Monitoring Student Activity.

Challenge – It can be difficult to monitor student activity while in break-out rooms. Moving between break-out rooms is time-consuming. Most students do not have lap-tops which makes the use of shared documents problematic. The solution presented here is to use an online ‘backchannel’ for direct communication with students.

Activity Outline

This method is intended to work anytime you want to communicate with students who are doing groupwork in break-out rooms. In this example students were asked to complete a gap-fill in groups. The teacher monitored the progress of the task and provided feedback via an online back-channel.


Before the Lesson:
  1. Make sure your activity is in a format that can be shared via your preferred back-channel. For example: PDF files are easier to share via WhatsApp than Microsoft Office files, especially if your learners do not have access to personal computers.
  1.  Introduce the activity using share/screen and concept-checking. Students will be working independently of teacher in break-out rooms so it is important that they understand the task.
  2. Tell students that they will need to write their answers on a piece of paper. Demonstrate by writing an example answer and showing it to your camera.
  3. Create the breakout rooms (do not open them yet!)
  4. Nominate a ‘photographer’  for each group. You can even change their name to reflect their role – e.g., Karim (Group 1 Photographer). On Zoom this can be done by clicking on ‘participants’ followed by ‘change name’. Explain that the ‘photographer’ must take a picture of his/her answers and send it to the teacher through an online backchannel on behalf of the group. This could be via WhatsApp, Google Classroom or email.
  5.  Open the break-out rooms. If needs be, share task material with groups through back-channel  or by pasting it in break-out room chat.
  6. Monitor and mark student work as it comes in via back-channel. Feedback can be given through same backchannel or, if a group needs particular attention, you can join their break-out room.

Conducting a ‘Running Dictation’ Online

Challenge – A ‘running dictation’ is a useful way for learners to improve listening skills, memorise text, and speak clearly with correct pronunciation. Whilst it is an easy activity to set up in a physical classroom, it’s harder to recreate in an online setting. This online version achieves most of these criteria by using movement between breakout rooms to recreate the ‘running’. It requires a lot of juggling from the teacher and relies upon the learners having good secure internet connections (something that proved a problem when I tried this)

Tools Used – Zoom Breakout Rooms, Phone Cameras, WhatsApp

Instructions for a dication activity

Activity Outline

In this example the learners were given the challenge to dictate / scribe two movie reviews to their partner in a breakout room, and to submit a photo of it on WhatsApp on completion.



1 – Ensure learners are comfortable with joining Break-out rooms and also that they are aware of the ‘call for help’ button in the Break-out Rooms (if necessary show a screenshot of this)

2 – Ensure the Zoom break-out settings allow learners to move freely as they choose.

3 – Display a list of Rules for the game — ie you may not screenshot the text for your partner. Give information about how the work will be marked: marks lost for spelling/ punctuation mistakes, marks added for correct sentences and finishing first. Check understanding with concept questions….

4 – Assign partners and write them down (try to do this earlier in the lesson if possible). Then ask learners to decide who is the ‘scribe’ and who is the ‘runner’. Put all the runners in the same breakout room to start, and send the scribes to their own individual rooms.

5 –  In the runners’ break-out room, display on the shared screen the words for the dictation. Runners should read as much as they can memorise then swap rooms to relay the information to their ‘scribe’.

6 –  When the runners need to ‘top-up’, they return to the Reading room for another chunk of words. NB This activity would be vastly improved by the presence of an assistant to hold the Shared Screen in the Reading room, so that the teacher is free to troubleshoot / monitor for progress and/or problems.

7 –  When the learners are satisfied with their dictation, the scribes take a photo and send it to the teacher via WhatsApp. This can be marked after the lesson, and common mistakes provide teaching points for following lessons.

See the file below for an example of how this method was used in an online class.

