Online Teaching: How to make your lesson more interactive

Online Teaching
How to make your lesson  more interactive

The “day after” is here and you have already started going online. It may not be as scary and fraught with technical problems as you thought it would be but still there is something missing… INTERACTION!

How can you overcome the feeling that you are glued in front of a monitor and you cannot mingle in class, you cannot hover or get a feeling of the class mood. Nothing can replace human contact but there are ways you can liven up your lesson  and keep attention span and interaction at high levels.

In this post, I will suggest three ways: web 2.0 tools, polls, and the chat box.

1.     Polls
Most platforms incorporate polls in their paid version. If you use a free version, create a poll using MS Forms or any other survey tool and share the link on the chat box. The poll could be on something related to the lesson e.g. "what kind of food do you prefer ?"(healthy/junk) for 4th graders who are being taught comparisons or current affairs issues that could spark discussion such as “Should a curfew be imposed in our city?” for advanced classes. Invite them to complete it and then share the result or even better, send the graphs to a couple of students and ask them to present the results in class next time.

2.     Use the chat box
You can easily invite students to share their reactions on the chat box (thumbs up or any other emoji, short replies). This will give them the feeling that they are actively involved and you will have a good picture of whether your virtual class is with you or they are simply surfing the social media with their mobile phones placed in front of the computer monitor. In addition, you can make the most of the one-to-one (private) chat to give personal feedback to your students, encourage them, or receive feedback on the quality of sound and video or even better asking for clarifications or asking questions that would hesitate to ask in plenary.

3.     Use Web 2.0 tools that require interaction with students
    There are many tools, most of them free. In this post I will give an example with two tools that most teachers are familiar with, Kahoot and Mentimeter. The first one allows you to do exercises with your students in an environment that resembles a quiz show and students can use their mobile phones as joy sticks to choose the correct answer. The second one allows students to form a word cloud or share their views online and in real time. Both tools have more features but for a start, you can try the ones I mentioned above and gradually incorporate the others (for teacher who have not used them before, you will find useful tips further below in the post).  How can you do it?
             With Mentimeter
-          Create a presentation before the lesson. Choose word cloud. Write the question you want your students to answer e.g. What are the benefits of online learning? Set the number of words you want your students to enter.
-          During the lesson, open the presentation and share your screen with your students. Every online platform has this function but you need to make sure you have found it before  the lesson.
-          Tell your students to follow the instructions on the mentimeter slide (it reads: “Go to www.menti.com “ and then it gives them the code to access it. )
-          Keep sharing your screen with your learners while they  enter their answers on their mobile phones. A word cloud is constantly changing shape while they enter their answers
-          When they have finished, use the input they have provided to make comments and spark discussion. Take into consideration that the bigger a word appears the more students have entered it onto the word cloud. So you can find which views are more common that others.

From my experience, students are thrilled with the outcome and they feel they have ownership of the word cloud which means that they are motivated to participate and contribute.

With Kahoot
-          Follow the same procedure as above. Create a game based on what you have      taught.
-          Share your screen and sound and invite them to use their mobile phones.
-      Praise the winners and all the contestants.

The teacher uses a different site to the one that students use. With Kahoot, it is www.create.kahoot .it  while students enter the pin on www.kahoot.it . With mentimeter, you create the presentation on www.mentimeter.com while the students enter their code and answers on www.menti.com. Both tools provide a new pin/code every time you use them. I have often made the mistake of giving my student an old pin/code on a slide. It works better if you project directly the tool on your screen and share it with your students.

More tips
If you avoid excessive use and you alternate them, they will spice up your lesson and give learners a sense of participation and engagement.  When you try them for the first time, don’t hesitate help from a student that is tech savvy and can be relied on. Make them co-hosts so that they can help if something goes wrong.

Enjoy the lesson!
Dimitris Primalis


Teaching online for the first time: 7 tips for those about to sail into uncharted waters

Teaching online for the first time

7 Tips for those about to sail into uncharted waters

Whether you regarded learning technology a blessing or anathema makes little or no difference now. Your students are at home and your mission is to help them keep learning at a turning point of the academic year. The following tips come from my experience using electronic platforms to train trainers and for webinars for EFL teachers who can be a demanding audience. I'd say as demanding as your class. Here are some tips that you may find helpful:

1. Explore, well in advance,  the potential of the platform. 
Find out how you can upload material, have camera and mic on and off, how you can switch slides and mute participants. These may sound easy or trivial but it can be quite hard to find out how to do it when you are on line and teaching.

