ER Solutions for Online Teaching

3 Mar

Our school, as with many schools in this part of the world, has switched to online teaching amid the coronavirus outbreak. For the past few days, I have witnessed many conversations about the challenges and time required to find simple to implement and easy to use tools to create engaging activities that learners can do with little or no help, particularly in a class of English language learners.

My online teaching experience has been with full time working adults that are pursuing graduate work. I have always loved the challenges that come with online teaching platforms and it is precisely for these reasons that I decided to research online learning communities and their effects on teaching and learning for my doctorate work.

Through my research and online teaching experience, I have found that communication regularly is key to the success of the online experience for both learners and teachers. Communicating with a guardian or a parent of a young learner is vital for the success and ongoing commitment of your student to the online learning platform.  Also, to be effective, online teaching practices must include a healthy mix of group and individual tasks and assignments to enhance the learning experience and nurture a helpful and encouraging online community. In other words, when thinking about online teaching, we need to think of active learning.


Engaging learners, especially second language learners, without the physical presence of a teacher in the learning space, requires that instructors embrace multi-media assignments to ensure that a mix of discussions, collaboration, video, and audio clips are employed.  After all, good teaching practices that we use in physical learning spaces are the same instructional strategies that have been proven to be effective in online environments with the added bonus of the freedom and ability to teach and learn at any time and with anyone around the globe. The key is to design a learning environment where interaction between learners and learners and between faculty and learners is fostered, developed, and supported.

Managing my Google Classroom

GoogleClassroomHow, then, is a teacher who has not previously taught online makes the shift? Most schools today use Google Classroom which is an online platform developed by Google for schools.  The good news is that Google Classroom makes engaging and interactive teaching possible and for those who would like help with getting started or becoming experts in teaching with Google Classroom, there is free online training. Google’s online Teacher Center has many lessons with videos and step by step instructions to help you on your journey to online teaching using Google Apps in Education. Check out this page for training specifically for Google Classroom.

Google Classroom works best with Google Chrome. To personalize your online teaching experience, you can add extensions to Google Chrome. Extensions are small software programs that enable you, the teacher, to tailor Chrome to meet your needs and those of your students. Each extension has one purpose with the goal of making things more convenient and easier to see and use. In this blog entry, I will share with you some easy to use Chrome extensions that will ensure that your online teaching in Google Classroom is collaborative, engaging, and interactive.

rwAs a language teacher, one of my favorite Chrome extensions is Read&Write. Although originally marketed for learners with literacy needs such as dyslexia, the text to speech feature of Read&Write benefits ALL learners. Students can listen to long reading passages, thus improving their listening comprehension and engaging their auditory and visual senses or have directions of an assignment read to them. It can also act as a digital proof-reader and even a bedtime storyteller.

For those reluctant writers whose ideas are often halted by their need to know how to spell words, the Talk&Type feature of Read&Write offers them the opportunity to orally dictate their stories, brainstorm ideas, share notes and comments, or record observations as they are happening.  There is even a highlighter option that can be used to stress keywords, important passages or record voice notes as students read a website.

Read&Write is also a great tool to help develop second language learners’ writing skills. Its word prediction feature offers students suggestions to build sentences based on their current words as they type. It also is great to work collaboratively to write paragraphs on a given topic.  Students can create and listen to voice notes directly inside of their Google Docs as they research and summarize information.

All in all, it is truly a tool that can empower learners to take more responsibility for their learning and apply self-differentiation to achieve their learning goals.

DeckPearPearDeck is another extension that I use. It is an add-on that takes presentation slides and turns them into interactive activities for the learners. Once installed, you can open Google Slides or a PowerPoint presentation and use PearDeck to add questions to each slide. These can be multiple-choice, short answer, or numbered questions. In giving students access to add their contributions and write/draw their responses, they are taking ownership of their learning while giving you, the teacher, an opportunity for formative assessment and/or self and peer assessment. In addition, the ability to share anonymously your students’ responses is a great trigger and incentive for reflection and discussion. Check out some of the examples online.

Engaging students with PearDeck can happen in so many ways. PearDeck has a slide library that has some pre-created activities for the beginning of a lesson (check prior knowledge, ask a question, invite curiosity), during a lesson (summarize key points, assess learning and gauge understanding), or at the end of a lesson (reflect, share what they learned, or retell). You can check out Pear Deck Vocabulary to customize and create an interactive way to do flashcards with your learners which can then be uploaded to Quizlet.


The last extension I would like to share with you today is Insert Learning which transforms websites into interactive lessons. Teachers can add sticky notes, links, videos, discussion questions, multiple-choice questions and more to a webpage of their choice. Another way to create a blended learning online space for your learners.

Extensions can enhance your online teaching experience and turn Google Classroom into a wonderful online community of learners and teachers. There are many extensions online and many more are being created. Why not try one today and see the places it will take you! And don’t forget to stay tuned for my next blog entry when I will share with you other extensions and some Apps that I have been experimenting with that work really well with Google Classroom, and enhance the online teaching and learning experience for you and your learners.

Happy online teaching!

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