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Learners in communicative classrooms are expected to actively use the language for a considerable part of their English lessons. This can be very challenging for lower level learners, who may still be struggling with confidence and going through a silent period. This article explores how to tackle this difficulty in remote lessons with an emphasis on practical ways to provide support. Read on!

Low level learners are certainly not a homogenous population. The challenges will vary considerably according to age and context. Online classes can be intimidating as learners don’t know each other face-to-face.  Teenagers in particular, who are at a life stage characterised by being worried about their self-image (Esperanca, 2018), can find cameras both off-putting and distracting. On the other hand, children might need tech support as well as closer monitoring and supervision. Adult learners bring on their own set of challenges including lack of confidence and, in some cases, a greater need to develop tech skills. The strategies discussed in this article consider these factors.

While we should certainly encourage learners to productively use the language as much as possible for acquisition to take place, it is important to consider that some learners may go through a silent period before they dare use the language for production (Lightbown and Spada, 1999). Considering this, it is advisable to include recognition tasks in which learners can express something about themselves without having to produce language such as reacting with their bodies or through emojis to prompts that involve personal information. Total Physical Response activities, repetitive tasks and the use of routine ones that are highly predictable with generative set phrases are also a way to pave the way to their production. Simple games are ideal for this (e.g. Simon says, Hangman, Stop, etc.) as they are usually repetitive and formulaic, which is perfect for low levels.

Some beginner learners may lack the confidence to dare speak English, might feel nervous or embarrassed about what they will sound like. One way to support this kind of learners is to provide sufficient planning, modelling and wait time to process the task and prepare what they are going to say. Some teachers find it more challenging to bear the silence in the remote class as it can be puzzling if cameras are off to find out what’s happening with students. Nevertheless, wait time is important, especially with lower level learners, As Anna Blackmore points out in this article about motivating low level learners to speak

Similarly, inviting learners to check their answers and practise a task before they are invited to perform in open class can help overcome anxiety and build confidence. However, it is important to teach students how to make effective use of breakout rooms. One concern teachers report is low level students quickly turn to their mother tongue when working in groups. Certainly, these learners need sufficient scaffolding and support to be able to conduct tasks in English. We recommend teachers establish expected behaviour, provide language models, monitor and give support and feedback.

Educational drama techniques are also useful to build students’ confidence as they involve their whole selves, body and mind. Including realia and different objects as part of these can be motivating and engaging. Check out a number of activities for the remote lesson that make use of these techniques here

It is also crucial to include opportunities for bonding. It can be harder to build rapport and get to know classmates online, so planning to create the conditions for this to happen so the affective filter will be lower and acquisition easier is key (Krashen, 1982). A way to do this is to include a plethora of check in activities i.e. activities in which learners get to express something about themselves or about how they are feeling through a simple prompt. Find examples of simple check in activities here. Making time for small talk and bonding tasks such as collaborative project work will also help. An additional effective strategy is to deal with ‘hot topics’ i.e. topics that are likely to be of great interest for students and prompt them to contribute their ideas about it, creating the need to speak. When learners are able to express their preferences or other aspects about themselves, lessons are more memorable. One more way to do this is to take advantage of the remote scenario: are you and/or your learners in different cities? This makes a great opportunity for meaningful routine interactions that are real communication: weather, traffic, etc

Another important aspect is to be mindful of your teacher talk. It is expected that it will be higher than with advanced level learners, but there are a number of techniques that can be followed to reduce it such as giving delayed feedback: if your focus is on students developing fluency or getting them to dare to start speaking, do not interrupt for corrections all the time, but make notes and give them delayed feedback instead. Check out some other strategies here.

Practical ideas

The following articles are full of practical ideas that can easily be implemented in remote classes with the use of breakout rooms, digital pictures, flashcards sites (such as Quizlet), collaborative text processors, videoconference whiteboards:

  • This article focuses on the remote classroom and provides practical suggestions on things to consider when setting up speaking activities, as well as ready to implement ideas. 
  • This article by Anna Blackmore, which was mentioned above, lists a number of low prep activities that require the use of simple language, are repetitive, and give students preparation time, which makes them ideal for low level learners. Examples include definition lists, information gaps, ludic activities to guess questions, among others. 
  • This set of collaborative activities for low level learners are ideal to get students to bond while they practise the language in simple, fun ways. 
  • These classic speaking activities with plenty of rehearsal and repetition will also work well in low level settings. 

Have you got any other ideas that have worked well in your lessons? Share them in our social media!


Blackmore, A. Motivating speaking activities for lower levels. Accessed on March 10, 2023 from https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/teaching-resources/teaching-secondary/activities/pre-intermediate-a2/motivating-speaking-activities.

Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Pergamon Press Inc. 

Lightbown, P.  and Spada, N. (1999). How languages are learned. Oxford University Press. 

Esperanca, L. (2018). What I need to know about teaching English to adolescents. Accessed on March 10, 2023 from https://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2018/02/22/what-i-need-to-know-about-teaching-english-to-adolescents/