by Pilar Capaul

As teachers, we're always looking for new strategies to help our students to develop as learners and that will motivate them to practise and improve outside the classroom. And although I'm sure there are lots of amazing tools and strategies we're going to discover and make use of in the future, the aim of this article is to make the most out of a platform we (and our students) already use: Google Classroom. Besides being a great site for sharing materials and marking assignments, Google Classroom can also be turned into a self-access centre for students to take control of their own learning, become closer as a group, and have a more active role in shaping what happens both in and out of school.

#1 Classroom identity

Classroom identity is a crucial element in fostering a positive and productive learning environment. To make students feel they have a place they belong to, we can ask them to discuss in groups their learning goals, their progress, and what motivates them to study English. Depending on the groups we're working with, the age and level of the students, these discussion prompts can act as triggers for a brainstorming session, or a simple chat among classmates. The aim is for them to listen to each other and use the information they gather to come up with a name and logo that represents them as a group. Once the allotted time is up, each group should pick a representative to share their creation.

Bring the activity to a close by allowing the students to vote for the name and logo they think represent the whole class best, and use it to name and personalise that group's Google Classroom. This activity can be recycled several times over the year by modifying the prompts according to the topics the students are focusing on. Every time they use Google Classroom, they'll be reminded of the group they belong to, what makes them who they are and what they want to achieve.

Here's an example: The “C1 Parrots” were a group of advanced students I worked with in 2022. They all wanted to take their speaking skills to the next level, so they came up with a name and logo they thought represented this goal.

#2 Free language production

Students often come to the classroom wanting to share things they've read or heard about with their classmates and teachers, but there isn't always time for everyone to have a moment to do so, especially within large groups. In order to provide learners with a space where they can use their English and be read by others, we can create a section labelled “My take on…” within the platform for them to share their views on events that have taken place recently. We can create prompts or we can ask students about the things they usually pay attention to in the news or on social media. To set it up all we have to do is head to “classwork”, click on “create” and then "question," and the platform will allow us to input a question along with any relevant instructions.

Writing in this section can be presented as an optional task that may or may not be marked by the teacher, and the students' productions can be used as warm-ups to begin lessons with a relaxed discussion whenever we find it convenient.

We can also turn this activity into an online chat through which students can interact with each other: once students have shared a paragraph or text, their classmates can add comments and have a conversation within Google Classroom. To make the most of this activity, we can write the prompts in a way that “invite” students to use structures or vocabulary items they have been working on with us.

#3 Reflecting on learning

After each class, we can ask one student to write a summary of the lesson and share it through Google Classroom. This task involves two things: the first is reconstructing the lesson to make sure students who were absent or happen to need to review something know exactly what we've worked on, how, and with what material; and the second is finishing off with a brief comment on their favourite part of the lesson or the one they found most useful.

This part is for us teachers to know what activities and strategies our students find useful and engaging. When we begin our lessons, we can ask other learners if they agree with the student who was in charge of writing the summary: Did you all think that game was fun? Do you also think it helped you to remember irregular verbs better? This can be a nice way to encourage students to help each other, think about other members of the group, and reflect on the things that help them learn. And for us teachers, this can be a good way to receive constant feedback throughout the year.

#4 Hall of Fame

We can also create a special section on Google Classroom to praise students' work and efforts throughout the year. The key is to have it ready at the beginning of the year and to let learners know that we will use it to share examples of good use of language, creativity, and insightful contributions.

Praising students' work this way will not only motivate those who have made an effort to continue working hard, but will also serve as a model of good language use and hard work for others.

#5 Self-correction

Sharing files with helpful information or checklists is another valuable strategy to encourage students to self-assess and review their work, particularly written assignments, before handing them in. These documents can be tailored to the specific needs and goals of the class, for instance, a checklist with reminders to check for spelling errors, avoid repetition of words, or adhere to specific formatting guidelines.

Equipping students with tools for self-correction, setting clear expectations, and providing them with resources is paramount in fostering the students' sense of responsibility for their learning.

#6 Learner training

We can also create a special section where all members of the class can share supplementary materials, resources they found useful, or articles and videos they found interesting. By curating a collection of videos, explanatory materials, and additional activities, this section can turn into a self-access library that students can explore at their own pace, and encourage them to take the initiative in their learning journey.

#7 Exam classes

Teachers working with exam classes can designate a special section titled “Strategies” or “Useful Tips,” for students to reflect on and share with others how they go about different exercises and activities. After completing mock exams or practice activities, students can be encouraged to assess their success and consider the efficacy of their methods. For instance, students might come to the conclusion that filling the gaps in the open cloze of the B2 First is easier after reading the text first, getting the gist, and only then thinking of the words they might need rather than just coming up with random words as they read what comes before and after the gaps. This strategy can be given a name and a place within Google Classroom.

Being aware of the fact that there are better ways to do things will motivate students to pay more attention to how they approach tasks. This practice not only enhances students' awareness of task-specific techniques but also empowers them to develop and refine their personalised strategies.

#8 Exit Tickets

Exit tickets can be valuable tools in assessing the success of a lesson. To make sure we always have one handy, we can create a section titled “exit tickets”, draft a couple of prompts and save them as drafts. The moment we want to use them to bring a lesson to a close, we can pick the one that goes best with the topic of the lesson or edit one we already have, share it, and ask students to complete it. This approach not only serves as a quick assessment tool but also provides valuable insights into our students' grasp of the material, allowing for timely adjustments to instructional strategies.

Although we're living in an era where the whole world seems to be rushing us to adapt to new technologies and tools, there's still room to find new ways to exploit the resources that are already familiar to us. Students need time to develop as learners, as users of a second or foreign language, and as technology users, and sometimes doing all that at the same time can be a bit overwhelming - and for teachers, I imagine it’s even more daunting! I hope the ideas in this article help to bring a breath of fresh air to your use of Google Classroom - without putting you out of breath in the process!

Author Biography

Pilar Capaul is a 24-year-old teacher and student teacher from Argentina. She teaches English at International House Buenos Aires and Newlands School, and has delivered talks for International House and TESOL in the last couple of years. She also runs @TeachersofEnglish_ , an instagram account through which she shares teaching ideas and resources.