Joanne Ramsden looks at the impact that remote learning has had on children’s progress. Joanne provides a variety of strategies and activities to help teachers reduce the knowledge gap between learners after lockdown.

There are lesson materials including a worksheet and teacher’s notes at the bottom of the article as well as a link to the webinar for Macmillan Education in which Joanne discusses these ideas at length.


In recent months, children have had varying access to English language education.  Teachers have found themselves in the situation where they taught remotely using a variety of digital tools. However, they may not have been able to reach all of their students.  Children may have had differing access to online learning, creating a knowledge gap between those who had remote access to a teacher and those who did not. As school resumes, either remotely or face-to-face, teachers need to recognise that students who have had less access to English education will need extra support. This article looks at how teachers can ensure that all children and teens can bridge the knowledge gap by providing a list of practical ways to support learners and make activities accessible.  

Provide extra visual support

There are a variety of ways to provide support when approaching a new text.  

  • Pictures are worth a thousand words.   Before reading a story with the class, read the title and show the illustrations.  Such pre-reading activities help learners predict content and get an idea of what the story is going to be about.
  • Mind maps, timelines, and other graphic organisers can help learners visualise their ideas. Mind maps allow learners to organise information and visualise related ideas more clearly. Making a timeline can help learners understand the sequence of a story more clearly. 

Create a Talk Partner Routine

Peer teaching can play a role in bridging the knowledge gap between learners who have had differing amounts of instruction over the last school term.  Peer collaboration, group discussion, and cooperative tasks benefit learners across the scale. The more learners are encouraged to work together, the better, but a struggling learner may lack the confidence to participate.  Teachers can help by establishing a Talk Partner routine that encourages learners to discuss questions with a partner before answering. Children may be unsure of an answer and discussing it with a partner can help to clarify doubts. This promotes confidence among struggling students.  In addition, pairing a confident learner with a less confident learner—one who is looking to bridge the gap—allows the stronger learner to take on the role of helper, which can have a positive effect on both.

Guide peer practice in the breakout rooms

For online classes, use breakout rooms for learners to work in pairs and small groups. Try pairing learners in breakout rooms for the following activities:

  • Act out a dialogue

    Make sure everyone has a copy of the dialogue you want them to work on, either in their textbook or a document you have sent prior to the class. Listen to the audio together in the main room. Then place pairs in breakout rooms and have learners read and act out the dialogue together.
  • Do a questionnaire or a quiz

    Use a questionnaire from the textbook or create one yourself. Have learners complete the questionnaire or quiz together in the breakout room, taking turns to ask and answer questions.
  • Describe a picture or scene

    Ask learners to describe an illustration in their book or you can share an image prior to the class. Model the language you want them to use before opening the breakout rooms e.g. There’s a (house). There are three (cats).
  • Brainstorm ideas

    Allow leaners to brainstorm ideas in pairs or small groups to gain confidence and share ideas before speaking in front of the whole group.

Once the learners are comfortable working with a Talk Partner, teachers can use the strategy for any number of different tasks such as practising a question-and-answer exchange, saying a tongue twister together, inventing a new verse for a song or ranking their favourite toy, animal or electronic device.

Reinforce vocabulary with games

After introducing new vocabulary, play games to reinforce and consolidate learning. The more learners play, the more exposure they get to the new language in a fun, motivating way. Mime, gesture and acting out will benefit all the learners in the class with the additional advantage of giving extra support to those who need it. 

  • Silent words

    Hold up a flashcard with the picture side facing you. Ask, “What’s this?” Silently mouth the word. When learners guess correctly, reveal the picture and play again.
  • Slowly slowly

    Hide a flashcard behind a book. Slowly reveal the picture from behind the book and have learners guess what it is. Alternatively, use an object to provide context such as a shopping bag for food vocabulary or a suitcase for clothes. Slowly reveal the flashcard from inside the shopping bag or suitcase.
  • Quick flash

    Show a flashcard to the learners but turn it around as quickly as you can so that they have to be focused in order to see it.
  • Stand up / sit down game

    Hold up a flashcard and say the name of the picture on it. If you name the flashcard correctly, learners should stand up. If you name it incorrectly they should sit down. Alternatively, they can put their thumbs up or down.
  • Guess which one I’m thinking of

    Project a slide containing all the unit vocabulary. Choose an item and ask the learners to guess which item you chose. Hints can be given if the learners need help. Reveal a flashcard or image to confirm the correct answer.
  • Word dictation

    Choose a word from a lexical set. Start to spell the word. Learners listen and say the word as soon as they recognise it.
  • Mime game

    Practise vocabulary that has clear physical actions. Introduce a mime for each word as you say it. Say each word in turn and encourage learners to quickly do the mime. Change roles by miming the actions yourself and encouraging learners to put their hand up to name each one.
  • Vocabulary chant

    Tap both hands twice on the table and then clap your hands together, creating the rhythm for the chant. Encourage the learners to join in. Then add the vocabulary words to the chant, saying each one rhythmically.


Teach strategies for learning to learn

Becoming an efficient learner can benefit all students, but it can make a big difference, in particular, to those who are struggling to keep up with the level of the group. Here are some strategies for learning efficiency:

  • Look, copy, cover and write

    Many key vocabulary words are irregular or tricky to spell. This strategy helps learners visualise the overall shape of the word. Learners read the word, copy it, then cover the word and write it again. They should check the word is correctly spelt before continuing.
  • LookCopy Cover and Write 
    giraffe ⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊ ⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊
    elephant ⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊  ⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊⚊ 
  • Writing definitions 

    Writing a definition for a new word can help learners recall vocabulary. Allowing them to create their own definitions can aid long-term memory.
  • a carnivore—eats other animals  
    a mechanic—a person who fixes cars.
  • Picture dictionary

    Younger learners can make a picture dictionary in their notebook by illustrating new vocabulary.
  • Alphabetical order

    Ask learners to group words in alphabetical order in their notebook.
  • Music and rhythm

    Adding melody or rhythm to a list of vocabulary can help young learners remember words more easily. Encourage them to sing or chant key words to learn them.

Encourage students to ask questions

Teach children that if they don’t understand something they can ask a question. A classroom may have signs with model questions such as, “How do you spell…?”, “What does … mean?”, “How do you say … in English?”. When teaching remotely, have students make their own questions and stick them on lollipop sticks or sticky notes around their workspace to use whenever needed. 

Little by little, with support and guidance, plus plenty of recycling and repetition teachers can give students the opportunity to catch up with their classmates.


Joanne Ramsden’s webinar for Macmillan English on strategies and practical activities to help young learners catch up.



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