If you are one of the (literally) thousands of language instructors either actively moving your face-to-face courses online or thinking about how to do so, I am compiling a list of tips, resources, blog posts, and podcasts for language teaching online. I’m starting with just a few links I don’t want to lose track of, but I will update frequently and add my own resources as time allows.
Here’s my own advice for my colleagues: In order to translate what we do in a f2f class into an online space in a hurry, we need to think through 1) What are the core learning goals for this course? 2) What instructional activities are best helping my students meet those goals? 3) What online activities can I substitute for those most important f2f activities? And finally 4) What can I let go like Marie Kondo? You’ll need to let go of a lot so just prepare to simplify, thank that f2f activity for its service, send it on its way, and never look back!
If you are a college instructor, I would expect that you still have some learning objectives to meet, and I want to assure you that you can do so even while keeping things simple. As Dr. Jennifer Townes said on the Leading Lines podcast about quickly moving online: we don’t have to give students the whole burger with the mayo and lettuce and tomato and all. We need to get down to the meat and the bread!
If you are a K-12 teacher who has been told you need to provide learning continuity, take all of the advice you hear and all of the advice I give below and cut your plans in half. Then cut them in half again. Know that students need calm and care more than they need your lessons, and if you can get done in one week what you would normally get done in a day, your students will have all the continuity they need. Our educational system is not a strict formula of achievement, but rather a way to maximize people’s innate developmental trajectory. In times of chaos, it is our connection with loving, stable caretakers that promotes development, not schooling.
Moving a language course online fast is not going to be a perfect experience. Managing your own expectations and simplifying your approach may be just what you need to get through the experience and maybe even enjoy it!
Stay strong and stick together, language teachers. This is a huge challenge, but I am confident our profession can rise to the challenge!
Resources and How-To’s
Virtual Learning: Here We Go (K-12 focus, but good for all) by Noemi Rodriguez
Spanish Activities for Quarantined Students (7-12 Spanish focus) by Sherry at World Language Cafe
What if you made your remote teaching game-based by putting together awesome, join-from-home games using tools like Gimkit??? That’s what Kathryn Burgess Sheridan is doing!
If you teach German, check out Amanda Sheffer’s list of online resources for German.
Ann Abbott has a Twitter thread about community-engaged and service learning courses during institutional closures and online teaching (HigherEd focus).
Diego Ojeda asked his Twitter community to suggest resources and the responses are a wealth of ideas. Check that out here.
Creative Language Class’ Megan Smith put out a blog post with ideas.
Extempore has a webinar and a guide to remote language teaching.
IALLT Webinar: Pandemic Prepping in the Language Class: Instructional Contingency Planning for Emergency Situations by Georges Detiveaux, Trish Nolde, Marlene Johnshoy
We Teach Languages Podcasts:
Episode 90: Online Language Teaching and the Community of Inquiry Framework with Kylie Korsnack
Episode 103: Tech Tools for the Language Classroom with Heidi Trude
Episode 114: Blended Learning and Inquiry Projects with Kristin Kvasnyuk
Language Latte Podcast:
Episode 24: Teaching Languages Online with T-Helah Ben-Dan
Brilliant Ideas & Free Stuff for Alternative & Remote Assignments
Jessica Gillespie suggests target language yoga videos to help students feel relaxed and strong! Such a good idea!
Mike Travers shared his first week of remote lessons. A realistic plan that will undoubtedly help students continue learning!
Laura Sextonis giving away awesome worksheets based on authentic Instagram posts. They are for secondary Spanish, but could serve as inspiration or models for other languages.
Julie Spano of Mundo de Pepita has offered free downloadable activity sheets to send home with elementary Spanish students during a closure (K-6 Spanish focus).
Covid-19 School Closure: 10+ Days of Free Lesson Plans for Spanish Class (7-12 Spanish focus) by Martina Bex and Maris Hawkins
Leslie Grahan is building a Google doc of remote student choice activities for languages (K-12 focus, but good for all).
Online Tools that Facilitate Language Instruction
ActivelyLearn: Turns text into a series of activities
Conjuguemos: A Spanish practice website with videos and activities. Offering free premium to teachers going online!
eComma: Digital Social Reading
EdPuzzle: Turns videos into a series of activities
EdPuzzle has offered free Premium account upgrades to educators teaching online because of the current pandemic
Flipgrid: Video posting and messaging tool. Free for educators and a great way to “see” and “talk” to each other asynchronously.
