Optimizing online language learning: Classroom management (Part one)

Language leanrning online

Nick Perkins is an Emmy award-winning translator, accomplished editor, EFL consultant, and a skilled teacher trainer. He has many years of experience working as a teacher all around the world. Across two articles, he shares his expert advice on online language learning and how to optimize your classroom practices for the digital world. In this first instalment, Nick focuses on effectively managing students in an online language learning environment. 


Online language learning and teaching brings with it a lot of things to think about. The following tips are designed to help you plan your online classes effectively and manage students in a digital environment.   

Throughout, you’ll find examples from Pearson’s new Primary Course English Code, which brings together English language learning together with Creativity, Coding and STEAM.  

1. Keep energy levels high

The school environment is an active and incredibly social space.  It’s hard to replicate this online – and this can lead to boredom and frustration among your students. For this reason, you should take regular “movement breaks” during the day to energize them. You can do the following quick sequence can be done sitting or standing: 

  • Stretch your arms above your head and reach for the sky. 
  • Count to ten. 
  • Drop your left arm to your side and bend to your left while stretching your right arm over your head. 
  • Count to fifteen. 
  • Come back to an upright position and stretch both arms above your head. 
  • Count to ten. 
  • Drop your right arm to your side and bend to your right while stretching your left arm over your head. 
  • Count to fifteen. 
  • Come back to an upright position and stretch both arms above your head. 
  • Count to ten. 
  • Lean forward until your fingertips touch the floor (only go as far as is comfortable for your body), then cross your arms and release your head so it hangs gently between your legs. 
  • Count to fifteen. 
  • Come back to an upright position, shake out your arms and legs, and get back to work!

This is a great energy booster that also provides your students with an opportunity to revise parts of the body, commands and even make the link with other subjects.  

Tip: Do this activity before using the ‘Bones and Muscles’ Experiment Lab (English Code SB3, page 19) with your class. This will help make what your students are learning even more fun and relevant! 

online language learning with English Code

2. Bring back some normality 

Smalltalk and gossip are fundamental parts of the regular school day. It’s therefore important to give students a few minutes to chat freely. It will help them feel relaxed and make your classes more comfortable. 

Let your students do this in whatever language they want and don’t get involved, just like at school. Alternatively, ask someone to share a YouTube video, song, Instagram or TikTok post in a digital show and tell.  

3. Encourage the use of functional language

After students have been chatting freely in their own language, take the opportunity to bring in functional language depending on the subject they were talking about in English. This will help get them ready for the lesson. Here are some ways to do this: 

  • Play the English Code song and get them to sing along. 
  • When students talk about food you could role play in a restaurant or talk about likes and dislikes. 
  •  We all have our pets walking in on calls, so why not use the opportunity to refresh descriptions. In the following activity, students have to read the descriptions of animals and guess what they are. You can make up your own descriptions or use the activity in English Code Student Book 1, page 85.

Talk about animals English Code

4. Consider task and student density

To optimize learning time, consider dividing your class into smaller groups and teaching each one individually for part of the timetabled class time. You may find that you get more done in 15 minutes with 8 students than you would be able to get done in 60 minutes with 32 students.  

At the same time, you will be able to focus more easily on individual needs (you’ll be able to see all their video thumbnails on the same preview page). If it is not acceptable in your school to do this, divide the class up so you’re not trying to teach everyone the same thing at the same time.  

Having the whole class do a reading or writing activity is a lost opportunity to use this quiet time to give more focused support to smaller groups of learners, so think about setting a reading for half the class, while you supervise a speaking activity with the other half, and then swap them over.  

Alternatively, set a writing activity for 1/3 of the students, a reading for 1/3 and a speaking activity for the remaining 1/3, and rotate the groups during the class. This is also a great chance to address differentiation within the classroom. 

In English Code Teacher’s Books there are plenty of ideas on how to provide additional learning opportunities for stronger learners and activities for those who need additional support. For example: 

English Code Teachers book

5. Manage your expectations

Don’t expect to get the same amount of work done in an online class as in the classroom. Once you have waited for everyone to connect, got them to turn on their cameras, etc. you have less time to teach than you would usually have. Add this to the fact that it’s much more complex and time consuming to give focused support to individual learners in a way that doesn’t interrupt everyone else.  

So, don’t plan the same task density in online classes as you would for face-to-face teaching. Explore flipping some of your activities so your students arrive better prepared to get to work. 

It’s also much harder to engage students, measure their engagement and verify that they are staying on task online than it is in the physical classroom. In an online class your teacher “Spidey sense” doesn’t work so well and measuring engagement is harder. Make sure you always clearly explain the objectives and why you have decided on them. Regularly check to see if everyone understands and is able to work productively.  

When you’re all online you can’t use visual clues to quickly judge whether anyone is having difficulties, like you can in the classroom. Ask direct questions to specific students rather than asking if everyone understands, or is OK.  During and at the end of class, check and reinforce the achieved objectives.  

 Tip: The Presentation tool which comes with most Pearson courses enables you to present the Student book, show videos, play audio and even play interactive courses. The tool takes you through the whole lesson which reduces preparation time as well as providing all resources in one place. 


To find out more about online language learning and managing technology, stay tuned for part two of Nick’s article: Optimizing online language learning: Designing an online learning space (part two). 

You can also watch his webinar from our Ready for What’s Next webinar series back in November 2020.: 

About English code

Teach online with English Code

Pearson’s new primary English teaching series has all of this and much, much more. Your students learn English through hands-on creative tasks, investigation, projects and experiments with English Code. 

Download a sample now! 

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