Taking Your Teaching Online

With the physical and social distancing surrounding COVID-19, educators are tasked with moving their physical classes into an online space. This is an exciting adventure; however, it can be equally as stressful. This is especially true under the conditions surrounding COVID-19.

To provide some scaffolding throughout this transition, this blog provides information about choosing between synchronous and asynchronous online learning, selecting a learning management system, selecting resources for virtual call-in classes, utilizing free resources, and possible online activities to integrate into your online class. These are fundamental areas to think about as you transition into online teaching.

1. Synchronous or Asynchronous Learning

As you transition your teaching online, it is important to think about whether you will focus on synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, or a hybrid of the two.

Synchronous learning online allows for online learning to include interactive chat rooms and video conference. This helps students to interact with the content, their teacher, and their fellow students. Students get quick feedback from others.

Asynchronous learning online allows for students to complete work independently online. This could include students watching a video or recorded lecture and then completing a task online on their own. The feedback to the student is not as fast; however, the independent work allows for flexibility.

Hybrid learning is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning. There are many pros and cons to both types of learning. While synchronous learning is more interactive and communicative, it does not always allow for the flexibility students need in order to complete tasks at home while balancing work and family. Therefore, you might consider incorporating both elements into your online class. This is similar to what you do in your physical classrooms regarding whole group, small group, and independent work.

As you move your teaching online, you will need to think about how you want to create and scaffold your virtual learning environment. To begin thinking about teaching online, take your current curriculum and start thinking about it in terms of these two buckets.

2. Select a Learning Management System

It is also important that you think about where and how you are going to store and disseminate information to your students. The best thing to do is to identify a learning management system (LMS) that you can use. Some schools and organizations pay for an LMS, such a BlackBoard, Canvas, and Moodle. It is a good idea to check with your host institution to determine what resources are available to you.

If you are not sure what is available or you do not have an LMS provided to you, consider using Google Classroom or Google Sites to share information with students. You can use these through your Gmail account.

Google Classroom is an online platform for teaching and learning. You can share resources, announcements, and assignments with students. Students can complete these assignments and turn them in via the Google Classroom. You are then able to provide feedback and keep track of grades. You are able to use other Google products as well, such as Google Docs and Google Forms. A Google Form is like a survey that can be used as a quiz for students. In addition, you can sync assignments and other information to Google Calendar and include your students. This is a great way to keep track of teaching and learning online.

Google Sites is more of a website that can be share with your students. This is a place to share a repository of resources, announcements, materials, and tools. If you are supporting a whole program or department, you might use this to share information with parents, provide additional learning resources, or just keep all information in one area.

The Google Suite is helpful in terms of creating a learning space for your community online. There are a plethora of LMS resources online. The best thing to do is first start by reaching out to your school, college/university, or organization. You can also connect with other educators in your community to see what they are using.

3. Select a Resource for Virtual Call-in Classes

As you determine how much synchronous learning you want to integrate into your online teaching, you will need to think about how you will host virtual meetings with your students. Having an online meeting with students is helpful to check in with them, hold discussions, and build community. There are many great programs that you can use to hold these virtual meetings. Here are a few to take a look at:

ZOOM: This is an online platform that allows you to hold audio/video meetings. You are able to message students, screenshare, record the meeting, and more. There is a free account version of ZOOM that allows the person running the meeting to host a meeting for free for 40 minutes. If someone pays for an account, they can hold a meeting for much longer. There are apps available for computers and smartphones.

Freeconferencecall.com: This is another product that allows you to hold audio and video meetings. You are also able to record meetings and screenshare. This is a free resource that can be used to meet and connect with students.

There are many other resources that you can use as well to connect with students. For example, you can use Google Hangouts, Go To Meeting, and Skype. Each offer different options, different prices, and different capacity levels in meetings. These can be helpful tools, depending on your student population and teaching/advising requirements.

4. Utilize Free Resources Online

There is no reason to re-create the wheel. With the onset of COVID-19, a myriad of organizations and businesses are sharing resources for free. Take a look at some of these free resources and use them to help promote lesson plans and discussions in your online learning space.

Free Animal Cams: Check out what animals are doing in zoos around the world. This is a hub for free, live footage. Individual zoos and aquariums also provide their own cameras. Use these videos to supplement a lesson on animal-related vocabulary, animal habitats, or wildlife in various parts of the world.

Free Virtual National Park Visits: Google Earth and Google Arts & Culture provide online free tours of national parks in the USA. This is a great way to “get outside” when are we teaching online and learn about various natural phenomena and land features.

Free Virtual Museum Visits: Many famous museums around the world are providing online, virtual tours. You can talk through museums and discuss art with your students.

