Quarantined Brilliance: Ideas for the online world language classroom.

Also on trying to motivate and teach teenagers a language remotely in a time of moderate to severe crisis.

This damn virus that shall not be named has brought not only death and devastation (to humans) and destruction (to stock markets and thus any hopes of purchasing a home this year…I digress), but also attempts to demolish half a semester’s worth of learning. Not on our watch, I declare! While federal and state governments are lost, confused, and scrambling to put forth an actual plan for our students, teachers try to restore some normalcy via online instruction. Let’s face it: most of us went into this profession to make a difference (sure as hell wasn’t the paycheck) and feel lost ourselves sometimes without clear direction. So, why not create our own? I find that my students are bored and actually appreciate activities. This is 2020–we have the tools and technology to still educate our students in an engaging manner, even if our souls hurt from lack of human interaction. The silver linings: my students already profess a longing for brick-and-mortar classrooms, and I remember how amazing my job actually is. And how great it is to stand all day and never smell cat litter. Here are some, if I may say so myself, fantastic tips and tools not only for language instructors, but all teachers, to sweep away brain cobwebs and ignite engagement in our students’ minds!

{Disclaimer: I am assuming everyone has an online platform with which to communicate with students, such as Google Classroom; however, if you do not, A) your district needs to get with the times, and B) all of this would function appropriately per email communication as well!}


Everything: reading, writing, listening, speaking, and culture!

How did it take me so long to try this site?! As a comprehensive unit, is the best answer to all moving online difficulties! Nerd Kelsey can hardly contain her excitement! Of course I had to move this to the top…look at all the possibilities!! Also, premium is only three dollars per month more, making more options fully affordable.

Taking the basic worksheet concept, wizer.me transforms dull, rote learning to engaging, higher-level practice via a blended learning concept. Really, your own creativity and sky are the limit, here! My imagination is running wild. In addition, they have a large selection of “community worksheets” designed by other educators that can be edited/tailored for your own students, as well as a “differentiate” option in the premium version. Click here for an online tutorial, and unlock the most exciting things your students will have done since the shelter-at-home orders! (In relation to schoolwork, at least.)


Grammar | Culture| Writing | Listening | Speaking, with the paid version

Or, how to save the children from grammar starvation.

A French teacher friend (Missi Marangoni, amazing woman) introduced both this and Nearpod to my department as ways to engage students more thoroughly in the classroom; however, these tools are incredible for at-home instruction as well! Fluentkey works similarly to EdPuzzle but is superior. While both allow for the adoption of a video from YouTube and tailorment (not a word) to classroom necessities, Fluentkey possesses greater variety of engaging questions and a more user-friendly interface. Just locate a video, upload it via URL, hit “create quiz,” and let your imagination run wild! With Fluentkey, you can ask the following questions:

  • Multiple Choice
  • Matching
  • Put words in order to form a sentence
  • Unscramble a sentence
  • Fill in the blank
  • Short answer

None too shabby, eh? The entire interface is wholly user-friendly: simply click wherever in the video you would like to add a question and do so. In addition to the written questions, you can also opt to add a video or audio of yourself speaking. In order to fully insert each question, you must also test it & view it in student mode. Videos/quizzes can be assigned and “open” on a particular set of dates, and assigned to specific courses created by you. Comment if you have any questions! I find YouTube videos pertaining to grammar points and have students almost immediately utilizing what they taught via the short answers and unscrambles–far more intriguing than your old-fashioned, here is your explanation, now do this worksheet nonsense. It’s like hiding veggies in a casserole!


Presentation | Collaboration | Writing | Reading | Drawing | Listening: videos in paid.

Although I find this presentation method best in the live version, the student-paced Nearpod option adds a solid adaptation for E-learning. Pre-created lessons exist or the browsing, but click “create your own…lesson in Nearpod” to begin! Whenever you create a slide, you have three options: add content, add web content, and add activity. Add content can consist of the basic PPT slide or only any of these amazing options!

After creating a content slide, I personally always add an activity or two to prevent any monotony and immediately call upon students to produce in the target language. This, of course, will vary based upon your content and your goals. These options are all free:

Personal favorites: matching pairs, flipgrid, draw, and collaborate! Matching pairs are an exceptional method of sneaking the reading into the German. For example: match the short paragraph with the animal it is describing. The quote with the person you believe said it. The description of the invention. The emotion with the portrayed mental state. Options abound! Flipgrid, of course, allows the students to speak. If you’ve yet to hear of this, find out more about the magic of Flipgrid here! Then, draw it! This is a phenomenal comprehension activity. After either listening to or reading authentic materials, students draw the content as they understood it. In class, we then flip through the gallery, and each student speaks for 15-25 seconds in description of their creation. Especially when deprived of our schools, the collaborate board is also not only an opportunity for students to express themselves on a topic, but they can also view and collaborate with the ideas of others. Side note: Fill in the blank is also wonderful for a cloze text!