2. Practice
Rehearse with peers or the school I.T. team. If something is to go wrong, it’d better go when rehearsing. It will also give you more confidence when you teach with real students.

3. Keep the audience involved
During the session, most students are likely to be in their pyjamas on the couch or chatting with their friends on the social media. Ask questions, incorporate polls and keep your Teacher Talking Time to the minimum. You may ask them from time to time to share emojis on the chat box to indicate reactions e.g. smiles or sad faces. I know it sounds challenging but you don’t want to end up lecturing to a virtual audience that simply is... not listening.

4. Keep an eye on the chat box
Some students may be tempted to use it like they do on the social media. Assign a task and while students are doing it, have a look at the long exchanges. If the platform accommodates chat rooms between learners, check them as well.

5.  Compatibility of material
Check the compatibility of your device with the platform. I have often found that my powerpoint slide can look distorted to such an extent that learners can not read them. If you are planning to show a video, make sure that you can upload it or that switching to a website to watch it can be seamless without glitches.

6. Give yourself space and avoid being “glued” in front of the camera.
Make sure that your chair is comfortable and that you have enough space to move naturally and gesture when you talk. It is also advisable to find a quiet room without distractions such as pets or members of the family walking behind you. Cats love walking on keyboards and mine once decided to be actively involved in a webinar...

7. Have a plan B
Technology can help you do wonderful activities with your learners but anything can go wrong. Have a back-up plan or activity in case something does not work.

Keep calm and confident. At the end of the session, you may discover that you actually enjoyed it.

Dimitris Primalis


CLIL reading texts are too long and difficult to deal with… What should I do?

My students complain that CLIL reading texts are too long and difficult to deal with… What should I do?

Unlike traditional EFL (English as a Foreign Language) texts, which are graded and fairly simple for lower level class, texts in CLIL books are usually long and more demanding in terms of vocabulary, structure and are usually different in terms of task types (e.g. students may have to complete a Venn diagram). These features may bring to surface complaints by students and parents and add further pressure to the educator.  How can you deal with it?

Make the most of the title and photos
Ask learners to anticipate the content from the title, subtitle, headings, photos, drawings or diagrams. Anything in linguistic or paralinguistic form that can help them form hypotheses and stimulate their curiosity. They can also act as a lead in for brainstorming and vocabulary recycling.

Activate their schematic knowledge (their knowledge of their world)
Make the most of their existing knowledge. If the text refers to music, play pieces of music and elicit vocabulary relevant to the topic. There are thousands of animated videos on YouTube that offer a simplified version of various topics ranging from global warming and environmental issues to purely technical issues such as wedges and bolts.

Set clear reading tasks
Be very clear about what you expect from learners. For instance, “read the text and find the main idea”. It is also worth pointing out that they do not need to know all the words

 Break down the text
Younger generations are used to shorter texts, thanks to the social media. A long text often seems to be a daunting task for kids or teenagers who usually deal with texts at sentence or paragraph levels.

Revisit the text the following day and assign different tasks
This will help learners build confidence as the text is already familiar and seems more manageable.

Create information gap activities
Some texts are written in such a way that allow for jigsaw reading. You can divide the class into two groups. Ask them to read different parts of the text and then work in pairs to bridge the information gap. This will motivate learners to find out more about the text and will also facilitate the development of speaking skills.

Spend time in class
Try to resist the temptation to assign reading for homework and work on other skills in class. Reading is a skill that requires you to invest time but there the return of investment is worth the effort and time.

Dimitris Primalis


I have no time in class for 21st Century skills… What should I do?

I have no time in class for 21st Century skills… What should I do?

A common misconception when it comes to helping learners develop the so called 21st Century skills – including creative and critical thinking, communication and collaboration- is that this puts strain on the syllabus and takes valuable class time from language activities. In fact, it is not a matter of finding extra time but how the lesson is planned and how some activities are designed. Here’s an example below:

The traditional way
Most coursebooks have stories. Usually students read the story and then discuss it with the teacher.

