TEFL classrooms come in all shapes and sizes, from traditional state-school environments to distance learning platforms. Depending on the classroom you find yourself working within, your access to resources – both traditional and technological – will vary widely. However, it is undeniable that students, teachers and parents are becoming accustomed to greater use of technology both in and out of the classroom. The same futures that you are preparing your students for by facilitating their English proficiency, will also require them to be proficient in the use of digital technologies.
This blog provides a brief overview of some of the most useful tech tools that can enhance your teaching, reduce your workload, and allow you to stay up to date with technological innovations in education. There is also an environmental aspect to this, as many of the tools covered in this article can reduce or remove the need for printing and laminating resources, thus saving paper and reducing waste. Please note, these resources require you to have access to a computer or device as well as reliable internet and electricity. Those of you teaching (or heading off to teach) in more remote locations, may find the listed low-tech and no-tech alternatives more relevant.
Parent-Teacher (and Student) Communication
Anyone who has taught young learners will be aware of the high expectations parents can have. Certainly, some parents are more involved in their children’s learning and education than others, but all parents are invested in their children making progress and enjoying their English learning experience. School policy on parental feedback may dictate this. Some schools require monthly or even weekly written updates, while others prefer to invite parents in periodically to observe lessons and meet with teachers.
In many cases, however, the level and nature of teacher-parent communication is left up to the teacher to determine. There are a number of tech tools that can help you to reduce the time this takes, while still ensuring parents are kept informed and up to date:
- Email – In the past, parents may have expected physical letters informing them of their child’s progress, but in many schools this has been replaced by an email-based system. If you are emailing parents directly, you may want to set up a work email account if your school has not provided one. This can help you to keep your work and personal life separate, and reduce parental access to your private information. In a similar vein, be careful to use the Bcc function if you are emailing parents en masse. This prevents parents from seeing each other’s contact details, thus preserving their privacy.
- Class Dojo, Edmodo, Seesaw – These online platforms are like streamlined versions of Facebook, designed specifically for educators. You can create a page for each class you are teaching and then post news, updates, photos and videos on the feed that are visible to all parents (and/or students). They also have a private message function, so that you can contact individual parents, without sharing your email address.
If you can take photos of the learning taking place in your classroom, parents respond very positively to seeing their children engaging using their skills. There is the option to post these either on the class news feed or on the individual page automatically created for each student you list in your class when you set up your account. All three platforms are free for teachers to set up and use, although Seesaw restricts some features to those with paid subscriptions.
A great advantage of these platforms is that they allow a variety of media to be uploaded – photos, videos and other documents. This allows you to build up individual student portfolios, simply by taking photos or recordings of students’ learning. This is great for sharing with parents and for keeping as a record of the progress they are making. There are also options for students to upload their learning, while you have the option to screen anything they upload before it is published for parents to see.
- No-Tech Alternative – invite parents in to meet with you and to see the learning that has been going on in your classroom. At the beginning of your course, you may want to meet with all parents to give them an overview of what their children will be learning. For those of you who are only teaching adults, you may want to have this meeting with the students themselves. Mid-way through the course, you may want to have individual meetings with each family to discuss their progress and set goals for the end of the course. This will be more time-consuming and many schools do not compensate teachers for this time. At the end of the course, parents can attend a Celebration of Learning, where they are invited in to look at some of the children’s learning from that course. Depending on their level, it can help if the children take the lead in talking their parents through pieces of their work – which can also take the pressure off you. In this case, you will need to devote some class time to creating displays or portfolios and for the students to prepare what they would like to say.
Student Research and Collaboration
Higher level classes – particularly older children, teens and adults – can develop their independent learning skills through individual and collaborative projects. A big advantage is that students do not have to be in the same location as you or each other in order to collaborate.
These tools can be useful at different stages of this process:
- Research Sites for TEFL Learners:
- Ducksters – Online encyclopaedia designed for young learners. This site is subscription free and contains short simple articles which are safe and appropriate for children.
- National Geographic Kids – A child-friendly source of articles with a focus on the natural world.
- Simple Wikipedia – A simplified version of Wikipedia, making it more accessible to TEFL learners. Be aware though, that the information here, like that on the standard Wikipedia site, is added by different members of the community and may not have been checked for accuracy and bias.
- Sharing and Presenting Projects:
- Prezi – A site for creating and sharing presentations. There is a basic free option and then various subscription levels for added features.
- Google Slides – Free for all those with Gmail accounts, allowing you and your students to create, animate and share slideshows.
- Google Docs – Free for all those with Gmail accounts, allowing you and your students to collaborate to edit documents. You can also set access to view only if you are using this to share information with your students.
- Google Forms – Free for all those with Gmail accounts, allowing you and your students to create and respond to surveys. This can be a useful tool if you are looking for feedback from your students.
- Low-tech alternative:
- Penpal Schools Projects – This resource allows you to connect with other teachers around the world to facilitate communication and collaboration between your classes. While it does require you to have internet access in order to begin, you have to option to arrange for offline communication between your students using letters instead of emails.
Sometimes you have a class that needs a little more support from you in terms of motivation or staying on task. These resources can be a big help.
- Class Dojo – In addition to the features detailed above, Class Dojo also has a Classroom section where you can award points to individual students, or the whole class as a reward for positive behaviours and/or progress made.
- Online Stopwatch – This site has a variety of timers you can use to count down or up, allowing students to manage their time more effectively during activities and transitions.
- Low-tech alternative – As long as you have a clock, watch (or phone) you can still set effective time limits for activities and give students reminders of the time remaining at regular intervals.
These sites are for those times when students and parents ask, how can I improve my English and practise at home?
- Reading and Pronunciation
Reading A-Z – This is a paid subscription site based in the US. It has a wealth of books and associated activities which are sorted by level. It allows you to assign reading for students to do outside of the classroom, or in-class if you have access to computers or tablets. Students can listen to the books being read aloud and then record themselves reading, allowing you to assess their pronunciation.
For a low-tech option, you can print the books and resources you would like to use.
- Vocabulary Building
Dream English Kids – This website has video presentations of vocabulary and simple songs to help younger students to memorise new words.
Easy World of English – This site gives basic explanations of grammatical concepts, followed by audio examples and comprehension check quizzes.
English Listening Lesson Library Online (ELLLO) – Free videos and audio with associated scripts, vocabulary and quizzes. Most features are free with the option to buy other products.
Spelling City – You can assign spelling lists to your class and they can access them from home and use the games and activities to practise. Some features are only accessible by paid subscribers, but the basic features are free.
ABCYA – A non-subscription site for young learners with activities for practising spelling and reading skills.