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What Is Blended Learning in ESL and How Can I Implement It in the Online Class?

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Whether you’re teaching English online with an established tutoring company or working as a freelance online teacher, it’s important to have an understanding of blended learning in ESL, which is also called hybrid learning, since it’s a format now used more commonly than ever in the virtual classroom.

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

What is blended learning in the online ESL class?

Blended, or hybrid, learning is a type of instructional environment for online students that combines what is called “synchronous” and “asynchronous” learning. What do these terms mean? 

Synchronous learning

Synchronous learning means that students and teachers meet at the same time online via a virtual learning platform (which is often called teaching in “real-time”). They may not need to complete any classwork outside of the scheduled meeting time.

For example, if you took an hour-long, live Spanish class in which you used video to learn and practice the language with your tutor, you would be in a synchronous learning setting. 

Asynchronous learning

Asynchronous learning means that online students do not meet at a specific time with the teacher; they work offline and complete assignments within a deadline set by the teacher. Work is submitted electronically.

If you’ve taken a Bridge online TEFL/TESOL course, you’re familiar with the asynchronous learning environment. In these online courses, trainees don’t meet with their tutor at certain times but rather worked independently on assignments at their own pace. Tutors provide feedback, but not face-to-face in real-time.  

As you might imagine, there are benefits to each of these methods for both teachers and students. For that reason, a blend of the two is common.

Learn more about these terms and other concepts unique to the virtual classroom in the Bridge Specialized Certificate courses in teaching English online.

What are the benefits of using a blended learning approach in the online ESL classroom? 

There are many benefits to taking a blended approach in your online ESL classes that combines synchronous with asynchronous learning. The biggest one is that it allows you to include all the positive aspects of both synchronous and asynchronous learning and that it lets you skip most of the negative traits. Hybrid teaching ESL also helps you optimize the face-to-face time you have with your students. Let’s take a look at the advantages of a blended online English class format.

Blended learning allows students to practice all four language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. 

One big challenge of teaching English online is that although students can practice speaking and listening, it’s more difficult to provide them with reading and writing practice. However, the blended approach allows your students to practice all four skills. If your students are paying for face time with a teacher, it’s usually best to allow them to practice speaking and listening synchronously with you and then set reading and writing as asynchronous tasks. 

It allows your students to come to terms with difficult concepts.

Most online classes last between 20 minutes to an hour. This is often not long enough for students to fully understand everything they’re expected to learn. By using asynchronous elements, however, in which students have time to practice new concepts outside of the scheduled class time, you free up more time for the synchronous, face-to-face practice of those concepts. This system makes everything more efficient.

Blended learning in ESL gives your students a chance to take responsibility for their learning.

Becoming self-motivated, autonomous learners is a good habit for all students to get into. By giving students asynchronous tasks to complete outside of regular class time, allows the student to take control of a portion of their learning.

It also promotes student interaction and community building.

When teaching students online, there can sometimes be a lack of interaction between the students, or in the case of teaching one-on-one, a student may have no interaction at all with other students!

A good way to develop some interaction among your students is to set fun asynchronous activities that encourage collaboration (see some examples below). Your students may never have met, but this doesn’t mean they can’t feel like they are part of a learning community.

  • Pro Tip: If you’re a freelance online teacher, you’ll have no problem implementing this. But if you work for an online English tutoring company, first double-check their policy on communication with students outside of class. Many of the established schools have rules against this. Often, you can still set asynchronous tasks, but they must be done via the school’s LMS (Learning Management System).

How can I incorporate hybrid learning in the online ESL classroom?

There are so many ways to play with synchronous and asynchronous learning and blend them in your ESL classes. Depending on whether you’re teaching children or adults, the activities you should prepare differ according to your students’ age and level. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Blended learning activities for young learners

1) Unboxing videos 

This activity follows the recent YouTube (or other video streaming platform) trend of people filming themselves unboxing their latest toys and describing them. Most children have watched these kinds of videos before and will be familiar with how they work.

Your students can put their favorite toy or a household object in a box and then record themselves taking it out as if it were new, describing what it is, what they think of it, or how it makes them feel. Students can watch their peers’ videos and comment on them or discuss them in class.

  • Pro Tip: This is a great task to use when talking about emotions and feelings.

2) Product reviews

A good way to engage your students in writing tasks online is to get them to write product reviews of their favorite movies or toys. They can do this anonymously and then you can find their review and respond back or discuss it in real-time. Children get a real buzz if people respond and say their review was useful. This is a good way of giving some real-life positive reinforcement.

3) Children’s book introduction

Children love books and bedtime stories, and chances are that your students have plenty of books at home to choose from. You can ask your students to prepare a video of themselves introducing their favorite book, and share it on the learning platform you’re using.

The other students can watch their peers’ videos and during face-to-face time, they can discuss their favorites, or you can even put up a vote for the most popular book.

4) Karaoke party

Depending on your students’ personalities, you can initiate a karaoke party for a change! This can be especially rewarding and fun on a seasonal occasion, such as before Christmas or New Year’s. Or you can make it a tradition for each of your student’s birthdays.

Have each student learn a children’s song or a pop song, or any song they want to sing, really (as long as it doesn’t include offensive language or other taboos), and have them practice it on their own time. When it comes to the special lesson and everyone gets together, each student gets to perform!

Some students might be too shy to participate in a lesson that involves singing, but if you are blessed with a lively and outgoing group, this activity is definitely worth a try!

5) “Cooking class” project 

Kids love cooking, baking, and eating. Talking about food is usually a safe bet to get your students speaking. This activity stretches over at least two lessons, so if you have a regular student or group of students, this is a good project to try.