How can I tweak it?

Choose a secondary character or an inanimate object from the story. Invite students to discuss in pairs/groups how this character or object would narrate the story. Would it be the same or different? Then ask them to write a version of the story based on the point of view they discussed earlier.
Share the stories on the school blog and ask learners to write reviews on them, comparing them to the original story and highlighting strengths and weaknesses.

This will help learners develop not only their language skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing) but also creative and critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills without devoting extra time for 21st Century skills.

How can I facilitate 21st Century skills development in class?
 From my experience, you can do it seamlessly by introducing and applying:

  • Pair and group work
  •  Wh- questions (what, why, how)
  •  Information gap activities
  •  Encouraging evaluation and feedback
  •  Challenging established ideas or routines
  • Personalizing content

I am sure you will discover more ways that work with your class. Looking forward to reading your experience and ideas.
Dimitris Primalis

Originally published on 17th October 2019 on Linkedin


Μπορώ και μόνος μου!

Μπορώ και μόνος μου!

Μεγάλωσα πια και δεν τα περιμένω όλααα από τη δασκάλα μου 

Γιατί ανοίξατε ένα τεράστιο στόμα;;; Πάει πια ο καιρός που τα περιμέναμε όλα από το δάσκαλο ή τη δασκάλα και όλη η γνώση ήταν γραμμένη σε μερικά βιβλία.
Τώρα εκτός από τα βιβλία και τους δασκάλους μπορώ να μάθω ακόμα περισσότερα όπου και αν βρίσκομαι και ότι ώρα θέλω με τη βοήθεια 2 πολύ σημαντικών συμμάχων!!!   

Καλά το μαντέψατε… το διαδίκτυο και τις ξένες γλώσσες.
Δύσκολο; Μπορεί για τη γιαγιά μου και τον παππού μου αλλά όχι για εμένα! ;)
Πως τα καταφέρνω;;; Easy peasy lemon squeezy όπως λέει και η Miss Annette. Η συνταγή δεν είναι μαγική. Είναι πολύ απλή και με εύκολα συστατικά:
-      Πολλές δόσεις κοινής λογικής
-      Την ικανότητα μου να σκέφτομαι και να κρίνω
-      Μερικούς απλούς κανόνες surfing στο διαδίκτυο (για να αποφύγω τους “καρχαρίες”   )
-      Πολύ σεβασμό για τη δουλειά των άλλων

‘Σερφάρω’ μακριά από καρχαρίες
Εννοείται ότι αποφεύγω sites περίεργα που ζητάνε προσωπικά στοιχεία και να κάνω κλικ σε όρους χρήσης με «ψιλά γράμματα» που κανένας δεν μπορεί να διαβάσει ή να καταλάβει. Δεν θα την πατήσω σαν το Νικολάκη που κατέβασε το αγαπημένο του τραγούδι χωρίς να διαβάσει τους όρους και τώρα όπου και αν πατήσει του εμφανίζονται συνέχεια διαφημίσεις και κάνει 10 ώρες για να μπει σε ένα site!!!

Το copy-paste  είναι για τους… άσχετους
Σιγά μην κάνω copy-paste. Πρώτον ΌΛΟΙ το καταλαβαίνουν στην τάξη ότι δεν είναι δικό μου και δεύτερον και πιο σημαντικό – είναι χάσιμο χρόνου γιατί δεν έχω μάθει τίποτα καινούργιο. Αυτά είναι για άσχετους, εγώ θέλω να μάθω!!!

Όχι!!! Δεν ανακάλυψα εγώ την Αμερική!!!
Φυσικά και αναφέρω που βρήκα τις πληροφορίες στις εργασίες μου. Δεν έχω γίνει ακόμα Αινστάιν για να διατυπώσω τη θεωρία της σχετικότητας και δεν θα ισχυριστώ ποτέ ότι είναι δική μου. Αντίθετα θα επικαλεστώ τις πηγές για να κάνω πιο ισχυρά τα επιχειρήματα μου και να αποδείξω την αξιοπιστία της εργασίας μου!!!

