Extempore's 2020-2021 Back to School Newsletter

Back to school season brings back all the feelings for students: excitement, nervousness, and the chance to get back into a familiar routine after summer break. Wait, don’t teachers experience this too? Indeed we do! It’s not just teachers and students, though: parents, school officials and many others are greatly affected by the school year schedule. Yet the 2020-21 school year will be unique. Since schools began shutting down last spring and transitioning online, educators of all levels have been frivolously adjusting lessons, altering teaching spaces (both at school and at home), and at the same time wondering “how am I supposed to do this for a FULL YEAR?” Language teachers in particular (like myself) face difficulty in synchronizing in-school classes and online classes. But do not despair! Educators across the world have collaborated online and shared thousands of best practices for maximizing instruction during the pandemic. We tracked down some of the most valuable advice, while also providing you with strategies on how to hit the ground running this fall with Extempore.

Fun Online Icebreakers

Icebreakers have a bad reputation for eliciting groans and complaints from students (and adults, too!). Yet when done with the right purpose in mind, icebreakers can significantly contribute to your class’s chemistry and your students’ sense of belonging. While most popular icebreakers are done in the classroom, there are plenty of activities we can leverage to achieve student chemistry online. Try this simple icebreaker on Extempore:

Student to teacher icebreaker — Personal Introductions

Have your students introduce themselves on Extempore by answering a few questions. Not only is this a good opportunity for students to grow familiar with the app, it also allows them to be open about themselves with their instructor (you) without their peers seeing their responses. Still, you have to be flexible with responses. If they are camera-shy, allow them to record without showing their face. Also, don’t ask for target language output here; allow students to respond in English (or other applicable native language). The goal is to create a sense of comfort amongst your students.

Note: It is critical that you respond to each student’s response (you can wait until after the final question to give ‘feedback’ as your response). An icebreaker, particularly online, cannot be one-sided. Acknowledge their response, comment on what they said, make a joke, share something you have in common, and address any questions they may have raised. A personalized response alone from the teacher can be enough sometimes for students to feel cared for and at ease in a class.

Try this icebreaker with your class on Extempore here. See the preview below!

Extempore Icebreaker -- Preview

  • Title - Personal Introductions
  • Response format - video
  • Description (what students see before beginning): Hello there! Introduce yourself by answering the five questions in this icebreaker. I will be the only person who can watch your responses. Once you've submitted your responses, I'll respond to your answers. You'll be able to see my response as 'feedback' to this task.
  • 5 Questions
    • Q1 - What is your name? Pronounce it clearly for me. How would you prefer to be called?
    • Q2 - How do you learn best? What can I do to best ensure your success this year?
    • Q3 - How do you feel about (insert class subject)?
    • Q4 - What’s something I should know about you?
    • Q5 - What’s something you want to know about me or this class?
  • Timers: none
  • Allow re-record: yes

The Anatomy of an Asynchronous Lesson (Infographic Breakdown)

Infographics! Colorful, organized, and, in most cases, helpful. The infographic above (created by Sean Junkins of Twitter) showcases the “Anatomy of an Asynchronous Lesson.” Indeed the image has a clear structure, is easy on the eyes, and gives us that “I can do this!” attitude. Still, even when armed with a handy infographic, teachers still have plenty to do to execute such a plan. Lesson planning, as we all know, takes time and deliberate focus on our behalf. The infographic above gives us a solid foundation for an asynchronous lesson. Now, let’s put this plan into action with an outlined lesson I created for an ESL class (this, of course, can be modified to fit your needs).

1) Set a clearly defined learning objective

  • Ex: Today we will talk about different learning tools and apps available online. Your job is to determine what qualities are found in the best learning apps, and then advise one of your friends on which app they should use for their class / assignment / project etc.
  • Tip: Make your objective bold, highlighted, or a different font color. Anything to make it 100% clear to your students “this is what we are learning today.”'

2) Put together an overview of the lesson

  1. Opening Questions / Warm-up
    • What learning apps do we know already?
    • What are your favorite learning apps and why?
    • In your opinion, what makes a good app?
    • Tip: Students can answer these questions on a discussion board like Padlet, video sharing platform like Flipgrid, or any other area where they can share responses. The purpose is for students to access their prior knowledge about the content and see how they can use that in today’s lesson.
  2. Resources / data
    • Provide students with authentic resources to consult about the topic at hand.
    • Article 1: 10 Best Free Educational Apps
    • Article 2: 8 Essential Features of Successful Educational Apps
    • Tip: The more resources, the better. Depending on the content (broad / niche), try and provide a mix of sources. They can be texts, infographics, videos, advertisements, interviews, etc. With more resources, you give your students more choices on how they learn.
  3. Highlight relevant vocabulary in your sources
    • To fully achieve this objective, what words do students need to know?
    • Extract words and phrases from relevant sources.
      • From the first linked article (aside from the numerous idioms in the introductory paragraphs), you could use “streamline,” “seamlessly,” or “XP.” The trick is finding relevant words that students can use and apply immediately. Idioms like “silver lining,” “cup of tea,” or “under the sun” are nice, but not always helpful.
      • Tip: Do not overburden students with 20 new words in a day. Choose 5-6 relevant words and repeat those throughout the lesson. As a formative assessment, you could take the traditional approach of assigning a simple fill in the blank task, or you could require use of at least 2 of these words in the student’s final product for the lesson.
  4. Students engage with the content
    • Have students rank some of the apps in the provided resources and say what they like about them.
    • Have them respond to article #2. As users of these apps, do they agree with the author’s message?
  5. Students act on / respond to the content
    • From what the students saw / read / learned, how can they respond to it? This is where the language task comes into play. For more help on making engaging tasks, consider the AIM (link) strategy that I learned about at ACTFL last year.
  6. What steps 1-5 might look like for the student:
    • Objective: Today we will talk about different learning tools and apps available online. Your job is to determine what qualities are found in the best learning apps, and then advise one of your friends on which app they should use for their class / assignment / project etc.
    • Resources we will use to do this:
      • Article 1
      • Article 2
    • Vocabulary for today (you choose 3 to master)
      • Streamline (Article 1)
      • XP (Article 1)
      • Seamlessly (Article 1)
      • (teacher gives more below)
    • Engaging with these sources
      • Rank the apps that you read about today in your notes. What do you like about them? Do you agree with these sources? Why?
    • Responding to the content with your own product.
      • See final task posted on Extempore.

