Teacher, Student and COVID-19 Friendly Low-Prep Activities and Ideas for Language Classrooms
This post includes:
- Current government curriculum expectations
- General school and government safety guidelines
- 20+ COVID-19 friendly activities for language classrooms in the era of ‘the new normal’
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional and can’t guarantee these ideas are 100% COVID-19 friendly, nor that they will stop the spread of COVID-19. However, I have considered the information from schools, the government and used some of my common sense. I hope you find them useful for your educational settings. If there are any ideas you can’t use in your language lessons, feel free to disregard them.
If you’re not here for the background, scroll to the bottom of the post. There you will find low-prep activities and ideas for language lessons. Perfect for ‘the new normal’! Interested in the background to these ideas? Keep reading!
Government Safety Guidelines and Back To School
Recently, there has been much talk in the media surrounding the corona virus and back to school. As well as lots of waiting around with bated breath for guidance for teaching staff! Thanks to Ania Gerson for sharing this relevant image which caught my eye recently.
The government feels that ‘schools are not currently considered high risk settings when compared to other workplace environments’. In addition, not going back will ‘leave a huge dent in life chances’ (Gavin Williams, 30th August 2020.) Therefore, returning back to schools and colleges after the summer holidays is simply a must. As teachers, we should adhere to ‘good hand and respiratory hygiene and maintain[..] social distancing’. All pretty much ‘the new normal’, right…? Have you washed your hands?!
School Safety Measures
Schools have also made provisions to follow government safety guidelines. These include: children being put in groups, or “bubbles”, to limit contact, and the use of face coverings in communal areas of schools.
In addition to this limited governmental advice, schools across the country have put in their own protocols to minimise risks of transmission. For example:
- Teaching staff moving around the educational establishment, rather than the students.
- Some schools are allowed to give out sheets, some aren’t.
- Many schools only allow teachers to hand out sheets.
- Some allow group work based on bubbles, others don’t.
- Other schools are allowing choral repetition, others don’t etc.
This variation in individual school guidance makes creating a range of activities for language classrooms in the current climate tricky.
The ideas and activities below may/may not be suitable for your individual school. However, I have tried to combine COVID-19 friendly back to school activities, apps and websites which could be used in language classrooms with the guidelines above and below in mind. The list of back to school activities for ‘the new normal’ also takes the curriculum government expectations into consideration. I have outlined these below, published on 7th August 2020.
Clearly, these expectations above are extremely clear in the thinking that we must continue to provide high quality education for our students. Which will help them with their exams and future goals. Some of this education could be online, but, once again, it must remain high quality. Additionally, it appears teachers should continue to teach the curriculum but adapt based on gaps in current knowledge, with a focus on regular use of formative assessment. Especially, as it stands, the vast majority of pupils in year 10 and 11 are expected to continue to study their examination subjects.
I do believe there are a lot of unknowns at the moment about what types of activities can be carried out in classrooms, as well as how. However, I hope the ideas below are useful. Leave me a comment below on your thoughts, as well as other ideas that other language teachers around the world might also be able to use!
20 Teacher and COVID-19 Friendly Activities for Language Lessons and The New Normal
It wouldn’t be back to school without some ice breaker activities, would it? The suggestions below are interactive, help you to get to know the students a bit better. That includes getting a handle on their language level too!
1. Either …Or…
A fun activity that assesses current knowledge. Project slides, similar to the image with two choices. For example, summer or winter. Each student must write a sentence in their exercise book or on an online mini whiteboard, such as on whiteboard.fi to explain why they choose that. I.e. I prefer summer because it’s really sunny and I don’t have to go to school. To mix things up a bit or to test a particular grammar point, tense or question forming, you could also alternate short instructions at the bottom of the slide. In my examples, I wrote: write a sentence under summer and write a question under winter.
2. Rainbow Talking
Get students to pick any colour from the rainbow. Set a timer of 2-5 minutes, depending on students’ levels. They must think of as many items as they can, that are that colour, in the target language. Use the things around you for inspiration. Online dictionaries could be useful here, but not a requirement. Share ideas with the whole class.
3. True or False
This is a simple ‘getting to know the teacher’ ice breaker activity. Create individual slides with true or false options that might be interesting for your students to know about you. Try to combine topic related vocabulary of things you have previously taught, or things you need them to remember for future lesson. You could use the help of Plickers (see below) to collate your true or false answers. Alternatively, use a thumb up for true and thumb down for false, perhaps.
4. Last One Standing
The teacher says sentences in target language, i.e. “I woke up late every morning during lock down” or “I haven’t brushed my teeth today” and the students sit down if it’s true for them. To keep those who have sat down in the game, the teacher can ask students sitting down to translate, in order to have another ‘life’ and be able to participate again. The last one standing wins! Fun getting to know you game with a focus on listening and translation.
5. Popcorn Speaking
No real popcorn was hurt in the making of this activity!!! Have all students seated, facing the front and advise they must talk about themselves or a topic. Depending on what you’re trying to assess! Ask them to think for a few minutes and prepare 5-10 bullet points /sentences.
All students start with 5 points. One student begins and stops after they have said their sentence. They nominate another student by saying their name immediately and then sit down. The nominated student must stand up and either: translate what the other student (2 points) said AND/OR read out one of their sentences (1 point). They repeat the nomination activity until you get bored! The speaking activity allows students to get to know each other, you to get to know them, as well as fix any pronunciation errors etc.
To make it more challenging, you could also add challenges, such as you can’t use the most common 5 verbs or use a connective, give an opinion etc. The popcorn element is the students sitting and standing.
COVID-19 Friendly Formative Assessment Based Activities Using Technology
Assign Each Student a QR Code linked to Plickers, print out and ask them to paperclip (or glue if they have their own glue stick) and use in place of mini whiteboards.
