Using the text chat feature to teach English online

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There are so many tools available to us in virtual learning environments and online teaching platforms these days that we can easily overlook the value of some of the less glamorous features such as synchronous text communication when we teach English.

Text chat

In this article I’ll look at some of the ways we can use the text chat feature in the Wiziq online classroom to help develop our students’ linguistic and communicative abilities.

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Are you there?

One of the first and most immediate uses for the text chat feature on any virtual classroom is just to establish that you are present and that the student can hear you. When we first start using video chat or VOIP, the most natural thing to do is to ask the person if they can hear you. That’s fine if they can, but useless if they can’t and not very helpful if you can’t hear their reply.

Are you there?

So it makes better sense to establish that first contact through the text chat and just type in that you are going to start counting and ask them to reply by text if they can hear you. Then ask them to do the same. This way you can easily establish communication and save time.

Sentence dictations

You can use the text chat feature for short dictations. Just ask the students to write what they hear in the text chat window. Keep your dictations short, just one or two sentences at a time before letting students check to see if they are correct is enough. You can start by just getting them to listen and try to count the number of words they hear you saying in the sentence.

Sentence dictation

This helps them to establish where the word boundaries are and to identify any contraction or catenation features. Once they have established the number of words ask them to write the sentence. This is a great way to give students focused intensive listening practice and check that they really can accurately decode what you are saying.


You can use the text chat feature when presenting new vocabulary or revising old vocabulary. Show the students some pictures and get them to write the associated word into the text chat window. This will help you to also check that they can spell the new vocabulary properly too and at the end of the lesson they can copy and paste the words from the text chat window into their notes.

Spelling vocabulary

You can also use the text feature to quickly spell and record any new words that occur during the lesson and ensure that students make notes of them.

Taking notes

Vocabulary isn’t the only thing that students can make notes about in the text chat window. You can also make sure they are taking notes about grammar structures, typing in example ones which personalise the language so they are making sentences about themselves and at the end of the lesson they can copy and paste from the chat window into a more permanent notebook like Evernote or a Word document.

Taking notes

Reported speech

Using the text chat is a great way to practice reported speech. You can say a sentence and ask the student to write the reported version into the text chat. You could make this more complicated by telling them which reporting verb they should use, for example; ‘explain’, ‘argue’, ‘suggest’, etc.

Reported speech

You could also reverse this process and say or write the reported the reported version and get the student to say the direct speech sentence.

Sentence transformations

You can type in sentences and then ask students to transform them. There are many kinds of transformation you can ask them to do. It could be transforming active to passive voice, or something as simple as transforming first person to third person.

Sentence transformations

You could also do these orally to give them more listening practice and get the student to write the transformation.

Error correction

When you are listening to students speaking you can make notes of any errors you hear, then when they have finished speaking, or near the end of the class, you can copy paste or type each of their errors into the text chat window and ask them to try to correct them.

Sentence correction

They can type the corrected version in below. Again, they can copy and paste these errors and corrections into their notes at the end of the lesson.

Understanding SMS text genre

Texting is in itself a contemporary genre of communication that is as important for students to understand as email or writing a letter. These days far more communication is done by SMS text than by paper-based traditional snail mail. So why not just use the text chat feature to have short conversations with your students and help them to develop their written fluency.

SMS Texting

If you are from the generation that isn’t really confident using SMS text lingo, you can easily cheat and use text translator such as Transl8it or catch up on your texting acronyms by doing the Texting Acronyms Quiz. Of course you also need to teach students when and with whom it is appropriate to use this genre and these abbreviations.

Using emoticons

Never underestimate the value of clear feedback and praise. You can use the emoticons to get students to self-correct or to give applause or gold stars for outstanding behaviour.


Emoticons for praise

You can also use them indicate things like whether words are positive or negative in meaning by using happy or sad faces.


These are just a few of the ways we can use the text chat feature to develop our students’ linguistic abilities. If you have other suggestions please do add them below.

Related links

  • Find out more about the British Council’s Aptis Test for Teachers
  • Find out more about Teaching for us

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