Social isolation impacts on everyone’s wellbeing and mental health. This is particularly true for adolescents and young learners who were previously used to spending a substantial part of their day in the company of others. Virtual interactions are no replacement for spending time in the company of others face to face, however they can help to maintain some balance and keep up one’s spirits. Judit Kormos, Professor in Second Language Acquisition at Lancaster University, shares part two of her creative language learning learning tasks for lockdown learning.
I will suggest some tasks which might reduce social isolation as well as give students opportunities to practise and use their English language skills. Of course, these tasks can be adapted for any additional language students learn at school. After listing the task ideas, I will also give some advice on how we can ensure that the outcomes of these tasks are shared meaningfully with other members of the class or group.
1. Message your buddy in English every second day
Students are likely to chat with each other regularly anyway. Set up pairs and ask them to check on each other in English at least once, every second day. Assign a theme for them to talk about as well. Ask for a summary of what they talked about if it isn’t confidential, or simply have them report that they have done this towards the end of the week. Of course, you can also just trust them to do it!
2. Do something for your community
Ask students to describe an idea for an act that would help their community. They could make a plan to put out a box with books or cardboard games in front of their house/flat for others to read/use. In an extension of this task, you could tell them to think about potential obstacles. Students can then also practise ‘if’ constructions (e.g. ‘If it rains, I need to make sure I bring the books back into the house’).
3. Stay positive
Ask students to share something that made them feel better, happy or gave them joy that day. These can be very small things, but it can help hugely to keep up their spirits.
Share something positive: spring flowers blooming
4. Send a virtual birthday present and set up a virtual birthday party
Many students cannot have a birthday party and will feel lonely on their birthdays. Set up a birthday calendar and students can send each other virtual birthday presents. You can also set a group task in which different groups come up with ideas for a virtual birthday party. Then, organise one every second week for students who had birthdays during that period.
5. Do something to help at home
Ask students to do any task at home that can be of help to someone. They can share what they did in a photo diary, voice recording, video, written text, poem or song. You can set this task regularly by specifying what they could do. In the first week it could be tidying up a drawer or a particularly messy part of their room. Week two, it could be cooking. In the third, entertaining their little brothers or sisters, etc. Otherwise, list the various things that can be completed and students can choose one for each week.
Help at home: tidy up the drawer
6. Keep your classmates entertained
Ask students to recommend films to watch, books to read, podcasts to listen to, hobbies and games to try out to each other. Recommendations can be in any mode and the length of the description can be adjusted to students’ level of proficiency.
7. Did you know that…?
The lockdown can be a great opportunity for sharing interesting things that students did not know about each other. For example, students can describe their pets (‘Did you know that I have a cat?’), an interesting object in their home, etc.
Sharing your outcomes
It is also important to think about how students will share the outcomes or products of these tasks with each other. Simply asking students to post what they have done to a forum does not create a real audience for their work. Teachers might want to consider assigning fewer tasks to complete and building in time for online interaction around the task outcomes. You can do this in many different ways. Simply ask students to comment on or ask questions about the work of a number of students in the group. Create small groups or pairs who share thoughts and give feedback on each other’s work.
Participating in these interactions should be strongly encouraged and rewarded. With higher level and older students you can assign moderator roles to students. They can then guide the discussion and summarise the main ideas or comments to the class. And of course, you can think of creative ways of following up these tasks with another activity. For example, a continuation of the task in which students recommend a film to watch, book to read, etc. can be to ask students to pick one of these recommendations and write a post about how they liked the film or book.
Following these steps can reduce demand for individual teacher feedback which might take up a lot of time in online learning contexts. You can manage students’ expectations for feedback by explicitly telling them there will be a mix of peer and teacher feedback. Teacher feedback can just give overall evaluation, praise and highlight key points and lessons to be learned.
Finally, it is important during these times that feedback should be positive. Acknowledge students’ efforts and offer praise and encouragement. In implementing these tasks, collaboration and co-operation should be emphasised, and competition such as ‘who wrote the best book description’ should be avoided. Instead of selecting winners, you could ask students to say one great thing they liked about their peers’ work.
If you missed it, you can read part one of Judit’s creative online language learning tasks blog here.
If you would like to read more blog articles from the Supporting Every Teacher series, click here.