Connecting your Online Classroom to the Real World

In this blog post, Caroline McKinnon, a teacher in the United States, describes how she connects her online classroom to the real world. Let us know how you are connecting your online classroom to the real world in the comments section below.

Last week, I took my class on a guided tour of the Harvard Campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  From there, we gathered to talk under the palm trees at the University of Southern California.  We were able to do all of this through the pages of our coursebook English in Action from National Geographic Learning.

The theme of Unit One was Education and we learned about higher education in the United States.  The book provided the vocabulary my students needed to understand the kinds of degrees available to them, we read and listened about different campus settings, and we learned how to fill out a college application.  These activities led to a lively discussion about the places that students wanted to learn in, and the different types of degrees available.  We practiced the vocabulary and read about a college in New Jersey, using the MyELT site to add extra activities to reinforce what we had just learned. 

The authenticity of the chapter allowed students to discuss their own plans.  One student really liked the sound of the University of Texas in San Antonio that was featured in a reading.  He asked me what the town was like and since I have never visited the town, I really couldn’t answer the question. thankfully our textbook provided a jumping-off point to go and discover, explore, and use the language we just learned.

First, we looked at an interactive map of San Antonio.  The students used the link on their screens and reported that the town had a lot of tourist attractions. One group took a short river walk along the famous riverside of San Antonio.  Another group visited the local restaurants and reported on the range of food available near the campus.  We all explored the town via Google Earth and discovered the college surroundings.  From there, we jumped across to which allowed us to visit the college itself.  We stepped out onto the quad and were greeted by a former Alumni, who guided us around the campus through a personal tour.   We had an interactive map and could learn about the different types of degrees offered at the college.  Again, this allowed the students to use the vocabulary they learned and to compare it to the reading about a college in New Jersey.  My students were so immersed in the experience that they forgot they were practicing their reading, listening, and vocabulary skills. The focus was on the information. 

From there, we visited and compared the college campuses of Harvard and the University of Southern California. Linking back to the textbook, we looked at the sample college application and the students filled in their own applications and prepared for the communicative “interviews” we will hold in class tomorrow. 

My other class has more immediate needs.  Their focus is on raising their families, holding down their jobs, and fitting in learning English when they can.  They want to find jobs that will give them more security or financial stability.  Luckily for them, our textbook has a unit that focuses on jobs. We studied job titles and learned about different types of job skills. The vocabulary taught allowed my students to describe job functions, working hours, and pay. It was time to take this knowledge and apply it to the real world and to find jobs. We went to Craigslist and, using the vocabulary we had just learned, we launched a search for jobs. In pairs, the students summarized the positions they liked the best and listed the skills needed to succeed in that role. 

Working together, we looked at templates for resumes online using user-friendly templates on Canvas.  For homework, my students used their textbook vocabulary and extra resources from MyELT to make their own resumes.  We held interviews online: first, we practiced with the camera on and then with the camera off.  It is important to practice speaking over the phone as many students find this a difficult task.

For the final activity, I polled the class to see who was actively looking for work and then paired the students up accordingly.  They launched a job search and then worked together to submit applications.  I am really pleased to report that a major retailer in New York City now has two new employees from my class! So as you can see, we applied our newly learned English to the real world and used the online resources to launch into authentic and engaging tasks.  Each unit from our coursebook can be used as a launchpad to a wide range of activities that will make your online class feel connected to the real world. 

Author: Caroline McKinnon

Caroline has traveled the world teaching and teacher training. Her work focuses on helping students who have no traditional access to education. Caroline founded a nonprofit to provide quality education to immigrants and refugees free of charge. She is currently integrating teacher training practices into her nonprofit work, as well as pushing for policies to protect education. She has over twenty years of Education & Management experience.

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