You do not have to compromise on inspirational teaching and learning when you teach online. Here are two ideas, one focused on reading skills and the other on writing, to make technology an asset and not an obstacle to learning English.
Share a Google Document with your student into which you have pasted the text of an unseen poem. Ask them to use the editing tools available to them in Google Documents to respond to the poem creatively, or “illuminate” it. It is usually advisable to give a clear timeframe for this activity.
You can scaffold this activity by discussing the possibilities with your student, modelling an example first or making one or two edits collaboratively. However, I recommend allowing the student to use their own intuition as much as possible. This activity requires no specialist knowledge, and it can prove to a student that they possess much more insight into poetry than they might imagine.
Once the poem has been illuminated, question your student about their choices. Where necessary, supply them with any technical terminology they need to articulate their ideas more precisely. Ask the student to organise their ideas, interrogating which of their edits have revealed something related to meaning, to emotion or to the structure of the poem. This activity can produce outstanding levels of insight from even the most sceptical pupil.
This activity exploits the inherently collaborative nature of Google Documents to turn a simple creative writing exercise into a potentially powerful learning opportunity.
Share a Google Document with your pupil into which you have placed some creative writing stimulus. It could be an image, a sound clip, a movie clip, a line of poetry or anything else that you think will inspire your pupil. Explain that in today’s lesson, you will be writing a descriptive or narrative piece (you can specify which, or you can leave this to be agreed upon in the lesson) collaboratively.
Ask your student what sort of challenges and opportunities this might present. Try to establish at the outset whether your pupil finds the idea of writing together inhibiting or empowering, as this will help you to support them effectively. You should be reassured to know that research suggests that collaborative writing actually lowers anxiety and fosters self-confidence (Johnson and Johnson 1998) when compared to writing alone, so even a pupil who expresses some reservations at the outset should benefit.
Your pupil should begin to see that, in order to write collaboratively, you are going to need to discuss and agree on all of the components that go into a piece of writing: purpose, genre, style and content. Your role is to scaffold the planning process, questioning your pupil to encourage them to clarify their ideas and supplying possibilities if they are flagging. You might agree that both of you should come up with three possibilities for a setting, or you might each take responsibility for inventing one character. The benefit of this activity is that it allows you to model the planning process to your pupil without impeding their creativity or leaving them alone with the dreaded blank page.
When it comes to writing the piece, you might agree to write simultaneously in two adjacent columns, pausing to compare how each of you have tackled the opening sentence or a specific simile. This works well with the most able pupils or students who feel confident. If you are working with a younger, less able or less confident student, you might prefer to write alternating sentences, agreeing what each of you will try to achieve (e.g. I am going to write a simile in this sentence) in advance and then editing it together.
This activity works best when you, as the tutor, are happy to share rough drafts and half-formed ideas with your pupils. Remember, you are modelling that great writing is arrived at through false starts and risk taking.