I’m Shay and I work as a freelance English teacher both online and face to face. Previously I was fortunate enough to work at a language academy that took professional development seriously and actively promoted it through weekly input sessions, providing specialised courses and conducting observations to help you become a better teacher. Now that I’m freelance it’s just me at work, which means I don’t have the buzz and excitement that the teachers’ room does when educators are brainstorming ideas, asking for help, or sharing experiences.

I feel that the teachers’ room is an invaluable part of a teacher’s professional development and one that I’m missing. It’s true that I’m part of teaching groups on social media but it’s generally asynchronous, meaning that I don’t get a response immediately like I would in the teachers’ room. I had been running out of ideas on how to plan for my lessons because it was just me, a textbook, my computer and my thoughts. I didn’t want to fall into a rut but like I said, I was out of ideas. Then a friend introduced me to the world of ChatGPT and what it could do. So, for the last few months ChatGPT has become my teachers’ room, and while obviously it’s not the same as real human interaction, I find that it does have its advantages for people who find themselves in a similar situation as mine.

My First Experiences with ChatGPT

My first experience with ChatGPT was how to introduce a unit of work to my students. In the textbook we were about to study what life is like in the countryside and I wanted to do something that would make the introduction memorable and interactive. So, I prompted ChatGPT:

“Please brainstorm ideas to present the topic of the countryside so it is interactive, memorable and uses this  specific vocabulary: fields, lake, forest, beach, grass, river, leaf and plant”.

teacher alone in front of computer

It came back with a lovely story about a boy/girl who was from the city but was going to spend their summer holidays in the countryside. However, it was too difficult and it wasn’t really interactive. So, I refined my prompt:

This is too difficult, please redo the story so that it is aimed at A1 10-year-old students who have been learning English for 2 years and could also include 21st Century skills such as analysis and critical thinking.

The refined story was much better, generating questions for students to think about while they were listening to the story and then a follow up Venn diagram of the differences and similarities of country and city life. From this I was able to follow up the introduction and personalise the language by asking students about their life in the city and if they would enjoy living in the countryside, giving reasons for their answers. The students were very engaged in the lesson and I felt that with the help of ChatGPT I was able to provide a memorable learning experience.

My second experience was when we were studying the concept of healthy living. From my previous experience with ChatGPT I had learnt that my prompts needed to be more specific. So, my prompt was:

Please write a  a story about healthy living aimed at A1 10-year-old students who have been learning English for 2 years, using a mix of the following healthy and unhealthy habits: eat fruit and vegetables every day, drink water, eat a lot of sweets, eat chocolate and cakes, do exercise, and sleep 10 hours. Please review adverbs of frequency (always, usually, sometimes, occasionally and never), and make sure the story includes 21st Century skills.”

teacher sitting in front of computer getting ideas

This time it came back with a story of a child who was unhealthy in general who had a dream that they had become a superhero who was strong and fit because of the healthy habits they kept every day. I loved this idea as I don’t think I would have thought of it by myself, and the topic of superheroes is very relevant for that age group. It also provided a quiz for students to listen for and answer as well as a final conversation prompt about the healthy habits the students performed and how they could become even more healthy. This saved me a lot of lesson planning time and I was able to spend that time gained brainstorming potential problems with the lesson and how I was going to deal with it in the classroom. Students found the lesson challenging, so we had to add in a stage that focused on identifying which habits were healthy and unhealthy, then we had to break the listening up: the description of the child – were they healthy or unhealthy and why, and then the dream sequence – was the superhero healthy or unhealthy and why. Then we went back and listened again with the students answering the quiz. Having had time to anticipate potential problems meant I was able to successfully deal with these in class and help students reach the level of understanding needed to perform the task successfully. 

My 5 Tips for Using ChatGPT as a Virtual Teachers’ Room

  1. ChatGPT is great for generating ideas and can be a time saver when lesson planning. But, just like in a real teachers’ room, you have the final say in what activities will be appropriate for your students and their stage of learning. If you don’t think any of the ideas it suggests are appropriate, you can prompt ChatGPT to generate other alternatives. I sometimes give the prompt to provide 5 different examples.
  2. Be specific in your prompts. Give context such as nationality, level, years studying English, interests, previous language to recycle and present in a new way, the specific grammar and vocabulary you want to work with in your lesson. The more information you give, the more detailed and appropriate the response will be.
  3. Ask for differentiated learning tasks so that you can reach all students in the class. ChatGPT will also provide activities which include 21st Century skills if you ask it to. Just as tip 2 says, the more specific the information you give, the more likely you are to receive answers that cater for your learners and classroom. We know that students learn differently and have mixed abilities, even more so when dealing with young learners, so this type of variety and differentiation needs to be present in the classroom. Specifically prompting ChatGPT to do this helps you generate new ideas and think outside the box. 
  4. Practise your prompts so they become better over time. Just like any skill, working with ChatGPT takes time and practice to get it right. These past few months have been a learning curve for me. In the beginning I had to refine my prompts several times before I got answers that I was happy with. Now I have learnt that the more information I give at the start helps me to respond and deepen my interaction with ChatGPT so that I get better quality answers. It beats trying to correct my initial information and adding detail with a lot of back and forth. Now I can get the quality of answers I want with just 2 or 3 interactions. 
  5. Use ChatGPT as a teaching tool. It is not there to replace you as the classroom teacher with your own ideas, experience, expertise and emotions. It doesn’t do my lesson planning for me, nor does it write my materials. It just gets the ball rolling and frees me up to focus on the key learning experiences I want my students to have. It helps me when I get stuck and don’t know how to present something in a way that needs to be memorable. It gives me alternative ideas that I may not have thought of on my own. It helps me include challenges and differentiated learning in my classes as well as incorporating 21st Century skills. It gives me all this and then I am able to choose what is right for my group of learners and what I want to focus on, just like I would do in a normal teachers’ room.
person in front of computer generating ideas

My takeaways

ChatGPT has been a useful tool to get the ball rolling when it comes to brainstorming and thinking of new ideas for class concepts. I would say the biggest improvement I’ve experienced since using ChatGPT has been to create materials, such as stories, quizzes, and question and answers that are better suited to the level of my students. Before I would just rely on what was in the textbook, or maybe adapt what was presented. Now, I will completely change it so that it meets the needs of my students and is presented at their level. I have never done a materials writing course before so using ChatGPT has been very useful in developing this teaching skill for me. One thing it cannot replace, however, is the atmosphere of the teachers’ room with people who are passionate about education and learning. Even though I use please, thank you and polite, conversational language when interacting with ChatGPT, it is still very far from replacing a colleague who you can share experiences with and bounce ideas off.

Note from the editor

All images have been created using AI technology via Craiyon.