Get Students Working Together Online

By Dr. Ken Beatty

Think. What’s a common job that someone does individually, never working with others? It’s a surprisingly tough question. Astronauts, surgeons, and even star athletes don’t work on their own. Instead, they work with partners. Why then, is there such an emphasis in schools on students learning on their own and being assessed individually?


Part of the answer is the traditional purpose of schools. In the last century, schools were sieves, sifting out more-able students from less-able students. The best students would go to universities, and the best graduates would get the best jobs. But many of those so-called top students left school without the people skills necessary to work with others. But language learning is–and always has been–different.

To learn a language, students need to use it. Students need to use critical thinking and communicate with others in speech and writing, just as they need to communicate with partners when they enter the world of work.

Your student textbook doubtlessly features many pair, small group, and whole class activities. Some of these are easy to do online using breakout room features found in Zoom (integrated into StartUp) and other meeting platforms. But there’s always much more you can do to promote student collaboration and increase students’ opportunities to use language. Here are six practical strategies you can use to get student engagement with English and with each other online. To better imagine them, consider a sample unit from StartUp, an eight-level English course for young adults and adults. Level 4, Unit 10, What will the future bring?

1 Change pairs tasks into group tasks: The following task asks students to remember things they’d learned, done, or decided by certain ages. Beyond comparing the answers with one partner, how could the task be expanded to include more partners? One way is to ask students to rate the most impressive one and then discuss in a group, ranking achievements. A second way is to ask students to talk to other members of the group in a rapid fashion, finding other students who had had the same achievements, perhaps at different ages, e.g., learning violin at ages 5 and 12. A third way is to ask students to create a group timeline and then talk about it: “When I was five and Emily was six, we each learned to swim.” The aim is to get students talking more.

Try it yourself activity from StartUp

2 Read and reflect: Each StartUp unit features a reading and each one is a topic that students can further research. Ask them to search online for related articles or stories, and share in central online file, such as a Google document. Make students responsible for making sure there are no duplicate readings. Each student then chooses two of the readings and reports on how they are similar or different. It’s a task that will naturally encourage students to read and reflect more widely.

3 Argue the opposite: The writing tasks in StartUp come with graphic organizers like the one below. In this task, students brainstorm about advice. Once students have finished filling in their outlines, they can photograph them with their phones or computers, and share them with the rest of the class. Each student then chooses one and argues the opposite, suggesting, in this case, why the advice might be bad. This helps to develop critical thinking skills.

4 Watch and explain: In StartUp Levels 1 to 4, an end-of-unit Put it Together project inspires students with a video, after which they answer a few comprehension questions to make sure they understand. They then go on to take or choose photos, or record a video, using their phones, then share it with the class to get feedback. One way to expand the activity is to have each student watch and explain another student’s photos or video, ensuring that they understand perfectly.

5 Take apart the test: Besides pairs of mid-term and final tests, each unit of StartUp offers two tests. Having two tests means that one can be given as a practice test, as formative assessment. Rather than just give students the answers, let them work together, comparing their own answers to see where they agree and differ. They can then peer teach the points that some students may not have understood. It’s not just about getting the right answers, it’s about making students more reflective and providing opportunities for them to use their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in an authentic way.

6 Connect students: The above tasks are all suited to classroom discussion, but to get students working together outside of class, they need to connect online, by email. However, privacy can be a problem; students should not be asked to share their permanent emails with the risk of them being shared with strangers, leading to cyberbullying. A solution is to ask each student to get a unique email for the class, such as a .gmail account. A sample email format might be studentfirstname_coursename@gmail.com. After the course is over, students can delete the accounts and continue communicating with trusted new friends on their permanent emails. 

Online learning is here to stay. Getting students comfortable with it is a great way for them to continue along the path of lifelong learning, personalizing their studies, making use of virtual resources, and connecting with other English language learners.

StartUp is the new general English course for adults and young adults who want to make their way in the world and need English to do it.

Dr. Ken Beatty has worked in secondary schools and universities in Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America. He is author of 77 textbooks for Pearson and has given 500+ teacher-training sessions and 100+ conference presentations in 33 countries. His most recent books are in the LEAP series and he is Series Consultant for StartUp.

St. Patrick’s Day: Article and activities for students

Joanna Rodzen-Hickey
By Joanna Rodzen-Hickey

St. Patrick’s Day is today, March 17. We have a post written especially for students with a short follow-up exercise at the end.

Decorative leaf of clover, trefoil, shamrock leaves on wood background, close up. Happy St. Patrick's Day holiday symbol.; Shutterstock ID 1331479001; Amministratore Fatturazione: Martina Nordio; Progetto: Nuova Pearson Academy; Dipartimento: Marketing; ISBN/Progetto: WF155 N1604

You probably know that St. Patrick’s Day (also known as St. Patty’s Day or St. Paddy’s Day) is not traditionally an American holiday. It is an Irish holiday, but Americans simply love it! St. Patrick’s Day was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants in the XIX century. It eventually became so popular in the United States that it evolved into a special day when many Americans across the country celebrate the Irish-American culture and heritage. 

Many Americans attend special parades on St. Patrick’s Day. St Patrick’s Day parades in the United States are typically big events with hundreds, even thousands, of marchers, Irish dance groups, and bagpipers (a bagpiper is a person playing a bagpipe, a traditional wind instrument with reed pipes). Most cities and bigger towns organize St. Patrick’s Day parades. But if you can’t go to a parade, you can always don a green outfit or a T-shirt that says, “Kiss me! I’m Irish!” And, no, you don’t have to be Irish to wear a T-shirt like that! Many Americans love to say that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. 