Using the Annotate Function on Zoom to Monitor Learner Understanding

Challenge –Monitoring learner understanding and basic literacy at the lowest levels is hard to do online. Whereas in the classroom a teacher can check individuals’ written work in the course of the lesson, online it is unclear to the teacher what exactly the learner is writing down or how much they have understood. The solution presented is to enable the learners to indicate their chosen answer in real time via the ‘annotate’ function on Zoom.

Example of PowerPoint slide that has been annotated by learners

Activity Outline

In this example the teacher wanted to check the learners’ understanding of numbers with a listening exercise. The learners listened to a number and had to circle the corresponding number on screen.



1 – Introduce the activity by first reminding learners of the Annotate function. The teacher showsed a set of PPT slides (with L1 translations) with step-by-step instructions on how to draw on the screen (see below).

2 – Check that all learners can do this by encouraging them to make marks on the current screen. Allow other learners to explain the process to their peers if necessary.

3 – Explain the task to the learners. Display the numbers and prepare them to listen to the different people speaking. Teacher models by saying a number and circling it on their screen. Stop after each playing and wait for learners to draw on the screen.

4 – Teacher monitors the responses of the learners, noting names as they appear (they do appear momentarily, but then disappear again).

5 – Learners can self-correct if they see that they have got the question wrong, but it’s possible for the teacher to see this process too in real time.

See the file below for an example of how this method was used in an online class.

Using Whatsapp as a Channel for Sharing Classwork, Homework and Resources

Challenge – At the start of online teaching, one of the challenges was delivering and getting lower level learners who were mostly using mobiles phones to engage in the lesson. Using Whatsapp as a tool for sharing resources has worked especially well with this group. This has not only given learners the chance to take that first step towards digital literacy but more importantly has given them the confidence to engage in the online lesson.

Tools Used – Zoom, WhatsApp

Activity Outline

In this example Whatsapp* (where it’s an issue of safeguarding, Googledocs can be a viable substitute)  was used as a backchannel essentially with absolute beginner learners as a way of sharing resources, classwork, homework, correct and collate errors and monitor class activity.

Example of student Homework sent via WhatsApp and makred using WhatsApp annotate function



1 – Instruct learners to write their answers/ responses in their books.

2 – Ask them to take a photo of their work and share it on Whatsapp.

3 – The teacher can mark the work on and share it back on Whatsapp.

4 – The teacher can also collate the common errors and put them up the Zoom whiteboard for the whole class. It helps reinforce spelling and punctuation rules.

Common Errors Displayed and Corrected Using Zoom Whiteoard Function

Using the Zoom Chat Box to Communicate

Challenge – A few months into the online model, lower level learners were introduced to the Zoom chat box wherein they could type their answers in lieu of the Whatsapp photos. The main challenge here was the unfamiliarity with the English keyboard, which meant they spent more time searching for the letters and struggled a little with typing the words.  However, with the help of translation in L1 and a visual representation, most learners were able to use this functionality with ease.

Tools Used – Zoom

Activity Outline

In this example the learners were given the challenge to dictate / scribe two movie reviews to their partner in a breakout room, and to submit a photo of it on WhatsApp on completion.


1 – At the start of the previous classes, instruct learners to type in their names or simple words like ‘hello’ in the Zoom chat box. The teacher can also experiment with more compelx tasks such as typing in the date in the format dd/mm/yyyy.

2 – After a few lessons of this, the teacher can try other things like typing in simple sentences like, ‘hi, how are you?’ etc.

3 – Eventually you will be able to instruct learners to respond to questions for whole activites exclusively via the chatbox.

NB – The above steps could all be accomplished in the space of one lesson with tech-savvy or higer level students. However, it is best to take your time with lower-level learners.

Online Webquest (Version 1 – Individual Work)

Challenge – Online lessons sometimes can descend into chaos just because of the noise in the virtual classroom. It helps to have activities such as this to help learners learn a little on their own. This can be used as a warmer or cooler activity also.

