Exploring Engagement in ELT Teaching

Part II: Behavioral Engagement

By Christina Cavage

We are bombarded by the term engagement these days. While it was challenging to build engagement under normal classroom circumstances, building engagement online and sustaining it is even more challenging. In the last issue, we broke down exactly what it means to be engaged. You may recall that engagement in learning is simply about “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught” and how motivated they are to learn and progress. We delved into emotional engagement—how we can break down those walls and create a comfortable learning space. Today, we are going to examine behavioral engagement.

What is Behavioral Engagement?

When we think of behavioral engagement, we have to consider our students’ behaviors in class.  Are they participating? Are they working in groups effectively and efficiently?  How attentive and active are our students? Essentially, how involved are they in the learning process?  Now, in a traditional face-to-face class we might be able to clearly see this. We know the students who come to class with their assignments completed, with their books open and ready to go, with their hands up to answer the questions we pose to the class. However, in a virtual environment, this can be extremely difficult to observe especially when many of our students have learned to Zoom with their cameras off. So, what can we do to foster and maintain behavioral engagement in this new normal?

Strategies to Build Behavioral Engagement

Very much like emotional engagement, it’s all about leveraging our traditional teaching methods and the tools we have. Often times selecting the right tools and using them at the right times can actually lead to a greater amount of engagement. Let’s unpack this a bit more by looking at four effective strategies.

Strategy #1: Make Learning Active

Set the expectation early on that you will be asking your students to do rather than just receive. Imagine you have asked your students to begin to develop a thesis statement for a writing assignment. Rather than have them submit the assignment to you, consider using a tool like Nearpod, to have students post and share their thesis statements. When students know that their work will be shared, there are fewer excuses and fewer long moments of silence as you call on names via Zoom or some other vehicle.

Collaborative board on Nearpod

Strategy #2: Build in Peer-to-Peer Learning

Being an active learner, also means being an active partner or group member. Whether you are using breakout rooms, or discussion boards, it is important to set clear guidelines as to what you want students to accomplish. Using a model is often very helpful, especially for our lower levels. The below example is taken from Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod. Here students need to share with a partner, then post their findings.

Read-Pair-Share in Nearpod

Peer-to-Peer learning may also mean peer-to-peer competition. Students love to ‘race’ against one another. I have found that warming-up with a race is a great way to get class going. It is also very effective in setting the tone for the rest of the class period. It communicates many messages—from how prepared I expect you to be to how active I expect you to be.

Time to Climb Activity, a race for students
Time to Climb activity: a race for students

Strategy #3: Break Learning into Small Pieces (Microlearning)

Microlearning is not a new term. However, it really has been coming to the forefront during these unprecedented times. Attention spans are dwindling and seem to be more so with the distractions of sitting in one’s own home taking classes. Microlearning is about presenting learning in small manageable pieces. This makes learning more accessible. The best practice is presenting content in small pieces, and then building in active tasks so students can immediately apply what they have learned. A great example of microlearning exists in Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod: Grammar. Within each grammar lesson there is a short video lesson on the grammar structure. Within these lessons, there are formative questions that students have to answer to move on. It makes their learning real and immediate.

Grammar lesson in Nearpod

Strategy #4: Personalize Learning

Lastly, in an online environment it becomes even more important to create lessons that are tailored or personalized. Tailored or personalized learning allows students to make greater connections to course content. How can you personalize lessons? Well, most simply, incorporate students’ names into lessons and include information about students into learning materials. What about personalizing or tailoring learning on a more global scale, or in other words, tailoring to your specific program or course?

Well, using a tool like Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, you can add, modify, or delete content. This allows you to customize the content to best meet the goals, objectives, and student learning outcomes of your course. By doing so, you are able to give your students exactly what they need to master your course and programmatic goals.

Personalizing with Nearpod

Overall, engaging students online is not much different than engaging them in the classroom. It is about selecting the right tools and implementing those tools strategically.

