• Anita Demitroff

How to give 9-layer lessons and get you (and your 3- to 9-year-olds) loving on-line CLIL classes!

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

A great on-line lesson is like a layer cake, because each layer has a different texture and a different flavour, according to this CLIL teacher.

From Sally’s Baking Addiction

Why layer?

To me, a great on-line CLIL class is like a layer cake, in which each layer has a different texture and flavour. Some activities are quieter; others are more dynamic. Sometimes the focus is on the screen; other times it’s on something learners are manipulating, like a musical instrument or a picture learners are drawing.

Moreover, the order of activities in the lesson will vary according to my learners’ energy and mood. Sometimes, I need to get the children up; other times, I need to calm them down and channel their attention.

Here are my 9 suggested layers.

Layer 1: getting started

While learners are logging in, I usually speak to them whilst looking at them down a long tube from a kitchen towel roll. I ask: “Can you see me?”, “Can you hear me?”

I sing my greetings to very young children and get older children to greet each other.

When a pupil logs in late, I knock on the table as if he or she were knocking on the door and ask, “Who is it?”

As the pupil in question appears on the screen, I say “Oh, it’s María! Come in, María.”

After that, I often start with a guessing game that involves listening. For example, I play an instrument away from the camera and they have to say what it is. Or I show everyday objects to the camera whilst offering only a limited or close-up view of them.

Then, as I would in a real-world class, I use a daily chant. “Rolly-Rolly-Polly” is for the youngest learners; “Open Hands, Close Hands” and “1-2, How are You?” are for older children. These chants serve as a lasso to pull them in (watch this space for a post about age-specific routine chants).

Layer 2: physical challenges

These might be as simple as folding three t-shirts as fast as possible or throwing up a cushion or soft toy and clap before catching it. Another popular challenge is trying to balance a soft toy or cushion on our heads or shoulders.

The challenges may be related back to the sciences as we test our flexibility (touching our toes or the floor) or strength (a push-up on the table).

Families and children alike have been enthralled by one of these challenges: folding an arm back so that your hand touches your shoulder. You place a coin on the top of your arm, close to your elbow, then try to catch the coin with your hand as you unfold your arm with a snap. See the science here.

We also do “go and find” or “go and touch” challenges. For example: “Find a photo of you as a baby”, “Go and find something red” or “Go and touch something metal.”

There are imaginary journeys, through the seasons or up and down a rainbow to visit the boy who lives up there, an activity inspired by this YouTube channel.

When we do winter-related activities, we make snowballs out of crumpled scrap paper and throw them at each other. To the amazement of her pupils, my colleague at You First, Ferrol, Puri Gutierrez, even pretended that one had passed through the screen and hit her!

Layer 3: vocabulary work

I often get older learners to make a chain. For example, the child at the top of the screen says one vocab item and the next child says, “Pablo says white trousers and I say a red jumper.” The list becomes more and more elaborate and taxes our memory.

Alternatively, I chant through a series of items on a fold-up with flaps and then flip up the picture to see if they can remember what was there. Another idea is to play “odd-one-out”: say a series of four lexical items and get pupils to say which one is different from the rest. For instance, you say, “red, green, coat and yellow.” I model the response for the children by doing the first one together.

For the youngest ones, I may just sing variations of “red-yellow-blue” (climbing the musical scale), “red-yellow-blue” (going down the scale), “red-yellow, red-yellow” (climbing again); “red-yellow-blue” (descending again). I stop to see if the children are singing with me.

Layer 4: picture stories

I read picture books aloud and directly, rather than use scanned or video versions. I peek over the book or from the side, exaggerating my facial expressions. I put on a variety of voices for dramatic effect. I look for opportunities for a chorus: a line they repeat in a funny voice so that they can interact with the story. From “Bark, George, Bark” (J. Feiffer: HarperCollins)

Layer 5: experiments to watch or to do

More complex experiments are demonstrated, but I don’t encourage the children to do them at home. Examples include putting dried cranberries into a glass of tonic to see if they sink or float (they do both as the bubbles push them up). Dramatic experiments like getting a hard boiled egg into a narrow-necked bottle really make kids gape. For the science explaining this, watch this video.

I encourage interaction via prediction and by getting learners to tell me what to do next. Younger children get a kick out of watching me mix colours in water with food colouring. We also see if something will sink or float in a plastic tank. I always get the children to ask what we need, how to do the experiment, what will happen and, if they can explain, why something happened.

Whenever I can, I give learners the opportunity to try out things at home at the same time as me. When I send them the link for the online class, I ask families to ensure that they bring certain things. For example, we use a glass, a square piece of card and a clothes peg to place the card on the glass and then stand the peg on its legs on the card. The challenge is to knock the card by flicking it from one side so that the card flies out but the peg falls into the glass. Hand skills take time and confidence. Online classes are an ideal setting to pause and encourage.

Other simple experiments include making a rainbow bubble solution or splashing a felt-tip picture with water so that the colours run and blend. Other activities can be as simple as letting two sheets of paper (one crumpled into a ball and one a whole A4 sheet) to fall to see which one is faster.

Finally, to provide more of a sensory dimension, we work intensively on listening skills. This may mean I strike different objects and learners tell me if they are metal, plastic or wood; which instrument they hear or which glass I am hitting with a spoon:

1) an empty glass;

2) a half-full glass;

3) a full glass.

Layer 6: paper-based activities

Throughout the entire lockdown, I have never set my learners a worksheet home to do at home. We do draw maps and imaginary scenes or make fold-ups. And, as the summer draws nearer, we do more elaborate crafts, like texture rubbings, weaving and collages. My youngest learners experiment with colouring randomly or with tearing up and gluing paper. Or they use everyday objects to make temporary compositions: the Sun with a paper or plastic plate and clothes pegs, for example.

Layer 7: action chants and songs

Popular options include “One Finger, One Thumb” (adding two more body parts with each round and running on the spot as you sing keep moving) or “Heads and Shoulders” sung backwards (“toes-knees-shoulders-head with teeth and horns and wings and tail”).

Many children have instruments at home that they can “play”. Others can grab wooden spoons and a pot. I also do body percussion or clapping, as well as tapping or hand movement routines to get older children to remember a certain phrase. My favourite routine is inspired by Celeste Morado (Lestonnac Ferrol, Spain): “clap-clap-table-table (hitting the table)-clap-move the pencil case (as you move a pencil case from right to left and back)” and then the element in a drill: 10-20-30… or Monday-Tuesday.... This moment of the lesson is tonic, to finish with a flourish or to stir them up mid-lesson.

I get much of my inspiration from the Boogie Beebies warm-up activities and dance routines on the BBC website.

Layer 8: closing

I use a closing action chant just as I do in my classes, but they get more elaborate as the children get older.

Layer 9: positive feedback

Finally, I try to remember that young learners need immediate feedback in order to feel more confident. An on-line class may be daunting at first and shyer children who break out of their shell must be applauded. Older ones who can reflect may be asked what they have learnt. We then mention the vocabulary we have worked on as well as the language point, or refer back to the experiment or story.


By Ana Demitroff

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.