Opportunities for learning in the classroom

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Opportunities for learning

Sara Davila is a Learning and Language Acquisition Expert. She is a teacher, materials writer, researcher, and teacher trainer who has worked in a variety of contexts in the education field. In this series of articles, Sara talks about Lost Learning – that is, the classroom and teaching time students have lost during the pandemic. 

In today’s article she focuses on the positives and all the new opportunities for learning we now have. All the Learning Objectives (LOs) from the activities were taken from the Global Scale of English (GSE). Discover more with the GSE Teacher Toolkit

Read more in Part 1: Social Distancing: How to bridge the communication gap in the classroom 

Given all the changes that have impacted education in the last few months, I’m sure you’ll be expecting some unique challenges when school starts again. I’d like to share a few opportunities that have arisen from these challenges and some quick tips to help you scaffold learning as your students get back to learning.

Opportunity 1: Information Gaps for Social Distancing

Information gaps can be used to develop or reinforce some of the following productive skills:

Young Learner (LOs)

Skill

GSE

CEFR

Can ask for basic information about an event (e.g. a concert or football match), using simple language.  Speaking 38 A2+ (36-42)
Can ask questions during structured classroom discussions.  Speaking 46 B1 (43-50)
Can write simple sentences about familiar things, given prompts or a model.  Writing 32 A2 (30-35)
Can write two or three related sentences on a familiar topic.  Writing 33 A2 (30-35)

Adult | Academic | Professional (LOs)

Can communicate in routine tasks requiring simple, direct exchanges of information.  Speaking 36 A2+ (36-42)
Can exchange information on a wide range of topics within their field with some confidence.  Speaking 59 B2 (59-66)
Can write about everyday things (e.g. people, places, job, study) in linked sentences.  Writing 41 A2+ (36-42)
Can engage in online transactions that require an extended exchange of information, provided the interlocutor(s) avoid complex language and are willing to repeat and reformulate when necessary.  Writing 56 B1+ (51-58)

Information gap activities are some of the best controled practice activities we can use to help our learners develop fluency. These activities are well-known to most language educators as they use a very consistent style of presentation:

  • Two students are paired together. One student is given the role of Student A, and the partner is Student B. 
  • Both students have some unique information and both have information gaps. This means they need to ask questions in order to complete their tasks.
  • A classic example would be asking about the schedule of two different people and completing the gaps with the information in order to arrange a meeting. 

Of course, having students work closely together in pairs is not advisable at the moment. This means we need to rethink how we can keep our students safe, while building key speaking skills. 

Quick Tip:

The fastest way to adapt your information gap activity in a blended hybrid classroom is to pair a student in class with a learner who’s attending online. 

Consider the following options for oral gap fill practice activities, allowing students to share information, without sharing a physical space. 

  • Share task instructions online and make sure learners can easily access from mobile phones or tablets.
  • Have Student A get in touch with Student B to complete the information gaps by exchanging information over the phone. 
  • Have Student A record a video with their information outside of class time and send the video to Student B. In class, Student B can access the video, get the information, and record a video response for Student A. 
  • If you are online, modify your information gap by using breakout rooms. Assign the roles of A and B to students in the breakout rooms. Students can reach out to peers in the opposite group by using chat functions, phone calls, or text messages during the working period. 
  • If your students are attending in-person with masks, have students stand back to back (but apart) and to ask and answer questions. This is an easy way to keep communication going, and you can use markers on the floor to make sure pairs are six feet apart. 

Quick Tip: Most single person classroom desks are about half a square meter (2 sq. ft.). Place three desks in a row to quickly ensure your students are at a proper distance for speaking activities. 

Opportunity 2: How to apply a ‘jigsaw’ group activity while socially distanced

Jigsaw activities can be used to develop or reinforce some of the following productive skills:

Young Learner (LOs) 

Skill

GSE

CEFR

Can briefly describe a funny or exciting personal experience, if guided by questions or prompts.  Speaking 45 B1 (43-50)
Can explain why some events in a story or text are important.  Speaking 46 B1 (43-50)
Can write simple sentences using information from diagrams, charts etc.  Writing 45 B1 (43-50)
Can write a simple report of a real or fictional event, if supported by pictures.  Writing 45 B1 (43-50)

Adult | Academic | Professional (LOs)

Can make brief positive or negative comments online about embedded links and media using a repertoire of basic language, though he/she will generally have to refer to an online translation tool and other resources.  Online interaction  Online conversation and discussion 33 A2 (30-35)
Can respond to simple instructions and ask simple questions in order to accomplish a shared task online with the help of a supportive interlocutor.  Online interaction  Goal-oriented online transactions and collaboration 35 A2 (30-35)
Can comment on other people’s online postings, provided they are written/signed in simple language, reacting to embedded media by expressing feelings of surprise, interest and indifference in a simple way.  Online interaction  Online conversation and discussion 42 A2+ (36-42)
Can respond to instructions and ask questions or request clarifications in order to accomplish a shared task online.  Online interaction  Goal-oriented online transactions and collaboration 48 B1 (43-50)

Things to keep in mind

The jigsaw is a classic tool in the language classroom. It’s a great way to encourage all your students to produce the target language. In fact, you can use a jigsaw to support all kinds of integrated communication activities, addressing all four skills while working to internalize language.

A jigsaw, like the information gap, has a fairly consistent format. 

  • First, ask three to four students to work in a group to do something – it could be a research project, a presentation, or something else related to their learning objectives. 
  • After a period of time, each student in each group is assigned a letter (e.g. Student A, Student B, Student C, Student D, etc).
  • Next, ask students to form new groups with other students of the same letter, (all the Student As get together, all the Student Bs, etc).
  • In their new groups, students must share what they have been learning, or working on.

This is a powerful communicative activity that encourages students to combine information and create new knowledge. They can also find new applications for this information  – a key critical thinking skill for the 21st century. 

Of course, group work is ill-advised during the pandemic, so I recommend considering the following options for your jigsaw activity. They will allow you to improve communication and maximize the aspect of the jigsaw that focuses on becoming “a mini expert” – while keeping a safe distance:

  • Have students meet online to learn the information they will share with others. 
  • Share information for jigsaw activities in group folders that can be accessed from a variety of devices. 
  • Have students prepare podcasts or short audio recordings online to share information. In class, or at home, have other students access the audio and record responses as individuals.
  • Create collaborative documents to capture information shared out in the jigsaw activity. Learners can plan in a variety of group settings and use a collaborative document to work together and share out information to create something new.
  • Have students use calendar tools to plan jigsaw meetings. Home groups can coordinate with the jigsaw groups that have been assigned. Ask students to invite you to their jigsaw meetings, so you can easily join and check-in on students during class time. 

For more activities with social distancing in mind read our blog: Social distancing and Young Learners: Opportunity for creativity and critical thinking

Moving forward

We will have many challenges in our classrooms post-pandemic. However,  through some careful planning, some creativity and by leveraging online tools, we can continue to support our students’ success.

We can look forward to classes which develop important communication skills, and help them make the critical progress towards their success today and in the future. 

For more support check out our Back to School resources page.

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