Guidance on the COVID aware languages classroom







On this page we collect for ALL members and the wider Language teaching community advice, thoughts and recommendations for the context in which we find ourselves from September 2020, when schools across the UK are expected to be welcoming classes back.

The resources here are divided into three sections :

  • Statutory, official requirements and advice which tend to cover whole school issues
  • Considerations which Language teachers may wish to take into account in relation to their own teaching and learning
  • Items received from members : Frequently Asked Questions and possible responses, Case Studies : ‘How we are coping’


NB There is a separate webpage around the issue of Speaking and Endorsement, in addition to what you see here.

The links, advice and resources formerly listed on the page Home Learning Help are still available here.

Statutory, official requirements and advice which tend to cover whole school issues

Guidance on the COVID-aware Language Classroom

From September 2020 many schools (and other institutions) welcomed back full classes of pupils, and of older students, and ALL members are aware (along with their colleagues in Senior Leadership and other areas of the curriculum) that the context will be difficult to manage, and may well be different in different establishments.


The priority for all of us must be considerations of maintaining good health: Schools cannot do without their teachers (especially true of Language teachers because of your unique role in modelling the target language, so you must avoid risk yourself.

You will also have concerns about the potential of carrying infection back into your homes and families, and so you will be determined to offset that risk.

And of course you are in a position of loco parentis and are concerned for the well-being of all of your students / pupils in all of your classes.

Families will need reassuring that schools and individual classrooms are not exposing young people to risk. They may also need guidance about how to speak to their children about behaviours and expectations when in and around school.

ALL is collating Languages-specific information and advice to support you in your planning and communications. Clearly we should respect any UK Government advice that is forthcoming, as there is a bigger picture of which we are all part. At the same time, as professionals  we have concerns which we share with language teaches around the world about possible impact on our practice (e.g. speaking activities, exchanges, visitors, travel abroad), and ALL is already exploring with international partners what advice we can usefully share.

We have a focus on our learners’ progression – in the four Language Skills as well as other dimensions (e.g. cultural understanding) and will be looking for strategies that allow them to progress as well as possible, in what is likely to be a physically constrained classroom context. Current DfE advice (1) mentions as risky classroom behaviour – singing (a mainstay of many Primary Language lessons) and there are discussions of managing singing activities out of doors, or with pupils all facing the front and well-spaced out. These are clearly difficult parameters to maintain in some classrooms, and with some ages of learners.

The generic DfE advice may seem to envisage teacher-led classrooms dominated by Reading and Writing activities. These constitute, of course, only half of the work we would usually plan for, so ALL will be gathering from members, and others, strategies and suggestions for maintaining the profile and role of Listening and Speaking as part of the learning process. This may involve individual activities outside the classroom, and suggestions could exploit technological solutions (although we must also bear in mind questions of equity between learners who will not all have the same access). Listening activities of the quiz or test type may be low risk (in respect of the potential for spreading the virus) but may need broadening into less formal approaches to maintain motivation.

One thing which is worth consideration even now is the standing of Target Language use by the teacher; in order to give learners the most access to hearing and responding to the Language they are learning (for development of Phonics knowledge, vocabulary, memorisation and grammatical patterns) without the learners necessarily having to respond in speech themselves. Teachers may well be considering enhancing or prioritising their own use of the Language in speech. 




National restrictions - New Guidance November 2020

New DfEE guidance – 4th November 2020 was published ahead of national restrictions coming into force.


‘During the national restrictions, face coverings should be worn by students and staff in secondary schools and further education colleges in communal spaces, outside of classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained.

The guidance is clear that primary school children do not need to wear face coverings, and older children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities may be exempt from wearing them, depending on their need. No one should be excluded from education for not having a face covering.

Primary schools continue to have discretion to recommend staff and visitors wear face coverings in communal spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained, but this is not a requirement and it is for individual schools to make these decisions locally.

‘Education is a national priority and we cannot allow it to be disrupted again’ – Gavin Williamson.

Evidence has highlighted the risks of not being in education on young people’s development and mental health. As the UK’s Chief Medical Officers have made clear, the wider risks to children being out of school is far greater than the risk of catching coronavirus at school’.