Πολιορκήστε το κείμενο… ‘Εφοδος!!!
 Νομίζεις ότι θα φοβηθώ τις άγνωστες λέξεις;;;!!!
Ο μπαμπάς μου λέει ότι η κυριακάτικη εφημερίδα του είναι πολύ δύσκολη για παιδιά. Εγώ όμως διαβάζω άρθρα με αρκετές άγνωστες λέξεις και βρήκα τον τρόπο να “ξεκλειδώσω τον κώδικα” και να τις καταλαβαίνω. Διαβάζω τον τίτλο, βλέπω τις φωτογραφίες και διαβάζω όλο το κείμενο μια-δυο φορές για να καταλάβω τη γενική ιδέα. Μετά οι άγνωστες λέξεις προδίδονται από το νόημα. Αν κάποιες εξακολουθήσουν να αντιστέκονται, τις πολιορκώ με τη βοήθεια του λεξικού ή αν δεν είναι πρόχειρο, καλώ ενισχύσεις από το Google, το Bing και τη Wikipedia!!! Κάθε αντίσταση είναι μάταιη και τα μυστικά του κειμένου αποκαλύπτονται  το ένα μετά το άλλο. Και για να είμαι και σίγουρος ότι δεν θα με δυσκολέψουν ξανά, όταν βρίσκω τις λέξεις διαβάζω και το παράδειγμα που δίνει το λεξικό και ακούω και την προφορά αν είναι ξένες για να ξέρω και πως προφέρονται.

Ο Κωστάκης μου λέει συχνά υποτιμητικά «Τι σε νοιάζει τι γίνεται εκεί έξω στον κόσμο;»

Είσαι σοβαρός, Κωστάκη???!!! Γιατί με νοιάζει;;;
ü Γιατί ο υπολογιστής μου είναι για να με ταξιδεύει στη γνώση και όχι να χαζεύω με βλακείες τύπου angry birds. Αυτά είναι για 4χρονα…
ü Γιατί ΕΓΩ μαθαίνω και όχι ο γείτονας… και στο κάτω κάτω της γραφής…
ü Γιατί είμαι ΚΑΙ ΕΓΩ υπεύθυνος για τη μάθηση μου!!!


Information gap activities in a flipped classroom context

Information gap activities have always fascinated learners as they stimulate creative and critical thinking, they encourage engagement and give them the opportunity to express themselves and collaborate with their mates. 

Photo by Dimitris Primalis

Yet, this kind of activity is often a headache for educators in terms of time and class management. Learning technology however, can offer solutions to make the most of such activities without major disruptions in the syllabus. Below you can read a short definition of these activities and some activities that I have tried with my students using OneNote, a digital notebook that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. 

According to the British Council webpage "An information gap activity is an activity where learners are missing the information they need to complete a task and need to talk to each other to find it."

Activity 1: video/audio

Choose a video that you think will spark discussion and stimulate the imagination of learners. For lower level students, I prefer videos that have little or no language so that students can interpret and draw upon paralinguistic features such as gestures and facial expressions. 

Create two digital notebooks and divide the class into two groups. In Group A’s notebook, share an audio file (MP3)while in Group B’s a video file of the same video (MP4) but without sound. In a flipped classroom context, ask students to listen and watch the files respectively, at home and take notes. You can invite them via email. 

In class, ask them to work in pairs or groups and reconstruct the story by sharing notes. The end product is the first paragraph of a story. Ask them  to  share with the rest of the class, using OneNote again. 

This allows them to develop their creative thinking skills and benefit from being exposed to different writing styles. Even though learners have all shared the same information, no written paragraph is the same. Students add their personal element in each one.   For homework, ask students to finish the story. You can share the best ones on the school blog. 

Why do it in a flipped classroom context?
  • You save precious class time. What is more, weaker students can always listen as many times as they need to comprehend.
  • In a traditional classroom, split viewing/listening can be a challenge because you would have to use two classrooms or have each group outside the classroom for at least a few minutes. This usually distracts other classes and there are usually complaints from other colleagues.
  • You can devote more time to promote communication and collaboration in class. 

Activity 2: reading texts

Alternatively, you can choose two texts referring to the same topic but expressing different opinions. You can divide the class again into two different groups and ask them to summarize the main points of each text and present them in class (this could be in the form of a powerpoint presentation or a paragraph). In class ask the students to synthesize arguments and views and create their own text on the issue reflecting their views. 

