7 ways to upgrade your live lessons

In 2019, we might have been nostalgic for the days of taping a song off the radio, or fighting with other members of our household to get off the phone so we could get on the internet. But it's 2021 and the rules have changed. Instead, what teacher hasn't remembered with a wistful smile the last time they told a student to take their coat off in the corridor? Remember how you'd ask them to take out their whiteboards, and six hands would immediately go up saying "I've forgotten mine", and you'd give an angry speech about how it's essential equipment and you don't have enough spares and why did they even take it out of their bag in the first place? Happy days.

It's not just the lack of frustrating daily encounters such as these that make live learning a challenging and unwanted alternative to in-person lessons. Moving online robs teachers of the plethora of tools deployed daily in the classroom: from annotating a text under a visualiser to sketching a solution on a whiteboard; from checking understanding with mini whiteboards to glancing over students' shoulders while they're working. With the ever-changing educational landscape occupying most schools' energies, you may not have had time to uncover the range of the online solutions - some new, some not - that already exist to plug these gaps. Allow us, then, to share 7 quick and easy ways to upgrade your live lessons (and don't worry, none of them are Kahoot).

  1. For annotating PDFs and other documents, download Kami: this free Chrome extension lets both teachers and students draw on, edit and transform documents. It integrates fully with Google Classroom, Canvas, and Schoology, and is ideal for modelling worked solutions or annotating texts.

  2. For instant, self-marked quizzes, use Microsoft Forms: included as part of Teams, this application will let you create multiple choice or short-answer quizzes which students can take at any point during a live lesson. The results appear instantly, making it ideal as a starter activity to check understanding before moving onto a new topic.

  3. For creating explanatory videos, try Explain Everything: this is a game changer for anyone seeking to record material in advance. You can drop in text, video and images, or create your own resource from scratch by drawing freehand using a stylus pen. When you want to introduce something new, simply add an extra slide. Explain Everything also lets you talk over what you're doing, making it more personal and interactive than simply posting a YouTube video. It's incredibly easy to use, and when you're finished simply click 'Share' and get a link which can be sent to your classes.

  4. For screen recording videos or talking over Powerpoints, you need Loom: another great option if you're pre-recording lessons, Loom lets you record everything taking place on your screen with your accompanying voiceover. This makes it a better option if your Powerpoint is ready to go, but just needs your explanation adding over the top.

  5. For a virtual, collaborative whiteboard, try Jamboard: in this tool, you can add multiple different mini whiteboards, resembling slides, and then add to it with images, text boxes or post-its, all of which are easy to move around. You can also invite other contributors to add their own annotations or ideas, making it particularly suitable for A Level teachers with smaller groups. Jamboard integrates with Google classroom, but if you're using Teams you may need to share your screen instead.

  6. For a temporary, real-life whiteboard, treat yourself to instant whiteboard sheets like these from Amazon: these sheets can be stuck up on the wall behind you and then drawn over using whiteboard pens - and they won't leave a mark when you take them down. Perfect if you just miss black ink stains on your fingertips!

  7. For live, interactive experiments, check out Phet Interactive Simulations - perfect for scientists, you can explore everything from the effect of friction and gravity on a skateboarder to the role of mutations in natural selection amongst a computerised rabbit population. Our partners La Salle Complete Maths have versions you can use in Maths lessons too - all you need to do is sign up on their website.

No technology can replace the buzz of being in the classroom, but in the interim some of these strategies might re-invigorate your live lessons, And if you're really missing school, recreate break duty by standing outside your front door in the rain telling passers-by to stop mucking about.

Have we missed any essential tools for teaching great live lessons? Let us know in the comments!

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