References: Student Engagement Definition. (2016, February 18). Retrieved January 05, 2021, from https://www.edglossary.org/student-engagement/


Christina Cavage is the Curriculum and Assessment Manager at University of Central Florida. She has trained numerous teachers all over the world in using digital technologies to enhance and extend learning. She has authored over a dozen ELT textbooks, including University Success, Oral Communication, Transition Level, Advanced Level, Intermediate Level and A2. Recently, Ms. Cavage completed grammar and academic vocabulary curriculum for the new Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, which is now available. Learn more here.

The Importance of Student Involvement When Learning Online

By Mario Herrera

“Give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results.” – John Dewey

Correct teaching strategies and structures actively engage students in many ways. They should be hands-on, interactive, and generative by nature, encouraging students to critique, construct, and produce knowledge through meaningful involvement. In the classroom, students teach each other; they develop new knowledge with teachers as co-learners. Because teachers are following the principles of Assessment for Learning (or they should), they are continuously analyzing and synthesizing what their students are doing. Therefore, conducting a more adequate, efficient, and reliable process allows them to decide interventions as they go, and thus also learn. But what if this process is applied online? How can we keep the interaction and generative nature of students alive and well, so they can continue being the engine that allows them to get involved, interact, critique, construct and produce in a meaningful, proactive way? This article explores the options we have.

Now that we are so avidly busy teaching online, what about the learners?

Dependent vs. independent learners

Dependent learners don’t do well online, but because it is not for the teacher to choose, he/she must promote independence as the ongoing learning style. They both need to understand that to be successful in online courses, they need to include a process in which learners will have to act in more independent ways compared to what is common in in-person sessions. Teachers have to design activities with learners working on their own, and students need to learn to be more responsible in independent scenarios. Although teachers can only do so much online, many times, their teaching can have more positive repercussions on students’ learning than if they were teaching them in-person. Teachers need to know how to design activities that will carry their students from just attending a session to carrying on unsupervised activities with the caveat that they should not be challenging to assess.

Keeping learners involved

To engage your students, always remember to segment the presentation of your teaching activities into shorter sequences and regularly check comprehension by asking quick questions that test whether students understood the key point in each of the short segments. Remember to keep the interaction going. Always give examples and use gestures and your tone of voice to present. Go through those examples step-by-step. Also, maximize access to material for all students. Assigning offline tasks is also a great way to engage students who don’t always have mobile devices or internet access, or who can’t sit still in front of a screen for too long. When students bring their schoolwork into the real world, they practice self-directed learning and build valuable skills. Plus, you might be surprised at your students’ creativity!

When planning, always ask yourself if there’s enough call for creativity. The more you set up your students to being creative, the more attentive they will be.

There are two broad categories of activities to keep in mind when wanting to keep our learners involved with online classes:

  1. While the students are sitting in front of their screens participating in a class.
  2. When the session is over but not the lesson per se.  

The best way to present a concept is by showing examples and describing them. Let’s explore the possibilities of involving students when taught online, using a reading activity from Big English, level 3. The analysis that follows the story will be more useful if we first read it.

Big English: Story

1. While the students are sitting in front of their screens participating in a class.

chart: while students are sitting in front of their screens participating

2. When the session is over but not the lesson itself

Parents’ role in involving students appropriately

Parents can be your greatest ally in this “new normal.” Connect with them early and often to send home assignments, share login info for any online platforms students need to use, and find out what kind of resources students have available to them.  It’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate. Like everybody else, parents are overwhelmed, and many feel ill-equipped to support their child’s learning at home. When you make it clear you’re available to support them in any way you can, they’re more likely to become active participants in their child’s learning. Turn it into a win-win situation!


Big English, a six-level English program for primary school learners, delivers comprehensive English language acquisition alongside CLIL and broader life skills, supported by unique online digital teacher and student resources.


