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Interactive Learning: Methods & Tools to Improve Collaboration

It’s a Tuesday morning.

You have a PowerPoint that you put a ton of work into, and you’re teaching your favorite class, but when you look out into the sea of students, or at the tutee on your screen…

People look bored.

Too often even the most dynamic, interesting classes turn into this kind of scene, but it doesn’t need to be this way.

Interactive learning can help you create a class structure that’s more engaging and fun, so your students show up actually wanting to learn.

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What is Interactive Learning?

Interactive learning is a hands-on, immersive method of teaching and learning where students take an active role in their education.

It’s a departure from the normal classroom structure where teachers lecture and students take notes, which can also be thought of as passive learning.

Interactive learning can encompass traditional classroom tools like role-playing activities and group projects as well as online modalities that encourage self-directed learning.

The most important aspect of interactive learning is that it encourages critical thinking and a spirit of discovery in students.

Strategies and Methods for Interactive Teaching

If you’ve spent much time teaching in the classroom or online, you’re probably already starting to get a sense for what kind of strategies and activities interactive learning might encompass…

And you may even use some of these in your classroom already!

Either way, you can implement this list of activities and tools in your interactive classroom or use it as a jumping off point to come up with your own strategies for creating a more dynamic, responsive classroom environment.

Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is a wonderful tool because it’s endlessly adaptable for different class sizes and age groups, and it’s applicable for pretty much any kind of content.

You can use this technique when introducing a new concept to get students’ wheels turning or once you’ve taught it to help them recap and summarize what they’ve learned.

Concept mapping entails drawing a circle on your physical or virtual whiteboard and writing the main concept you’re discussing inside it. Then, you can create lines to other bubbles that talk about related ideas or subconcepts. 

Click here for an easy-to-use concept mapping tool for your digital classroom.

Eventually, you’ll have a branching diagram encompassing a number of interrelated ideas. This encourages students to think more deeply about the topic at hand, deepen their association and synthesization skills, and participate more fully in class.

Short Story Writing

This easy-to-implement exercise will challenge your students’ powers of imagination as well as their English language capabilities. 

Once you’ve introduced some new vocabulary or grammar concepts, have your students take 15-20 minutes to write a short story encompassing the new concepts they’ve learned. 

You can give them a prompt to help them, like write a scary story or write about a real event that happened to you, or you can leave it more open-ended and have your students decide for themselves what to write about.

Once your students have finished writing, you can ask them to read their stories aloud to the class. For more advanced students, you can have pairs or groups pass their stories between themselves. Each student will edit another’s story and provide feedback on it.

Q&A Sessions

For this exercise, all you need are some index cards or an online tool like Slido, which allows students to post questions anonymously and then upvote the questions they like.

After you’ve introduced a new concept, have each student come up with 3-5 questions and write them down on their notecard or enter them online.

Then, read some of the questions out loud and answer them.

The anonymity of this exercise may help quieter students feel more confident and encourage people to ask questions they would be embarrassed to ask otherwise. It also forces students to think critically about the ideas being presented.

Peer Teaching

For this exercise, place students in pairs and have one act as the student and one as the teacher. The teacher will explain a grammar concept or other theme or idea to the student while the student takes notes.

The student may ask the teacher questions, and once the lesson is over the student can point out information the teacher may have missed and evaluate the teacher’s teaching.

If you’re tutoring online or in person, you can simply have your student act as the teacher and you will act as the student.

This method is great because explaining a concept to someone else requires a deep understanding of it, and students will work through their working knowledge of the concept more as they prepare to teach.

Interactive Whiteboard

Whether your school provides you with a Smartboard or you use a virtual interactive whiteboard like Ziteboard, you can use this tool to make your classes more collaborative and fun.

Interactive whiteboards have a number of applications, like letting multiple people write on the board and annotate content. They also let you easily download and share what’s been written on the board. 

There are tons of ways to use interactive whiteboards in person and virtually, from games to brainstorming to doodling to group problem-solving, that allow your students to participate more in the classroom experience.

Benefits of Interactive Teaching and Learning

Interactive learning has been proven to increase student performance and help students develop more autonomy. It also improves students’ retention of material and promotes self-directed learning. 

Beyond that, it provides students with a number of other benefits, such as the following…

Improved Classroom Collaboration

Interactive learning promotes classroom collaboration because it makes students active players in the class. They learn the skills to take control of their own learning process and work well with others.

These skills will serve your students well both in the classroom and beyond.

