5 tools for teaching online

Independent tutor and digital learning pioneer Lana Friesen explains how she is using the best programs and apps to help her students meet their learning objectives.

With such a new industry, online teachers are developing tools and combining programs and apps to facilitate the learning experience of students. In doing so, teachers are pre-empting apps yet to be created to meet the demands of this growing industry. Including all components of communication can be tricky in classrooms, especially online ones. This medley of tools demonstrates how, with a degree of ingenuity, teachers can plan a full-spectrum curriculum for their students, regardless of the setting. We are, in a sense, the MacGyvers of online teaching. We are pioneers and must embrace this reality with open arms and open minds.


Diigo is a tool that allows educators to smoothly incorporate online material into their curriculum and allows students to add content they find interesting to their group. After simple registration and a quick tool installation, students and teachers can highlight and make notes about an article together. The students have access to all of the notes added to the article and can add their own at any time. In class, the student and I look at graphs and diagrams in an article and I ask the student to explain the graphs. I record their answers in a ‘sticky note’ so they can see what they said. After noting some corrections, we read the article together, making note of how the author has explained the graphs and diagrams; what words and phrases were used and if they conveyed their message effectively.

RSA Animate

RSA Animate gives students the opportunity to listen to a variety of accents, rather than relying on a familiarity with their teacher’s accent. These videos use a whiteboard to animate popular TED talks with diagrams, drawings, and text. The tool provides excellent context for listening exercises on complex topics with visual support. The student(s) and teacher can watch the video together and answer questions prepared before class. My comprehension questions centre on checking understanding fact versus opinion and we discuss how to talk about each.


Watch2Gether allows two people to remotely control the same YouTube video through their interactive website. With the teacher and student meeting each other in the ‘Listening Room’, they can both access the pause and play controls and go back or jump ahead to a specific spot in the video. This is a great tool to pair with the RSA Animate videos and any others, such as simple clips from TV Shows, movies, interviews, etc.

Keynote and PowerPoint

Using Keynote/Microsoft Office’s PowerPoint can be a great tool, especially for teaching basic phrases and grammar. Preparing a presentation in advance and sharing your screen with your student on Skype creates an at-home version of an Interactive Learning System. The teacher can take notes for each student on the presentation itself, tailoring the file uniquely for them. As an example, I have used this with students to brainstorm words that mean or imply a causal link between two variables. By writing down everything a student can initially think of, then listening to a clip or watching a video in which causal claims are made, the student then realises how many more words or phrases they know that imply causation, and these words can then be added to the PPT. Now equipped with this collection of words and phrases, students are in a better position to speculate about the causes of an issue or problem and signal cause and effect relationships in structured text.


Finally, Downcast is a terrific resource for listening to podcasts together. Although this tool doesn’t offer the same share of control over each podcast that Watch2Gether offers, it has some useful ‘jump back/forward 30 second’ features. This allows me to pause while a student clarifies something, and jump back in the podcast to review.
Do you have other tools or tricks of the trade that you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments below!

This post originally appeared on english.com as Lana was looking for tools to help teachers teach different points from the recently released Global Scale of English learning objectives.

Featured image: JulyYu via Compfight cc Text added by ELTjam

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