Mario Herrera has a degree in education and an MA in EFL. He has taught English for more than 30 years at all levels, from young children to adults. He is the author and co-author of many acclaimed ESL/EFL series that are used in levels ranging from pre-primary to junior high schools, including Big English and Backpack. As an international consultant and teacher trainer, Mario Herrera travels the globe, directing seminars and delivering professional development workshops throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Get Students Working Together Online

By Dr. Ken Beatty

Think. What’s a common job that someone does individually, never working with others? It’s a surprisingly tough question. Astronauts, surgeons, and even star athletes don’t work on their own. Instead, they work with partners. Why then, is there such an emphasis in schools on students learning on their own and being assessed individually?

astronaut

Part of the answer is the traditional purpose of schools. In the last century, schools were sieves, sifting out more-able students from less-able students. The best students would go to universities, and the best graduates would get the best jobs. But many of those so-called top students left school without the people skills necessary to work with others. But language learning is–and always has been–different.

To learn a language, students need to use it. Students need to use critical thinking and communicate with others in speech and writing, just as they need to communicate with partners when they enter the world of work.

Your student textbook doubtlessly features many pair, small group, and whole class activities. Some of these are easy to do online using breakout room features found in Zoom (integrated into StartUp) and other meeting platforms. But there’s always much more you can do to promote student collaboration and increase students’ opportunities to use language. Here are six practical tasks you can use to get students more engaged with English and with each other online. To better imagine them, consider a sample unit from StartUp, an eight-level English series for young adults and adults. Level 4, Unit 10, What will the future bring?

1 Change pairs tasks into group tasks: The following task asks students to remember things they’d learned, done, or decided by certain ages. Beyond comparing the answers with one partner, how could the task be expanded to include more partners? One way is to ask students to rate the most impressive one and then discuss in a group, ranking achievements. A second way is to ask students to talk to other members of the group in a rapid fashion, finding other students who had had the same achievements, perhaps at different ages, e.g., learning violin at ages 5 and 12. A third way is to ask students to create a group timeline and then talk about it: “When I was five and Emily was six, we each learned to swim.” The aim is to get students talking more.

Try it yourself activity from StartUp

2 Read and reflect: Each StartUp unit features a reading and each one is a topic that students can further research. Ask them to search online for related articles or stories, and share in central online file, such as a Google document. Make students responsible for making sure there are no duplicate readings. Each student then chooses two of the readings and reports on how they are similar or different. It’s a task that will naturally encourage students to read and reflect more widely.

3 Argue the opposite: The writing tasks in StartUp come with graphic organizers like the one below. In this task, students brainstorm about advice. Once students have finished filling in their outlines, they can photograph them with their phones or computers, and share them with the rest of the class. Each student then chooses one and argues the opposite, suggesting, in this case, why the advice might be bad. This helps to develop critical thinking skills.

4 Watch and explain: In StartUp Levels 1 to 4, an end-of-unit Put it Together project inspires students with a video, after which they answer a few comprehension questions to make sure they understand. They then go on to take or choose photos, or record a video, using their phones, then share it with the class to get feedback. One way to expand the activity is to have each student watch and explain another student’s photos or video, ensuring that they understand perfectly.

5 Take apart the test: Besides pairs of mid-term and final tests, each unit of StartUp offers two tests. Having two tests means that one can be given as a practice test, as formative assessment. Rather than just give students the answers, let them work together, comparing their own answers to see where they agree and differ. They can then peer teach the points that some students may not have understood. It’s not just about getting the right answers, it’s about making students more reflective and providing opportunities for them to use their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in an authentic way.

6 Connect students: The above tasks are all suited to classroom discussion, but to get students working together outside of class, they need to connect online, by email. However, privacy can be a problem; students should not be asked to share their permanent emails with the risk of them being shared with strangers, leading to cyberbullying. A solution is to ask each student to get a unique email for the class, such as a .gmail account. A sample email format might be studentfirstname_coursename@gmail.com. After the course is over, students can delete the accounts and continue communicating with trusted new friends on their permanent emails. 

