Over the past few months, a lot of schools and private teachers are moving away from classrooms and into online lessons. There are a number of tools available for online teaching, but arguably the most important is the one you will be using to transmit your lessons: your video conferencing tool. Of course, if you have any questions about how to bring your school or your classroom online, don’t hesitate to contact us here at Demiks, where helping you bring your language school or language classes online is our specialty and delight! In the meantime, let’s take a look at some tips for how to master online pedagogy by giving classes on Zoom.
Maybe you have had a few Zoom video conferences, cocktail hours or family gatherings at this point, but there are a number of tools available on the platform which can be very practical for teaching online. Your classroom doesn’t have to be a grid of staring faces. Once you get to know how to use Zoom, you can make the virtual classroom your own.
Whereas some ESL online teaching jobs require you to download bulky software, there is a lot you can do using only Zoom and Google Docs.
In this article, you’ll find
If you are already a seasoned pro at Zoom teaching, leave us a comment at the bottom of this article with any tips you have found helpful for teaching classes on Zoom.
Zoom is more than just a video conferencing tool in the sense that it offers tools to help you do more in your virtual classroom than watch your students react in gallery view. Let’s take a look at some of the tools which can help bring your online teaching to the next level. In order to activate these tools or to set your preferences, you will need to go to the Account Settings page on the Zoom website.
If you are teaching a larger group, polls may be a life-saving tool for you! You can use the Zoom Poll tool to start the class as an ice-breaker activity. For example, you can start by asking your class a question of the day (“What is your favourite ice cream flavour? a) Chocolate b) Vanilla C) Butterscotch ripple”). This will help start your class on the right foot because students will begin the lesson by participating.
You can also use polls throughout the class to ensure that your students are following the lesson. For example you can ask questions to test comprehension (“Choose the correct answer”) or you can see if anything needs further explanation (“Do you need me to go over A) B) or C)?”). You should prepare your polls before the class starts.
When you click on the Poll tool on Zoom, you will choose if you want to ask a multiple choice or single choice question. You will also decide if you want the answers to be anonymous, or if you want the answers to be recorded so you can see which students provided which responses. You can also poll your students with Yes/No questions (“Is everyone clear on the homework for next class?”) or with the virtual “hand raising” function (“Raise your hand if you would like to review the Present Perfect next class”). If there is a question you want to reuse in multiple classes, save the meeting as a template and the poll will be available to you for future use.
Screen sharing is exactly what it sounds like: your students will see your screen. When you click on screen sharing, you can select which parts of your screen will be visible to your students. For example, you can select windows you want to share (instead of the desktop) and decide to only show them your PowerPoint presentation, or only show them your web browser where you will be playing a video clip. This is helpful because it means students won’t see your email inbox or perhaps your cluttered desktop (something I’m often guilty of!) The Advanced Sharing option allows you to show just a section of a window or your screen.
You can also use screen share to enable the Whiteboard function. You can type or draw on the whiteboard and use it the way you would use a chalkboard or marker board in your classroom. If you want to demonstrate a new language rule, you can type out and then underline the different parts of speech. The way you draw on the whiteboard will depend on your own computer. You can either use the mouse or the touch screen if you have it.
Depending on the size of your class, you may want to restrict the screen sharing to yourself. If all students are able to share their screens, anyone looking to cause trouble could take over your lesson remotely. If students are giving a presentation, you can enable screen sharing for the individuals.
The chat function on Zoom functions a lot like other messenger services. You can ask questions or share links through a full class chat. Students can also have private chats with one another. However, this may be a source of distraction, so you might want to consider disabling the private chat function. You can also “Freeze” the chat so that only you are able to post. Again, depending on your relationship with your online learners and depending on the size of the classroom, this is a helpful tool if you want to avoid students sharing inappropriate or distracting links or comments.
If you click the “...” button in the chat, you are able to directly share files with the whole class without having to send them by email. This is another helpful way to keep you and your students on the platform and not getting distracted by whatever else may be looming in your inboxes!
Breakout Rooms on Zoom are a great way to allow your students to review the materials together. Below, I’ll talk more about ways you can vary up the structure of your lessons on Zoom, and breakout rooms are a great asset. Breakout rooms effectively allow you to do online what you may do in your language learning classroom: put students into smaller groups to practice or review together. For example, you could introduce your students to a new question structure and split them into groups to practice interviewing one another. When you click on breakout rooms, Zoom can assign the students randomly for you. If you have an idea of who you want to be working together, you can prepare your lists before in an excel sheet and choose the manual assignment option.