FluencyMatters is a leveled readers publisher that is offering free 21 day access to e-learning for schools going remote.
Mango Languages is making their online platform and curriculum free to closed schools.
Perusall: Digital Social Reading
thisislanguage.com is offering extended free trial access to teachers affected by school closures. It’s a cool platform that gives students activities to do with real, authentic language.
Zoom: video conferencing, recording, screen sharing
Diane Neubauer has some YouTube videos that show in detail how she teaches online using Zoom: 1) a tour of her set-up/studio, 2) the Zoom green screen feature, 3) Engaging in informal discussion online
Amber Navarre has a super useful list of Zoom resources for language teachers.
Columbia University put out a YouTube webinar called Teaching Languages with Zoom
And apparently Zoom is giving the tool to K-12 schools for free!
My Own Approach
Putting your course online in a hurry is not the same thing as designing a fully online course from the start. We have to be realistic about how stressed out everyone is, how disruptive the shift to online will be, and how much grace we need to show ourselves and others.
Two caveats before you read this detailed model below:
- If at any point I find materials online that someone has already created, or if a company or textbook publisher has already developed something that I can assign my students INSTEAD of making it all myself, I would 100% do that with NO REGRETS.
- If I find myself or my students scrambling or stressed out, I will scale way back. It might be necessary to skip parts of this model go so we can breathe more deeply and focus MORE on FEWER things.
That said, I use the experiential learning model (discussed in episode 133 of We Teach Languages) to plan almost everything I teach, and a quick shift to remote learning is no exception. My Spanish 101 class is 50 minutes long, 4 times a week. Here’s how I would spend that 50 minutes in a remote teaching situation. The four steps are:
1. Concrete Experience aka Input!
To start, students need to read and/or listen to real language that communicates something: authentic language. This should be almost entirely comprehensible (to learn why listen to episode 111 of We Teach Languages with Gianfranco Conti) and interesting or engaging for students! People just learn more when they actually want to understand.
If I am switching my instruction online, the primary way I am going to provide this input for students is through pre-recorded videos that I make using ExplainEverything which is a pretty cool screencasting/white board app. In class, the input I provide students is a mix of just interacting naturally with the world of our classroom and the people in it, telling funny stories, and talking about the people and perspectives of the Spanish-speaking world. I use the same stories/lectures/input and the same Google slides for my face-to-face classes, I narrate the slides, draw on the slides, pull in cool elements to help make the input more comprehensible.
And here’s the important thing: I stop every few sentences and ask students a question. The question has a number and is written on the slide, and they hear me say it out loud. These are pretty basic questions. So, if I asked students to watch a music video, my lecture might be a description of the singers. I might say “Marc Anthony es un cantante muy famoso. Canta muy bien y tiene colaboraciones con otros cantantes.” All the while, students can also see the words on the screen, they see a picture of Marc and pictures of him with other artists. My slides are providing visual support for my words. Then I’ll say and show on the slide “1.) Marc Anthony prefiere cantar solo. ¿Sí o no?” Students need to pause the video and type into their own document, “1.) No.” Then they can move on to the next section.
There is research to suggest that students can’t really process videos longer than 6 minutes, therefore they can’t learn from them (I learned this from this teaching guide by my colleague Dr.Cynthia Brame). So, I would need to be very careful to keep my video at or below about 6 minutes. With the time it takes students to pause, write answers, back up to re-listen, etc, I assume this 6-minute video input will take them about 10-12 minutes to work through. Then another couple of minutes to submit the assignment page which I will describe further in the next section.
2. Reflective Observation aka Processing!
In the language classroom we are often doing our input and our processing hand-in-hand. We read, we do a few activities to help students better understand what we are reading, we read again, and so on. Same thing online! The activity above where I stop and do check-in questions every few sentences? That is helping students to pause and process what I am saying as I say it. As evidence of their processing, I will have them submit that document with their 10-20 very short answers to my questions. A quick assignment in our course management system and everyone gets full credit just for submitting. This is not really an assignment worth grading, but it is one worth doing.
