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June 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Interactive Activities for Young Learners

Alexandra Tieanu-Koppandi has been a teacher of EFL for six years since obtaining her CELTA. She has worked in the UK and in Poland in the past, but is now residing in Romania where she works as a freelance EFL teacher. In recent years, she has specialised in teaching young learners.


A brief summary of the talk

I welcomed the news of an online Teacher Training Day at IH Bielsko-Biala with great enthusiasm and when I first saw that the theme of the conference is ‘From the Heart’ I knew that my talk would be about Young Learners. I wanted to draw on my experience as a teacher at International House Integra Bielsko-Biala between 2018 and 2020, and also on my personal experience when teaching online lessons in the spring and summer of 2020. The challenges posed by this new teaching environment for students under 12 in particular interested me, and the result was my talk, Involving the ‘little ones’: Interactive Activities for Young Learners.

Teaching young learners had become a topic close to my heart at IH Bielsko-Biala as it was there where I acquired considerable experience teaching such students. It is these groups where you can go through a variety of feelings within one lesson, from anxiety about how your planned activities would work, to sheer panic when an activity goes sideways, to uncertainty about class management, but also to joy when activities work wonderfully and your self-confidence as a teacher grows when you see the students progress. The challenge of teaching young learners is that the teacher has to constantly improve their skills, knowledge, and teaching methods in order to provide interactive activities that can keep the students interested and likely to progress.

Getting young learners involved in a lesson and keeping the activities under control can be a struggle in the classroom, regardless of how experienced the teacher is. But moving online, the situation has completely changed and the teacher must find new interactive activities to catch the young students’ interest and hold it for the entire lesson. Drawing on my own experience after moving online, I decided to talk about four activities that I use with students aged 6 to 9. I chose three activities that are commonly used for lead-in or transitions for settling or stirring the students, but that I had tweaked for online use: the Mystery Box, the Missing Flashcard, and Find and Show/Tell. The last activity I chose was role-playing, an activity which normally requires more planning and setting up in a classroom environment but which proved more challenging in the online scenario due to the physical distance, the teacher’s lack of direct control, and the limited opportunities for student management.


How you felt before the conference

Preparing for the conference presented no fresh difficulties for me, since I had previous experience of speaking at conferences or workshops in the fields of history, political sciences, cultural studies, and EFL. I usually prepare a PowerPoint presentation to accompany my talk and make a mental plan about how much time should be spent on each slide or when to introduce a funny anecdote to exemplify an activity or situation. I organized my presentation as to make it more a talk about the four activities I chose and how I used them in my lessons to provide familiarity and continuity for my students during the online lessons, as well as giving tips on how to adapt them in order to involve young learners.

However, it was my first experience speaking at an online conference and I was aware from the start that there would be a variable lacking: the physical rapport with the audience, which was now also behind a screen and more difficult to relate to. Knowing that the audience could also interact live using the chat option or during the Q&A section at the end relieved some of the impersonality of the situation and made it easier to approach the talk.


What your feelings were during the talk itself

I found the talk to be an exciting experience despite the black windows in the Zoom interface and the slight uncertainty over whether the audience could see or hear me properly. Talking to a live audience is more rewarding as you can establish a more personal contact and you can constantly track how your message is being received by the room, and gauging how people are reacting to it makes it easier to relate the content to their specific interests.

For this online talk I had to plan in advance for technical issues and the possibility that the audience might not see the exact thing I did or what I wanted them to see. I also had to take into account delays in transition between the slides or lag due to poor internet connections. I was fairly confident about using Zoom as I had the experience of about five months of online teaching using this platform but at the start of my talk I was slightly surprised by the conference mode and I was unsure if the audience could see the transition between my PowerPoint presentation and myself when explaining and exemplifying an activity. But it was an easy obstacle to overcome as both the hosts of the conference and the audience were very helpful and reassuring, confirming that they could see what I intended them to see. Other than this, I thought the online talk went very smoothly, permitting a constant discussion with the audience using the chat box, and even proving a relaxed environment for a conference.

Zoom could be considered a solution for future events as it allows a large number of participants to attend, it can support multiple rooms for discussion at the same time, and it can relieve those who attend from different parts of the world from financial and logistical complications.


Post-conference reflections

From my first online conference as a speaker I have learnt that such talks can be just as interactive and thought-provoking as face-to-face events, despite the drawbacks inherent in the digital environment. I saw a constant flow of ideas during the discussions and some of the questions raised allowed for the expansion of each presentation, just like in a live conference. I welcome future online conferences and speaking opportunities as they can continue to encourage the exchange of ideas between teachers and EFL professionals without the constraints of external circumstances beyond our control.

For my talk, a way to improve it would have been to allow more time to hear examples from the audience of how they adapted favourite activities from their groups of young learners, and to hear their stories about their online experiences. For my own development as a teacher, I found the constant exchange of good activities and personal experiences during the time of online teaching not just reassuring but also something to learn from as it created a feeling of a large EFL family throughout the Teacher Training Day, a family spread around the world but dealing with the same problems and using the same creative methods to maintain the high quality of their teaching.   


Please check the Practical Methodology and Language for Primary Teachers course at Pilgrims website.

Tagged  Voices 
  • On Organising an Online Teaching Conference: Reflections on the First International House Bielsko-Biała Online Teacher Training Day
    Christopher Walker, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Interactive Activities for Young Learners
    Alexandra Tieanu-Koppandi, Romania

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Freer Speaking Activities
    Glenn Standish, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Hybrid Learning – Challenges and Benefits
    Prem Sourek, Italy

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: How COVID-19 Influenced My Teaching Beliefs
    Chris Bain, Czech Republic

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Senses Working Overtime
    Lisa Phillips, Italy

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Lessons Learned through Writing Feedback
    Christopher Walker, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: How I Became Mr Lazy
    Richard Lacy, Hong Kong

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Exciting Experiments, or How to Interweave Science into Language Teaching
    Aleksandra Zaparucha, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Common Teaching Mistakes
    Elzbieta Chudoba, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: The Vulnerable Teacher
    Zuzanna Szatanik, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: My Journey
    Doris Nneka Egwu, Italy