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Reflections on the TESOL 2021 Virtual Conference

March 29, 2021

Virtual TESOL 2021

A few members of the ESL Library team attend the annual TESOL convention every year. As per tradition, we always spend the Monday after TESOL reflecting on the event and sharing summaries of the top takeaways and sessions. Over the past several years, we've attended TESOL in Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle, Chicago, and Atlanta. This year's virtual TESOL was an entirely different experience, but we were thrilled to be able to sponsor the event, share what we've been up to for the past two years, and attend sessions for our own professional development. Here are some of my personal highlights and takeaways!

5 Great TESOL Sessions

Transformative Classrooms

Dr. Clint Smith 

Many attendees missed Dr. Smith's live opening plenary due to technical problems, but we were all grateful to TESOL for offering the recording so we didn't have to miss this great talk. Dr. Smith inspired us with poetry instead of powerpoints and spoke about the educator's role in teaching history and bringing relevant conversations to the classroom.

Dr. Clint Smith at TESOL

"It is so important for us to recognize that, as educators, we have a real opportunity and we have a real responsibility to create small communities in our classrooms in which our students can feel like they have the space and they have the permission and they have the opportunity to wrestle with and ask questions about things that, in other contexts of their lives, they might not be able to ask questions about.”

—Dr. Clint Smith

The Ubiquitous No. 3

Dr. Gabriel Maggioli

Here at ESL Library, we're about to launch our new digital speaking task, so I was excited to attend this session that focused on student speaking. One thing that Dr. Maggioli pointed out that I hadn't thought about for this task type is that we seldom give students the time to plan out what they are going to say. 

Dr. Maggioli at TESOL

"One of the characteristics of active, engaged learners who actually progress in language learning fairly quickly is that they do take a lot of risks."

—Dr. Maggioli

Implementing 6 Thinking Hats in Large Language Classrooms

Kaukab Azhar

This session focused on critical thinking skills. There were some useful takeaways for business teams too! Though Kaukab Azhar recommended that we shouldn't categorize people as a certain hat-wearing "type," it was hard not to think this way. I definitely wear my red hat (thinking with feeling and intuition) first and foremost. The speaker suggested that everyone should wear the same hat at the same time during a discussion, but also that everyone should try wearing all hats. Here's more info about Edward de Bono's 6 Thinking Hats.

Kaukab Azhar at TESOL 2021

"Employers are looking for criticial thinking skills."

—Kaukab Azhar

Using Gamification to Balance Academic Rigor and Soft Skill Development

Dr. Katie Welch

Katie had so many great ideas about keeping online learners engaged by gamifying your course. If you're concerned that your students log in and then head off to do other activities, she has a trick for keeping their eyes on the screen (hide Easter eggs for bonus points). This presentation proved that the look and feel of a presentation and the energy of a speaker is key to keeping the audience engaged. 

Katie Welch at TESOL 2021

“You can still take gamification elements and use them in your classroom even if you’re a nube (new/non-gamer).”

—Dr. Katie Welch

10 Quick and Easy Tricks for Creating Effective Reading Worksheets

Nancy Overman

Our in-house materials writers and editors always get inspiration from teachers at TESOL, and we love to attend sessions like Nancy's. If you like to make your own materials, you'll find some fun ideas here.

Nancy Overman at TESOL 2021

5 Benefits of the Virtual Environment

Though it's easy for a remote worker like me to conclude that a face-to-face TESOL convention has more to offer than a virtual one, there were definitely a few benefits to going virtual, including:

  • long-term access to recorded sessions & keynotes
  • connecting virtually with attendees and speakers and quickly finding them on other platforms like LinkedIn
  • ability to politely leave a session that is not a good fit
  • ability to take notes on a laptop (instead of going through pages of handwritten notes on the airplane)
  • eliminating the risk of contracting COVID-19 (plus no need to hire a puppy sitter!)

5 TESOL Takeaways 

Here are a few of my takeaways from this year:

  • Tech difficulties happen to everyone. We all need to be patient with each other (and have back-up plans).
  • Learning online all day is exhausting. There are so many distractions. Let's be patient with our students.
  • Conferences, even virtual ones, are a fantastic opportunity for networking. 1,808 people visited the ESL Library booth! 
  • Genre-based language teaching is an ELT trend to watch for this year (starting with relevant, engaging topics is key). We've got you covered there! 
  • Classrooms are small communities. A simple affirmation from an engaged, caring teacher can change a student's life forever. (A grade 3 teacher looked over Clint Smith's shoulder as he wrote a poem about clouds. That teacher told him he could be a writer one day.)

“We realize the importance of trusting in ourselves, knowing that we have superpowers and that this past year has helped us find them and develop them.”

—Deborah Short

5 ESL Library Sessions

If you attended TESOL, we hope you had a chance to come to one of our sessions! If you missed one, you can access ESL Library's recorded sessions at any time.

We also have similar sessions available in our Help section if you didn't register for TESOL. Tammy's Quick Intro offers a handy overview for anyone to watch at any time.

Did you attend this year's virtual TESOL? Do you have any sessions to recommend or highlights to share? Please leave a comment for us. We hope to see you in person next year! 

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