Leveraging Online Tools for Student Engagement and Follow-Up

Many of us use warm-up activities at the start of a lesson. They can be simple or clever in design, and the nature of a warm-up might remain light and fun or become a bit more thought-provoking. The first goal, of course, is to get students thinking in English. We want them to use the language actively, either through a verbal or non-verbal response. However, it’s also about establishing the right environment and inviting students into the learning zone. Additionally, I use the opportunity to introduce the lesson topic: my warm-up is often a quiet, informal introduction that then nicely transitions into the main part of my lesson. But why wait until class time to start warming up?

With the integration of technology in our everyday lives, we have the wonderful opportunity to begin engaging learners before the actual lesson. Most of us already feel like we’re online 24/7, so extending our reach through a digital presence before and after class shouldn’t seem unnatural. I think of pre-class online activity as setting the tone and then allowing the traditional lesson warm-up be the final bridge that takes the learner fully into the classroom.

Is the door open for learners to step in?

Our classroom might be warm and cozy inside, but unless the door is visibly open and there’s a positive atmosphere outside as well, it’s not easy for one to make the decision to step in.

Take the time to do some “landscaping.”

Taking the time to do some “landscaping” before class can make a difference. Put down a path that’s easy to follow and pleasant to walk along. Learners will want to continue forward.

How exactly can we do that?

  • Use a poll or a survey. SurveyMonkey is a popular choice, but you can always use tools that are embedded into whatever platform you’re using. WordPress, for example, makes that very easy with its plugin. I mentioned Poll Everywhere in a previous post. That mobile-friendly tool would allow last-minute votes and real-time results in the first couple minutes of class.
  • Use a short quiz. The idea is to keep tasks to a minimum. If students are going to participate, it may be on the go, so no task should be time-consuming. I like the ease of Hot Potatoes software, but it’s not mobile-friendly. Since I use a virtual classroom platform, I take advantage of the built-in tools and I’ve shared private pre-class quizzes. There should no pressure to score 100%. Explain that the quiz is simply to help get students thinking about the coming lesson.
  • Post a photo for comments. A picture says a thousand words, right? Hopefully, the right photo will prompt at least a few words from each student. Photos are so easily shared now through social media, from Twitter to Facebook. Other apps will get the job done, too. Personally, I get a kick out of Viber. I like the ability to leave text or voice messages — and stickers.
  • Share a short video. Find the best place to share links. Do your students prefer a text message or is it possible to reach everyone on a discussion board? For my upcoming conversation class, I’ve planned to address work-related topics. I remembered a scene from Big with Tom Hanks. Thankfully, I found the clip on YouTube under the title “Payday.” It’s all of 18 seconds and captures so much about getting one’s paycheck…after the deductions. I’ve shared the link with my small group via the private discussion board on WizIQ. They’ve been invited to watch it and comment on it.

Many of these tasks can also be used post-class. Their purpose is somewhat different from a homework assignment, which is submitted and corrected. Post-class “engagement tasks” give students the opportunity to explore the topic more or interact with the target language in new ways — voluntarily. You can present tasks as invitations to continue learning.Tasks with different levels of engagement are especially a good idea. For example, a set of flashcards on Quizlet can be used once or multiple times in multiple ways. I did a quick experiment today and timed myself. I created 12 basic flashcards in under 10 minutes using my cell phone. My set of flashcards on industries allows for matching, spelling, and other quiz formats.

Got other ideas for pre- or post-class engagement? I’d love to hear about them.

Photo credits:

“Little House” by Green Explorer (Tom). Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

“Up the Garden Path” by Wildroof. Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

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