7 Essential Online Teaching Tools Every Language Teacher Should Have
Having a hard time keeping up with the latest tools for online teachers?
Chances are, you’re probably feeling excited, and maybe a little overwhelmed.
The days of simple PDF files and email correspondence ended with the ’00s. These days, online education is conducted with high-tech applications that give students an enhanced digital learning experience.
As you can imagine, when I started tinkering around with new teaching tools, I felt like my head was constantly spinning.
Of course, supplemental material like Wikipedia and YouTube have been around for ages, making them comfortingly familiar. However, when people talk about the new educational apps and websites that pop up, they may as well be speaking Greek to me!
But once I got used to them, I realized just how transformative online teaching tools can be—not just for language teachers, but for all educators!
Keeping up with all the online resources for teachers out there seemed like a mission. It was enough to make anyone go crazy!
So how do you sort through all these online resources and determine which are going to be your go-to teaching tools? Read further to see some exciting applications for online teachers that won’t become tomorrow’s old news.
Whether you’re teach languages, math, science or any other subject online, this post will help you optimize your virtual classroom—guaranteed!
Enhance Your Virtual Classroom with These 8 Online Teaching Tools
We can all think of online services that seemed transformative at the time, and is now obsolete. MySpace, anyone? And when you think of investing your time into learning a new kind of technology only to have it become outdated a year or two later, you may wonder if it’s even worth the effort to break away from traditional teaching methods.
But online education, in itself, is a move away from traditional learning. Exploring new and exciting online teaching tools is just one more way you can bring innovation into language learning.
The best resources can transform your teaching, making everything about the classroom, from discussions to presentations and grading, feel effortless.
Here’s how the use of online teaching resources might look on a typical day:
- Present the class with teaching material using a series of examples. You can share a document, an embedded recording, a podcast or a combination of all three.
- Assign practice activities and give feedback. Online flashcards and interactive games are good ways to accomplish this step.
- Dive deeper into the topic. Have students interact on a shared blog or create and record dialogues and skits.
- Assign further practice and homework exercise. Consider an online worksheet aligned to your content standards.
And now for the meat and potatoes of this post. Here are our picks for the best online teaching resources to transform your virtual classroom into an interactive learning zone.
Video Conferencing Apps to Keep You Connected
Conferencing apps give you the ability to video chat with anyone in the world for free—opening up unprecedented opportunities for language teachers. You can use it to introduce your students to your friends and acquaintances living in a country that speaks their target language. This gives students the opportunity to speak with someone with the expertise to chat with your class about food, holidays and language differences. You can even include Partnerships with other classrooms around the world can enrich your language lessons through online conversations with other students learning the same language.
As an online teacher, you have probably already harnessed the power of video conferencing to chat with students or content area experts all over the world. And you probably already know about Skype, as it’s been around for at least a decade.
Effective and easy to use, Skype has helped countless online educators bring language and culture to life in their classrooms. Some teachers even enjoy the fun of a unique activity called Mystery Skype, in which classes converse and have to guess what country the other class is from based on their conversation.
Skype has undergone many changes and updates over the years, and has some new and compelling features that you may not know about. For example, it’s “Capture” feature allows you to easily add images, attach funny GIPHY comments and add videos within a message thread. This can give online conversation a whole new dimension of realism. Imagine a lecturer on Spanish architecture including real-life photos and video of the buildings as he talks about them, or a conversation about French food enlivened with real video footage of a meal as the speaker describes it.
In addition to Skype, another free video conferencing tool called Zoom has recently come on the scene. It functions similarly to Skype, but offers a number of extra features that lend themselves exceptionally well to collaboration. Its unique “Zoom rooms” make group calls a breeze, facilitating collaborative work as well as conversations with other classrooms around the world. Another advantage that Zoom has over Skype: you can record conversations to use for later assessment and feedback, an invaluable tool for helping your students improve.
Collaborative Planning Tools to Help You Stay Organized
One of the toughest and most important tasks of teaching, whether online or face-to-face, is planning lessons that align with your content standards. Related to that, it’s equally important to communicate your expectations clearly to students and parents, and ensure that they can access the materials they need.
