Young Language Learners Online (Inspired by Chris Rowland)

Thoughts from IH Torun’s Teacher Training Day (Part 1)

Reading Time

5 Minutes

Teaching Aspect

Classroom Management

Learner Type

Young Learners

Teacher Level


Chris Rowland & Structuring Fun for YLs Online

What was once a March staple on the Central European teacher training calendar became an online marathon on Saturday November 7th; a star-studded affair in the world of ELT, with ideas aplenty being shared throughout the day. Most presenters took their common areas of interest/expertise and demonstrated how their tried and tested ideas could be brought to life in an online environment.

Unfortunately, a slow and lazy start to my Saturday had me commence proceedings from only noon onwards, rather than the 09:00 start. But that was enough to still generate over 700 lines of notes on Sublime Text, which will be expanded upon in the rest of this blog.

Chris’ was the first full session I managed to tune in for, having only caught the back end of Edyta Pikulska’s session. I’d heard nothing but amazing things about his work over the training and conference circuit, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. His charisma, ocassional dry humour, soft-spoken manner of presenting and obvious passion for the craft made it not only an enjoyable hour, but one absolutely jam-packed full of practical and useful ideas.

Classroom Management in Virtual YL Classes

A whole bunch of things can go wrong in an online class with Yls, and the distance between the teacher and the students can make dealing with said problems a little tough. However, there’s a few little tricks you can have up your sleeves to help avoid total chaos breaking out. Most of these points will be related to ‘taking control of the online environment’.

Taking Control of the Audio

Sound is obviously important in a language classroom, we may encounter situations such as:

  • Feedback loops from when students play audio from speakers, not headphones

  • A family member making noise in the background

  • Poor quality or quiet sound

Any of the above can cause distractions to the classroom. And if 2 students are encountering such problems, then it’s going to be very difficult to teach! Some teachers revert to a ‘mute all’ strategy. However, such an authoritarian approach isn’t exactly going to endear you to your learners. As Chris kinda of worded it during the session, it’s effectively virtually putting your hand over the mouth of a student and telling them to shut up!

In line with wanting to empower our students to be autonomous and responsible for their own learning and environment, he suggested designing a series of ‘signs’ you can show on webcam to your learners, which tell them what they need to do with their audio settings. These signs are easily made by sticking a piece of paper to some chopsticks and can include instructions to:

  • mute your mics

  • activate your mics


Taking Control of the Chat Box

The chatbox is a second area of communication which is important to have under control during class. It’s important to firmly establish at the beginning of classes that: “the chat box is only for direct responses to the teacher or comments that are relevant”, that it should be used by the teacher to clarify instructions, or for learners to give responses to tasks; not for spamming, flooding, messing around, etc.

In addition, for instructions and maintaining order, it can be useful to have a selection of ‘pre-written messages’ to have at hand, which can be quickly pasted into chat for classroom management purposes.

For example, if a student gets stuck in an audio feedback loop: “Hey [student], we can hear your speakers in your microphone, which is creating a terrible feedback loop! Is it possible to get some headphone, or mute your mic, please? :)”

The chat box is also great for checking whether students are actually listening! A simple statement like “write x in chat if you’re listening” will give you a rough idea of who’s awake and who’s not. Students wise up to this, however, and just repeat what others are doing, so it could be worth making these instructions more complex as lessons go on. My personal favourite are things like “write the second letter of your middle name in chat” or “write a word you recently have been trying to learn?”.

Regarding instructions, the chat box is a great way to get feedback on ICQs, especially when setting up complex tasks involving breakout rooms and multiple apps. Asking students to write answers to ICQs in chat will check that everything is understood, and will give some weaker students a ‘second chance’ to understand what’s going on.

An extension to this for the slower students – another great idea of Chris’ – is that if you’re using powerpoints as the basis of your lesson, you can place a screenshot of the previous slide up in the top left corner, so learners can still see the activities they haven’t yet finished, and don’t feel like the lesson is being swept away from them from under their feet!


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