Listening Comprehension and Cultural Competencies

Easy Languages engages in an international video project striving to make different cultures and authentic materials available to listeners around the world! In various countries, local “reporters” hit the streets with topic questions to ask random street-goers. Not only is the speaking authentic, but each video includes subtitles in both the target language and English. Thus, reading happens as well! Available languages via Easy Language are: German, French, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Greek, Turkish, and Russian. Questions and themes range from “living with cats,” “coronavirus in Germany,” and “bread v. potatoes” to “what Germans think about Americans,” “common mistakes Americans make in Germany,” and “taboos in Germany.” These types of videos are wonderful, intrinsically interesting additions for Fluentkey. I love giving students choices regarding which topics they find the most interesting.


Targeted practice in a context | Learning through game| Grammar and vocabulary

Always use this as a supplement–it should not take the stage and perform a monologue for the duration of online learning! Through the combination of written and spoken language production in conjunction with reading and listening in an engaging, almost video game-esque format, Duolingo is #1 in fighting against language decay. They even have a free app! However, it is best used in tandem with more targeted learning, especially longer, spontaneous response spoken and written production. Here is how to get started!

There is a different web address from Duolingo for the random language learner and Duolingo for schools, which is accessed by clicking https://schools.duolingo.com/. Log in as a teacher and jump right into “create a classroom.” Be sure to set the correct languages! In addition, Duolingo provides a PDF instruction sheet to download for the students; I take this and add to it, depending on the density of my class.

Ok! You are ready to share your link or classroom code (via Google Classroom?!) and create assignments! Here, you have two options: points or leveling up. Pure personal preference here, but I learn toward the level up. Pick your skills, schedule your assignment, and voila! On the left-hand side of your screen, you will notice the ability to click through your language curriculum as well, allowing you to structure your lessons around Duolingo if you choose. I am not in love with the German curriculum, but the French and Spanish are quite good. PSA!! FRENCH AND SPANISH DUOLINGO HAVE AMAZING PODCASTS AVAILABLE. A great option for a Nearpod activity, perhaps?

Quizlet and Memrise

Vocabulary Acquisition | Tailor to Lessons | Reading | Competition | Memory Science

Quizlet, Memrise and Duolingo are in the same family of supplemental language tools, but Quizlet and Memrise possess all the opportunity for self-creation! Or, experiencing a lack of time or ideas? 1,000s of lists exist on both platforms, created by other educators, that you can then easily edit and make your own! Each has its pros and cons, which I will address here.

Pros: Free App | Variety of Learning Games | Photo to Text matching | Team games | Easy list export

Once you have either found, customized, or created a vocabulary list, you add this to your Quizlet classroom (simply send students the link to join, with objectives). Personally, I attempt to add a picture to every explanation to better language acquisition, and fully avoid English whenever possible. This could also mean using the target language to describe the new vocabulary word, phrase, or sentence. Circumlocution is easily reinforced here!!

To the left, we have the bounty of learning activities available via free Quizlet. Flashcards and Learn are wonderful introductory activities: learn allows students to choose and produce with the language (no listening or speaking), while granting the satisfactions of word familiarity and mastery numbers. A supplemental assignment will be along the lines of: have familiarity with 20 words, and mastery of 8 new words. Write and Test are useful knowledge checks, while match allows students to compete with their times against other students in the Quizlet Classroom. Gravity supplies the blasting of asteroids; however, everything must be typed perfectly (see cons.) With Quizlet Live, students race to their computer-generated teams and compete against each other during class time.

Lastly, when you click the three dots >> Export, you are provided quickly with your vocabulary lists. This has been especially beneficial when creating Gimkits, which students love (but Gimkit is far better in live class-mode).

Cons: Lack of flexibility in answers | Visually boring | Lack of acceptable audio |Overuse

While I love to show students how vocabulary and grammar should be applied, it is difficult to include full sentences due to lack of answer flexibility. For example, in the “learn” function, everything must be word-for-word perfect. It would be nice to add flexibility/leniency here, as perfection cannot be expected from language learners. Visually, the interface could definitely be jazzed up, but this is a minor complaint! Warning: never use the “spell” option unless you yourself take the time to audio-record your voice. The computer audio is atrocious and not anywhere near an authentic sample!

All other negatives aside, overuse in my district seems to be the death knell of Quizlet. Absolutely do not use this as your sole form of vocabulary presentation and acquisition; like Duolingo, it is meant to be a supplement–a novel, engaging, cognitively stimulating way to present or review words and phrases. Students’ minds crave variety. Most semi-enjoyable activities lose their shine when required day-in and day-out.

