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9 Dec 2020

Can Online Extra-Curricular Activities be Engaging?

With Hong Kong schools back online, Chatteris’ own Anneliese Murray tells us about how our tutors have been extending the English learning opportunities available to their students.

Under normal, non-coronavirus circumstances, the English Language Environment Enrichment Programme (ELEEP) is a large part of a Chatteris Tutor’s daily workload. ELEEP consists of English-based activities outside of the classroom – from organised events and activities to mingling and chatting. One of the best ways for students to truly engage with and enjoy English is in the more informal manner that ELEEP allows for. Students are able to truly get to know their teachers and practise English in a relaxed and low-pressure environment.

Sadly, many of our tutors have found that ELEEP has had to be paused during the pandemic. This term has been a mixture of half days and fully virtual school in accordance with government guidelines, so extra-curricular activities have taken a hit. However, at my school, Carmel Bunnan Tong Memorial Secondary School (CBT), ELEEP has been allowed to continue, with one key, COVID-19 friendly difference. ELEEP has gone online.

Extra-curricular activities give students opportunities to practise speaking English in a relaxed, fun environment, even during the distance learning period | Image by Anneliese Murray
Extra-curricular activities give students opportunities to practise speaking English in a relaxed, fun environment, even during the distance learning period | Image by Anneliese Murray

I had some doubts about extra-curricular activities conducted online. Online teaching has not always been a walk in the park, and incentivising students to join our activities in the first place was a challenge in itself. Our team decided that we wanted to carry out an ‘English Tuesday’ after school activity, as well as monthly Zoom training sessions for the English Ambassador Team. All in all, after a month of online ELEEP, I have a breadth of experiences to share.

The key takeaway from my month of online ‘ELEEPing’? It can definitely be successful! It has been a work in process, but from the first week’s disastrous technical difficulties to the latest successful, large turn-out activity of 50+ students, we have come a long way.

The first stage of a successful online activity is definitely in the planning. It is extra important with an online activity to be familiar with your audience and choose something they will engage with, which is why getting to know your students is so important. Then, targeting the students at school with promotional materials proved to be crucial for the turn-out. Finally, the activity itself needs to be light-hearted and fun, with a mixture of education and activities to ensure the students learn something new whilst enjoying themselves.

When it comes to the execution of an online activity, there are some other points to consider. Where possible, I think co-teaching works the best for a large-scale online class. Not only does it keep the students more engaged, but also accounts for technical difficulties. Unless misfortune strikes twice and both teachers are out of action, either teacher can take over from the other if there are any technological mishaps. I have utilised this on more than one occasion! Also, the Zoom chat box is invaluable for extracurricular activities. Often students are from different classes, or even year groups, which can be rather daunting for them. Using the chat box keeps students involved and interacting with one another, but without the intimidation of using their microphone amongst less familiar peers. 

Chatteris Tutor Anneliese leads a virtual English activity from her classroom | Image by Anneliese Murray
Chatteris Tutor Anneliese leads a virtual English activity from her classroom | Image by Anneliese Murray

I am not alone in my experiences: Chatteris tutors Aarohi Narain and Hayley Clarke shared their online ELEEP experiences at Christian Alliance SW Chan Memorial College (CASWCMC) with me. Aarohi acknowledges the challenges involved with online ELEEP, when a student’s reaction to an activity cannot be gauged as easily as it might in person. She suggests that flexibility is the best policy here: “we have to get quite creative in terms of the kinds of activities we plan, and be open to the possibility that something we thought would work great might end up falling flat.”

Building on the idea that activities may not always work as planned, Hayley’s most crucial piece of advice is to see what kind of premade resources are already out there on the internet. “We have found all sorts of pre-made activities as well as some customisable templates. This makes it super easy to have a few options to switch between if something is failing.” It seems that adaptability is crucial to the online ELEEP experience, a sentiment I certainly share.

A month or so of online ELEEPing has provided many different lessons. As online teaching evolves, educators are constantly finding new ways to try and keep it as engaging as the real thing. Whilst we might not match face to face activities entirely, in answer to my own question, online ELEEP can certainly be engaging; the standards we measure it by have just shifted.

Eager to support students’ learning outside of the classroom like Anneliese? Apply now to be a Chatteris Tutor.

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