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Should students work online or offline? The answer is both!

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Should students work online or offline? The answer is both!

English Stars 22/10/19


A popular debate about modern classroom practices is whether students should work online or offline. While these formats are often pitched against each other, our experience suggests a balance of both produces the best educational outcomes.

To implement a ‘blended’ approach in your English lessons, consider the benefits of each format and determine which best aligns with the task ahead.

The benefits of online activities
Automatic differentiation

In an online format, students’ work can be automatically marked, which allows them to be instantly differentiated based on their performance. All students can begin by completing the same activity. Extension students are streamed to more challenging questions, while students needing support are given extra practice of the core content. Of course, you as the teacher can also step in and offer a helping hand for struggling students as they complete the activities.

Real-time student diagnostics

To help you identify who needs a hand, a good digital education program will include a real-time activity tracker. Activity trackers show your students’ progress and performance while they’re completing their activities.

With this tracking tool, you can provide on-the-spot remediation (instead of waiting until the activity is complete, or relying on students to put up their hand and ask for help). You might find just one or two students are struggling, or you might see a pattern of students getting the same questions wrong. The latter might reveal a collective gap in understanding, which you can address as a class before students continue.


Another major (yet often overlooked) benefit of an online platform is the timesaving factor. With some of the day-to-day workload taken care of by features like automatic marking and data collation, digital programs allow you to spend more time teaching.

The benefits of offline activities
Fewer distractions

Some tasks require a quiet and thoughtful environment. While a classroom will never be completely free from distraction, taking students away from their devices and asking them to use pen and paper can help redirect their attention to the task at hand — and away from apps and the internet.

Opportunities for handwriting and spelling

While explicit teaching of handwriting and spelling forms part of every weekly routine, general English lessons also provide a great opportunity to reinforce these skills. It’s a no-brainer that handwriting should be an offline activity, but studies and industry experts advocate that writing by hand plays an important role in spelling. According to Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva, ‘drawing each letter by hand substantially improves subsequent recognition.’ It also improves our understanding of the alphabet because it taps into our ‘body memory.’1 As a result, the more familiar students become with letters, both remembering them and physically writing them, the better they can spell.

Quicker and easier for extended writing tasks

While digital programs do facilitate timesaving with the everyday workload for teachers, working offline can be a speedier option when it comes to extended writing tasks for students. When completing a short story or a persuasive essay, for example, it’s sometimes quicker and easier for younger students to use pen and paper rather than keyboard and word processor.

Getting the right balance

When comparing online and offline resources, ‘educators should not be trying to determine which medium to adopt, but rather when and how each medium can support classroom objectives.’2 This means the format will change according to the requirements of a given task, the availability of resources, your students’ preferred medium and their individual abilities.

A recent study found that ‘students reported best test scores when using their preferred medium, suggesting that preference affects their metacognitive processes.’3 Similarly, students with special needs may prefer one medium over the other due to assistive features, engagement or familiarity.

Since flexibility is key, the ideal resources are those that offer both online and offline components. Put simply, they give you the option to cater for your students at any given time for any activity.

If you’re searching for an English resource that offers the choice of both formats, check out the award-winning English Stars. With teacher and student licences that include both online + printable activities, the choice is always in your hands.


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