Online learning is here to stay. Getting students comfortable with it is a great way for them to continue along the path of lifelong learning, personalizing their studies, making use of virtual resources, and connecting with other English language learners.


StartUp is the new general English course for adults and young adults who want to make their way in the world and need English to do it.


Dr. Ken Beatty has worked in secondary schools and universities in Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America. He is author of 77 textbooks for Pearson and has given 500+ teacher-training sessions and 100+ conference presentations in 33 countries. His most recent books are in the LEAP series and he is Series Consultant for StartUp.

Future, 2E: Making remote teaching and learning easier

Make remote learning easier with Future

After making the emergency transition from face-to-face to remote instruction last spring, many programs continue distance learning as the pandemic keeps its grip on the world. Remote instruction poses many unique challenges for English language programs. These challenges include how to encourage student engagement, promote interactive communication practice, balance synchronous and asynchronous learning, build a classroom community virtually, and deliver remote instruction that is effective on a range of student devices.

With the new edition of Future, teachers can engage, support, and challenge their adult learners at a distance by leveraging the program’s considerable digital and print resources. Future not only prepares learners to meet their life, career, and educational goals, but it also helps instructors deliver high-quality engaging lessons remotely, both synchronously and asynchronously.

It all begins with the Pearson English Portal – a powerful platform that delivers Future digital resources to instructors and students, such as MyEnglishLab, eBooks, and the ActiveTeach. With these digital resources, you can transition your Future course online and ensure your students have the resources they need to continue learning.

This handy toolkit offers tips and suggestions for teaching remotely with Future, 2E.

Future eBooks

Reader+ eBook
Reader+

Students don’t have their books? No problem! For studying on-the-go, the Future eBooks are the perfect solution. Delivered on the Reader+ platform, the eBooks can be accessed on a computer, tablet, or smart phone. The Reader+ application allows students to read and interact with rich digital content and multimedia assets through highlighting, annotating and many other study and reading tools. Users can store all their eBooks and notes in one place and access them at any time, as all of their content gets synced across multiple devices. Designed with offline capabilities, Reader+ offers a perfect solution for areas with low bandwidth or unreliable Internet access.

The eBooks are also a perfect resource for synchronous instruction in a remote setting. Teachers can share pages from the eBook using Zoom capabilities (or other web conferencing platforms) and use multiple tools to zoom in, highlight, add text, and play the class audio.

The Reader+ app can be downloaded from the app store.

MyEnglishLab

MyEnglishLab
MyEnglishLab

MyEnglishLab is an easy-to-use learning management platform that delivers additional Future course content digitally. MyEnglishLab is an excellent resource for asynchronous instruction, delivering engaging exercises, videos, and tests in one place. Students can practice each lesson’s content in an interactive environment with instant feedback and tips to scaffold their learning. Teacher can take advantage of the MyEnglishLab platform to assign homework, monitor performance, and pinpoint areas for improvement.

Using MyEnglishLab

ActiveTeach

ActiveTeach
ActiveTeach

The ActiveTeach is an offline tool that delivers student book pages, audio, video, additional activities, and teacher resources. You can use ActiveTeach with Zoom or other web conferencing platforms to share the Future book pages with your students. In the classroom, it can be used a computer and projector or with an interactive whiteboard to bring the book to life. With ActiveTeach you can zoom in, zoom out, and focus on specific activities. You can annotate pages, embed links, and attach files. You also have access to full class audio, printable worksheets, interactive exercises, assessment activities, tests and interactive whiteboard tools. The ActiveTeach for Future comes as a downloadable zip file within your course on the Pearson English Portal.

