Teacher’s Corner: Distance Learning, A How-To Guide

Note: This article is based on experiences with Baltimore County Public Schools curriculum, and is adapted from a project for a seminar entitled Mentoring the New Teacher, Part 2.

Trying to teach a language can be tough, and even more so when the new language is being taught through Schoology, Canvas, or Blackboard sounds crazy, right? Unfortunately for many of us it may be the reality for a while during the fall. However, there is a way to make it easier, and to keep it engaging and make sure students still have a chance to practice the target language. We are going to look at pre-planning, asynchronous learning, and virtual meetings to most effectively get students engaging with the language and using it in a way that you can provide feedback for. Although a lot of tech tools will be discussed, you can obviously substitute them for whatever tools you are most comfortable with.

Lesson Planning: What is Essential?

Just because lesson planning has moved online does not mean you should eschew authentic resources and best practices. When looking at the curriculum guide, try to find a short video, a level-appropriate article, or an infographic that will help students meet the objective. This way, you are still ensuring that students are getting authentic input, and you now have a baseline to help you create activities and to center your lesson to help meet the objective. Your favorite news source, Zachary Jones (for Spanish speakers), a reputable teacher’s Pinterest board, and other resources will be your best guide to finding a resource, whether it be a song, a video, an article, or an infograph. Remember your students will be taking other classes too, and may largely be self-directed, so make sure this resource is level appropriate: consider, for example, are there a lot of cognates, is it a lot of or a little text, is it a song? Put yourself in the mind of the student to begin.

Guided Notes and Vocabulary

To make sure students are not simply going to translate everything, it is absolutely essential that you consider how to make sure they are still getting the content and vocabulary you want from them, and that you do not resort to direct translation but create activities that allow students to self-learn new vocabulary. For example, if showing them a video, take screenshots and add them to a note sheet, and have them write down what concept the screenshot represents. Provide a list of important vocabulary words, and have them match definitions (in the target language, of course) to the words. This way, the content is still challenging and they are receiving new information, but it is not overwhelming and will have them shut down.

Scavenger Hunt.  If your resource is written and has a lot of cognates, give them a scavenger hunt where they use the highlighting tool to find vocabulary. For example, if the article is about climate change or natural disasters, have them highlight types of natural disasters in yellow, and a description of what they are in blue.

Notetaking. If you are using a learning platform that allows it, turn the note sheet into a graded or assessed activity so students can also self-check at the end of taking notes. This is particularly important if your virtual meeting time is limited. Also consider putting up completed notes or a suggestion of what notes can look like later in the week so students can check their work against yours, ensuring some continuity and uniformity.

Using Google Meets, Zoom, etc.

Google Meets, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or whichever platform your school is using is your one opportunity to meet with students, so make sure you take advantage of this to not only check in on student learning, but also to check in on students and their general well-being. One successful format that I used last year was as follows.

Step 1. Begin by greeting everyone, and have them either say or type one good thing that happened to them that week. This could either be in the target language or in English, depending on their level.

Step 2. Open up for any questions about the content; this usually is about the activities themselves, not necessarily what specific words mean. It would not be a bad idea to provide an example for students or to do the first few questions of an activity together.

Step 3. Do some sort of fun assessment to make sure they understood the content. Socrative, Kahoot, and Quizizz are great formative tools that are both fun and also one of your only checks for understanding during the week. Especially if they aren’t getting a lot of social interaction they’ll be super appreciative!

This is also potentially a chance to practice speaking. Each lesson should have an essential question, so you can ask this essential question and have each student give a short response, ranging from a word to a paragraph, depending on their level.

Step 4. Give them the opportunity to share one thing they’re worried about or one thing they’re looking forward to this week. Remind them to be considerate of their own comfort level and the comfort level of each other.


Just because learning has gone digital doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to offer a wide variety of assessments! Know your tools and make sure you are considering the different types of communication when creating assessments. For writing, utilize discussion boards so they are getting presentational writing and interpersonal writing. Give them graphic organizers so they have a guide for a more formal presentational writing.

You have not completely lost the opportunity to practice speaking either! Flipgrid and Padlet are both wonderful and free resources that allow students to easily record their voices. You can have them practice both presentational speaking and interpretive listening by posting a video and having them respond to a question in the video, or have them respond to a prompt and then respond to each other’s answers. An important consideration during this is to know which tools you have and what mode of communication they are best suited for.