Lockdown Learning and Technology

Top websites for remote learning (which I’ll be taking back into the classroom with me).

The last twelve months have been tough for teachers, pupils and their carers alike. We’ve all had to get to grips with brand new ways of teaching and learning with very little training and, often, at pretty short notice.

Providing meaningful remote learning opportunities for pupils, sometimes without even being able to see or hear them, has been a steep learning curve for all educators, and never more so than when it comes to utilising new technology. Social media and loads of fantastic training, such as the brilliant TiLT webinars hosted by @HelenMyers and @joedale (freely available on YouTube), are wonderful resources, but I for one have often felt completely overwhelmed by the quantity of websites and tech tools available and exhausted at the thought of getting my head around how they all work.

When the UK’s latest period of remote learning began in January, I spent several weeks watching what other, incredible, practitioners were doing online and feeling the pressure to make my lessons measure up. Of course, it just isn’t possible to get to grips with all of the wonderful resources out there and trying to do so would be a sure-fire route to burnout. That said, one of the great, and frankly unexpected, positives to come out of our current situation is that I have spent a good deal of time (at my own pace, importantly) discovering a fantastic array of new websites, which have been helpful in trying to recreate, to some extent at least, the engaging, hands-on and interactive activities that I try to make a part of my everyday classroom practice in more ‘normal’ times.

As we begin to look forward to the moment, hopefully not too far from now, that we can be back in the classroom with our pupils, here are a selection of great tech tools that I have found to be big hits with pupils in both pre-recorded and live remote lessons and which I know I will be adapting and taking forward to engage and motive pupils once we are back in school. Because learning, thinking on our feet and making the best of a tricky time is what we teachers are best at, isn’t it?

Word Wall

Word Wall was one of my earliest lockdown discoveries and has been my go-to for simple, quick but quality activities ever since. From pairs to gameshow-style quizzes and the incredibly popular ‘maze chase’ (French Pacman, as one of my pupils calls it), Word Wall allows pupils to practise new vocabulary and grammar constructions in lots of exciting ways through short, focused online games. Unfortunately, only five templates are available for free, after which there is a monthly charge, but pre-made games, shared by other teachers, are available to everybody. Pupils who access and complete the games, generate scores and are put onto a leader board, which is automatically saved and can be reviewed by the teacher for the purposes of assessment. You can even create printable sheets for children who don’t have access to electronic devices. Once back in the classroom, I can see Word Wall working really well for whole-class and team games on the Interactive Whiteboard to revise and consolidate previous learning.

Year 3 activity based on new vocabulary from ‘La chenille qui fait des trous’.

LearningApps:

LearningApps is a great, completely free, resource for creating tons of activities, including matching pair and spelling games, as well as fantastic cloze text listening activities. What really sets this site apart from others of its type, however, is the capacity to include audio in the target language. Children can, for example, listen to text in the target language and match it to its translation in English or an image, as in this example. This would work really well as a listening starter once back the in classroom. Just don’t forget to change the language from English to avoid pronunciation nightmares!

Example of audio matching pairs with English translations.

Through LearningApps, it is also possible to create cloze activities, to which both audio and video can be added, with pupils choosing from a range of words, or typing in their own, to fill in the blanks. I added video to this example by using PhotoSpeak to animate a Bitmoji character, which then read the text aloud for the children who listened and added in the missing words. I have included a short written tutorial on how to do this here (it took me ages to work it all out and hopefully this will simplify it slightly).

Example of cloze activity in which children select correct words from a drop-down list.

I’m a big fan of retrieval grids in the classroom, particularly for starter activities, and LearningApps also allows you to create a virtual version of these to be used in live online lessons. The great thing about these grids is that a video or image can be hidden underneath, to be revealed as each correct answer is given and clicked away by the teacher. The class reward for collectively translating all the phrases, of a variety of difficulty levels, is to watch the newly-revealed clip.

Retrieval grid for practising translating phrases to do with birthdays in French.

If you would like to know more about how LearningApps can be used in the classroom, check out @BotonesSalgado‘s presentation as part of January’s TiLT webinar, in which she demonstrates how she has utilised Learning Apps to create content for GCSE and A Level students (but it can easily be adapted for the primary age group).

Genially:

Over this latest lockdown, I’ve tried to keep my lessons, both live and pre-recorded, as interactive as I can. This has meant that there have been lots of links to different websites for children to follow throughout the course of a lesson. I’ve found Genially a great tool for creating virtual classrooms, in which all the links for a sequence of activities are stored. Children have access to the Genially link in advance, which takes them directly to their classroom for a particular lesson, and are then prompted to click on different objects throughout the course of session. These, in turn, lead them to individual slides or activities, which they carry out independently or together with other members of the class, avoiding the need to store lots of links in Google Classroom.

