Practical Social Distancing Tips
Everything at a Distance: Interactive Teaching Tips

Two female students wearing face masks sit at a classroom desk keeping a distance and do an elbow bump.
Keeping a distance in the classroom | © Adobe Stock

Changing conditions also create new opportunities – especially in socially distanced teaching. Teachers are spoilt for choice in this regard: here are some tips on how to choose from among the multitude of existing methods, techniques and approaches the ones best suited to interactive learning for your learners.

Classroom instruction during the pandemic often means that learners have to wear face masks, keep 1.5 metres away from classmates and refrain from sharing or passing on pens, notes and any other materials. These conditions put to the test many an established interactive teaching method. So teachers have to figure out how to design interactive and learner-activating approaches to classroom instruction under Covid conditions, for the usual interactive approaches soon make the classroom too cramped and involve too much close contact between learners.

In the following, we suggest some ways for teachers to expand the space available and to allow for interaction in face-to-face classes under Covid conditions.

Three masked students wearing school univorms are sitting on the floor in a schoolyard. Using the school yard for a group exercise | © Adobe Stock

Reappraising and expanding the physical space available

In-person instruction doesn’t ordinarily involve leaving the classroom for learning purposes, seeing as there’s seldom any reason to do so under normal circumstances. In the Covid-19 era, however, using areas outside the classroom can help free up space inside for the requisite social distancing:
  • Some of the class can do an exercise in the classroom with a partner or a group while the others are doing the same exercise outside of the classroom. In this manner, a wide range of learning activities can be carried out simultaneously in two groups, including “classroom walk-throughs”, interviews, “running dictation”, “pronunciation ping-pong” and the like.
  • Learners and their partners can seek out areas outside the classroom in which to work for a while whilst maintaining social distancing. When the time’s up, they return to the classroom.
  • The classroom itself can be rearranged for social distancing purposes, e.g. by creating “learning bays” suitable for extended “carousel” or “learning station” sessions. Learners can spend more time working with partners there.
  • Other learning areas should be reappraised and possibly reorganized. Desks can be placed opposite each other, for example, to keep partners at a distance. Or QR codes for assignments or “communication prompts” can be hung up on the classroom walls, and learners can work on them with their partners, whilst maintaining social distancing, as part of a classroom walk-through.
  • Before expanding the physical space, it’s important for teachers to consult with the school administration and their colleagues in order to optimize the organization and make sure younger pupils receive adequate supervision.

Digitally expanding the communicative space

Under normal circumstances, when learners come together in the classroom, it makes sense to use their time together for face-to-face communication. For social distancing purposes, however, the communicative space of the classroom can be expanded by making use of digital media, much the way reality is digitally expanded in learners’ everyday lives. The learners go about their work in class using their own smartphones or tablets possibly provided to them or other digital tools:
Learners can:
  • Use a chat app for a written dialogue exercise with their partners.
  • Use instant messaging to engage in a dialogue via audio messages.
  • Use instant messaging for a pronunciation exercise: each learner sends a three-word audio recording to their partner, who then writes down the words and sends them back as a text message.
  • Use the Oncoo digital placemat tool to write about a given topic in a group effort.
Students are individually seated in a classroom and wearing face masks, each of them working on a laptop. Appropriate technical equipment opens an array of possibilities | © Adobe Stock

Expanding the analog space

Given the physical constraints of social distancing, it’s often hard for groups to give visual form to the results of their teamwork as posters, maps on a pinboard or the like. The analogue space of the classroom can be digitally expanded in order to avoid close physical contact. Group results and products can be created and visualized with the aid of tools/apps and mobile devices.
Learners can:
  • Use tools like Mentimeter or AnswerGarden to create word clouds of vocabulary they already know.
  • Compile group work results on an Etherpad or pin them to a Padlet virtual bulletin board or a so-called Kartenabfrage on
  • Create joint presentations using collaborative apps like Google Slides.
  • Design virtual learning posters e.g. with the PicCollage app.
  • Sort or cluster vocab using a tool like Jamboard.

Expanding the dynamic space

Wearing masks and maintaining social distancing can make communication challenging in everyday life and at work: we often have a harder time understanding one another in conversation as well as interpreting remarks due to the partial masking of facial expressions. But this situation also presents an opportunity: the classroom under Covid-19 conditions provides an “authentic” testing ground in which to work on handling these challenges, whilst practising sentence structures, vocabulary and pronunciation more intensively in the process:
  • Learners are asked to speak up more loudly in a dialogue exercise with a partner.
  • Learners are asked to amplify and exaggerate gestures and facial expressions when speaking.
  • Teachers provide texts to read aloud with marks for pauses and intonation.
  • Learners are assigned dialogue exercises and given conversation tools to practise checking back with the speaker to make sure they’ve understood correctly or asking them to repeat, speak louder, etc..
Listening skills need to be trained more intensively for these purposes because the face masks make it harder to train pronunciation and to see speakers’ mouth move when they speak.

When expanding the dynamic space, it may prove worthwhile to have groups or pairs continue working together for a fixed period of time, e.g. for a week or for the duration of a given learning unit, in order to reduce movement in the classroom and limit the number of contacts.

The above suggestions are just a few of many possibilities. Depending on your particular situation, you should be able to come up with a workable approach of your own that will open new doors for interaction in the socially distanced classroom.