Some more specific extracts:


Those individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) are advised to work from home and not to go into work. Individuals in this group will have been identified through a letter from the NHS or from their GP, and may have been advised to shield in the past. Staff should talk to their employers about how they will be supported, including to work from home where possible, during the period of national restrictions.

All other staff should continue to attend work, including those living in a household with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.


Schools continue to remain open for all children and young people as they have since the start of the autumn term for the duration of the national restrictions.


The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have been clear that exams will go ahead next summer, as they are the fairest and most accurate way to measure a pupil’s attainment. Pupils now have more time to prepare for their exams next year, as most AS, A levels and GCSEs will be held 3 weeks later to help address the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Online delivery

For 16 to 19 study programmes, providers should continue to seek to deliver the majority of education on site unless they have had written public health advice to move some groups to remote teaching, in which case they should inform their ESFA territorial team.

Providers should preserve provision on site for learners who need it, including vulnerable learners, children of key workers and learners without access to devices/connectivity at home.

For adult education, we are asking providers to consider moving to online teaching where possible to do so while still achieving educational objectives, using existing flexibilities within the FE Operational guidance. Where education needs to continue on site to enable access to equipment, or where students cannot access remote delivery, this can continue in a Covid-secure way.

Universities and adult education settings should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible

Like everyone, if students live at university, they should remain in their current accommodation and must not move back and forward between their permanent home and student home during term time. Students should only return home at the end of term for Christmas.

Guidance for Language Teachers July 2020

The following documents are guidance for Teachers based on information as of July 2020.

Guidance Document for Teachers - July 2020

Guidance Document for Teachers not in school - July 2020

Considerations which Language teachers may wish to take into account

The DfE document above refers to :


Schools should note that there may be an additional risk of infection in environments where you or others are singing, chanting, playing wind or brass instruments or shouting. This applies even if individuals are at a distance.

This may well be relevant also to Language lessons (especially in Primary where singing is a core activity). The following article take a different angle:


Further research on singing and its potential risk. (Added October 2020)


This pdf is from the Singing, Wind Instruments (SWI) and Performance Activities Working Group.

You might be interested in these extracts (numbered as in the document and selected for relevance to the classroom):


Singing, playing of wind instruments, and high-volume speech in presentation and performance

settings have been singled out as potentially high-risk activities for transmission of SARS CoV-2,

following several well-documented outbreaks associated with choirs and performances across the

world. These have raised questions about the potential for droplet and aerosol transmission from

these sources.

We have reviewed the international evidence base and commissioned two research trials (PERFORM

and SOBADRA) to investigate droplet and aerosol production in performance events.


This work is on-going and we outline recommendations for further research and analysis


3.1. The total mass of droplets generated from singing is a similar order of magnitude to

speaking at a comparable volume for the same time duration.

3.2. Droplet deposition onto surfaces from singing and speech does not generally extend

beyond 2m from the subject (high confidence level).

3.4. Oral bacteria can be detected in droplets and aerosols generated during respiratory

activities, including singing. This shows that droplets can carry microorganisms.

4.3. Singing produces more aerosols … than speaking at a similar loudness (medium

confidence level).

4.4. The loudness of singing and speaking is a significant factor in determining the amount (total

mass) of aerosol generated:

4.4.1. Singing and speaking at a low or medium loudness does not produce significantly

more aerosol than breathing (medium confidence level),.

4.4.2. Very loud singing and speaking can generate around 20-30 times more aerosol (in

terms of total mass) than breathing, quiet singing and speaking (high confidence level).

4.5. Some individuals produce a much greater mass of droplets and aerosol than other people,

to the extent that breathing from a small number of people (2 out of 25 in the PERFORM

study) generates as much material as singing at the loudest volume does by others. (high

confidence level).


5.2. In terms of droplet spread, social distancing is a prime mitigation. In terms of aerosol, social

distancing and ventilation are important mitigation measures.


ALL members have asked DfE for specific guidance on choral speaking, but have as yet received no specific response.

If a class is seated facing the front of the class the projection of any droplets may well not create a particular risk of contamination.