In the breakout rooms, students can use chat, screenshare, and you can record the group if you want to review later. All of this will depend on the options you enable or disable. You can also assign a time limit with a countdown so students get through their practice in a timely manner. For example, you can ask your students to practice their pronunciation of TH by taking turns reading tongue twisters for 10 minutes. When there are only 2 minutes left, you can have a countdown appear on their screen so they know to start wrapping up.
You yourself can pop in on breakout rooms, the way you might walk around the classroom. When you enter a “room” you can make sure students have understood the activity and answer any questions they may have. Students can also call you in if they are stuck or want to show you their progress.
Remember that teaching online is not just livestreaming a normal lesson. For online pedagogy, the medium is inherently different, so your approach should be different too. In your lesson planning, you need to consider how being in front of a computer changes the possibilities for participation, for concentration, and for presentation.
One important rule of thumb for teaching online is do not speak for more than 10-15 minutes at a time, maximum. Think about your audience and what they are used to consuming: TED Talks, YouTube videos, short tutorials… This is not to say your classes need to be shorter, but find ways to break up your class into chunks.
As in the language learning classroom, it’s a good idea to start with an ice-breaker. You can use the whiteboard function to choose 1 or 2 students to start each class with a game of Two Truths and a Lie, or you can start with a fun poll question. After your first short speaking period, you can pause for five minutes to gauge class understanding. You can do this by poll, by making time for questions in the chat, or by asking students to “raise their hand” if they understand. You can also have students break off into groups (using the “Breakout room” function), so they can practice the new skill or discuss their questions amongst themselves.
Another option for bringing some variety to the Zoom presentation model is to try student led seminars. Assign presentations or small lessons to one or two students (again, no longer than 10 minutes each), and structure your class around their presentations.
Of course, it is also possible to present external resources such as videos on Zoom. If there is a video that pertains to your teaching for the day, you can break it into increments and present it in your Zoom meeting. Or perhaps you can ask your students to find videos they would like to recommend for a lesson. For example, assign your students the homework one class of finding a great video on YouTube which demonstrates the pronunciation of minimal pairs. The students send you the videos and you can select a couple to share with the class. Or you could ask students to find a lyric music video for a song that uses the present continuous in the chorus and share those with the group. As in the classroom, the possibilities for teaching online are endless!
Try to use a variety of class structures to ensure your students are not zoning out in front of their screens. Keep them involved and keep the lessons active. Teaching languages online isn’t easy, but you have a toolbelt of creativity and experience to help you make the best of your virtual classroom.
In the Tools section above, I mentioned a few ways you can disable certain functions which could allow mischievous students to cause trouble in your online class. Most teachers choose to have their students audio on mute so that there are no interruptions, background lawn-mowers, or loud-yawners disrupting the class. You can also choose to disable their video.
When it comes to keeping your virtual classroom secure, you will have to make certain decisions about permissions based on the size of your class and the relationship of trust you do or do not have with your students.
You may also have heard about “Zoom bombing” and “Zoom raids” over the past few months where hackers shared inappropriate content in meetings where they were not invited. Zoom has done a lot of work and upgrades to protect you against this kind of thing, so be sure you have upgraded your Zoom settings to 5.0 so that you are getting the best protection. Also, send out a new meeting with a “code” (a password) to make sure only your students are entering your class. As well, activating the “Waiting Room” option will allow you to approve the entry of each student into the class (and may help to prevent tardiness!)
If you are in the process of transitioning to teaching online, feel free to reach out to us here at Demiks. We have a number of tools, tips, and services - as well as real humans who can talk you through what you need to get your school or your private classes online.
If you are looking for a little more guidance or some demonstrations on how to teach online with Zoom, there are a number of resources available for free online to help you get started.
Some university faculties of Education are offering free webinars on how to get started teaching on Zoom. For example, TeachOnline.ca recently hosted a free webinar run by York University professor, Ron Owston. You can consult this schedule for upcoming online teaching webinars.
Zoom themselves have published a few articles to help you get started. The Education Guide: Getting Started on Zoom article is good if you are brand new to Zoom. This document of Tips & Tricks for Teachers Educating Online with Zoom.
For the visual learners, Teaching Online with Zoom - Beginners Tutorial is a video uploaded to YouTube by Teacher’s Tech. This video walks you through the different ways of using Zoom for teaching and provides visual demonstrations to make sure you are clear on how to activate the different tools and sharing options.
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The biggest issue with online classes is motivating yourself and working on your course material frequently and regularly. Otherwise, use the study techniques that already work for you.