A ‘Virtual Classroom’ for a Year 5 lesson based on the book ‘Les citrons ne sont pas rouges’, using Genially.

@MarieAllirot is the queen of Genially and has created some wonderful resources, which she kindly shares on Twitter and the Languages in Primary Schools (LIPs) Facebook group, including Bingo and Trapdoor games, which are perfect for both online and in-person learning. She also fronted a wonderful webinar with Joe Dale on gamifiying your classroom using Genially (with lots of great tips for creating Escape Rooms, which my older learners have absolutely loved).

Flippity:

Flippity is a great (free) tool, which allows you to create a huge variety of online resources. I love the flashcards, with in-built audio in the target language, which are wonderful for pre-recorded lesson, as pupils can use them to work on their pronunciation independently at home. Children can also practise their spelling of key words using the ‘practice’ tab (unless you are using images, as I have done in this example) and play matching games to join vocabulary in the target language to its English translation. The randomizer is a fantastic tool for translation, either from the target language to English or visa versa. You might even want to include a ‘tangled translation’ (a mix of English and target language phrases) to avoid any Google Translate issues during virtual lessons.

Flashcards, with audio in French, to practise new vocabulary.

I am a particular fan of Flippity’s manipulatives, which allow children to create their own sentences by choosing and arranging word cards, much as I would have them do in lessons when they are starting to think about sentence structure. Here, I’ve colour-coded the cards according to their function in the sentence (noun, verb…). Word cards give children a greater level of autonomy and choice than, say, a writing frame but also have the advantage of being a low-stakes way of building sentences, particularly for less confident learners, because words can easily be moved around or swapped if errors are identified. I am looking forward to using all three tools in the classroom for whole-class sessions.

Flippity manipulatives for practising agreement in the singular and plural.

Flippity is also home to a whole host of other games, activities and tools, with an endless amount of potential, which work well for online learning and could easily be adapted for whole-class work once back in the classroom. The great thing about the site in general is that, whilst it may seem a little daunting at first, a tutorial is provided with each of the templates to walk you through the process of creating your own resource.

Classroomscreen.com

Classroomscreen was a wonderful little lockdown discovery. It’s a very simple screen, which I share with my pupils during live lessons, and has a range of great tools. These can be added to the screen by clicking on the toolbar at the bottom of the page. My personal favourites are the name picker, which keeps children on their toes during whole-class questioning in live lessons, and the dice, which can be used for quick number revision starters. I’m going to be trying out the noise monitor once we are back in the classroom for some of my chattier groups!

This simple site allows you to display a range of tools, which are really useful in live lessons.

Blooket:

A huge hit with all my live classes during our period of remote learning, Blooket is a great quiz website for generating questions relating to any topic. As a teacher, you create a set of questions, with a range of possible answers, then choose the mode in which to host the game. Children join the game using an automatically generated code, choosing an avatar and name for themselves. They then compete against each other for the gold, silver or bronze positions at the end of the game (the competition gets fierce, especially if the teacher is playing too!) My pupils have adored playing ‘Gold Quest’ especially, but ‘Battle Royale’ and the ‘Racing’ game have also proved popular. I am planning to keep a Blooket game up my sleeve as a treat for whole classes or small groups of hard-working pupils at the end of a unit of work, once we are back in school, but for now it is an incredibly motivating tool to keep children engaged right up until the end of an online lesson.

Multiple-choice questions for a Blooket quiz.

Deck.toys:

Deck.toys is essentially a game in which pupils work their way through successive activities to try and be the first across the finish line (check out some of the amazing Deck Gallery examples, created by teachers much more creative than I am, for inspiration). I have yet to fully exploit Deck.toy’s potential but it has been used successfully as an end-of-unit tool to revise key vocabulary and structures before moving on to a new half term of learning in some of my live lessons just before the February holidays. I could see it being used for a very motivating final revision lesson before a more formal assessment, once we are back in class, particularly as there is great potential for differentiation, with the possibility of creating more than one route through the game, allowing for easier or more challenging questions.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is deck-toys.png
Pupils follow the trail, completing activities as they go to revise key vocabulary and structures .

Pupils can revise key vocabulary through flashcards, read aloud in the target language and translated into English on the back of the card, much like Flippity. Then, they practise this vocabulary using the built-in games and activities. In this example, I’ve included a few flashcard sets, building up from simple phrases to longer chunks of text, giving children time to practise each vocabulary set with a couple of activities before moving on to the next, more difficult, one.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it took me a while to get me head around Deck.toys and I am still not very quick (or good) at creating them but they are well worth the effort as one game can last more or less a whole session, if enough activities are included, and I’ve found many children to be very motived by the competitive element.

Which tech tools or websites have you been using successfully for remote learning? Do you think you will continue to use any of them in the classroom once we are back to face-to-face teaching? Let me know what new skills you’ve acquired since beginning teaching online.

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