As an asynchronous preparation task, have your students make a list of all the ingredients they have in the fridge and read them to you during the synchronous lesson. If it’s a one-on-one class, you can then together with your student come up with ideas and recipes what to cook with those ingredients (it could get really funny and partly gross, but your student will love you for playing along when they want to make a whipped cream and capsicum smoothie, or a cucumber-chocolate pudding).

If it’s a group lesson, you can let your students interact and collaborate by virtually exchanging ingredients, asking “May I have… ?”, or “Can you give me… ?” for example.

As asynchronous homework, have your students write down their new ingredients list and a recipe idea with the name of the dish and the cooking method, using active verbs such as mix, pour, add, stir, bake, etc. In the following synchronous class, each student gets to present his or her recipe idea and everyone can vote which is the yummiest, funniest, most unique, and so on, dish.

For even more game ideas for kids, enroll in our Bridge Micro-credential course: Games and Activities for the Online Classroom: Young Learners.

Blended learning activities for adult learners

1) Discussion boards/forums

Discussion boards are an excellent way to get students who have never met each other to interact. Discussion boards give your students a way to see their peers’ thought processes and share ideas. You can implement discussion boards in a number of ways.

If you work for an online school, the Learning Management System (LMS) they use will likely have a discussion board feature, which makes everything very easy.  

If you’re a freelance teacher, you can set up a Facebook page or another community board and invite all the students who are studying a similar course and working at a similar level to join it and post on the Facebook page as your discussion board. 

Should you work with an online tutoring company or become an independent freelance teacher? Find out. 

Here are some example ideas for discussion board tasks.

Posting a personal experience to the discussion board that involves a new grammar point
  • For example, if you’re teaching the difference between past continuous and past simple, ask them to draw a timeline of something that happened to them during the weekend that involves a long action and a short action.
  • They can post a photo of their timeline on the discussion board.
  • Other students must reply to them by writing out the sentence the timeline represents in words.
  • Pro Tip: This works very well with lower levels. 
Crowd-source information via the discussion board
  • Ask your students to post songs, movies, YouTube clips, books, or articles that relate to the lesson content.
  • Then ask students to watch, read, or listen to one of the suggestions their peers made.
  • Students can then post responses or reviews of the suggestions.
  • You can then use this as a discussion topic in your next synchronous class.
Have question and answer sessions on the discussion board
  • Encourage students to ask questions on a discussion board about parts of the lesson they didn’t understand.
  • Other students can then explain the concept to them.
  • Students helping other students through collaborative learning is a powerful classroom technique and using a discussion board is a great way to bring this technique online.
  • Pro Tip: This works well for higher levels and mixed levels.

Make sure that you monitor your discussion boards and be active in them yourself. Give positive feedback, pitch in with your own ideas and prompts, and make any corrections if the students pass on incorrect information.

2) Use a program like Book Creator to have students create their own mini-books and share them with their peers.

This is an awesome tool to use for asynchronous elements. Book Creator allows students to “create, read, and publish” their own interactive books and then share them with other students. It’s the perfect way to enable your students to practice reading and writing online.

Students can combine text, images, audio, and video to create interactive stories, digital portfolios, journals, poetry books, science reports, manuals, comic adventures, and much more. Afterward, students can publish their books and show their masterpieces. Once students have made their books, you can then work through them online and use them to practice speaking and listening. 

3) Create presentations with software like Explain Everything.

Explain Everything is an interactive whiteboard that incorporates all kinds of multimedia. Students can create presentations and drag and drop pictures, music, and video into them. It’s very easy to use and it integrates into social media and YouTube. 

Explain Everything allows students to co-operate on their projects, either in real-time, or students can drop in and out as they choose. This makes it ideal for asynchronous projects with multiple students. 

  • You can have students who have never met, who are from different continents, collaborate on a project in their own time.
  • You can then use these projects as discussion topics in your synchronous classes.
  • You can even use any outstanding projects as lesson materials to teach other students. It’s a great way to build your library of original content.

4) Have a book circle 

For many adults, reading is part of their daily lives, and everyone has their favorite books and authors. You can have your students choose one book they want to discuss in class and share the title and author on your learning platform. Going through the books one by one, all the students will read the current book on their own time, but by a certain deadline.

You can then use the synchronous class to discuss the book’s story, characters, writing style, or any other aspect suitable for your students’ level. 

5) Use news articles

This activity is especially suitable for working professionals since they are often well informed on current news and also more open to sharing their opinions and ideas. 

  • Ahead of the synchronous class, have your students copy and paste the link to an interesting article they read on your learning platform.
  • The class will read the posted articles on their own time.
  • You can ask them to discuss the recent news asynchronously, via the discussion board.
  • During synchronous class time, students can discuss the article.

For more creative ideas for engaging adult students, take our Bridge Micro-credential course: Games and Activities for the Online Classroom: Adults.

When using blended teaching ESL methods when teaching Engish online, your students will be more engaged and eager to participate in your dynamic and interesting classes. Students with access to hybrid learning in ESL have the opportunity to learn all the four language skills in a playful, interactive way and to use modern technologies at the same time.

If you’re already a teacher but new to teaching English online, check out the Bridge Specialized TEFL/TESOL Certificate in Teaching English Online Course!  

After backpacking Australia on a Working Holiday visa, Bridge graduate Johanna traveled to Japan for a year to teach English. She then moved to New Zealand for another two years before returning to her chosen home country, Japan, where she currently lives. Now, with more than eight years of professional English teaching experience, Johanna enjoys her expat life in Japan teaching teenagers at a private junior and senior high school, where she recently received tenure after only two years. When she’s not teaching, Johanna continues to travel regionally and explore new places.