Another really great way to get students to work through and process input is by using the quiz tool in a course management system. First, I ask students to read a particular, level-appropriate authentic resource in its entirety. Then, the students start the quiz in which I ask them processing questions. Maybe one question gives them a small chunk of the text and they have to pick the word from the text that is a synonym. I could list four multiple choice answers for them to pick from. Or maybe one of the quiz questions is a string of emojis and I list six lines from the text as the multiple choices and ask students to pick which line has the same meaning as the emojis. Then I use show them an image and the same six lines of text, and ask them to determine which one best matches the image. There are so many activities you can do to help students process a text, and a lot of them work really well in quiz format. It’s also important to consider how long are the quizzes I give students. I have a 50 minute class period. I burned through 10-15 minutes with that short screencast input activity, I don’t want this to take them more that 10 minutes. It has to be short and sweet.
3. Abstract Experimentation aka Conceptualizing!
The classes I teach at the college level require students to have a working knowledge of grammatical concepts, be able to reflect on and articulate cultural products, practices, an perspectives, and develop skill in speaking and academic writing in the L2. The textbook my students are required to purchase does all the grammar work they need using an online platform, but culture and writing skill both require intentional development. So, I want to be sure to take time after we get the input and processing done to include some sort of work on all of those concepts. In my case, I can just assign the work out of the textbook and it is auto-graded. You might need to look around to find already-built online tools that can help with this.
If I am in a position to put my classes online in a hurry, then I will probably use live video conferencing (like Zoom or Google Hangout) to work on culture, conversation, and to practice and share short writing exercises. I teach 4 days per week in my 101 course, but I cannot imagine doing these live sessions more than 1 or 2 times per week. If you have a 3 day per week class, please do not ask your students to meet more than 1 time per week and please keep the meeting to 30 minutes or less. Come into the meeting prepared with a very clear agenda and rock out. If you get less done than you thought, no worries. That stuff just doesn’t get done.
And while my meetings are like 30 minutes long, only about 15 minutes of it should be spent on these bigger concepts. We’re going to need the other 15 minutes for step 4!
4. Active Experimentation aka Try it out!
Last but not least, after examining language in detail in the input and learning about the big concepts that give context to the language, students need to try it out! At this point, we are still in our live video conference, and we have about 15 minutes until class ends. If writing is our focus, they may get time to write. I’m there to answer questions and check in on everyone, so there is less chance of them resorting to a translator. I want to help, and I make that clear! I would expect students to submit what they wrote to an assignment by the end of class. I do not need my students obsessing over an informal writing task. They can write while I am there, ask questions, get started, and then submit! I review the assignments and give some quick, specific praise to each student. I also note for myself what language and concepts we need to reinforce in my next input and processing activities. For example, if half my students are saying “yo gusta” that is a CLEAR sign that they have not seen that structure enough in the input, so I need to bump that way up in future videos and text quizzes. If the focus is on conversation, I will use that live video conferencing time to facilitate a group discussion. Once again, while I don’t point out student errors to them directly, I do make a careful note of what we need to see again in the input, and I adjust my teaching accordingly.
For ongoing experimentation, I love discussions boards and live chats. It’s a great idea to to have one discussion board that is dedicated to English discussions where students can interact freely with you and with each other. It’s also a great idea to have one discussion board where students post weekly or even twice a week about their highlight of the week or introducing their pets or their favorite place in their house or their favorite book or whatever, but in the target language. Then, you can also have discussion boards or chats that are focused on the current language structures students are learning. This more academic type of discussion board gives me all the info I need to make good choices about what goes into the input moving forward. I can see how they are using language and what they *want* to say, and then I can move to help them learn to say it.
This system allows me to replace my face-to-face teaching with input-oriented activities that are about 10 minutes each, an ongoing discussion board, and video conference that is about 30 minutes long once a week or so. It’s a predictable structure, but also allows me to vary the content enough that we don’t get bored. It’s efficient for me and very useful learning for my students.
The first few times you use this model, building two different input activities for each class will feel like a lot, but creating those short 5-6 minute videos gets much easier over time after you have made a few, as does creating quizzes. You also might just find that these activities don’t suit your style, which is fine. But maybe the structure of 1) input, 2) processing, 3) concepts, then 4) trying it out, can be a guide for creating meaningful remote learning experiences.
If you have other links, resources, or ideas for online teaching that you want to share, please add them to the comments!