Classroom equipment :  

The requirements for regular cleaning of sports equipment, etc. may impact on things Language teachers use regularly for teaching and learning also:

  • Whiteboards – pupils may need to have their own ?
  • Laminated cards / documents
  • Soft toys or puppets for story-telling or roleplay
  • Realia
  • Dice, mini-flashcards, etc.
  • Shared laptops, textbooks, worksheets


Blended learning, or home learning has been a feature of the Lockdown period, but has issues of equity for pupils who do not have online access at equipment at home . Colleagues may wish/need to have plans of how to maintain learning for pupils in this situation (See FAQs) .

The article below highlights some issues.

Stephen Heppell: Home learning : equity

The obvious equity problem from having some children at home with no technology, no bandwidth and no support is tough enough, but is only a part of the problem. In 2020 it is not unusual to have a parent's "work" computer around, but these are often locked down ("no downloading") and with a parent often working from home too, there is competition for use of even that restricted computer, and for bandwidth ("will you stop streaming, I'm trying to Zoom for work"). Experience of home learning varies. All homes are unique. 

Tasks need be be pre-announced, to have a clear and finite time for completion, to have a warning of the approaching completion deadline and to have an endpoint which values everyone's contributions. As you move away from this model you will lose engagement and participation. Clearly also the tasks need to be "bigger" - more project based application than disaggregated knowledge collection. Tasks can overlap a little too: you might be pre-announcing an activity as a previous one is drawing to a close. The pre-announcements need to contain little "hooks" to catch everyone's attention. These work best as visual material, usually. 



Online learning in lockdown can be a lonely place. There are myriad reasons for setting tasks and activities often in pairs or maybe threes. Having other members in your little group keeps everyone on task ("see you tomorrow; let's see how far we've got by then..."). A collaborative task has an immediate sense of audience, but most importantly perhaps it considerably reduces the load on the teacher as the children mentor and partner each other along. And the children will signal problems ("nobody has heard from him in 5 days...") with their peers. 



Children born in this millennium will need the skills of working with others around the world. Home learning is a wonderful opportunity to help build that capability. If you have contacts of colleagues in other schools in other countries, then arranging shared activities with them will help build these skills. Perhaps most important is for your learners to understand the difference between working with others sharing your line of longitude and sharing with others, as you sleep, on your line of latitude. 

Learning needs spaces for (1) collaboration, (2) for individual endeavour and (3) for celebration / exhibition / audience. Try to think how those three map onto your online learning experience. The collaboration in this instance is largely online, or with siblings. Often it is far too one-way and then individual - a lot of Me but not much See and We. Online galleries of work are appealing, but you can think of many other good solutions, no doubt. 

When we surveyed thousands of people in the 1990s to ask about their fondest remembered "best learning experiences" they always reported that there was an audience for their work. This is an area where online learning has huge advantages. Not many see your work on a classroom wall; the whole world can see your work in a gallery online. In setting and managing home learning tasks, paying attention to the widest possible audience is time well spent that will be repaid in further engagement. If you don't have a gallery or some online celebration of the children's work, you are missing a really important element. TV show's like Blue Peter have known that for decades. 


Mixed Age 

For all sorts of reasons, many school organise their children in same age groupings, rather than same stage groupings. With the exception of twins, triplets etc and "merged families" few children live with others the same age. In our 30 years of online learning work it has been clear that mixed age tasks on line are effective. The littlest ones want to adopt the role model of the oldest and the oldest respond well to the responsibility of leadership.

Members helping Members - Frequently Asked Questions and how we are coping

Send your advice for others to read to  


How is your school providing language learning next year?   

How will we need to adapt our practice? 

What positive outcomes can we foresee for the Autumn term? 

Frequently Asked Questions

All answers and thoughts welcome 
  • Use of target language in the classroom if speaking is to be kept to a minimum 
  • How to maximise speaking opportunities in our Y11 and Y13 classes as speaking exams are not going to take place 
  • How to teach in a blended learning environment where individual children or parts of classes are being taught online whilst the rest of the class is being taught in school 
  • How to facilitate access to the lesson for students who might be working from home – with inline access and especially without inline access 
  • Creating flexible schemes of work to cater for sudden lockdowns (with online teaching or work being sent home) 
  • What we would keep from teaching online in lockdown (because it actually enhances our classroom practice) 
  • What we would prefer not to keep and why (what can we only achieve through classroom teaching and how should we prioritise this when we have our students back in class) 
  • What apps and websites we would like students to have access to on their devices (for those who have devices) 
  • What equipment we would like students to have for MFL lessons
  • What support we would like to provide for students and why (KOs etc.) 