Fortunately, there are some great platforms out there which simplify this process for you.
Remember those old three-ring binders? They were stuffed with lecture notes, handouts, worksheets and homework in various stages of completion. The idea was to keep everything needed for one class organized in one place—but sadly, this commendable goal often went awry.
LiveBinders is technology’s answer to all that old-school paper wrestling and desperation. You can easily upload presentations, documents, worksheets and web resources, appropriately organized under relevant tabs. This makes it easy for students and parents to see what they need to work on and to track their progress. As an added bonus, it greatly simplifies co-teaching, as lesson plans can be easily shared for collaboration.
If you struggle with finding or creating just the right template to use for your online lessons, Planboard truly is a lifesaver. You can set up easy-to-use templates aligned to your curriculum standards, which can be used over and over again. You can even add an entire semester’s worth of lesson plans to be tweaked and used again next year (with some improvements, of course). Attachments and images can be added to your lessons with ease.
Even better: you can access the app from any device, so it’s easy to make adjustments to your lessons while you’re on the go.
Apps for Presentation and Review to Help You Engage Your Student
When presenting or reviewing content, engagement is key. Finding ways to learn material in a way that’s fun and memorable is often a challenge in any environment.
Here are two wonderful apps to make your content more engaging and enjoyable.
A takeoff on the old standby slideshow presentation, this app is an online whiteboard that lets you interact with information visually as you speak. It allows you to move to any place in your presentation that you want, instead of moving in a linear fashion from one slide to the next. This organized and visual method of presentation can help make even the driest topics more memorable to your audience.
This digital flashcard app makes vocabulary memorization more interactive than it ever was before. Students can use the fun, easy-to-use flashcard sets to quiz themselves or each other, or to play games like Matching or Gravity (keep asteroids from destroying your planet by typing the correct vocabulary word). You can create your own flashcards or choose from the pre-made sets.
Quizlet has been around for a while, so you may already be familiar with its functions. But if you haven’t used it recently, you may not be aware of a new feature called “Quizlet Live,” which is especially great for online teaching. With this app, you can put your students in teams to face each other in a live competition, adding an elusive element of personal interaction to your virtual classroom.
Quizlet also offers opportunities to connect with other language teachers via forums and discussion boards.
Help Students Improve Speaking with Audio Recording Apps
Verbal communication is a foundational element (if not the foundational element) of language teaching. Not only that, but the ability to record your students when they are speaking is important for meaningful feedback and assessment.
But giving your online students the same quantity and quality of verbal communication that they might engage in and receive in a face-to-face classroom can seem like a daunting task.
Fortunately, technology keeps adapting to make the process of creating and using audio recordings ever simpler.
Here are some apps that allow you and your students to communicate with ease.
This popular online recording platform makes the process of creating and uploading voice recordings beautifully simple. Best of all, it allows you to easily link voice comments to student work in a blog or a cloud document service like Google Docs or Apple’s Pages (if you and your students are using Macs and iPads), making for meaningful and personalized assessment and feedback.
You can also make your lessons even more personalized by creating podcasts of your instructions for an activity or a homework assignment.
This recording tool has been around for a while, but we’re willing to bet that you haven’t fully explored all its unique capabilities and their implications for online learning.
Similar to Vocaroo, Audacity also gives you the ability to record and upload podcasts with instructions or dictation activities.
But Audacity is also a wonderful tool for your students to use in creating skits, presentations and other projects. They can use it to download audio tracks from Creative Commons or Wikimedia Commons and dub their own voices into them. Imagine the possibilities! Your students will have so much fun, they won’t even realize that they’re working on a school project. And they’ll have a great time watching and listening to their classmates’ work, too.
Transform Your Online Classroom into an Online Experience
It can be overwhelming to think of trying out all the new online teaching tools that come across your radar from year to year. But the best online teaching resources, like the ones mentioned here, will remain fresh and exciting for years to come. As a result, you can create more engaging activities that enhance the interactive element of online learning.