Just like with most holidays, food plays an important role in the celebrations. Many Americans enjoy eating corned beef and cabbage, as well as soda bread on St. Patrick’s Day. But did you know that corned beef isn’t a traditional Irish dish? You most certainly wouldn’t eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin! Corned beef actually originated in the United States. Nonetheless, it’s a delicious dish that consists of beef, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, all boiled together in one big pot. 


There are a number of symbols associated with St Patrick’s Day as well. One of them is the leprechaun, a tiny red-headed, bearded man dressed in green that loves to play tricks and pranks on people. If you ever find that the milk in your fridge has turned green, or the furniture in your living room has been turned upside down, a leprechaun has probably visited your house. So waste no time, and set up some leprechaun traps in your home because you never know what kind of joke that mischievous creature may choose to play on you next time! And if you are lucky enough to catch a leprechaun, he will have to grant you three wishes. A pot of gold is also a symbol associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Leprechauns hide pots of gold at the end of rainbows, and only the luckiest are able to find them. Yet another St. Patrick’s Day symbol is the shamrock, or a four-leaf clover. It is believed that if you ever find a shamrock, you will have the luck and blessings of the Irish. So start looking for these tiny plants right away. You never know, you may find a pot of gold, too! But if you don’t, a pot of delicious corned beef and cabbage should make you just as happy! 

Now let’s try this short comprehension activity. Choose the correct word to complete each sentence. Good luck! 

1. A leprechaun is _______.

  1. an ingredient soda bread 
  2. a type of plant only found in Ireland
  3. a tiny man with red hair and a beard

2. A shamrock is _______.

  1. a green milkshake typically consumed on St. Patrick’s Day
  2. a four-leaf clover
  3. a lucky rock hidden at the end of a rainbow

3. A dish many Americans eat on St. Patrick’s Day is called _______.

  1. corned beef
  2. a pot of gold
  3. green beans 

*ANSWER KEY: 1c; 2. b; 3. a 

If you answered all three questions correctly, the luck of the Irish may be coming your way! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Joanna Rodzen-Hickey has served as an ESL teacher and consultant for nearly 20 years. She has taught adult learners in various community colleges and universities across New Jersey. Currently, she teaches ESL at Hackettstown High School in Hackettstown, New Jersey. In addition to teaching, Joanna has been involved in ESL program development, ESL curriculum development, ACCESS test administration, as well as teacher mentoring. Additionally, Joanna has been collaborating with Pearson Education for several years. She has served as a reviewer and content developer for a number of titles, including Educational Psychology, Wall Street English, and Focus on Grammar. Joanna earned both her MA in Applied Linguistics and MAT in ESL Education from Montclair State University. She also attended Adam Mickiewicz University in her native Poland, where she majored in English Philology. 

Advantages of Implementing a Learning Management Platform

Do you know the main benefits of implementing a learning platform in your school? Get to know them in this article.

A true e-Learning platform is one that provides support, offers educational solutions, and makes hybrid and remote instruction easier to implement. It is also an educational portal that offers digital materials and tools as well as analytics and reports all in one place.

>>> It may interest you:   What is an LMS platform and what is it for?

Advantages for students

  • All materials that support learning at anytime, anywhere on one platform
  • Different forms of evaluation for different forms of learning
  • Accessible on all devices in different learning environments
  • More engagement and interaction during classes
  • Easy way to keep in touch with teachers and other students via one platform

Advantages for schools

  • All materials for all classes in one place
  • Easy way to post assignments, check progress, and communicate with students and families
  • Analytics and performance scores to track progress and address issues

Advantages for teachers

  • Materials and guides in digital format for easy access and download
  • Flexibility to rearrange content and add your own content
  • Ability to reach students and run synchronous classes from the platform
  • Tools to encourage engagement and participation
Features of Pearson Digital Hub

Introducing Pearson Digital Hub

In the current environment of distance learning, many programs struggle to reach their learners and engage them in a meaningful way. We at Pearson understand these challenges and have developed a learning and teaching management platform where teachers can provide interactive classes and monitor performance, and students can have access to the information they need from any device. This powerful tool is called the Pearson Digital Hub, and it’s an excellent tool for programs that do not currently use a learning management system.

Keep students engaged and avoid dropouts

Pearson Digital Hub goes hand in hand with current trends in virtual education, providing the same academic level of face-to-face classes, avoiding distractions, and keeping students engaged.

Improve results

By having an intuitive and friendly virtual environment, Pearson Digital Hub offers great advantages in supporting face-to-face or distance teaching, modernizing courses, and improving students’ academic results. In addition, the platform provides analytics and progress tracking, so teachers can easily identify which students are struggling and need more help and attention.

Save time

Each week, teachers spend a great deal of time creating the activities and assignments. With Pearson Digital Hub that time can be reduced since the platform contains all the materials you need to teach your classes.

Improve communication and collaboration

Our platform includes interactive tools where students can communicate and share their questions quickly and easily. This creates an environment conducive to participation and fosters collaboration. In addition, Pearson Digital Hub allows you to conduct lessons in real time via streaming and a message delivery system, all within the platform.

Add your own content

Pearson Digital Hub provides the flexibility to adapt your courses in any way you want. In addition to the Pearson eBooks and digital practice, you can also add your own content such as videos, images, downloadable documents, and more. Here, creativity has no limits, and learning becomes engaging and collaborative.

Learn more about Pearson Digital Hub here.

To learn how to implement Pearson Digital Hub in your program and to request a demo, please contact your Pearson ELT specialist.


Recent Posts


Explore our eCatalog

Explore our eCatalog