First language class adapted for live online teaching

To teachers and students who are new to live online language learning, I often say that anything you can imagine doing in a real classroom, you can also do in a Virtual Learning Environment, or virtual classroom – except better!  Well, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but it is quite true that there is no shortage of ideas for adapting language teaching material to the online environment.

When it comes to ideas for language teaching, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Most language teaching activities and methods are just adaptations of old favourites that have been circulated in various incarnations for years, and are easily personalised with a tweak here and there. However, teaching live online does require a little originality to adapt activities to the virtual environment.

So over a few blog posts we’re going to look at some of the classic favourites for first classes, and see how we might adapt them to a virtual learning environment.

Wordling Me.

I think I am indebted to Karenne Sylvester for this idea, and I have used it for many first classes.

Object: introducing the teacher
Language input: practicing various question forms
Skills input: oral fluency

Think of about 15 words or short phrases that illustrate an aspect of your life. For example, you may choose « peanuts », « 14 » and « Somerset Maugham », if you happen to be allergic to peanuts, you have been in your present job for 14 years, and Somerset Maugham is your favourite short story writer.

For best visual effect in a virtual classroom, make a Wordle of your list of words/phrases. Remember that to ensure that words belonging to the same phrase don’t get separated, you need to connect them with a tilde (~). Once the wordle has been created you can modify it to your liking using the font, layout and colour menus. Although it is possible to save a wordle to a public gallery with a link, I generally find it easier to create a .pdf using the print menu, or simply to make a screenshot. Once you have your image saved somewhere convenient for easy access, you can easily upload it to whatever virtual classroom you are using, or share it over Skype or by E-mail. A recent example of my own is at the top of this post.

Timesaver tip:

With visuals I know I am going to use again, I generally insert them into a powerpoint that I can add other materials to for a ready made class. It’s great to be able to upload all the materials you need in one go, rather than having to create individual slides each time you prepare for a class.

Once you have introduced the task, your student needs to begin asking you questions until they manage to elicit from you the exact answer. Take « peanuts », for example:

Student: Do you like peanuts?
Teacher: No. (It generally takes a few tries before they realise that of course closed questions are not going to get them anywhere)
Student: Hmmm. What is your favourite food?
Teacher: Pizza.
Student: OK, what did you have for breakfast?
Teacher: Cereal. (At this point you might offer a clue – « Actually, I really don’t like peanuts).
Student: Oh, OK. What food don’t you like.
Teacher: Brussels sprouts 🙂
Student: Or, what food are you allergic to?
Teacher: Peanuts!

The above example conversation would be for Intermediate level students and above, but the exercise can be adapted to any level, and you can decide as the teacher what level of accuracy you are shooting for.

The exercise easily leads into work on the grammar of question forms, so if your wordle is already in a powerpoint you can just add slides with your question forms exercises and you have a reusable class all ready to go.
It can also be extended into an oral fluency exercise by asking the students to create their own list of words or phrases, and having their partner question them in the same way.

Two live online events worth attending

noam-chomskyTwo live online events this week that are well worth watching, both very different.

The first is a Virtual Round Table with Noam Chomsky, who doesn’t require any introduction.  Lancelot School is now offering a series called « Virtual Round Table On Demand » for live online discussion with renowned authors.  This session with Mr Chomsky will be the first.

Seats in the virtual room are very limited, and already taken.  However there is unlimited space in the « overspill room » which will be hosted in Instant Presenter.  The event will be held at 21.00 CET, Tuesday February 17. More information and details about how to enter the session can be had on the Lancelot School site.

The other session will take the form of a debate on the subject Are online profiles safe? This will be hosted by members of the Digifolios EVO09 workshop, facilitated by Nellie Deutsch.  The session will be run in WiZiQ, and held at 21.00 CET, Wednesday February 18.

How to improve your language outside the classroom

I learned Japanese in school.  You would never know it today because I can hardly speak a word of Japanese.  The classes were interesting, but one of the big problems was that I never had the opportunity to practise what I had learnt outside of class time.  Japanese was just an academic subject with no connection to the real world for me.

logo_online1But that was in the 80s – we had never heard of the Internet.  EVERYTHING has changed!  The role of the teacher has changed – we are now motivators and facilitators, we help learners to help themselves learn.

If you would like help to achieve your English or French learning goals, talk to us at Contact us here for a free lesson.

The role of the learner has also changed.  Learners no longer sit passively and listen to information, they go out and find it themselves.

There are so many possibilities for live online language practice with native speakers.  Here are a few links to help you start :
Claims to be the world’s largest EFL/TEFL social network with 50,000 visits a day.   It’s main strength is the forums where learners ask all their questions concerning grammar, vocabulary, idioms, puzzles and games, distance learning, pronunciation, learning software etc.  There is a large number of faithful teachers who give their time freely for advice and support, and generally questions are answered very quickly.  There are also other social networking functions, such as photos & videos, live chat, and special interest forums.  This site is HUGE – you need to go and explore for yourself.

A completely free network for language exchange.  Connect with native speakers of the language you are learning who have similar interests to you.

Ning hosts a large number of social networks related to language learning.  These are just a few:


EFL Classroom 2.0 Definitely the most active Ning network that I use.  Although it seems more directed to teachers, there are also good resources for students (try the « English for Fun and Friendship » group).  4,900+ members
View my page on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0

EFL University

Teachers and students have FUN (Frivolous, Unanticipated, Nonsense) to learn together in English and Spanish (500 members)


L’école hors les murs Teachers and students (from middle school up) from several (mostly European) countries join for educational projects through social networking (900+ members)
Voir ma page au L’Ecole Hors les Murs – School Beyond The Walls

Campus FLE Education
Educational social network for teachers and learners based in the University of Leon Spain – some excellent learning materials on their front page.

Foreigners in Lille also looks very good for French, but unfortunately it seems to be limited to people who live in Lille, France, and although it is based in Lille, France, they are open to members from anywhere. goes live!

Only four days into the new year and the first resolution for 2009 is already accomplished: is live to the world!  This site will not only become the portal for a number of language services, but we are planning for it to be a space for learning about what web 2.0 can do to help us learn and teach languages.

So what can you expect if you come back to the blog?

If you’re a learner of English you can find tips on improving your reading, writing, listening and speaking, and my favourite aspects of language learning: grammar and vocabulary development.  It’s amazing the free tools that are out there to help us.

If you’re a language teacher you can follow my adventures as a face-to-face EFL teacher translating his skills to the live online environment.

You can find out a little more about who I am in the about page.  logo_simon

Why don’t you subscribe to my feed?  If you haven’t got into using a feedreader yet, it’s really time to start.  It’s the only way of keeping yourself from Internet information overload.  I use Google Reader, but there are many other options. is still in beta (isn’t everything?), and as I find my rhythm for posting new material, I won’t bombard you with too much information.

This site is also available in French, although there are a few more bugs in the French version that I’ll be working out over the next few days.

Thanks for your visit – stay tuned.