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How to teach remotely

by Hannah Haase on

I want to focus on the challenge foreign language teachers face during this Covid-19 pandemic. In the last few months, language teaching has totally changed. While it’s possible to assign a lot of open-text activities, send out worksheets and have students do online activities, most of these always (only) focus on reading and writing. Not many activities out there are listening or speaking activities, and without being in school together, it might be difficult to ensure that these two important skills are being trained during this remote teaching situation.

  • Introduction: How to adapt to teaching during the Covid-19
  1. Biggest challenges when you need to teach remotely 
  2. Ideas for younger language learners
  3. Ideas for older language learners
  4. How to include the current world situation in your language teaching
  5. Conclusion

1. Introduction: How to adapt to teaching during the Covid-19

In a previous post, I already wrote a little bit about some suggestions and gave some ideas on how to face the challenges of school closings and demands for remote learning.

Here are some of the basic suggestions I think are important, no matter what/where you teach:

  1. Work with what you have, and especially what your students have access to 
  2. Be creative 
  3. Teach the parents to be teachers
  4. Don’t expect too much from your students
  5. Send less than you would assign in your class
  6. Include the current situation in your assignments
  7. Make yourself available for parents and students
  8. Exchange ideas with colleagues or adapt something from a free resource

2. Biggest challenges when you need to teach remotely

Unlike most other subjects, languages are learned through exposure. The teacher, as a language model, plays an important role in the classroom. The focus in any foreign language classroom often lies on:

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Teacher as the language model
  • Group/Pairing activities
  • Output oriented
  • Immersion/Exposure
  • Projects/Games/Warm-ups

So during the Covid-19 pandemic and remote teaching, teachers need to be creative and adapt their way of teaching. They have to try to find new tools in order to help their students to practice languages from home.

how to teach remotely


3. Ideas for younger language learners 

I think this part is especially tough in today's world. We all somehow expect the internet to be there, accessible at home, in coffee shops, and on the go.

For some of our students, though, that isn’t reality. Due to the Coronavirus, our home school district sent out a parent survey prior to closing schools to find out what kind of technology was available at home. I was honestly surprised by the results. In many homes, only the parents had a phone or computer, and in some cases, the internet was only accessible through the parents' phone, not through WiFi. And we live in a big US city, not on some remote island in the middle of the Pacific….

When I saw those results, I stopped for a moment and thought about what I would do if I was a teacher in that school district. Sure, if I have a chance, I’d hand out Chromebooks and tablets from school and have students take them home. But what about all the teachers that are surprised by the school closure and who can’t go back in? Or what about all the younger students that aren’t quite ready to work independently at home on a computer/tablet/phone? How do you keep language learning, and especially speaking and listening, going for the next couple of weeks?

I am hoping that we can compile a list of ideas for all language teachers, regardless of the situation they are facing with their students and in their community and the level of proficiency their students have.

Some ideas might seem obvious, but I believe anything helps, and it might spark another idea in someone else.

  • Teach your sibling/parent/grandparent a new word every day
  • Call students via phone, or have them call one another to have conversations
  • Ask students to be ready to present any written assignments you give them ORALLY as soon as classes resume
  • Have them watch international news or find a radio station in the foreign language
  • Netflix has many shows with subtitles or different audio!
  • Include CDs in your learning package
  • Have a conversation with a neighbor/friend/family member in the foreign language
  • Add a list of library resources in the foreign language
  • List of Library internet/computer access or other public WiFi
  • Read out loud to someone
  • Read newspapers in the foreign language
  • Write a diary about what you did today and how it was different from before
  • Create stories based on a few words you send them (or they have to “find”)

how to teach remotely


4. Ideas for older language learners 

The possibilities are endless when your students have access to technology and the internet. You could continue teaching as you did before, and you won’t even have to change out of your pajamas! But seriously, if you don’t already have your own curriculum or you are looking to add some other creative ideas to your remote learning right now, take a look at the following:

  • Watch news
  • (Free) songs, audiobooks, and podcasts
  • Debates (read my blog post on debates for resources/outlines/worksheets etc.)
  • Cartoons, Movies, TV Shows
  • Create your own: news podcast, presentation, summary, story...and RECORD IT and send it to a teacher or the whole class
  • Class blog about daily routine, recipes, activities, discussions, weather, and current events (written or spoken)
  • Turn any writing prompt into a spoken stimulus
  • Play a game in your virtual classroom (read my blog post about kinesthetic activities)
  • Use AI-supported technology and recording software (such as our SmartClass language teaching platform)
  • Streaming services have many shows with subtitles or with different audio!
  • Zoom/Skype/Video Chat with groups (and the teacher)
  • Send them questions and audio for a listening activity
  • Dictation activity: listen to the news in a foreign language and type as much as you can in a minute
  • Transcribe songs/lyrics

Again, these are just some of my ideas, and I am sure there are hundreds more out there. I also tried to only focus on anything that was speaking and listening related, as those are the two skills that are the hardest to teach without face-to-face interaction and exposure to the language.

how to teach remotely


5. How to include the current world situation in your language teaching

If you are looking for some ideas for reading/writing activities that are different, I have a shortlist for you as well. After all, we are all faced with an unknown and challenging situation, and while it is important to keep the “regular” learning going, it’s also important to include what is happening in the world right now in our teaching and learning.

  • Find in a dictionary random words from a newspaper, a page in a book
  • Write a report/newspaper article
  • Start a class blog about recipes/daily routine/crafts
  • Set up a “word of the day” email chain (one student picks a new vocab word, writes a definition in the foreign language, and sends it out to everyone)
  • Go for a walk and take a picture and explain why you took this picture
  • Give many different writing and speaking (recording) prompts
  • Create a flyer about social distancing, washing hands, or how to stay healthy during COVID-19
  • Write a script for an interview with a virologist (Bonus: record it with a family member)
  • Write a speech for your president/chancellor/Prime Minister about the current situation (Bonus: record the speech)
  • Translate a controversial social media post with comments (or create your own)


how to teach remotely


6. Conclusion

Most of us probably didn’t see this coming or ever imagined ourselves in a situation where we’d be sad not to be in school. The times are filled with uncertainty, fear, and confusion. Instead of letting this overwhelm us, we have to try to see the positive in the situation and stay strong together. Now is the time to be creative, be present, be supportive, and truly show our students and parents how much we care. Our SmartClass Teaching Platform will help you continue to teach languages in a fun, interactive, and output-oriented way. Thanks to the many different auto-graded templates and our AI-supported pronunciation activities, you will have time to turn your assignments into interactive recordings and send videos to your students to watch and replay over and over. Fall in love with an affordable solution that takes your language teaching to the next level. If you want to find out more, check out our free webinars or our FAQ section ( From one teacher to another: You got this! And we are here to help every step of the way!

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Hannah Haase

Hannah Haase

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