Tools Used – Zoom , Google, WhatsApp

Instructions for a webquest activity

Activity Outline

In this exercise students were asked to work individually and find information on a particualar topic as a lesson warmer. This exercise helped to reinforce scanning abilities as they had to look for very specific information. As it was done with lower level learners it kept controlled, however such an activty could be made more challenging and exciting for higher level learners. One aspect which learners enjoyed was the opportunity to work on their own on a task, much like in a real classroom.



1 – Show learners photos of the topic you are about to teach. For example, for a lesson on housing, show them a picture of the smallest house in Britain and elicit responses.

2 – Instruct them to find out more details with pointed questions to help them scan for information—What’s the speciality of the house? Where is it located? What is the size? Any other interesting information.

3 – Write all of these questions on the whiteboard and tell them they have 10 minutes.

4 – Open the breakout rooms and assign them each a breakout room, set the timer (5-10) minutes. Alternatively, keep students in the main room and allow them to turn off cameras/microphones as they are completing the quest.

5 –  After reconvening in the main room, nominate learners to present their findings

Using Google Forms to Facilitate a Speaking Activity

Challenge – Speaking activities online have a tendency to be stilted. Students can find it unnatural and awkward to converse. Equally, it is difficult for the teacher to provide prompts as students are in break-out rooms.

Tools Used – Zoom Breakout Rooms, Google Forms

Example of a Google Form survey

Activity Outline

In this example learners were asked to have a conversation about their principles as an introduction to the theme of the lesson. Prompt questions were provided via a Google Forms Survey.


Before the Lesson:

1 – Ensure learners are comfortable with joining Breakout rooms and also that they are aware of the ‘call for help’ button in the Breakout Rooms (if necessary show a screenshot of this)

2 – Copy the link to the form (using the ‘Send’ button to the top right of your Google Page). Ensure the form is ‘Accepting Responses’ (click on ‘Responses’ at the top of the form to toggle this on / off).

Click ‘Send’ followed by the hyperlink icon to copy the link to your form.

3 – Make sure your learners are able to share screen in the break-out rooms.


1 –  Introduce the topic your learners will be discussing by sharing your screen and displaying the Google Form (do not share the link yet). Ask the students to ask / answer some examples and ensure that key vocabulary is understood.

2 –  Create your break-out rooms (ideally with 3-4 students in each) Do not open the break-out rooms yet.

3 – Nominate one learner to share their screen in the break-out room. This student will be sharing the Google Form with the rest of the group and will be responsible for be submitting their reply.

4 – Using your own share screen, demonstrate to the learners that they need to choose an option for each question and click ‘submit’ once they have finished. Emphasise that they need to agree as a group. Only when they have agreed as a group can they submit their answers. This is essential to encourage debate / discussion.

5 –  Open the breakout rooms and share the link to the form. To make sure that each group only submits one collective response you can share the link only with the learner tasked with sharing his/her screen. This can be done by sending the link privately via the chat function in each breakout room.

6 –  You can follow the form submissions as they come in on Google Forms. Once all groups have completed the survey, close the break-out rooms and feedback as a class. Google Forms will automatically collate the information into charts in the ‘Responses’ tab – share this via the ‘share screen’ function on Zoom so the class can see how other groups have answered (see below).

Using Zoom Breakout Rooms to Facilitate Online Mingling

Challenge – Mingling can be difficult in the online environment.  Sometimes learners have little control over who they speak to, for example when making breakout rooms, the teacher or the computer decides on the groupings.  The solution presented here is to use the ‘Let participants choose room’ function and a speaking exercise.  This will enable learners to move between rooms, mingle, and create a more dynamic and engaging lesson.

Tools Used – Zoom Breakout Rooms

An online class

Activity Outline

In this example, learners had a story with missing words (see below for documents relating to this activity).  First, they had to answer 6 personal questions and use their answers to fill in the missing words in the story.  Their answers made each story unique and funny.  Learners could then move between breakout rooms themselves, mingling and listening to each other’s stories.