Video, audio and text can be combined to provide sources of information to learners. What will make the activity successful is the gap that learners have to bridge by exchanging information and collaborating with their classmates.

Have fun!

Dimitris Primalis



Peer Assessment using school Learning Management Systems

Peer Assessment using school Learning Management Systems

Many educational organizations invest considerable amounts of money into “building” Learning Management Systems (L.M.S.) or similar platforms to facilitate learning and engage learners. Yet, their full potential is often unexplored or underexploited by teachers. The following post suggests two ways in which such systems can be used to support peer feedback; engage learners in process writing; help strengthen bonds in class and share common goals.

Students often present their projects in the form of powerpoint presentations. However, due to time constraints, they receive feedback only by the teacher while the audience has no say in that. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that quite a few students pay no attention or find the whole process boring. This year, I thought I had to do something about it so I created a discussion forum and asked students to provide feedback at the end of each presentation. I explained that the basic idea behind this activity is to make the presenters aware of their strengths and weaknesses so that they can improve their presentation skills before they have to do it in front of professionals at their work. I stressed the fact that this is a classroom and we all share a common goal: to ensure that the level of English of all the students meets the standards and criteria of local and international companies in Greece and abroad.

Even though, the learners are primary school pupils (4th and 5th graders), they seemed to grasp the rationale and one of them told me that her sister who is an adult has to do presentations in English very often at her job. I made clear that I will not tolerate any foul language and that we can all become better as a class if we use peer feedback.

At the end of the first presentation, I gave the audience a few minutes to post their comments which needed to cover strong areas and areas to work on. I saw a marked difference in the learner engagement. They all paid attention and enjoyed the fact that their opinion was deemed useful and appreciated by the presenter. The only point I had not predicted was that most of them responded with emoticons.

At the end of the session, I was happy that all the students had participated but was a bit puzzled about how to make their feedback more constructive. It occurred to me that it is only natural for young people to react with emojis because this is what they do in their -outside the classroom – life. So the next day, I thanked them for their participation but in a discreet way I expressed my concern about emoticons: “Smiles and thumbs up are a nice way to show the presenters that you liked their work but, unfortunately, they can’t know what it was exactly that you  liked. For instance, was it the photos, the text, or the way they organized it?”

Contrary to my worries, my comment went down well and the next time, they tried to be more specific despite the linguistic limitations they have at this level (A1-A2 C.E.F.R.). What struck me most, was a student who would otherwise scarcely engage in classroom activities. She had read carefully all the comments on her presentation and asked me: “Why does X student say that he loved the font I used while Y students says that I need to change it?” The explanation was easy. The specific font looks great if you sit near at the front but at the back of the room it is hard to read. The fact that she had read carefully the comments which were written in English and she was actively involved in the whole process was an unexpected reward for me.

Then I felt that I could try the same with paragraph writing. After teaching the basic structure of a paragraph, I asked my pupils to write a paragraph giving their opinion on a topic we had discussed in class, on the L.M.S. I created a discussion forum and asked them to write it there. Early the next day I read them and gave them feedback on the same discussion forum which is visible only by the class members.

The majority of my students were thrilled. We read some of the paragraphs in class and analyzed briefly why some were very good and how others could be improved.

Some pupils asked me if they could read the paragraphs written by their peers and write comments. The answer was positive on condition that they would not use emoticons and that the comments would help writers.

Closing thoughts
Some students continued using emoticons but they did it to emphasize the comments they had made using lexical items. The whole process was received with enthusiasm both from pupils and parents who saw their children engaging into learning.
I felt that the feedback pupils had from their peers acted as acknowledgement and motivated them to be actively involved in the process.

Some students whose paragraphs were not up to standard,  gradually improved their writing thanks to the discussions in class which raised their awareness and to the exposure to different forms of writing styles.

A positive atmosphere that created a secure environment – only constructive feedback was welcome – and the shared vision of achieving the learning goal as a class contributed to learner motivation and engagement and helped peers to build stronger bonds as a group.

Hope you enjoy these activities with your students!

Dimitris Primalis