7. I Got Your Back
Students work in pairs but sit back to back (they could also face the front of the classroom but one has their head looking down at the table). The first faces the board and reads a text aloud. The second either writes a transcript, fills in gaps or must answer true or false to a set of questions. Once completed, they swap around and look to check if their answers are right. In the meantime, the first person faces away from the board, looks at their true or false or gap fill hand out and starts preparing for their turn with a new text that their partner will read aloud to them.
8. Don’t Pass The Parcel
A great alternative to a traditional classroom based pass the parcel. In my time, I definitely spent way too long making pass the parcels to use with my groups. Play some TL music and when the music stops whoever has it needs to answer the question. For a ‘new-normal’ approach, students could clap their turn, raise their hands (mexican wave style), stand up and sit down etc until the music stops. It’s an easy way to do some formative assessment.
I had to include this website because I am beyond obsessed with it! Help! 🙂 Flippity Manipulatives (with numbers and letters) are ideal for matching activities. Just label each field with a number or letter for matching. This activity is also perfect for categorising. Check out this link to see a French questions categorising activity I uploaded: https://www.flippity.net/ma.php?k=19j0XnZrJfm9xd3ajSfRblhRsueTAn4ru8uTaE50LTPY.
In my opinion, it’s COVID-19 friendly, depending on how you structure the activities and the outcome. It’s particularly useful for assessing knowledge which I think is key. They could also be used for translations – no sheets necessary. The website offers instructions, a demo and templates so check them out to get started.
Digital mini whiteboards for the whole class. Devices required! Ask the students a question, show a phrase, play an audio clip and ask them to do something to assess their knowledge. It’s just like you’re in a lesson but with less germs! The only catch here is that students will need their own devices, which I know isn’t possible in all language lessons.
Making The Teacher’s Life Easier Activities/Ideas
Avoid moving around the classroom and simply use the traditional style whiteboard to add vocabulary or grammar notes on the board. In addition, I love the fact that they have dice for activities that may have in the past required physical dice. There are loads of other cools tools including: work level symbols (i,e, whisper, silence) to avoid teachers having to raise their voices, as well as traffic lights, an egg timer and stop watches to keep track of timed activities.
Like with Flippity, I am equally as obsessed with this website. It’s an old favourite. I think the Venn Diagram Generator is ideal for individual work, and whole group work. You can project a diagram to get students started, pick on individuals and add as a group. That just means one student is speaking at a time, rather than many together. Can also be adapted for small group work if students are in bubbles, for example.
Settling Activities / Starters
13-19. Teacher & COVID-19 Friendly Settling Activities for Language Lessons
I believe for those teachers who will be moving around a lot, a settling activity is an excellent way to get them started. You could project a standard set of activities on the screen each lesson. However, that will mean getting yourself organised first; defeating the point of this COVID-19 friendly settling activity. So, consider printing one for each student to stick / paper clip into their own books! Thanks @MorganMFL, @Mariade53969789 and @campello_mfl for the inspiration – go follow them on Twitter etc!
Feel free to use the image above and copy onto a word document. If you’d like an editable copy, you can edit the PowerPoint file below with 6 no-prep and super useful Teacher Friendly Settling Activities for Language Learners To Get Students Started!
20. Odd One Out
Another golden oldie! Perfect for topic-related vocabulary. This is just a quick example. However, I usually put between 5 and 10 lines together, depending on the group. It’s perfect to get students thinking. There isn’t just 1 correct answer. It tests existing knowledge and gives students new vocab that they could use, perhaps in one of the settling activities mentioned above!
21. Retrieval Grids
Some suggested that they would use their retrieval grids, rather than the ideas I have listed here. Therefore, I decided to add these to the list too! Retrieval grids are quite popular at the moment and quite rightly so. I started using retrieval grids in 2018 and feel they are an effective idea for students to consider and ‘retrieve’ what they have been working on over the past few weeks/months. As you can see in the retrieval grid pictured is looking for students to retrieve key information from an English lesson from the last week, last two weeks, last month and before that. Clearly, this type of activity is going to be a bit more prep. However, you could prepare one for each month / topic and hand it out at the beginning of each month/topic for students to use if you are running a bit late. Alternatively, it’s a brilliant revision tool and could be used within the lesson, too.
There you have it! Super quick, low-prep teacher friendly and (hopefully!) COVID-19 friendly activities and ideas for language lessons.
Other ideas: I wrote these posts before COVID-19 hit but there may also be further ideas that you can adapt to fit the new normal here:
ALSO! A few recommendations if you are interested in more activities for language lessons in the new normal!:
- SonrieinSpanish has put together loads of COVID-19 friendly resources for Spanish on TES. I am sure many of these can be easily adapted to your languages!
- Check out Dannielle’s Padlet with many crowd-sourced ideas for COVID-19 safe lessons here: bit.ly
References and Further Reading on COVID-19 Safe Activities for Language Lessons
Gavin Williamson: not sending children back to school risks ‘huge dent in life chances’
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/aug/30/gavin-williamson-not-sending-children-back-to-school-risks-huge-dent-in-future-life-chances-coronavirus (Published 30th August 2020)
Guidance for Full Opening Schools
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/guidance-for-full-opening-schools (Published 7th August 2020, Edited 28th August)
Guidance for Schools COVID-19
https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/guidance-for-schools-coronavirus-covid-19 (Updated 26th August 2020)
What Will a Return To School During The Covid 19 Pandemic Look Like? https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/what-will-return-school-during-covid-19-pandemic-look (Published 24 August 2020)JOIN ME ON MY SOCIALS FOR MORE FAB TEACHING CONTENT >>