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HELP for online conversation class

  • 1.  HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 08-03-2020 10:57 AM
    I need ideas to convert - with absolutely NO development or planning time - courses taught in a classroom session to entirely online teaching.

    I teach courses at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. I work mainly with research personnel, post docs and graduate students who are here working and studying, often for extended periods of time. I teach pronunciation, conversation, writing and presentation skills courses. The classes meet twice a week, for 1 or 1.5 hours each day, for 7 weeks. I teach 9 different classes (5 classes each session - 5 sessions a year) and ALL the curriculum has been developed by me for my students. The instruction is entirely face-to-face in the classroom, but we use Canvas for online support (mostly as a delivery method for information and the classroom handouts and supplementary materials.

    A new session of classes is starting on Monday, March 9, and on Friday, March 6 at about 2 PM, I was told that ALL group meetings at the institution were being canceled until at least April 29 due to COVID-19 hysteria. I plan to start teaching on Monday, at first using Skype for Business because it's integrated into our Outlook, but I will be searching for another platform that might be more conducive to my classes, probably, WebEx or Zoom.

    My classes have been designed with a great deal of pair, small, and large group work integrated into the classroom curriculum. Because the classes are totally voluntary and non-credit, I do not assign any homework; ALL the work is done in the classroom.

    I can probably do a decent job of presenting the pronunciation and writing classes totally online; the presentation class will probably also work, even if the students don't get the true experience of presenting in front of a live audience. But what can I do for my conversation classes? They are structured so that I present various aspects of personal and workplace conversational skills (apologizing, giving compliments, asking for clarification, providing constructive criticism) and then students are divided into pairs or small groups to do a guided practice. I'm stumped about how to make the practice time useful when the students are physically not with each other and I can't wander around and answer questions, provide guidance, etc.

    Background: I've been teaching ESL for over 40 years, I've taught in many situations and all kinds of students, I've developed a great amount of curriculum, and I also have expereince with online teaching. But I'm being required to turn in-person curriculum into and online experience with NO time for planning, design, or set up.

    Any and all ideas GREATLY appreciated!

    Mark Picus
    Training Specialist
    University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

  • 2.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 09-03-2020 03:51 AM

    Hi Mark,

    I teach a course with some similarities to yours and we've been operating fully online since our semester started February 27 (two weeks past schedule). One thing I can say for Zoom is that there is a very useful breakout group function that allows you to send students to work in pairs or any size group you want and then bring everyone back to the main "room" when you want. You can pop into all the breakout rooms to make sure students are on task, listen for things you want to address, and answer questions. You can let zoom randomly assign participants to rooms or you can assign the groups yourself. It has worked very well for us!

    I also have students doing homework where they have to get on zoom together and do a task, then send me the video later, which I spot check. You could consider dedicating part of your allotted teaching time to tasks like that since you don't normally assign homework.

    There is also a whiteboard feature and a share screen feature in zoom. I have 12 students in each section and I have them use the "raise hand" feature to let me know they want to speak if discussions are getting very active but we talk about using that function similar to what one might do with body language in a face-to- face conversation. Meaning, you don't always need to use it to gain the floor. It opens up interesting discussions about what we actually do in f2f communication and also introduces them to a platform they are likely to use in the future (eg, job interviews, meetings with international colleagues, etc - these types of computer-mediated conversation are more and more common). 

    Finally, there is a chat function where students can also post comments and questions during class. And there are some emojis they can use to give thumbs up and applause. I encourage them to give me thumbs up when I'm just checking that everyone is still on board (eg, Everybody ok so far? Or: Does everyone have that handout?). I encourage them to use the applause emoji if they really like what a classmate has said but don't necessarily have anything to add. In this ways, I'm trying to build some of the community we would have in the classroom. 

    I also use the discussion board on the LMS for asynchronous discussions to scaffold the synchronous ones on zoom but it sounds like that won't work for you since you don't normally assign homework. Oh, and I'm also using Flipgrid to have students record themselves doing various tasks, like explain their final project research question. It's free and super easy to use. I created a homepage on our LMS with a subpage for each week to keep everything organized in one place. I stick the link to Flipgrid in there whenever I want them to use it.

    I'm still flying a little by the seat of my pants but as long as I get the next week up by Monday morning, I feel ok!

    I didn't intend to write so much, but I know what you're going through and all these things just kind of flowed out! Let me know if you want to talk more. You can email me!

    good luck!

