WizIQ Distance Learning Summer Course: Chapter 2: things are looking up

Providing a structure for growth

You may remember what happened last week on my distance learning summer course, (read it here)I was keen to use a fantastic online tool ‘lights out’ and in true form, nobody could see anything! So, this week I decided to aim for simplicity, and it all went much better, so I thought I’d tell you about it.


The learners themselves choose the topics in class, by putting them into the chatbox and the one people like most wins. This is similar to the #eltchat approach to selecting topics and since it works so well for the Twitter discussion group I thought it would be good to extend it to my conversation class.

Photo credit: theirhistory posted on Flickr


I’ve written about this before, and other people do the same thing but give it a different name. Basically it reflects my idea that with distancelearning the online lesson is a discussion space that motivates learners, and gives them somewhere to experiment with the language they are learning. I do not use it for long, detailed clarifications of language, although language points do come up and the virtual classroom lends itself well to micro-teaching slots. My summer course: Activate your English, has this name because this is what I hope learners are doing, activating their English in class. But what about input? I hear someone cry. Well, that is the aducating, the leading learners to language. The classroom activities are accompanied by our Activate Your English blog where learners can before lessons to propare for class. (In this class, for instance the focus was on the learners and their countries, towns and lives) so I asked them to make sure before class that they knew the names of countries and nationali adjectives. (the level is very loosely intermediate, with an enormous range). I also gave them a reading text to piece together about me and my hometown, which we then looked at in class too, and I suggested revising comparatives and superlatives, providing activities to do this. So whe’s the learner-centred bit? I hear someone ask. This is aducating because the learners can go to the materials and do the work that they need or choose to do in preparation, and then in class they put it into practice.


I don’t really like the ideea of strict procedure but I know that we human beings find rituals and habits very reassuring so I tend to include the following ingredients in an online lesson:
1) A game or quiz (with winners, I’m afraid, so that everyone can applaud them. The names are published on the blog after the lesson). This week it was an alphabet quiz with countries. I gave them a letter and the first person to type in the country got a point. This is very simple but works well, and what is really nice is the encouraging comments people make to each other as we go.
2) Some microphone work, where learners can speak whilst the class types questions into the chatbox, or vice versa (this is very popular and interesting as we have learners from all over the world with a wealth of experience and plenty of stories to tell us.) This week I put up a map of the world and learners put a cross or a dot on their homes, then I called on various people to talk about where they were and what they were doing whilst the others asked questions in the chatbox. When they got going it was hard to stop them… Wonderful!
3) Structured skills work ( mainly because the learners like it and it provides good scaffolding). In this case I had a worksheet with a picture of me and Haggis my cat and another one of the barges on a canal in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, my home town. This was followed by a jigsaw texts which the learners put into the correct order in the usual fashion, but it, of course, had a twist. The text contained a lot of informaion that was obviously wrong.

My name is Sharon and I live in London. ( They all know that I live in Verona)

So the next stage was to read the text again and find out what was false. This was a lot of fun and helped the learners to process and understand the information in the text, in a fun, natural way, as well as provoking some discussion and vocabulary work.

4) A screen sharing phase. On Wiziq you, the teacher can share your screen with the class ( although it’s as well to keep this simple too as not everything comes out so well, and some learners cannot see things at times depending on their bandwidth.) I showed them the blog, for the new people or those who weren’t aware of it, and told them how it works. If you want to go the and see some of the things we do this is the link. Then I showed the CUP promotions page ( free grammar and exams preparation apps today and huge discounts for the rest of the week ) and finally I showed them the linoit noticeboard we had made as a back up to last week’s lesson and a new one for this week, where they can load their own photos and comments etc. ( all the links are on the blog). This activity is a follow up, and there are others too, including a focus on idioms: “worldly idioms” since we were looking at the world, for those who like them, but again it is up to the learner what they choose to do or not.

5) The hour was nearly up at this point, but we still had time for a fun final activity, which, this week was a general knowledge geography quiz (hence the need for comparatives and superlatives).

6) and finally the poll, where we chose the topic for next week. The most popular were music and stories, so I’m thinking of soing storytelling based on music, of course… Any ideas?