How we are coping

ALL members are always great supporters of each other, and we invite you to send to ALL, for wider sharing, any suggestions for:

  • Strategies for maintaining as much ‘normality’ as possible, while avoiding risk
  • Plans that fit your context
  • Messages to learners
  • Messages to families

Please write to 


"My school taught online throughout lockdown and we have been working to a normal timetable, but I know other colleagues who have been sending through work each day, others have been working on a rota basis (one week on, one week off), even some colleagues have been teaching in another school in their partnership."


"We've decided to do "silent repetition" (mouthing/whispering words rather than our usual full repertoire of repetition techniques), we're cutting down on the amount of pair work and setting limited speaking activities where pupils can respond to each other but stay facing forward rather than turning towards their partner whilst doing this, we're putting our repetition onto Google Classroom so this can be used as a Home Practice activity and pupils can practice individually. We will check pronunciation by asking individual pupils to repeat words and do activities as Teacher - Individual Pupil, rather than in Pairs.  Some colleagues from other schools have simply said it's "chalk and talk" with nothing else."

Autumn Questionnaire

In the ALL Autumn Questionnaire we asked members to tell us

What is different?

What plans do you have in place for teaching in the classroom / remotely?

Have you changed your schemes of work / learning to meet these new challenges?

Which new resources have you created?

Are you still able to offer educational visits and / or cultural activities?

Have you changed the emphasis of your lessons with any age-group?

How do you cover all of the language skills, and provide sufficient individual practice?

Are you monitoring / recording progress differently?

Are you communicating differently with pupils / students / families / colleagues?


We thank all the contributors (from various contexts) and post a few selected responses here as prompts for thinking: 


What is different?

I must stay at the front of the class, as I teach French across two phases (Year 3/4 and Year 5/6). Singing is not allowed; we mouth the words. Games involving passing items from child to child are not allowed.

We cannot do much group work or sharing material due to covid

Pupils are in the same classroom with teacher at a distance throughout the lesson so there is less interaction with pupils and being able to check work as they go along. The department has thought of a list of activities that are covid-friendly and some that are not so. Photocopying is reduced and we are not using textbooks as we do not have enough to meet infection control measures.

Most activities can continue. No movement, reduced choral repetition, fewer interactive games, no surveys or speaking practice except in pairs.

Not teaching in language rooms, keeping distance because teachers move between bubbles, no use of realia or singing.

No more specialist classrooms or ready access to stock rooms and resource base, we have to carry our resources around with us (requiring a lot of organisation, forward planning and muscle); no breaks - we now run between classrooms from one end of the building, between floors, 10 minutes to get there, then having to set up and disinfect the room, whilst students get restless outside (they only had a few steps to go to get to the next classroom)


What plans do you have in place for teaching in the classroom / remotely?

Many teachers referred to resources and suggestions in the ‘Home Learning Help’ pages.

Links to cultural activities which children can access.

In languages, we decided to go paperless. We use the Google technology and lots of online tools.

We use Google classroom; we are now trying to get our heads around teaching face-to-face and remotely at the same time ! (as we now have many students self-isolating while most of the class is in school).

If a pupil is absent all lessons are then recorded and Google meet is used, so hybrid learning and teaching since August. If a second lockdown happens then will revert to online face to face as before.



Have you changed your schemes of work / learning to meet these new challenges?

Not really. I am adapting activities as I go along. For example, we used virtual finger puppets in Year 3 (just making a 'mouth' open and close with our fingers).

Yes, I do apply different group settings and games where children do not need to move.

KS4 - yes, adapting to fill gaps in grammar & topic we couldn't cover during lockdown. Yr 8&9 at the moment no, ploughing on, and will adapt when we find gaps.

Yes. We have reduced content (i.e. vocabulary)

Yes, need must.  Two hours lectures/seminars can only realistically be for 40 minutes with breakout rooms.



Which new resources have you created?

I have created some virtual classrooms on Google Slides and adapted resources made by others (LIPS members).

Purchased Wordwall

Isolation versions of lessons & not creating one google slide for an entire half-term for isolation - covering/shadowing the normal lessons.

Using existing resources but recording audio over the top of presentations.