    Marcella Caprario
    Lecturer, English for Academic Purposes
    New York University Shanghai

  • 3.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 10-03-2020 08:00 AM
    There are also some good ideas here:


    Eric Grunwald
    Lecturer II & Language Coordinator
    English Language Studies
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    United States

  • 4.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 10-03-2020 04:25 PM

    I am also needing to convert to an online class, starting tomorrow. I'm reasonably tech savvy, but this is an intro level course. It meets for 1.5 hours and the students are mixed; most are at the A1 level, one or two are at the A2 (CEFR). If anyone has successfully taught beginners online, I'd greatly appreciate advice and tips/tricks. I've been using Interactions Access for my text. I'll be using Zoom to conduct classes.

    Thank you!


    Abby Porter
    Language Lecturer
    New York University

  • 5.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 09-03-2020 08:02 AM
    We, too, are in the process of preparing to teach remotely if the hysteria comes here as well. To that end we are just learning to use Zoom.  There is a feature in Zoom for "break out sessions" ( zoom rooms??) where you can create small groups to work together. There are Zoom Youtube training videos as well as online support at
    I hope this helps.

    Doreen Miller
    Boston University - CELOP

  • 6.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 10-03-2020 09:41 AM
    Dear Doreen,

    Hope you folks at CELOP are managing with this coronavirus hysteria. I taught at CELOP last summer and remember there being a very large cohort of students from China and Taiwan (and Saudi Arabia). I suspect the ESL market in the US is about to take a massive hit, but maybe I'm wrong. How do you see things playing out at CELOP this summer? Fall? 




    Sent from Samsung tablet.

  • 7.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 09-03-2020 08:59 AM
    Hi Mark,
    Here is a model that I developed and might provide an overall framework for you.  The article and the PPT links will guide you through the steps you need to take to implement the model.  With only four types of tools - which all have free versions - you can construct a robust learning experience. The model is SOFLA - the Synchronous Online Flipped Learning Approach.
    This is my recent LinkedIn post - pasted here for the TESOL Lounge discussion.
    Given the concerns over on-campus instruction due to the current global health crisis, I thought it might be helpful to re-up SOFLA, my model of online flipped learning. Here are some resources: The Synchronous Online Flipped Learning Approach – article in TESOL Teacher Education Interest Section News, written with Carolina Rodriguez-Buitrago. SOFLA: Synchronous Online Flipped Learning Approach: Innovative Online Learning at LIU – Presentation from Flipped Learning Network Conference, including data from my grammar course.
    If interested in learning more, feel free to contact me directly.

    Helaine Marshall
    Professor of Education and Director, Language Teacher Education Programs

  • 8.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 09-03-2020 09:25 AM
    Hi, Mark. I would be happy to chat with you about some ideas. You can email me at


    Tanya Tercero
    PhD Candidate, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching
    University of Arizona

  • 9.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 09-03-2020 01:16 PM

    A friend of mine is using WhatsApp for an online conversation course. It may have the functionality that you need.

    Martha Iancu
    Associate Professor Emerita
    George Fox University
    Newberg, OR USA

  • 10.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 11-03-2020 10:55 AM
    Edited by Rene Caputo 11-03-2020 10:55 AM

    Hi, Mark,

    Zoom allows you to create breakout rooms, as you've already heard. And WebEx allows you to create those, also.

    All the best,

    Rene Caputo
    Instructor & ESL Specialist
    Duke University

  • 11.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 12-03-2020 11:54 AM
    Cross posting from another listserve:

    Dear colleagues,
    Please join ACE for a free webinar TOMORROW, Thursday March 12: "Swiftly Pivoting to a Fully-Remote Campus: Responding to COVID-19."  As COVID-19 spreads, a wave of campuses are migrating indefinitely to online-only courses. In this webinar, a panel of experts will address pressing issues, answer your questions, and share best practices to rapidly adapt regardless of the state of your campus's online readiness.  The webinar will include several breakout discussions, and one of them will no doubt appeal to the many hats you all wear.  Note that we have a diverse panel of expert speakers including Kai Wang, Senior Dean of Strategic Innovations, Wake Technical Community College; Laura Niesen de Abruna, Provost, York College of Pennsylvania; and GianMario Besana, Associate Provost, Global Engagement & Online Learning, DePaul University.
    The webinar will be hosted on the ACE Engage(r) platform.  Click here for information about the webinar - if you're not already registered for ACE Engage, just click "sign up" and you'll be able to register, login, and access the webinar.
    Hope to see you there!
    All the best,
    Lindsey P. Myers, Ph.D.
    Learner Success Lab
    American Council on Education
    One Dupont Circle, NW
    Washington, DC 20036
    Phone (202) 939-9358
    Fax (202) 464-4868

    Erin O'Reilly, Ph.D.
    PAIS Co-Chair
    Instructional Systems Specialist
    Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center
    Presidio of Monterey, CA

  • 12.  RE: HELP for online conversation class

    Posted 13-03-2020 08:54 AM
    Has this been recorded? I just now saw this message :(