The global pandemic has undeniably impacted the educational landscape, including the teaching of English with primary children. Whether this impact is short or long term remains to be seen and being at home teaching online has been difficult in many ways for many teachers. However, it has also had its advantages. One advantage is that our learners are in their own homes too, which creates new opportunities for enriching our teaching. For the first time, we are reaching our students at home where many of their favourite things are. This blog post therefore suggests ways we might use this as an opportunity to better engage them during their online English lessons.

Show-and-tell is a great way of engaging learners, especially children, and with virtual learning, it has never been easier. The children at my school really enjoyed showcasing parts of their lives outside of school and finding out more about their friends, while the teachers found it a highly motivating way to ease children into virtual English language learning. Show-and-tell requires children to actually have something to show and to be able to talk about it. For example, you could use the camera to show your living room and the tell your class about it. It sounds like a such simple activity, however, it might be challenging for children with lower levels of English proficiency. 

Here are five ideas to make show-and-tell a success with lower level learners of English:

  1. Give task language: Plan for, model and feed in language for show-and-tell. If the topic is favourite toys for example, and you want your learners to describe their toys, make sure they have the adjectives needed. Or if you want them to say why it is their favourite toy, teach them some functional exponents for giving reasons. You can provide a colour-coded glossary on a slide during the activity as well as an oral model via physical affective drills.
  1. Support with speaking stems: I give learners sentence starters as a way of scaffolding the speaking activity. For instance, if I want them to talk about their favourite toy, I might give them: 1. This is a / an …. 2. I’ve had this for … 3. I got it from / at … 4. It can … 5. I like this because … In my experience, lower level learners get overwhelmed by speaking tasks if they are open-ended. The sentence starters provide a structure for what they should say and make the task less daunting.
  1. Let them prepare: It is a good idea to tell children exactly when they will be presenting so that they can get ready. The more preparation time they have, the better the task outcome. For example, during their Monday lesson, let the children know that it will be their turn to present on Wednesday. This gives them enough time to rehearse and ask you any questions about the task.
  1. Provide a demonstration: Show the children what you want them to do. This is also useful for higher level learners as it enables them to understand the task requirements and instructions clearly. If you want children to bring their favourite books, for example, be prepared to talk about your own favourite read, ensuring your model is age-appropriate.
  1. Ask follow-up questions: Telling others about your living room during show-and-tell is only half of the oral task. The children want their classmates to show interest and possibly ask questions. As a teacher, you should make sure that the children know that you expect them to ask questions and that they know how to ask useful questions. Work on question formation via scrambled sentences, affective drilling and colour coding to support this. 

Do you use show-and-tell with primary aged children? What has particularly worked for you during your online English lessons? I’d be really interested in reading about your experiences in the comments below.


  • Adrienn Szlapak

    Adrienn has been involved in ELT for over 10 years and has held various teaching, training, and academic management roles in Europe and Asia. Most recently she has been working in an international school heading the EAL department. She holds a DELTA with a specialism in YL teaching, an MA in Cognitive Linguistics, and a PGCEi. She also runs a blog about her experience teaching EAL to Primary and Secondary students.