January 28, 2021

Innovative Practices in Second Language Pedagogy – A Subject-Specific Vté Lab

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

On January 12, 2021, the VTÉ presented a webinar designed for second language teachers. Three 20-minute presentations gave attendees some insight into the use of digital technology that gets results in the English Second Language class. Once again, the VTÉ’s subject-specific virtual laboratory fulfilled its objective to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and innovation between college-level teachers in a particular discipline.

Did you miss it?


Automated essay scoring for faster mastery, presented by Nicholas Walker

Award-winning ESL textbook author and ESL teacher at Ahuntsic College, Nicholas Walker is also the creator of the Virtual Writing Tutor (VWT). It is an ESL grammar checker with a variety of writing tools and an automated essay scoring platform.

Where to find a demonstration of how the VWT scores various essays, on the VWT website. (Source: screenshot by the author)

Nicholas bases his teaching and the design of the Virtual Writing Tutor on these principles that foster language acquisition:

  • More practice
  • More interaction
  • Peer teaching
  • Mastery model scoring (allowing students to drop the lowest scores in a category)
  • Flexible due dates
  • Timely feedback
  • Hard-working students

For faster mastery, Nicholas proposed the following teaching strategy:

  • Students teach each other in small groups
    • Vocabulary card game
    • Article to summarize and review
    • Group discussion
  • Students write 5 essays on 5 topics in 10 weeks
  • Instead of you trying to do all the corrections, students use automated essay scoring (Virtual Writing Tutor) and report their own scores.
  • Only the 3 best scores count
  • Due dates but no deadlines

Nicholas shared the slides of his presentation, Automated essay scoring for faster mastery, along with detailed instructions to learn how to use automated essay scoring:

  • To improve students writing skills by providing them with as much feedback as they need
  • To free you from the tedium of doing a large part of the correction feedback.

Designing authentic speaking activities for second language learning (SLL), presented by Anne-Marie Lafortune is a pedagogical platform designed to provide authentic speaking activities for second language learners. is the brainchild of Anne-Marie Lafortune, who teaches English as a second language (ESL) at Cégep de la Gaspésie et des îles.

Worldchat connects second language teachers across the world (represented by the pins) to design speaking activities for their students. (Source: screenshot by the author)

ESL teachers often have to deal with a lack of motivation. Many CEGEP students go from a philosophy class where they were discussing complex concepts to their beginner’s level English class where they are only able to explain or describe what their house looks like. Furthermore, they could be talking to a classmate who is their neighbor in real life. That’s not a very authentic context and no wonder certain students feel discouraged with their lack of language skills.

Anne-Marie proposes having CEGEP students connect with students from different countries where English is not the first language. The students need to use their second language to communicate as they do not share the same first language. The context becomes authentic because then English becomes the common language.

This inspired instructional approach is supported by’s useful features. allows students to:

  1. Speak in real-time with other students from around the world
  2. Use their second language in a real authentic environment (not speaking with someone who shares the same first language)
  3. Learn about various cultures
  4. Improve their communication skills by having to negotiate meaning with a foreign speaker.
  5. Watch the video recording of their conversation and be able to self-assess. allows teachers to:

  1. Collaborate with colleagues from around the world
  2. Select the level and number of students to be paired
  3. Pair students randomly or according to their ability as well as their personality traits
  4. Determine weekly discussion topics, discussion questions, and deadline with your foreign colleague
  5. Record students’ conversations to offer feedback.

To learn more about the free platform and see a demonstration visit

Editor’s note
To learn more on the pedagogical possibilities of, read this Profweb article Let Your Students Do The Talking! published in spring 2020.

Practical strategies to create a connected community in your virtual classroom, presented by Danielle Viens, Rebecca Peters, and Chloé Collins

The object of this panel presentation is to share some best practices that provide low anxiety, low stress online learning environments for the students. Language learning and affect are inextricably linked. Low stress and low anxiety online learning environments help ensure students stay motivated and interested.

With the depth and breadth of their teaching experience, Danielle Viens (Cégep du Vieux-Montréal), Chloé Collins, and Rebecca Peters (Cégep Édouard-Monpetit) are in a position to share good practices that will enhance student learning by fostering a sense of community.

  1. Danielle created a routine where at the start of every class she asks a question (a different one every week):
    1. What song would you suggest for our class Spotify list?
    2. What is the best meal that you had all week?
    3. What’s one thing you are thankful for this week?
    4. Please show me your pet or show me your favorite pair of shoes.
  2. When she uses breakout rooms in Zoom, Danielle keeps track of which students are in each group to make sure that by the end of the session everyone has worked with everyone else at least once so students get to know everybody else in the class.
  3. Students in Rebecca’s class get to take control of their learning by having to make choices. For a writing assignment, students not only get to choose from a variety of topics but also from different styles (standard 5-paragraph essay, newspaper article, etc.) Students also have the choice to improve their grades by re-working their text.
  4. Choice is also the key to feeling empowered during conversation activities. Rebecca gets to know her students so that when she places them in breakout rooms, she places students with similar interests together. This strategy allows students coming straight out of high school to make real connections even though they are at a distance.
  5. Rebecca and Danielle use Flipgrid to get students to record, then share, a video of themselves answering questions such as:
    1. Tell me 3 awesome things about yourself.
    2. What is something that you wish I could find out about you that a teacher wouldn’t normally find out?

    Danielle made a recording of herself also. The recordings were made and shared before the class started. That way, going into class the students already knew what everyone looked like and everyone knew some information about each other.

  6. Plurilingualism pedagogy, explains Chloé, allows students to shine a light on their culture and shatters a lot of the preconceived notions that students have about English class. Students discover they can rely on all their linguistic resources to learn English.

Danielle, Chloe, and Rebecca’s message: doing happy, little simple things is a really nice way to bond and to create that sense of community in online classrooms.

About the author

Susan MacNeil

She has had a busy career in education. With a M.Ed she taught all levels from kindergarten to university. However, most of her career was spent at the college level teaching ESL. She gave Performa courses, lead workshops at SPEAQ, RASCALS and l’AQPC. She served at the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur where she contributed to the evaluation of the general education components. She received grants from L’Entente Canada-Québec for various
research projects. Susan is also the recipient of the AQPC Mention d’honneur Award. Having retired from teaching she became a contributor to Real Life Stories of education technology integration at Eductive. Chinese ink painting helps her relax and travel keeps her energized.

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