Live ‘Chatting’ in the ELT Classroom: Using a Backchannel

Last week I was covering an intermediate level General English & Art class with 11 students from Japan, Taiwan and Thailand.  I was asked to use material around the topic of cinema. The art focus was on sustainability. 

On Monday I used a reading about the 2018 Oscar winners to establish the topic and provide a focus on vocabulary around the cinema.  On Tuesday I used a trailer for the documentary Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist and used oTranscribe for the first time.  It facilitated a bottom-up approach to focus on language as you can time stamp sections but I couldn’t figure out how to save it as an interactive document  – maybe you can’t.  I used my film trailer for Westwood to provide an example presentation and found very useful material at Macmillan ELT. However, I realised that, although I had no doubt the lovely feedback sheets would get filled in, getting the students to then give spoken feedback was going to be far too slow and time consuming. 

Accessed at:

I planned to consolidate by setting up presentations for the final day on Thursday to give them time to choose a film and do research. 

I used Padlet for the students to post their film trailers. On Wednesday we focused on sustainability in the fashion industry.  Firstly, by using a trailer for Blue Planet 2: Plastic pollution in the oceans ( I used oTranscribe again) and then by using material around waste in the textile industry.  On Thursday it was presentations.

However, what took me by suprise was how quiet the students were.  Here I was with all my plans and ideas but getting them to speak or interact wasn’t easy.  

To address this and the fact that I wanted them to give peer feedback on their presentations, I decided to use the Padlet with the film trailers as a backchannel during the presentations by turning on the facility for ‘likes’ and comments (I did a delayed feedback to focus on errors and highlight good use of language after the presentations).  

Here are screen shots of the Padlet just to show the level of interaction by the number of comments:

I was thrilled with the result. There is no way that these students would have interacted spontaneously like that without the backchannel.  It provided everyone with a voice. On reflection, I would exploit the ideas on the Macmillan worksheet more to scaffold feedback and encourage more range and detail but it’s the volume of comments that I’m delighted about especially as they weren’t familiar with the task. I would also comment on their comments to encourage individual students to expand on their feedback. It has really given me confidence to explore this further. I feel I can say that the use of technology here was, or certainly is potentially, transformative.  

I used Kathy Schrock’s Resources to support the SAMR model for assessment:

Related post: Live ‘chatting’ in TP observation

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