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Once a Teacher,
Always a Teacher

Re-establishing the Classroom in an Online Environment

Liana Fitzgerald,

International Computer High-school of Bucharest,
8th Jan2021, for SHINE English Teaching Annual Conference

01 Introduction

Teaching online can sometimes feel like trying to teach on a roller coaster; paper is useless, communication is poor, your movements restricted and someone is always shouting, but no one can really tell who.

Let's take a look at a few teaching values and learning habits that amidst all the confusion stay the same, help teachers and
learners connect much the same way they
have always done, and why not, maybe all involved will get to enjoy the roller coaster ride after all.

Re-establishing a learning community

There are esentially three pillars to building a successful learner community:


according to Jere E. Brophy as quoted from his Motivating Students to Learn, Routledge, 2010




Make yourself and your classroom attractive to students

Focus their attention on individual and collaborative learning goals and help them achieve these goals

Teach things that are worth learning in ways that help students appreciate their value

(Brophy, 2010)

Re-making the classroom and the teacher attractive to students

Learning/Classroom Environment - help students create a comfortable, suitable space for "coming to school"

Netiquette - provide clear guidlines / rules for joining and taking part in online classes (set expectations rather then simply expect)
"Decorate the classroom" - use collaborative apps to design projects, make class websites, use shared backgrounds

Re-making the classroom and the teacher attractive to students

Predictability - set routines and practices and be consistent; knowing what to expect from the teacher is great comforter for students

Respect power - choose an authoritative rather than authoritarian style, elicit and accept students' input, explain your choices and remind students of the importance and benefits of certain behaviours rather than imposing rules ("mute all" vs the "walkie-talkie" approach)
Immediacy - authentic and quick reactions can not only bring students closer, but they usually solve behaviour problems before they even arise
(non-verbal: smiles, leaning closer, eye-contact, positive gestures etc.
verbal: humour, self-disclosure, "we/our" language, first names (Brophy, 2010)

Setting goals and helping students achieve them

  • Set goals - teaching goals, learning goals, lesson goals, unit goals, semester.... you get the idea :-) In this novel teaching context teachers cannot rely on outside forces (alone) to provide classroom aims, they need to reconsider and adapt content to students' present needs.
  • Be transparent - let students know what they are trying to reach, ask for, consider and value their input
  • Scaffold - check understanding and instructions more often, break complex activities, and in turn complex goals in manageable parts, so students can manage well and enjoy their own breakthroughs

Less has never been more!

Teach relevant content
Make that relevance clear to students
Less content means higher quality input
Chose activities which support students in using higher-order thinking skills (HOTS)

Re-assign Ss to home groups, so they can put their answers together


Step 3

Assign Ss to expert groups according to each text section


Step 2

Present the text and break it down into sections.

Step 1


Bring everyone back as a class, check answers, (give rewards)

Step 4


The same type of activity can be used for writing (Ss write beginnings, bodies and ends to stories and then have fun putting them together. It makes for a great "classroom decoration"), revision activities etc.

Jig-saw reading in breakout rooms

+ fo

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Bonus for hybrid teaching

Organise Ss for pair work over Zoom:

- ask all Ss (even those in the physical classroom) to join Zoom

- ask Ss in the classroom to disconnect audio and only connect back when their peers are in the breakout rooms with them.

- Manually create breakout rooms so as to assign one+ S from home to one S from the classroom

- Tell Ss in the classroom to turn audio back on

- Let them enjoy the activity and monitor their work from the classroom

(ex: One-to-One Interview; even Find Someone Who if Ss in class have enough space and are allowed to move around)

Re-establishing student-teacher relations as learning environments shift

Individual needs, different levels of interest and involvement, varied motivational patterns, preferred stimuli and... a miracle one-size fits all solution!


Like people in any setting, students in a classroom pursue multiple goals. Play the odds - if they have a wide enough range of goals, they will have to fulfil at least some.

This is where the online environment really SHINES - virtually unlimited resources! Anyhing from simple fill-in-the-blanks exercises, to complex worksheets with built-in correction tools, to games, presentations, infographics, mindmaps etc. With any or all of these it is easy to reach individual needs at the same time, it is easier to adapt the dificulty level of a certain task or work on different project entirely with different students at the same time frame

Christmas Relay

Live Escape Room

Random DJ

Dance Party

Kinaesthetic activities

OK, OK, the online is all vast and great, but what about those popular activities which involve running, grabbing, building etc? Students love those and they miss them so much! So... do them! :-)

+ info

Ask Ss to find a bauble (small toy, crumpled piece of paper etc.), a stocking (sock, hat etc.) and a tablespoon (or use their hands if they can't get one).