Click here for further fun ESL speaking activities that improve collaboration among your students.

Sharper Critical Thinking Skills

Interactive learning encourages students to hone their critical thinking skills and information synthesis capabilities because it puts students in the position of developing their own opinions instead of simply receiving and regurgitating the teacher’s words. 

Activities that include free association, student teaching, and idea generation help students learn to synthesize information, think critically, and develop an understanding of the class material that they can articulate in their own words.

More Immersion

In an interactive classroom, your students are constantly doing activities or preparing to do something active with the information you’re learning. 

Because of this, students in interactive learning environments stay more engaged than their peers in more traditional situations. This keeps them more interested and engaged, helps them learn the information better, and also makes class more fun.

Challenges of Interactive Teaching and Learning

Although interactive classrooms overwhelmingly benefit students and teachers alike by creating a more cohesive, collaborative environment that empowers students, there are some challenges that come with this learning model.

Here are some of the challenges that come with transition:

Technical Difficulties

A number of interactive teaching techniques utilize technologies like interactive whiteboards, social media backchannels, and other virtual solutions. 

While these solutions can be vastly helpful in increasing the possibilities for students in the classroom, they may have a steep learning curve if you’re new to this type of technology.

However, technical difficulties don’t need to be an impediment to your interactive classroom. Many virtual tools have video tutorials, virtual assistants, and other aids that can help you overcome bumps in the road.

Or you can go a lower tech route and still create a perfectly successful interactive learning model in your classroom!

Increased Workload

When you first make the switch to an interactive classroom, you may find yourself with an increased workload as you figure out which methods make most sense to implement in the classroom and how to best use them to the advantage of your students.

Designing a new syllabus and curriculum, getting acquainted with new technologies, and getting students accustomed to interactive learning while keeping up the pace of their current education all take time.

However, you can alleviate the stress of transitioning to interactive learning by gradually introducing new learning strategies instead of attempting to overhaul your classroom all in one day.

Resistance to Change

Some students may not want to switch over to an interactive learning model and may mock or resist new techniques or technologies rather than embracing them.

This can be compounded when they are expected to participate more in interactive learning methods and students are used to being more passive classroom participants.

You can help students adjust to an interactive learning model by giving them agency in choosing the activities they do and making the activities more fun. Introducing new technologies may also excite students and make them more enthusiastic about proposed classroom changes.

Interactive Teaching Aids, Apps, and Tools

There are a number of online resources and apps that can help you incorporate interactive learning into your classroom and expand the possibilities for your classroom. A tablet helps you to use many apps and still be mobile.

You can find a few great resources below, but these are just a small sampling of the range of interactive learning tools available online.

Dotstorming

This innovative application combines the functionality of interactive whiteboards with a number of other useful capabilities.

It has a collage function that allows students to draw individually or collaboratively as well as voting polls that can expedite class decisions and give students a greater voice.

Pixton

This neat tool allows students to create collaborative comics!

This is a great way for students to integrate the new vocabulary and grammar they’ve learned in class and practice their English skills while having fun.

They’ll love creating funny, kooky comics with their friends – and best of all, they’ll be learning while they’re at it.

Nearpod

This innovative teaching tool lets you import existing content like YouTube videos, presentations, and more and make your whole lesson interactive.

You can add quizzes, polls, virtual reality simulations, and other fun interactive pieces into your lessons seamlessly, giving your students more opportunity to engage with the lesson – and yourself more opportunity to check in on your students’ progress.

Socrative

This classroom app has a number of functionalities. It lets you ask students quick questions for instant feedback, create quick quizzes and exit tickets, split students into virtual rooms, and more.

You can use this app as a resource for virtual learning or as a backchannel in a physical classroom.

Synth

This tool is particularly good for ESL learning environments because it allows teachers and students to send voice messages.

You can send voice messages to students that they need to listen to in order to practice listening comprehension, and they can send messages to you to work on their pronunciation and speaking skills.

You can incorporate this as homework or in a number of other ways to supplement students’ learning.

And More…

Interactive learning may look different to every teacher – and every student. Especially, when you are teaching in front of multicultural students. Then you might have to adapt some strategies to teach culturally responsive.

Use these tools in your ESL class to create more opportunities for students to learn, practice, and engage.

And don’t sweat the small stuff too much. As long as students are active participants in class, they’re getting what they need to out of it. 

You don’t need to use 100 different apps and strategies to create a successful interactive classroom. 

Just find the techniques you love and run with them – your students will thank you for it.

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