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July 2014
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Quick Tip: 3 Tips for Diving Into Online Instruction
by Heather Gaddis

Audience: K–12 & Higher Education Teachers

As the move to blended, hybrid, and completely online learning continues to make waves in the field of English language teaching, more and more teachers are left to figure out an entirely new teaching context. While many of the best practices from face-to-face teaching contexts can be transferred to online instruction, there are a few areas where teachers might have to change their tactics.

1. Clear Instructions & Deadlines

As ESL/EFL teachers, we all know that clear delivery of instructions is of upmost importance when standing in front of a group of ELs. Once we remove the face-to-face element, we can see how things could easily go awry. For this reason, in the online environment, it is necessary to use various media to communicate instructions. For example, you could use a YouTube video or Voki avatar to record a brief overview of the activity. Then, you could use text to write a bulleted list of your instructions. Be sure to include links where you refer to outside websites or documents so that students don´t have to search for those resources. The fewer number of clicks to get to what they need will lead to less confusion.

Another important area is deadlines. One common online activity is the discussion forum. However, often students go on, post their contributions, and then never return to the forum. By giving one deadline for the initial post and another for responding to classmates, you compel students to go back and read their classmates´ contributions.

2. Immediate Feedback

As mentioned earlier, losing the face-to-face element means that we have to try much harder when communicating with our students. This includes feedback. The online environment provides many tools, such as voice comments embedded into a Word document, text comments written into the text of a Google Doc, online gradebooks, and the list goes on.

When I started using an online gradebook with my 10th graders, they approached me much more about why they’d received a certain grade. However, at the end of the period, no one was surprised by their grade and students were more proactive about clearing up missed assignments. Another advantage to staying on top of feedback in the online setting is so that students feel more connected to the class and are less likely to drop out, which is a problem in online courses.

3. Clean Design

You don't have to be a graphic designer to be able to apply the CARP principles (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, and Proximity). We have all stumbled upon a website where the colors of the font and the background made it nearly impossible to read the text. This is where contrast comes in. Next, is some of your text flush to the left margin and other centered? By aligning text, you show that your paragraphs or sections form a group and are of equal importance. Repetition often indicates boredom, but having the same format for each set of activities makes it easier for students to digest the information instead of figuring out where it is.

Finally, proximity means that information that is related should go together. Group a set of instructions and then have some white space between it and another section. One way to incorporate these principles is to look for examples of websites that you like and work them into your course design. The Non-Designer’s Web Book is a great resource, with examples and a checklist of dos and don’ts for website design.


Heather Gaddis has been an ESL/EFL teacher in the United States, Mexico, and Turkey since 2008. She became interested in teaching online after taking a TESOL course. She then completed a master´s degree in educational technology.


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Table of Contents
TC Homepage
Drawing Songs of Literacy in a Multilingual Classroom
Grammatically Speaking
Teaching Intros and Conclusions to ELLs
Quick Tip: 3 Tips for Diving Into Online Instruction
TESOL's New Strategic Plan
Association News
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ESL Instructors, American University of The MiddleEast (AUM), Kuwait

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8 Current Trends in Teaching and Learning EFL/ESL, by Deena Boraie

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