Each S has to put the stocking at the opposite end of the room from where their computer (online class) is and keep the bauble and the spoon on the table next to them.

Split the class into teams, write their names on the board accordingly and make sure you share screen.

When you say "Go!" the first Ss in each team has to use the spoon to carry the bauble to the far end of their room and drop it in the stocking. As they run back, they have to call out their next team mate's name. It is now their turn to run and put the bauble in the stocking.

Added element: before calling their team mates' names, Ss have to sing a couple of lyrics from "Jingle Bells" :))

+ info

Arrange your whole room so that it can be shown :-)
(Pretend to) Lock the door and hide the key.

Leave a trail of clues / messages that lead to where the key is hidden.
Let Ss discover the clues and help you escape the room :-)

+ info

Use a "wheel of names" type app.
Each entry on the wheel should be a song suggestion from each student.
Ask Ss to stand in front of the camera (video on :) ).
Spin the wheel and play the respective song (share sound :) ).
Everybody dance! (even you!)

Bonus: 2 round scavenger hunt:
Make a list of indoor / household items for the hunt.
Round one: when you say "Go!" Ss have to run, find and bring the items on the list.
Round two: Ss build something with the items and film the results while describing and explaining what they have built and why.

Dealing with difficult students

Show them they are wanted. They need it most!

Re-connect on a personal level

+ info

Get to know really them, reach out, call the parents, invest some time in parent-teacher meetings, or student-teacher meetings - it is a lot easier to schedule them now.

E - eye-contact

+ info

Look straight at the camera, ask student to turn video on

P- Proximity

+ info

You can "get closer" by asking students about their feeling, by reassuring them they are wanted and worth it.

+ info

Deal with behaviour issues in private - during a lesson in a breakout room on in a private message in the chat window, or at the end of class, or throughout the day in an e-mail or text.

P - Privacy


Allen N. Mendler - Motivating Students Who Don't Care, Solution Tree, 2000

Socialising (uninterested or alienated) students

Give them what they want and they'll
do what you expect.

Gamify to motivate high! :-)





+ info

Use Genially templates to create student paced Escape Rooms

+ info

Turn every revision session into a board game day, turn every exercise into group work and every correct answer into a chance to have fun.

+ info

Sandwich tests between a fun revision session and a bonus relaxed goals lesson (reading for pleasure, speaking activities etc.)

Re-charging teachers' own batteries

But enough about them, what about us?


Well... in fact, what goes for students is in essence what goes for teachers as well in terms of motivation :-)

Embrace the opportunities and move with the times
Enjoy being a life-long learner, using technology to bridge the age gap and finding new ways of doing the same ol' same ol'.

Set realistic goals

for yourself, so you can enjoy reaching them.

Spreading yourself too thin
or expecting too much of yourself will only lead to disappointment and burn out.

Looking for (and always finding) excuses

will only keep you away from your goals, your students and your own sense of achievement


No one is coming*

Treat yourself like

you treat your students

And that's a good thing! You are on your own, which means you get to make your own decisions, set your own goals, be your own greatest teacher.

Show yourself the same kindness, curteousy and patience (! <3 ) in the process of owning this new environment and of leading your classroom

+ info

Popular wisdom - line from "Working Moms" Netflix show :-)

+ Take a step back

+ Apply motivational strategies constantly and methodically

and get ready to give change some serious thought... Give change a chance :-D

+ Be coherent and consistent

+ Take time to re-connect with your students

Re-viewing key strategies

in applying the changes - it will make students trust you and get on board.

it's never too late to re-build that safe positive learning community!

+ Present content around powerful memorable contexts

and half the job is already done!

+ Be mindful and purposeful of our own practices

be a model of life-long learning for your students, and this way bring harmony and happiness to the classrooms you lead.

This is not something what will happen, this is already happening!

Here are some of the tools I find useful (without being affiliated to any :)) )

Thank you!

Liana Fitzgerald
International Computer High-school of Bucharest