Knowledge Organisers for each unit of work, which we give to students at the start of the unit (so they have a reference point in case of absence).

A new way allow for collaboration. Making use of Padlet postings so that students can see what their fellow students are thinking etc.

Google classrooms, online exercise books. All pupils must now bring a device/laptop to school. Digital work banks.



Are you still able to offer educational visits and / or cultural activities?

Reassuringly not all respondents said No .


Have you changed the emphasis of your lessons with any age-group?

GCSE - focus more on writing which is a usual weakness and is now more important than ever. It was the skill we couldn't practise much in lockdown to avoid use of online translators

Yr11 - big focus on grammar & writing skills.

Yes; we do more oral work whilst we have them in class face-to-face (in readiness for further spells of shutdown / quarantine).

More independent research.


How do you cover all of the language skills, and provide sufficient individual practice?

Try to scaffold the teaching by including the 4 skill while developing the desired Learning objective. Start with pictures of animals, pronunciation, repetition, writing, speaking.

Our lessons are carefully planned to cover all 4 skills. Unsure of how to access individual speaking though. Considering online recordings for homework.

Attempting to develop students' independent skills with speaking sending recordings of work to teacher. Listening using textivate,  transcription, students checking own work and self-correcting. Reading used as a model for writing.

Most skills can be practised but using less interactive strategies.

By creating good digital resources. We are lucky to have assistants to help with speaking.

Reading / writing mostly gets done at home now; we need the face-to-face lessons for interaction

Speaking skills are not being covered as well as before. Also harder to offer one on one support in class as movement restricted.

Challenging, but can only focus on small-scale and one skill at a time.



Are you monitoring / recording progress differently?

I'm including  a mini-assessment activity each term ... teachers in class completing a class monitoring sheet.

Yes, through Google and

We still intend to go ahead with our usual unit assessments.

Less peer marking and less paper records.

Use of Teams' Rubrics to give feedback to students.


Are you communicating differently with pupils / students / families / colleagues?

I find it frustrating not being able to go around the class offering individual guidance and feedback to the children during the lesson.

Students seem to email me more, as they  got used to doing this during lockdown.

More direct communication, video calls, phone calls to tutor.

Yes, as there are no visitors allowed in school there are no face to face Meetings. Generally, the usual communication between members of the school community is somewhat restricted due to the wearing of masks and the fear of catching Coronavirus.

Yes, we record our online lessons and make them available online. Face-to-face parents evenings have been cancelled for the time being.

Yes, most definitely. Expectation is more tailored to suit what we know is possible within the circumstances.

Yes. Monthly virtual coffee mornings with parents. No external visitors to school including parents. Colleagues communicate via digital as well.


Brief case study:

Teaching a 7 day module online. Spending more time getting to know the students as screen presence is far from ideal. Dealing with failing technology such as disconnection. Unable to discuss in depth. Students finding it challenging to express ideas in large groups. Smaller groups better, but tutor not able to go round 5 groups (for example) to share in discussion , do AFL. Planning stretches  and input ideas to extend thinking.


UNESCO offers advice to teachers and school leaders on their return to school.  These pages on COVID-19 and Education (Education: From disruption to recovery), are documents you may wish to read or share with your colleagues and departments. There were also a series of 6 webinars which took place which can be viewed here in full:

Other UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank documents relating to COVID-19 can be found below:

Framework for Reopening Schools

Supporting Teachers in back to schools efforts

Webinar 1: Learning

Webinar #1 of the joint UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank webinar series on the reopening of schools


Webinar 2: Safe School Operations

Webinar #2 of the joint UNESCO-UNICEF - World Bank webinar series on the reopening of schools.

Webinar 3: Well-being

Webinar #3 of the joint UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank webinar series on the reopening of schools.

Webinar 4: Reaching the most marginalized

Webinar #4 of the joint UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank webinar series on the reopening of schools.

Webinar 5: High stakes exams (World Bank)

Webinar #5 of the joint UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank webinar series on the reopening of schools.

Webinar 6: The latest evidence on the reopening of schools

Webinar #6 of the joint UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank webinar series on the reopening of schools.

Please see below links to Parliament POST briefings on:

Covid-19, children and schools

Child and adolescent mental health during COVID-19:

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