Some people may associate online ESL classes with one-on-one tutoring, but group classes are also a thing. Online group classes are an effective way to capitalize on time and finances, so some online ESL companies offer them. Group classes can be anywhere from three to eight class members or more. But you may be more familiar with private tutorials than group classes you might be thinking, “how do I manage a group class?” In today’s blog, we’ll give you a few tips on how to do it. Read on to know more.
1. Take Control
The first point for managing group classes online is that you, as the teacher, need to manage the class. When you have a group of people, they need someone to take control, and that someone is you. You need to be able to control, at minimum, the speaking and the lesson. Both points are discussed in more detail below.
2. Control the Speaking
If everyone talks at the same time, not much will get accomplished other than recreating a scene at an open-air flea market. So, there must be a way to control the microphone for each person. Many ESL companies use learning platforms with microphone control features. In other words, the teacher can turn a member’s mic on or off as needed. The drawback is that it adds another task to your multitasking load in an online class.
There may be times when you don’t have control of each person’s mic. In that case, instructions should be provided before the class or at the beginning of the class. Students can be informed of classroom etiquette where they should turn the mic on to speak and turn it off when not speaking. This, you can explain, is to allow everyone the opportunity to speak without interruption.
3. Control the Lesson
Since you’re the teacher, you need to maintain control of the lesson. Your class members look to you to manage how the lesson unfolds. Don’t let yourself be led by every whim of your students. Rarely can you please everyone in a group class, but you can focus on what everyone is there for: an ESL lesson. So, rather than allow yourself to get sidetracked talking about a certain grammar point that one learner asked about. Cover it and move on. This goes a long way in helping your students get maximum benefit from the lesson.
4. Involve Other Class Members
Since it’s a group class, utilize the valuable resources you have—individual class members. When a question is raised, avoid the instinctive urge to answer immediately, let someone else do it. By directing questions to other students, you facilitate more student participation and decrease your talk time. A simple, “Does anyone have an answer for that?” will do. Or, if a student gives an answer that isn’t quite on target, you can ask if someone else has anything to add or if they have a different response. This helps everyone stay involved in a group class.
5. Keep it Active
People get bored, especially children. So, you have to keep things active in an online class. Some teachers do this by use of TPR (Total Physical Response)-type activities like asking members to touch a part of their upper bodies or do something. That can work, but if that’s all you’re doing, the class becomes more like a physical education class. So, how can we keep things active?
One way to do this, if possible, is to ask students to use their classroom tools to mark something on the screen (such as a check box, placing a mark, drawing a line, or even adding art to an image). Some classrooms have this option. However, if yours does not, one thing you can do is not dwell too much on any one page or point in the lesson. If it needs explanation, share the information, then provide exercises to permit learners to use it. Unless expected, lectures in an online ESL group class don’t work too well, so try to avoid them.
6. Use Visuals / Classroom Tools
Most company-owned learning platforms I’ve encountered over the years have classroom tools such as markers, highlighters, pens, text tools, shapes, and even icon options that can be used on the main screen. Some teachers may not give them much thought, but they’re there for a reason. Use pointers to point to what you’re referring to, to provide greater clarity. You can use highlighters to focus on a certain word. Try using shapes to box in a certain reference or image. Use text tools to type instructions or clarification on the screen. Insert a smiley face to show humour or a pointing finger to indicate a location.
All of these tools take your class to the next level. They allow the more visually oriented learners an opportunity to see and hear what’s going on. They also keep the screen in flux. So, instead of having a text or image sitting on the screen while you talk, you can use these tools to keep the class members engaged. Think about it. If you’re looking at a text and a box appears around a certain text, or the teacher types clarifying info on the screen or a pointer moves from one line to the next, it helps alleviate the monotony.
7. Give Feedback
In a majority of group classes, I’ve ever taught over the years, I’d say there were at least one or two higher-level learners, one or two lower-level learners, and the rest somewhere in between. That means they can help each other. They can learn from each other’s issues. Higher level learners can show other class members how to communicate. They provide examples and even encouragement to the lower level learners that it is possible to achieve higher levels of English skills.
And remember, each person in your class is an individual. That means each member has difficulties in areas that are not the same as the other class members. So, as one learner has difficulties in an area, you give feedback. That feedback can be used to either reinforce learning in other class members or teach them as well.
On the other hand, language learners tend to get stuck in certain common areas (e.g. present perfect verb tense, preposition use, and collocations). As each member is allowed or encouraged to participate in the class, they will reveal these issues. Each time you provide feedback, you are helping all the other learners with the same issue. Therefore, feedback is invaluable in the classroom, and a very good reason why the teacher should talk less. And this is why class members ought to be allowed more time and opportunities to use the language.
It may be the case, that they help each other more than the teacher teaching in those instances. That’s why I tell group class members that the more they participate, the more they help themselves and their class members. And it’s why a group class can be viewed as a collaborative effort. Try explaining that to the less active classes, and perhaps it may help them realize something they didn’t think about before.
Group classes can be quite taxing on a teacher even when managed well. But they can also be fun if managed well. A lot has to do with the chemistry of each class. At times, it might be tough, and at other times it might be enjoyable. Whichever you encounter, these tips will help you be better prepared to meet the challenges of teaching online ESL group classes.
Share your ideas or thoughts with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!