Online English lessons and coding with YL (Part One)

/ A1, A2, Lesson tips, Pre-A1, Teachers, Young Learners

January 2021 – As many of my colleagues, I ended up teaching completely online nearly a year ago. With teen and adult classes, the switch to video-call lessons was surprisingly smooth. However, things were not as easy with online English lessons with YL (Young Learners). Mainly, because parents – among them myself – were worried about how much time their children spent in front of different screens and secondly, because my students were used to lessons full of movement and games. We desperately needed inspiration. It came from one of the many Future Learn courses.

I have already written about FUTURE LEARN courses in THIS post, Today, I invite you to check out the new opening of their course ‘Teaching Programming in Primary Schools” run by Raspberry Pi and Tech Computing. The course introduces teachers to the programming language Scratch starting from simple algorithms to more complex mini animations using the free program Scratch. It sounds scary to someone who is not comfortable with the cyber world, however, the program (which can be used online without downloading anything) is really self-explanatory. It enables primary school students to build – using a series of puzzle blocks – shorter or longer code sequences, which can be visualized as short animations, stories or even interactive games. The projects can be shared and published in Studios.

The course does not aim at language teachers, but the transmitted content is suitable to adapt to English lessons. Let me show you how.


If you go to the Scratch website and click on Create, you can start experimenting even without registration. Nevertheless, remember if you want to save your projects, open a class or a studio, you need to register as a teacher. On the website you can find the tutorial to how to do it.

This is the welcome screen (Create):

On the initial screen, you can see three columns: on the left, you see a list of colour-coded puzzles blocks (the code elements), in the middle your code (at the beginning blank with the first Getting-started tutorial video) and on the right the screen preview and the possibilities to choose a background and characters for your animation. A background in Scratch is called Backdrop, a character is a Sprite. You can choose multiple sprites and position them simple by drag&dropping or using the x/y coordinates under the preview. You can rename a chosen sprite and change its size and orientation. Make sure the box of the sprite you want to animate is blue:

Scratch - active sprite

In the first column on the left, you can see the possible coding elements. They have different colours and have different effects on your sprite.

The first group of blocks to choose from is the Events. If you choose

Scratch - When the green flag is clicked

(it means, you drag it into the centre field), your animation will start after clicking onto the green flag above the preview screen on the right.

Mind that you are animating the sprite whose box is highlighted in blue under the preview window. You can then make it move (go or glide) or turn (try some of the blue Motion puzzle blocks), change look, it means its size, colour, you can make the sprite say something, hide or show (all these with the purple Looks buttons) and you can also add sounds to your animation (find the pink Sound code elements in the left column). These are only the simplest ones, but enough to start with some adventures.

You can also watch the Tutorial videos which appears when you first open the Scratch screen.

Mind: Scratch is available in many languages, so ask your students to roll down to the bottom of the page and change the language to English.



The simplest exercise is to ask you students to change the sprite’s size by changing 100% to another number. I simulated here 300%:

Another simple exercise is to ask your students to move the original Scratch sprite (a cat) into different positions using x and y coordinates (under the preview window) or to move the cat and read the relative coordinates to you:

If your students can use the position coordinates, you can also ask them to choose an initial position: they move the cat where they want it to be at the beginning of the animation, it will automatically change the coordinates also on the blocks of the Motion buttons on the left, then wait for one second (Control code element) and then move to another position (which can be chosen by dragging the cat into another position or changing the coordinates in the blue blocks). You can ask try this simple animation with ‘go’ and ‘glide’ to see the differences:

Here is the ready animation. Easier to do than to explain.

Let’s see what else you can do with these simple movements:


Look at this simple animation with animals:

The initial question is: Where is the beetle? Where is the hedgehog? Where is the rooster? etc. The exercise makes students practise the following prepositions: on, under, next to, between, in front of and behind.

Then after clicking onto the animals one-by-one, the students see them glide into a second position and they can describe again where the animals are.

When clicking onto the green flag, two mice run from the left to the right at the bottom of the image: this little trick is useful to revise irregular plural forms, like mouse-mice, sheep-sheep, fish-fish, reindeer-reindeer, wolf-wolves.

If you want to see inside the code, follow THIS LINK.

The real exciting part of every lesson is when the students can create (individually or in pairs) a similar animation. Not only, because they describe afterwards what they have coded, but also because they get used to asking for help in English very soon. The motivation for them to use questions and to ask for help is the need to find a solution to the problems they encounter while coding.


You might also like to read:

– to revise plural forms with animal names, with emphasis on irregular plural forms: YOUNG LEARNERS – Christmas Lesson Online (2020) (look for the interactive worksheets to Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer)


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