Ideas for a communicative English virtual class

Anubha Rawat

“Am I audible?” must be the most asked question of the year 2020. Surely, my fellow teachers will agree with me.

The question above is usually followed by, “Can you hear me clearly, children?” A long pause. And then a student’s voice booms loud and clear, “Yes, ma’am,” and the virtual class is ON. For most of us, navigating through the online platform was very new, but we are teachers, a resilient lot. Yesterday we were struggling, but today we are designing new strategies to engage our students in meaningful learning.

I am an English language teacher and over these past few months I have come to realize that many of the language activities that I used in my classroom could be tweaked and adapted to my online classes as well. Presentations, roleplays, creative writing, debates, quizzes and online crosswords are great ways to continue learning the language. And just like in my brick and mortar classroom, these activities help me inculcate in my students 21st-century skills, such as effective communication, decision-making, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration.

In the past few months, another thing that I have observed is that online classes have helped even the shy students shine. Students who wouldn’t open their mouths in the classroom are now finding ways to communicate with their classmates. An activity that I do with my students is to get them to think of at least one question related to a lesson or poem they are studying and ask it to their classmates. While earlier only the confident ones would get up to ask questions of their peers, today even the shy ones come up with questions for their classmates. They either message their questions, record them or some have even become brave enough to ask their classmates during class.

‘Learner Chosen Text’ is another activity I use to actively involve my students in the learning process. A student shares a passage, newspaper/magazine article or any text of his/her choice with the class. Based on the text, I facilitate reading and listening comprehension, creative writing and panel discussions. 

Relevant activities help ready the students for the lesson they are going to learn. Before I begin a new lesson, I tell the students to research about something in the lesson. For instance, the NCERT class X English textbook has a unit titled, ‘The Glimpses of India.’ I asked my students to find out more about some of the things mentioned in the lesson–tea, bread, clothes or map. My students made presentations on tea- its origin, the different varieties, where it is grown, weather and soil conditions required, etc. Some students made PPTs on Goa, its history, famous places, languages spoken, dress and festivals. Others designed travel brochures and attractive logos for different states of India. Such activities help develop students’ research, thinking and collaborative skills besides developing their language skills.

Inviting a student-alumni also works well. He/she could address the students on pertinent issues, give insights and relate his/her life experiences to the students online. The students can relate better when a person closer to their age addresses them. In one of my classes, I invited a senior student who had passed out of school last year. She spoke to my students about poetry, poetic devices and blogging. Besides helping my students appreciate poetry, she inspired many of them to start writing blogs.

Apart from ideas to teach, both students and teachers need stress relievers because of having to be online for long hours. In between classes, one could do simple breathing or movement exercises. Students could close their eyes and focus on mindful breathing, stretch their arms and legs or touch their toes. These simple exercises are great stress relievers. One quick and interesting activity is to ask the students to look around their room for an item that best describes their feeling/emotion on a particular day. Then, they can show the item to the camera and talk about it. Sharing helps students open up about their feelings, which is especially relevant in these challenging times. Also, it’s a good way to develop listening and speaking skills. 

Teachers take pride and joy in the teacher-student bond. This association will always shine, even if the classroom, the medium of learning or the mode of writing changes. The hunger to learn and the dedication of the teachers towards providing the children with rich learning experiences will always overcome any upheaval or adversity.

The author is an English teacher who loves creating vibrant, rich and positive learning spaces for young minds to foster a love for the English language. She can be reached at [email protected]

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