Before the Activity:

1 – Teacher clicks the breakout room button and chooses the ‘Let participants choose room’ radio button.  Make plenty of rooms so learners can practise moving freely.

How to allow learners to choose their own breakout rooms

2 – Teacher shares screen with step-by-step slides to explain how everyone is going to move breakout rooms. Be aware that this can be different between phones and laptops, and these slides are made on a Mac laptop.   

3 – Practice moving to Room 1 and then Room 2 with learners. When everyone has moved to Room 1 and then Room 2, ask learners to practise moving to random rooms themselves.  You can see which learners are in each room under ‘Breakout Rooms’.

4 –  Close rooms and bring everyone back to the main session.

Example Activity: storytelling – adapted from

1 –  Ask the exercise questions in the main group, and make sure each learner has the story and their answers.

2 –  Assign learners in pairs to breakout rooms.   After swapping stories in one pair, learners can move rooms independently and talk with someone else.

3 –  Monitor the breakout rooms to see which learners are grouping together and how long they stay in one room.

See the file below for an example of how this method was used in an online class.

Using Zoom Chat to Facilitate Speaking Activities

Challenge – In a classroom discussion can easily be facilitated by the provision of speaking prompts (e.g., a sheet with questions). When sent into smaller groups online however, students will often forget the focus of the speaking activity and discussion will often run-out-of-steam. An easy way to overcome this is for the teacher to paste discussion questions in to the chat of each break-out room.

Tools Used – Zoom Breakout Rooms

Discussion Questions Saved in a Word Document

Activity Outline

In this example lower level students were given discussion questions aimed at helping them practice the past simple.


Before the Lesson:

1 –  Make sure to write out your discussion questions / topics in a format where the text can be copied (See above).


1 – Introduce the lesson theme and discussion questions.

2 – Put learners in break-out rooms (3 is an ideal number for online discussion).

3 – Enter each break-out room and paste the questions in the zoom chat. You can do this by clicking ‘Chat’ and then pasting your text into the chat-box (see below).

Note: You cannot enter text in the chat so that it reaches all breakout rooms simultaneously, which is why you must enter each breakout room individually. Similarly, if a learner is not in a given breakout room when the text is entered into the chat they will not be able to see it.

To move between breakout rooms simply click ‘More’ – ‘Breakout Rooms’ followed by the ‘Join’ button next to the Breakout room you wish to join. (See below)

4 – Close break-out rooms and feedback as a class.

Allowing Learners To Choose Discussion Topic With Zoom Breakout Rooms

Challenge – Some topics can be personally challenging for learners to discuss in the lesson and it can be difficult online to create a situation where learners control discussion choice.  The solution presented here is to rename breakout rooms with topics and use the ‘Let participants choose room’ function so learners can choose what they want to talk about.  This will enable learners to choose the topic they are comfortable discussing.

Tools Used – Zoom Breakout Rooms

Activity Outline

In this example, learners were going to discuss their future aspirations.  First, they had 6 texts where 6 different families talked about their own aspirations and those for their children. The learners were introduced to new vocabulary and phrases to talk about future aspirations.  The production part of this lesson was discussing either their own aspirations or their favourite aspiration from the text.


Before the Lesson:

1 – Teacher clicks the breakout room button and chooses the ‘Let participants choose room’ radio button. 

2 – Create as many rooms as you need and then rename them into your different discussion topics.  In this example, the topics are ‘Your favourite aspiration from the text’ and ‘Aspirations for yourself or your children’.  Do not assign any learners to the rooms.  Click ‘Open All Rooms’.

3 – After opening the rooms, learners will see the screen below.  They can then choose which room they want to enter (and therefore, what they want to discuss) by clicking ‘join’.


1 –  Learners use the new vocabulary and phrases to discuss the topic of their choice.

2 – If you have many different topics, an optional extra could be for the learners to move rooms after a set amount of time so that they can discuss more topics. Again, as they are able to choose the room based on the topic they have control over what they talk about.