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How to create lesson content for online ESL lessons

Hello and Happy 2017! 
It’s Monday, January 2nd and I have already delivered my first online lesson of the year. What about you? 
In this first post of 2017 I have the pleasure to introduce Kris Jagasia. Some of you may already know him: Kris is one of the creators of the successful online teaching platform, Off2Class . He shares some useful tips on how to create online lessons and what things teachers should bear in mind before doing so. 
Thanks a lot, Kris! 


Hello, teachers! My name is Kris Jagasia. My colleague, James Heywood and I have been producing content for our online ESL lessons for the last four years. We started the journey into content creation for our own online teaching venture in early 2012.

At the time, we were spending hours combing the web on sites like Dave’s ESL Café and Busy Teacher looking for ESL content designed for online classrooms. We were struggling to find lesson content that we could use! Eventually, we gave up and started making our own. That experience eventually led to the development of our own ESL Teacher Toolkit for teachers working in digital environments.

Today I would like to outline a couple of the things I’ve learned about how to create content for online ESL lessons. Specifically, the differences between an online classroom and a traditional classroom and how these affect the style of content that works best in this new environment.

How is an online classroom different to a bricks-and-mortar classroom?

The online ESL classroom presents some challenges for content creation. Content designed for the bricks-and-mortar classroom is not necessarily transferable into an online environment. Here are some key differences that you should keep in mind when you create content for online ESL lessons:

Content in an online classroom (such as on Skype, Hangouts or Zoom.us) takes up 90%+ of your student’s visual field. It is much more central to the lesson than a course book or handout in a traditional classroom. Your student will be focusing on the content and it will drive the flow of your lesson.

Implications: Online lesson content must be bright and engaging. Don’t try to put too many words, examples or concepts on any one slide. Make sure you highlight key takeaways. Ensure that the content is adaptive (i.e. you can alter the path the lesson takes if your student is responding to it in an unexpected fashion). Leave lots of room for follow-on concept checking if your student is responding very well to certain slides (or pages).

Mobile is becoming increasingly popular. Love it or hate it, some of your students will be joining your lessons from mobile devices.

Implications: Do not try to fit too many words, images or concepts onto any one slide (or page). Keep things uncluttered! It is always safer to lean towards fewer words on a page (and more slides) than the opposite.

You can control what portion of your screen (or screens) your student sees. If you’re using the screen-sharing feature on your video conference system to share content for your lessons, you can choose to share specific applications rather than your entire desktop. This means you can access your Teacher Notes synchronously, without having to take your eye off of your student or lesson content.

Implications: Try to develop a synchronous set of Teacher Notes (that your students don’t see) for each of your slides. These Teacher Notes should contain additional ideas on how to elicit and concept check the target language. This will help you keep the slide content uncluttered and your word count down!


Interested in creating your own content?

If you’re interested in creating your own content for online ESL lessons, please take advantage of our free PPT Lesson Plan Template. It’s a step-by-step guide with a variety of slide examples that we developed while building our own 570 ESL lessons.

Last June, we also held a webinar for the italki teacher community covering a number of the points listed above in greater detail. You can access the webinar here.

And one more thing. Don’t forget to share your creations with your colleagues! It’s the best way to get honest feedback and ideas for improving your own online lesson content.


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