One of the major challenges of online classes is keeping students engaged.  In face to face classes, the teacher can often make subtle adjustments to keep students interested and involved in class. In online classes, making quick adjustments can be more challenging because you may be missing some of the verbal and non-verbal signals you would detect in face to face classes.  

One proactive way to keep your classes active is to plan some supplementary activities.  Supplementary content can make your class content more current and relevant and interesting.  Additional activities, particularly involving games or songs or films, can make the class more fun and spontaneous.    

Here are a few ideas for supplementary activities, referenced to a unit in Contemporary Topics (Level 1, Unit 9, Design Thinking)

Vocabulary Games can spice up a class. You can use free software like Quizlet, to make supplementary quizzes and games. 

, Supplementary activities for online classes, Lateral Communications


• This sample set located at Michael Rost’s Quizlet account.  Anyone can create a free account and make their own quizzes.

• Quizlet sets can be used interactively by pairs of students, using their phones or computers.

• Quizlet pair practice done in break out groups will provide a change of pace for the class.  

• Including Study Tips reminds students of various ways to practice. 

No matter what you are teaching, you can always find some supplementary audio or video to enliven your class, or just to provide a change of pace.   Here are a couple of supplementary activities, based on free online sources, Newsela and Listenwise.  


, Supplementary activities for online classes, Lateral Communications


• The goal of this additional activity is to link the generic topic of the book to current topics in the news/on social media/in the global culture.

• Newsela provides free access to a range of current topics (stories that have appeared in the past year or two).  

• Teacher can use the author-provided topic or do a search for more relevant articles.  Here the search term is:  Design Thinking.

• These can be done as small group activities (in break out groups) or as a whole class activity, using live microphones or the chat box for participation by students.


Here’s another example of a supplementary activity to link current events to the course topics:


, Supplementary activities for online classes, Lateral Communications


• The goal of this additional activity is to link the generic topic of the book to current, perhaps even quirky, topics. Listenwise provides audio-narration formats, so students get additional reading and listening practice. 

• Teachers can use the author-provided article or choose another relevant article.  Here the search term is: design.

One thing to remember when introducing supplementary material is that it is important to set a goal.  Be clear on your reasons for adding an activity. You don’t necessarily need to use the supplementary material for comprehension work or language study.  Sometimes, just introducing something new and getting global feedback from the students (“What did you think?”) may be sufficient! 

Oh, yeah, and don’t be shy about asking students to suggest supplementary activities as well. You may be surprised at the novel perspectives they bring, and it’s always motivating for students to have a say in the direction of the class.


©2020 Michael Rost

About The Author

, Supplementary activities for online classes, Lateral Communications
Michael Rost, principal author of Pearson English Interactive, has been active in the areas of language teaching, learning technology and language acquisition research for over 25 years. His interest in bilingualism and language education began in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was fuelled during his 10 years as an educator in Japan and extensive touring as a lecturer in East Asia and Latin America. Formerly on the faculty of the TESOL programs at Temple University and the University of California, Berkeley, Michael now works as an independent researcher, author, and speaker based in San Francisco.