You can provide these in your LMS system, create lessons, or screenshare with students during online video conferences. In addition to this, now is a great time to incorporate the use of open educational resources (OER) into your teaching—materials, lessons, and textbooks that are free to use, adapt, and share to your learning needs. To learn more, please check out OERCommons, Merlot, OpenStax, and Lumen Learning.

5. Online Activities to Try in Your Virtual Classroom

There are many ways you can teach online, and countless activities and lessons to try. Here are a few ideas to get you started—or keep you going strong.

Record a Video, Reading, or Lecture: Record yourself online using ZOOM or Screencastomatic. You can discuss a new topic, review information, and more. Then, you can share this information with students in your LMS. You could then ask them to write a journal response, complete a quiz, or participate in a forum. If you work with young learners, you might record yourself telling or reading a story.

Speaking and Listening Forums: Often, when people think of forums online, they think of reading and writing. However, many LMS systems allow for you to have students record themselves sharing their thoughts and have others record their responses. You could post a video or quote. Then, you could have students participate in a forum in this manner. This is also fun if you are focusing on specific pronunciation items or poem memorization.

Virtual Meeting Break Out Rooms: If you are used to having students work in small groups, consider using ZOOM or another online platform that allows for break out rooms. In ZOOM, for example, you can take all of your students online and have them break out into smaller virtual meetings. You can give them a task, check in with each group virtually, and then have them come back to report out to groups. This is great for reading discussions and peer feedback.

Testing Online: If you give tests or quizzes, consider moving these online. You can make these in your LMS system or via Google Forms. You can even pregrade the quiz so students get an instant grade and feedback. This is helpful if you are checking their comprehension in regards to a video they watched or a chapter they read. In Google Forms, you can embed the video into the quiz for them to complete.

Writing Feedback: Consider having your students complete assignments in Google Docs. They can share permission to edit the document with you. This way, you can give them feedback on their writing. You can also assign students to a partner, and they can provide peer feedback to one another; everyone can use a different color to give feedback on a document.

There are countless activities that you can incorporate into your online teaching. However, do not get overwhelmed. Try one thing at a time and see how it works. As you progress, you will be able to increase your confidence and take on more. Everyone is transitioning into this new teaching space, so be sure to check in with other educators in your area to see what they are doing.

6. Be Honest and Reflect

As you are looking to take your teaching online for the first time, your students are also, in most cases, taking their learning online for the first time. This is a new experience for everyone. It is good to be honest, check in with students, and reflect together. Talk about what is working, what adjustments can be made, and what needs still need to be met. This is a fluid time for everyone. Make sure to create the space online to reflect together and use this to build community and deepen learning.


Online teaching and learning provide a space to integrate new tools and new ideas. Remember that your new teaching context will not be the same as your old one; teaching online will not be the same as teaching in person. Consider going step-by-step during this transition. Do not feel like you need to integrate everything overnight. Be intentional with that assignments you assign, resources you use, and technology that you integrate.

If you have experience teaching English language learners online or have tried it recently for the first time, please share your experiences, obstacles, and suggestions in the comments section, below!

About Stephanie Marcotte

Stephanie Marcotte
Stephanie N. Marcotte, EdD, is the nursing resource coordinator and an adjunct professor of academic ESL at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts. She is passionate about supporting and advocating for credit-bearing academic ESL community college programs. In May 2020, she completed her doctoral studies at the University of New England in Maine, where she focused on transformative leadership in higher education. Stephanie is a MATSOL board member, and she has previously served as an NNETESOL board member and as president. Lastly, she has served in various union leadership capacities at the community college, including the position of union chapter president.
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3 Responses to
Taking Your Teaching Online

  1. Leslie Shah says:

    Text creates opportunities to offer a ton of Comprehensible Input (a nod to Stephen Krashen). I build on something the student has written to me and respond demonstrating different ways to communicate meaning. It requires careful attention to punctuation but emoji’s allow for acknowledgment of an occasional oops. The microphone offers a way to provide a voice recording.

    It looks something like this:

    Student: we are ok. I caution
    Teacher/Me: …Using caution. Good!
    You are –
    – using caution.

    …Good.
    Using caution –
    -is good.

    Teacher: …you home?
    Are –
    – you home?
    or
    – at work?
    Are you home?
    Are you at work?
    Are you at home or are you at work?
    Are you home or at work?

    I am also doing a reading hour for kids (ESOL and non ESOL) and I am reading with lexical chunks in mind and out loud. It helps their comprehension. I have had a couple of parents who are ESOL linger near. The books I choose are intelligent and well structured.

  2. Laura Porter says:

    Please note that Zoom use is unlimited now for educators in response to COVID19 &update info!

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