Pros: Free App | Audio friendly | Short term seed to long term flower | Competition | Independent learning | Getting rid of “Stacks”

Although Quizlet is simple and awesome, educators must continue to diversify and differentiate. Memrise also possesses a similar ease of list adoption/creation and classroom build, but is more structured upon the concept of memory science. When learning a list, a seed is planted. Every time the same word is re-worked, the seed grows and blossoms into a flower. Later, the flowers can be watered–the words are reviewed. While growing these flowers, students also earn points. More points are garnered when reviewing, which quickly builds on that vocabulary acquisition front. Easily, teachers can create groups and assign vocabulary lists with a point goal in mind, allowing students to compete with one another on their own time. Like the lists themselves, most words come with pre-recorded audio, or you can add your own. I am also no longer boycotting Memrise now that they have trash-canned their “Stacks” sister website. You do not need to know what this is, only that it was horrendously stupid.

IMPORTANT: Memrise beats Quizlet when it comes to auditory learning and processing. All recordings are authentic, and if you dislike them, make your own! No computer-generated voices here!

Cons: Only one type of game | Stacks | Self-motivation | No photo definitions

Quite the opposite of Quizlet here, Memrise is more of a one-trick pony, one who almost requires English translation. An Exmoor pony, if you will.

Free Web Conferencing

Last night, my world language colleagues and I had our first social gathering in a week…via Zoom! You are welcome, social distancing. I cannot wait to try this with my students; they have worked tirelessly (okay, tiredly, but without complaints!) on bettering their spoken German; it would be a shame to let their skills decay! Additionally, they must be craving social interaction as much as the rest of us. Here is a growing list of Zoom excitements:

  • Moderator powers: all students can be muted unless they raise their virtual hands
  • Students can be unmuted one at a time, negating the everyone talking at once issue
  • May choose with or without video
  • Moderator can share their screen, or create a virtual white board to show while speaking
  • The virtual whiteboard setting can be altered to allow all students to write on it
  • There is a chat function as well to type/write
  • Students can change their names to be funny in socially appropriate ways
  • The sound quality is great, and not much bandwidth seems to be required
  • Easy account creation and invitation/scheduling setup

My general plan is to send a topic ahead of times and have students fill in Google Sheets for their preferred session for the week, topping each session out at ten for manageability’s sakes.

Zoom not quite what you needed? Here are 4 more free video conferencing options, detailed by Techradar!


Vocabulary | Circumlocution

Some students enjoy having their brains teased, while others really dislike “school” but love games. Fear not, we have the hearty crossword! The easiest interface I have found: Crossword Labs. An extra reason to use this site: the is absolutely no reason to print and copy the crossword. Students can type directly into the boxes, then tab over to go the next clue. The box pertaining to a clue turns navy blue when selected, adding to ease of viewing. When students complete the puzzle, they screenshot the results and turn this in to Google Classroom. From a teacher’s perspective: it is amazingly simple to either manually enter clues, or copy and paste a vocabulary list from Quizlet or Memrise.

Free Storyboards and Comics

Creativity | Writing | Reading out loud | Binding of vocabulary to pictures

This list is exceedingly long, but I cannot wait to have my students attempt some of the options! Whenever granted a bit more creative freedom, it is amazing to see what they create. More coming soon when we have actually utilized this wealth of information! The Internet is like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow these days.

Easy News

Reading | Vocabulary | Reading out loud | Cultural competencies and current events | Listening

While many, especially teens, are not getting their news via actual papers anymore, this provides various opportunities to better reading, listening, and vocabulary acquisition skills in a new language. I even read the German news 3-4 times per week in order to stay sharp, with the times, and see what treasures I can pull for my classes. Following is a cobbled-together list of resources to get you started with more manageable texts depending on the level and abilities of your students. Be sure to also discuss with them how to read in a second or third language for language acquisition!

World languages as a whole:

  • FluentU does a stellar job providing resources, while providing cognitive science-based explanations for students regarding best language learning practices. For reading and hearing about current events, they concisely give the why, how to, and resources for reading comprehensible input.
  • Omniglot: resources for reading news in…83 languages? What a wealth of links! From Cherokee to Tibetan, they’ve got you covered!

German, because it is my specialty:

  • Deutsche Welle is my personal favorite. Under their “Deutsch lernen” and “TV Sendungen” tabs, the quality and quantity of resources are incredible. Oftentimes, I search for my themes in the durchsuchen box as well.
  • Nachrichten Leicht, where complicated news articles are condensed and simplified to 2-3 paragraphs. This was, I believe, originally intended for Germans with various reading difficulties, but also functions as a great supplement for German learners.
  • Slow German for slowly (shocking, I know) spoken news podcasts.

French and Spanish:

Really, the moral of this ever-growing story intended originally to be short is: be creative, and don’t be afraid to try something new. If you attempt something you are excited about in the online realm, and it flops, you are granted a stellar opportunity to show your students that, while you are putting forth effort, you are also human and learn from failure. I find this one of the hardest philosophies to teach via words alleine; they have to watch others do it!

Viel Glück, bonne chance, buena suerte, bona fortuna!

Please comment below if you have any other ideas for the rapid transition to the online classroom!

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