teach or revise grammar. You can ask students to move different pieces and rearrange and reorder them. Word order, sentence structure, modifiers, articles, questions, you name it, can be taught and visualised this way.

    - write questions on the stickers and cover them with empty ones. Ask students to remove the top sticker to unveil the question beneath. A perfect substitute for everybody’s favourite speaking task.

    Miro board gives you a huge free space with the ability to create sticky notes, insert images and write text. It can get pretty messy though and you have to organise this space carefully. You can save parts of the board as images and send them to your students, too.

    How to cook it:

    - I use scissor tools to cut out different cards and paste them on the board. Since you can move them around and overlay, you can use Miro to play board games and card games from resource packs.

    - zoom in and zoom out to create a multi-dimensional visual lesson. No one will be able to call that boring!

    And one last advantage of these online boards is that you can reuse and recycle them! I often come back to the tasks I have already done with my students and revise the material in some new way. I may cover a part of the picture, of a verb; ask to use the vocabulary while answering new questions and many other things. 

    Recipe N3. Step away from a course book.

    It is true that we are sometimes reluctant to create a lesson from scratch. After all, there are teams of smart people dedicated to making well-rounded courses that cover every eventuality and aspect of the language. Well, that being said, no course book is perfect; after all, why are there so many of them? More than that, our students are all unique and have their own needs, gaps, requirements and interests. So doing something tailored specifically for them every once In a while is a great way to ensure their progress is stable and their motivation stays high. It can be a grammar lesson or a lesson on debates, watching YouTube videos and discussing them.

    For instance, when I teach conditionals I always turn to the topic of superstitions. I work with Russian students and belief in the supernatural runs deep in our culture and blood, so everybody has something to say about it. First, I show pictures related to the topic and ask to describe them. Then we decide what the common topic is and I elicit superstition. We may discuss whether they are superstitious or not, why people believe in these things. And then I ask them to name superstitions writing them in the form of the first conditional. The rest you may guess!

    Other tools!

    As a good chef may cook a fantastic meal using the most basic ingredients in an empty room, so an experienced teacher may conduct an efficient and useful lesson using only a piece of paper. But why should they? We have great resources and tools at our fingertips that will not only make our lives easier, but help us create state-of-the-art lessons much quicker!

    - I recommend looking at online game constructors such as baamboozle.com, wordwall, jeopardy lab, kahoot and others,

    - there are a few trustworthy grammar practice websites such as test-english and English4u. Give them as homework or practice on the lesson!

    - show examples of collocation use and pronunciation with extracts from films and tv-shows - yarn.io and playphrase.me

    These are only a few ideas and tips that make us create delicious lessons. Do not be afraid to try new things and always look for unique and exotic ingredients!

    Bon Appetit!

    That’s all by now, stay amazing <3

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