2020 was a year of profound reckoning for all teachers. Language teachers have been set the formidable task of teaching all of the four skills of: listening, speaking, reading and writing in socially-distanced classrooms, or, in many cases, completely online. For years (perhaps decades) the adoption of computer and online resources in the language learning classroom has steadily progressed. Even before last year, there were few language teachers who could claim to be fully independent of digital resources. However, after the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number must surely be approaching zero.
It is not unusual in the throes of the “new normal” to stumble upon language teachers in forums and Facebook groups frantically seeking advice about the best online tools and platforms to help them to deliver effective and engaging learning experiences for their students. As one who has been there too, I would like to contribute to the discussion by sharing 4 of my favorite resources for online language teaching and learning. May they prove as useful for you as they have been for me.
1. British Council Learn English
Anyone who has been in English language teaching for even a short time will have heard of the British Council. The Council’s Learn English site has long been a favorite of students and teachers alike, and for good reason. The site contains a vast amount of well-curated resources for just about every type of learner. There are parts of the site dedicated to children, teens, and adults, with content catered to those studying English for general purposes, entry into higher education, business, and so on. The audio and video resources on the site, many of which are accompanied by online tasks, are abundant, useful and well constructed. As a teacher, I particularly appreciate that resources are levelled according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CERF). Although the vast majority of Learn English resources are available for free, the British Council has recently introduced a number of subscription self-access and online teacher-led courses.
2. Sound Grammar
Quite recently, I stumbled upon a resource called Sound Grammar, which provides students with video conversations focused on specific points of grammar. Levels range from true beginner to intermediate and correspond to A1, A2, B1 and B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Each level has a free downloadable workbook of printable lessons which teachers and students can use for in-class activities, self-study, or homework. As the name suggests, the focus of the site is grammar, but the accompanying lessons also feature speaking challenges. Sound Grammar is a companion site of ELLLO (English Listening Lesson Library Online), which offers over 3000 listening lessons for learners of all levels.
Although fantastic resources for the teaching and learning of English, neither British Council Learn English nor Sound Grammar enable teachers to create their own original online lessons. Language teachers looking to create their own digital tasks will surely be interested in H5P, which since its release in 2013, has become one of the most widely used content-authoring tools in the world. At last count, H5P has over 40 different content types including: audio recording, interactive video, fill in the blanks, multiple choice, image sequencing, and more.
H5P is free to use and has integrations with learning management systems such as Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle as well as plugins for WordPress and Drupal. For those who do not have their own website or hosting solution, H5P also offers a paid service that enables teachers to create and host content without having to manage their own platform.
The final resource I would like to introduce combines the best features of all of the previous three into a single platform, called TeacherTools. Like H5P, TeacherTools enables language teachers to create original online lessons covering the fours skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The platform offers eight assignment types specifically designed for language teaching: Audio Recording, Video Recording, Multi Choice, Text Gap Fill, Video Gap Fill, Speaking Drill, Text-to-Test, and Written Report. All of the assignments feature auto-grading, and several (Audio Recording, Video Recording, Written Report) allow manual grading with text, audio or video feedback.
TeacherTools also has an extensive library of pre-made assignments that can easily be imported for use with the teacher’s own students. Assignments are organised according to CEFR level and can be browsed from the teacher dashboard. It is also possible to share assignments with fellow teachers using the import and export functions. TeacherTools has all of the features of a fully-functioning Learning Management System (LMS), including a gradebook, but without the effort and expense of maintaining your own platform.
What makes the TeacherTools system unique is that students are not required to register or login to complete assignments. By using a URL or QR code provided by the teacher, students can submit their digital assignments from any internet-connected device including pcs, tablets and smartphones. Teachers can create assignments and duplicate them across multiple folders, thus, enabling them to organise submissions into various class groupings. A basic TeacherTools subscription costs under $10 a month and allows teachers to accept up to 100 submissions per assignment.
Although there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the challenging circumstances that plagued language teachers throughout 2020 are likely to carry on well into 2021 and perhaps beyond. If you have not done so already, please check out the platforms and services mentioned above. They are certain to provide many effective and engaging language learning experiences whether your classes are online, face-to-face, blended or hybrid.