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How I Use Technology to Create an Alternative Workspace for My ESL Learners

Using technology to create an alternative workspace for learners has some challenges as teachers may sometimes have limited resources, other times learners are not as tech-savvy as we expect them to be, or we are simply afraid of stepping out of our comfort zone to experiment with alternative learning and assessment tools. However, integrating technology into our lessons not only motivates students to work on assignments, but it also gives them the opportunity to show what they know in different ways while developing 21st-century skills.

I use Flipgrid as an alternative assessment tool to evaluate my learners’ response to texts. Instead of requiring a written response, my students need to record a 5-minute long video response in which they answer guiding questions to show understanding, connect to the texts, draw and make judgments.

Using Flipgrid as an Alternative Assessment Tool

You need to set up your classes (Grids), then, you may create tasks requiring learners to watch a video, look at an image, read an article online and leave a “vibe” (record a video) to complete certain tasks. As you can see on the image below, I have assigned two topics to my advanced ESL learners.

The first task explores gender equality, the second deals with stress. I have shared a YouTube video and one or two articles related to these issues. Each task contains three guiding questions helping students to react to the texts. Learners’ answers must show evidence of understanding and of using and selecting appropriate information from texts to support their ideas. Thus, instead of showing this video and having my students read these articles in class and respond to them in writing, they can complete the assignment at their own pace and submit their responses using the app on their phone or on a desktop computer.

Using Flipgrid to Develop Oral Fluency and Accuracy

Such activities are not only useful to help learners practice the response process, but also oral fluency. For instance, students may keep an oral journal that is a short answer to a question submitted to the teacher regularly. Using Flipgrid, you may post questions related to the themes, issues or units you cover in class and learners share their ideas in a video response. The aim of these oral journals is to help students develop oral fluency and accuracy. What is also fantastic about this app is that not only the teacher can listen to or watch these videos and leave feedback on them, but students can also react to their peers’ ideas.

If you wish to flip your classroom, you can record a lesson, share the Flip code with your students, so they can watch the video at home and take notes. Next class, students will need to share what they have learned, and you will confirm and adjust their understanding. Once the short discussion is over, you can focus more on practice during class time.

2. Microsoft Teams

Using Teams for Collaborative Writing Projects

Microsoft Teams is a communication and collaboration platform I use to assign collaborative projects and written productions to my learners. I also use it to upload and share useful documents, so I can avoid printing handouts and assessment grids in large quantities. For instance, my Grade 11 learners worked on a collaborative feature article using Teams. Students worked in pairs to come up with an original piece of writing from scratch. They had to choose the issue and the angle, formulate the controlling idea of their text, and carry out extensive research to gather reliable information.

Of course, if you are experimenting with such an activity for the first time, you may need to allot extra time for showing students how to use Teams. Your groups should already be set up for you, so all students in the group should have access to the class Team. However, you may also create teams manually.  Since my students had not been familiar with this app, I showed the class how to find it when logging in to their school email. Then, I instructed them to set up a Word document, so the teams could work on their feature article in a file saving their work continuously.

While my learners were researching the issue, planning and drafting, I was able to check their progress and leave feedback on their work. They also had access to all the tools to complete their project: model of a feature article, a feature article handout, a Power Point lesson on writing an effective thesis, evaluation rubric, a revising and editing guide handout and, of course, the Internet to research their chosen topic.

My Grade 9 students have recently used Teams to work on a brochure project (informative writing). They had to create a brochure informing people about plastic pollution. This assignment was an alternative assessment at the end of a mini unit on plastic waste that you may also find in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here: Plastic Waste Mini Lesson (listening and writing). Learners worked in pairs in a Word document on Teams. This collaborative project was a bit more complicated as the online version of Microsoft Word document has fewer features than the desktop version, so it would have been too much of a hassle for my students to design the brochure from scratch. To help them carry out this assignment, I had previously uploaded a brochure template, so they could focus only on selecting and organizing relevant content.

I use Google forms as a self-assessment tool to hold students accountable for their own learning. Every month, my students must complete a self-assessment form requiring them to assess their readiness for class (studies and homework), behaviour, participation, and they also need to share what they could improve next time. These forms can also be used at the end of each class or once a week. Google Forms are also ideal for breakout games (escape room lessons), chapter quizzes, unit tests or even class surveys at the beginning of the year.

If your learners are competitive, Kahoot is an engaging tool to review grammar, irregular verb forms or to assign quick chapter quizzes to verify understanding. I mostly use this platform to make grammar reviews more engaging. To play a Kahoot, students will need a cellphone or tablet and access to the Internet. Since I have a no-phone policy in my classroom, I always clarify my expectations before using this app and explain my students that their phone is a tool for learning. When you create an account on, you may design your own games, but you may find plenty ready-made activities created by other teachers.

I would be glad to hear about your must-have apps and collaborative tools you use in your classes to engage and motivate your learners. Please, share your ideas in the comments section.

Happy teaching!

Please note that I am not affiliated with any of the apps/platforms mentioned in this blog. 

Kynga C. 

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