3) Share your instructional resources

“Instructional” being the operative word. These need to be sources that students will consult to achieve the stated objective. They are resources that they can read, take notes from, and ask questions about.

4) Create instructions for student assignments

Especially with online content, instructions need to be as clear as possible. Numbering instructions, or using bullet points, allows students to see directions in a much clearer fashion than a block of text.

  • By numbering, students see the progress as a checklist, and thus follow it easily (just as you do in this example).
  • If you need to highlight important directions (usually verbs), then do so. Use different fonts, change the color, make it bigger, USE CAPS, anything to emphasize to your students “don’t forget to do this!” or "don't do this." We like when tasks are clearly laid out for us, so why wouldn’t our students?
  • What does this look like? Here are example directions for achieving the lesson’s objective.
    • Student objective: determine what qualities are found in the best learning apps, and then advise one of your friends on which app they should use for their class / assignment / project etc.
    • Task: Helping a friend choose an app. Rodrigo, your childhood friend, just got a job as a new teacher at Extempore University, where he’ll be teaching all of his classes online. He’s new to the teaching profession, and while he’s passionate about students and education, he’s overwhelmed at the amount of online tools and apps available. He knows that even though you’re still in school, you’re very familiar with educational apps and related technology. Rodrigo plans on calling you tonight to discuss what he can use this year.
      1. Write a brief outline of how you would introduce TWO different apps to Rodrigo. Include…
        • The main reasons behind your choice. Why do you like these apps?
        • Potential classes Rodrigo can use these apps in.
        • One example of how to use these two apps in the classroom or online.
      2. Anticipate one question that Rodrigo might have for you about these apps. What might he ask? How might you answer it?
      3. On Extempore, record what you would say to Rodrigo in your phone call with him. Be sure to incorporate both steps #1 and #2, as well as use at least 3 vocabulary words from today’s sources. You should speak for at least one minute without interruption.

5) Share links for application and assessment.

These differ from #3 in that this is where students will apply what they’ve learned. You might use…

  • Quizlet to review vocabulary.
  • Extempore for reading comprehension questions (both oral and multiple choice).
  • Polleverywhere to gauge student opinion on a topic, in this case, the most popular educational app in your class.

6) Create channels for communication and collaboration.

Discussion boards and video sharing platforms mentioned above facilitate student sharing and conversation. Schedule class videochats (even in small groups) can also allow for relevant discussion.

7) Reflect.

I’ve found that daily reflection, while beneficial, tends to elicit similar responses from students, which is why I find it better to assign reflections after longer stretches of time (again, just my opinion). This could be once a week, biweekly, or at the end of a unit. Let’s take our lesson on educational apps as an example. After one week, students could reflect on how these apps impact their learning. After one month (say, the unit’s duration), students could reflect on how technology has changed / will change education before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supplementary Reading for Back to School 2020

Here are some great reads to check out for the new school year.

Questions for Connection and Purpose (link) - Inside higher Ed

The coronavirus pandemic has created anxiety, uncertainty, and fear in many of us. For our students, these topics can be difficult to breach alone. This article provides recommendations on how we can engage with our students about the current situation, learn about the world, and better understand one another. It might not be related to your content area, but strategies like this create stronger bonds between teachers and students and make learning more achievable.

7 ideas for using break-out rooms (link) - The TEFL Zone

Don’t just use breakout rooms for pair speaking tasks! Perhaps try a song rehearsal, or have your students give one another feedback. Check out these 7 ideas.

Keep It Simple (link) - The Effortful Educator

When COVID-19 first struck, a swarm of tech companies pounced on the opportunity to showcase why their tools were the best for online education. While indeed there are hundreds of applications that assist us and our students in reaching learning objectives, it can be overwhelming to have to actually decide which ones to use. This post reminds us that at the end of the day, our content takes priority, and “if it isn’t enhancing learning, don’t do it.” Keep it simple!

A Game a Day: Fun and Dynamic Synchronous Online Learning (link) - Faculty Focus

Icebreakers. Virtual handshakes. Flappy bird competitions. Student-prepared presentations. How can you make your synchronous classes engaging and fun? Try out these ideas.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it. An icebreaker, an asynchronous lesson plan, and a list of helpful articles with which you can start this school year. We teachers will need much more to conquer this unique school year, but let's embrace the challenge in front of us. From your friends at Extempore, best of luck this year!

Grant Castner joined Extempore as Community Manager in August 2020. While managing social media and creating content with Extempore, he also teaches high-school level Chinese in Minnesota. An avid user of Extempore for language assessment, he's always on the lookout for ways to improve his teaching practice. Have a question on how to adapt Extempore for your class? Just need help teaching? Contact Grant anytime at grant.castner@extemporeapp.com.