Alice Savage

Five takeaways for organizing an online lesson

IMG_0939Five things I’ve learned about organizing an online lesson


My first priority in transitioning my four community college ESOL courses to online was not to go crazy! The second was to create community. Without personal human connection, I felt I would lose learners who are isolated at home and struggling with all the stresses of life in the time of Covid 19. To that end, I decided to hold class meetings over the Internet even though it was not required, and currently, I am happy with the result. In this post, I want to hastily share five takeaways that are easy, old-school ideas done online.

One caveat is that I have had about 6 to 10 students show up for each class, so if you have a big group, it may be difficult to include everyone.

  1. Use word documents for the shared screen. A powerpoint is less flexible. With a word document, I can do many of the same things, AND I can write directly onto the document. It becomes my “whiteboard,” through which I can interact with students.
  2. Create the word document lesson ahead of time. Before class, I construct a sort of public lesson plan. I put the date at the top and then list the activities so it is a rough approximation of a book. I often use photos to start the class. And I insert any links I will need to watch video clips or show websites. Page breaks between each section help to keep it tidy. (In the future, I hope to share it with students beforehand and to invite questions, but we are not quite there yet.)
  3. Start class by inviting every student to speak. I usually pose a question such as, What was your favorite thing that you did yesterday? Or How was your last shopping trip? I set the question, give everyone a chance to think, and I ask them to mute their mics when they are not speaking. Then they go in turns to share experiences. This feels personal and comforting.
  4. When doing exercises, write the name of the person who will speak next to the item they will answer. For example, if there is an activity where they complete a sentence with target grammar, I show the items and write the name of the person in front of their sentence. (I do this in the moment because I don’t know who will show up.) Students then have time to prepare and we move through the items more efficiently.
  5. Upload the completed lesson after the class. I make a quick review video of the lesson after class so those who couldn’t make it can still see (and hear) what we did. I also upload the web lesson document so those who were there can have a copy.

These simple practices have helped my students and I stay connected and interactive. Though not all of my students have transitioned to the online format, the ones who have are now loyal to the process. This gives me hope for a future in which I may be doing a whole lot more of this in the semesters ahead. Something just feels right about being able to give personal attention to specific questions, in the moment.

1 reply »

  1. First of all, I love your photo. It’s fun! While I have never taught a group of students on line, I have been teaching one on one for over 10 years now. I also create my lesson plan ahead of time. I share my screen on Zoom and briefly go over the plan for the lesson. I start with a conversation about their life and try to type out as much as I can live on Microsoft Onenote. As I’m sharing my screen, the student can see what I’m typing. Mostly I only type out corrections. I’ll put a line through their incorrect sentence and type out the correct way to say it. Then I give them a short quiz on their last homework to make sure they’ve learned what we went over last time. Then comes all the new stuff. I never want to rush my students. I might have an extensive lesson plan, but we might not get to all of it. That’s okay. Sometimes, if we have extra time, I’ll open Google and we’ll read the headlines together. I love being spontaneous and recognizing how well my student is absorbing the lesson. If I see their eyes glaze over, I stop the prepared lesson and get into more personal questions to keep them interested. It’s definitely a juggling act. At the end of the lesson I send them a copy of the lesson plan, complete with all my notes. They really like this. Occasionally I even let a student record the lesson. I tell them, “As long as I never have to see myself on the video, it’s okay to record the class.” I bet your classes are really fun. I could definitely use more pointers in keeping everyone involved.


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