Teaching Online

As a result of Covid-19, many more of us have been making the switch to teaching ESL and Business English online. For me, this has been a steep learning curve and and has led me to re-evaluate my approach to the materials I use.

In the short term I will be retooling some of the existing content for more online-friendly use, and in the future I will be creating content designed to be used purely in an online environment.

Also check out the Teaching with Technology page for more activities which can be used when teaching online.

Please let me know in the comments if you have any feedback on material design.

Conversation Questions

I originally designed these two web-apps to run off smartphones in a physical classroom. But they also run perfectly well in a browser window. I find the random questions generator particularly helpful as a warm-up or filler exercise.

Check out the other web-apps in the EdTech section, as most of them can be used in an online teaching environment.

Scrambled Sentences

I like using these as a warmer. Think of a couple of questions and scramble them. After the learner’s have unscrambled them, they can ask each other the questions. Obviously, they are also great for practising word order for example in conditional sentences, adjective order, etc.

Story Cards

These are random picture prompts which students can use as a basis for creating short stories and anecdotes.

Vocabulary Scatter Sheets

I have found this seemingly basic vocabulary review / testing exercise to work quite well online.

Students take it in turns to describe one of the words on the screen and the other students must guess the right word. Highlight or delete the completed words until all the words are gone. Obviously the challenge gets harder as the activity continues. If a student doesn’t know any of the words they can look it up or pass.

If you are using the docx files you can simply highlight or delete the correct word and adjust the wordsheet to add or remove suitable vocabulary items. If you would rather use the PDF you can use a browser extentsion which allows you to draw on the screen. I use a chrome extension called Write on Web.

I’ll be adding more sheets soon.

Spelling Test

Spelling tests are a fun activity in an online evironment. Especially if you have a shared chat-area. Prepare a list of five to ten tricky words (possibly thematically related). Students can type the words into the chat area and debate the correct spelling while you give feedback and helpful hints.


Dictation activities work well in an online evironment. For some interesting twists on dictation exercises see ten dictation activities.

Punctuation Test

Give the names of commonly used punctuation symbols and challenge the students to enter the correct symbol in the chatbox. Students can also take it in turns to challenge their classmates by typing in a symbol and asking for its name.

Grammar and Vocabulary Photosets

These photo slideshows can be used to illustrate and test specific vocabulary or grammar points.


Alibi is really fun activity for practising past tense use. Students conspire to get their stories straight and then interrogate other pairs to spot the holes in their alibis. This works quite well if your learning platform features breakout rooms.

Guess the Sound

Try these guess the sound quizzes with your online classes. If you have problems sharing the audio you can send a link to the slideshow and have students do the quiz at their own pace, or even for homework.

Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt can be a fun activity for housebound students. Give them a list of things which they have to find and then meet up after a set time to see what they have managed to turn up. See this page for examples.

Random Idioms and Sayings

A deck of random English idioms and sayings. Display them randomly and see if your students can guess or work out the meaning of the idiom, and if they know any similar idioms in their own language. Works well as a warmer / filler.

Show and Tell

You can set this task up in advance so students are already prepared with their object or spontaneously send them off for five minutes to collect the required memento.

Using Online Resources


Random Street View is a fun activity using using Google Maps. You are transported to a random place on the globe. Have students navigate you around the surroundings and finally make a guess as to where they think the location is.

See also Geoguessr for a more in depth interface and gameplay.

Sporcle Quizzes

Sporcle is the home of many online interactive quizzes. There’s a mountain of them available but some of them are very suitable for online ESL classes. They’re great as a warm up or finale. Here’s a couple I’ve used recently – Guess the top 100 English words, UK / US English.


Semantris is actually two clever and addictive word association games using Google’s AI. Students must suggest words connected to a target word in order to connect blocks or remove the target word from an ever growing stack.


Hangman is a fun way to review the alphabet or resurface the odd bit of vocabulary. This handy hangman webpage allows you to input your own vocabulary to create a fun, five minute filler.

Wheel Randomizer

This is a handy tool for picking random students, topics, categories, etc.


Quizlet is a user-friendly, flashcard-based, quiz maker which you can use for reviewing vocabulary. Simply enter the target word and Quizlet generates pictures and translations which you can use for a variety of activities.

Picture Reveal Quiz

This picture reveal quiz is a great warmer or can be used as a round when playing Jeopardy. Upload a picture to the puzzle generator, then students / teams take it in turns to choose a number to reveal part of the image and take a guess as to what the hidden picture is.

Mind Maps

There are lots of tools for creating online Mind Maps. I like to use Mind Meister because it has a relatively simple interface which is more than enough for creating word maps. The free version only allows you to create three maps, but that works fine for me as I don’t need to store them. Instead, I take a screenshot at the end to share with the students.

Mad Libs

This is a humorous activitiy which I sometimes do at the end of a class if there is a bit of time left over. The idea of Mad Libs is that someone holds a text with some words removed. This person asks other members of the class to offer random words to complete the text. The rest of the class has no idea as to what the text is about. Finally, the text is read out in full and it’s usually quite amusing.

Mad Takes is a nice, user friendly interface to hundreds of gapped texts which you can use. Just send a link to one of your students and let them run the activity themselves. Here are a few which I have already used successfully.

Online Crosswords

Crosswords can be useful for recapping language. For example, I like to use them for testing recall of different verb forms. Crossword Labs has a great tool for easily creating online crosswords. Once complete students can complete them as a collaborative task with one person in charge of entering answers or you can assign them as homework tasks.

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