Watch this video to learn how to install and use the Future ActiveTeach

Pearson Practice English App

Pearson Practice English app
Pearson Practice English app

The Pearson Practice English app is a mobile app that delivers Future audio and video resources on smart phones. Students and teachers can easily access their course resources anytime, anywhere. The app can be downloaded from the app store and unlocked with the same Pearson English Portal login and password.

Additional Teacher Resources

Teachers can feel fully supported with Future teacher resources. Available on the Pearson English Portal, these resources include additional worksheets, Teacher’s Edition pages, robust assessments, standards correlation documents, and more.

Watch this video to learn more about how to access all the available teacher resources for Future.


To learn more about Future, access additional videos and resources, please visit our Future catalog page.

Our team is dedicated to helping you achieve success with Future, 2E. If you would like us to help you get started, please contact your dedicated Pearson ELT Specialist at pearsoneltusa.com/reps.

5 Halloween-Themed Activities for Your Young English Learners

image of pumpkins

It’s almost Halloween and the ghosts and vampires will soon be coming out to play! Did you know that although we often associate Halloween with pumpkin carving and eating candy, the festival has much older origins?

Samhain is an ancient Gaelic festival which celebrates the end of the harvest and the start of winter. This is why people often associate the colors of orange and black with Halloween: orange is the color many leaves turn in autumn and black is the color of the darker winter months.

People used to believe that spirits walked the Earth on the night of Samhain. The tradition of dressing up as ghosts and demons started as a way to hide from the spirits who walked the streets. Similarly, people used to leave treats outside their houses for the spirits and from this came the tradition of trick-or-treating.

It’s always fun to engage with students in Halloween activities to get them into the Halloween spirit while they learn English. Even though many programs are teaching remotely during the Covid crisis, we can still engage in fun Halloween activities. Here are a few ideas to get students playing and learning, even when remote.

1. Who or What Am I?

In this activity students will practice using descriptive words and learning Halloween vocabulary. Search images online that include Halloween imagery (jack-o-lantern, pumpkin, ghost, black cat, bat, vampire, etc.) Email each student one picture ahead of the class. During class, give each student one to two minutes to describe their picture to the class without telling others what it is. The student who first guesses the object correctly gets a point. Play until everyone described their object. After each guess is completed, you can show the picture to everyone on your shared screen. The student with the most points wins the game.

2. Pumpkin Oranges

Pumpkin carving is fun – but it’s also messy and pumpkins can be really heavy! Instead, have students use an orange and a black marker! Get them to draw a scary face on their orange and then write a short text describing it. Here’s an example you can share with your students:

pumpkin orange

My pumpkin orange, Ghoulie, has two big eyes. He’s got a small nose and a big mouth, with lots of teeth. This Halloween, he’s going to sit outside my house. He’s going to scare people but he doesn’t scare me! I think he’s very funny!

3. Let’s Play Halloween Bingo!

This is a great activity to review the Halloween vocabulary. Email students a blank bingo board or have them draw one on a piece of paper. Then have them draw Halloween items, one for each box. You might want to give them some ideas, such as ghost, black cat, pumpkin, bat, etc. Then play bingo, calling out different Halloween-related words. Students listen and mark their boards if they have the item that was called out. The first person with five in a row wins the game.

4. Halloween Theater

This activity will let your students be creative while they are practicing modals. Put students in small groups, and give each group a scary scenario. For example: Frankenstein has stolen your lunch. A big black hairy spider is chasing you. A vampire asked you to go for a walk with him. Have the groups discuss what they would do in each situation. Encourage them to use modal verbs (should, could, would). Then have groups share their ideas with the rest of the class.

5. Tell a Scary Story

Have the class create a scary story. Students take turns adding one sentence to the story. For example, Student 1: One night I was home alone when the lights went out. Student 2, All of a sudden, I heard a big bang coming from the basement. Continue until everyone contributed to the story. For a larger class, you might want to put students in groups to work on their story, write it down, and then present to the whole class. You might also want to give students sentence starters or some vocabulary to get them going.