“It’s the little conversations that build the relationships and make an impact on each student.”
—Robert John Meehan
Language learners benefit greatly when they are given opportunities to converse with peers outside the classroom. They improve their listening and speaking skills and are able to build their vocabulary. Conversing with peers outside the classroom also helps our language learners bond with their peers. This bond is important, because learning a language is a shared goal, which is strengthened with peer support and practice. Below are tips and free web tools to help spark dynamic discussions outside the classroom.
A Few Tips
The goal is to get your language learners to express themselves and practice sharing their ideas in English. The more they speak, the better! The following tips will help you spark a dynamic discussion:
- Make sure the topics you choose are interesting and relatable.
- Topics don’t always have to tie into the content, but you can definitely get creative and find ways to come up with topics that will get students to use a specific grammar form or think about what they are studying.
- Ask students to contribute topic ideas.
- Get involved in the discussion by sharing your ideas and responding to students.
- I don’t correct errors for outside discussions, because the idea is to encourage practice with peers. Error correction is saved for classroom discussions.
- If you need to give a grade, I recommend a participation grade. Grading on grammar and content may prevent students from sharing more.
Discussion Tools and Apps
Flipgrid is currently my favorite educational video discussion iOS and Android app. Create a Grid (group), add your question or topic, and students contribute short video responses. You send students a code or link to make the discussion private. You can determine the length of the video, embed the videos, and download the videos. Students will enjoy the fun emojis they can add to videos. Check out this example of children replying to the question, “What does a quality education mean to you?”
Recap is an educational question-led video chat tool which works on Laptops, Chromebooks, iOS devices, and Android devices. This app offers great features for teachers to provide direct feedback.
Padlet is another one of my favorite discussion tools for educators, which is accessible on nearly any device. Students don’t have to register like they do for the other web tools. You create a web wall similar to a cork board. Students receive the link and click the wall to contribute via sticky notes. Students can contribute text, audio, images, files, links, and video. The newest features allow students to like, star, upvote, downvote, and score their peers’ posts.
Skype is one of the most popular tools used by educators to video chat with other classes. Skype is available on nearly any laptop or mobile device. The Skype messenger app has evolved and added incredible features to manage a class discussion. Students can chat through text, video, or audio. Audio is limited to 25 and video chats are limited according to the device being used. They can share images, files, or screen share. One of the best features for language learners is the powerful machine learning translator. The voice translator works in 8 languages and the text translator is available in more than 50 languages. The more students use the translator, the better it works!
Voicethread is a multimedia discussion web tool and iOS app for educators. You can add slides or images to spark a discussion. Around the border of the slide, students contribute ideas through audio or video. Students can use avatars to protect their identities.
Google Hangouts is another messaging app similar to Skype which works on the web and most mobile devices. Students can chat through text or video. Up to 10 videos are supported, but more can contribute through text. Students must be 14 or older. Hangouts are used by many educators, but not designed for educators so use with precaution.
If you teacher college students, adults, or Business English students then you may want to use multimedia messaging apps like Voxer and Slack. Voxer is an app on iOS and Android where users communicate by leaving audio messages. Voxer also allows text and video chat, sharing images, and sharing links. Slack is available on nearly any laptop or mobile device and a popular tool many businesses (including the ESL Library team) already use to communicate via text, calls, audio messages, and more. You can edit documents and conduct searches on previous conversations which are indexed and archived.
I know teachers who host class discussions using popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Both apps work on multiple mobile devices. They also allow you to create groups, text chat, conference call, exchange photos, video chat, edit photos, add emojis, add stickers, and leave audio messages. These aren’t apps made for education so use them with precaution.
How do you encourage students to practice English outside the classroom?
If you want to read more of Shelly’s tips for online resources for teaching English, then check out her feed!