Blog in Coronatijd #1

Leven en werken in tijden van een intelligente lockdown in Coronatijd. Wat voor invloed heeft dit op onze manier van werken, op onderwijs en kennisontwikkeling? Wat zijn de nieuwe inzichten, leerpunten, wat gaat vanzelf goed, wat blijkt anders dan verwacht. We vroegen het diverse collega’s. Elke week posten we een blog van één van hen.

We starten deze blog-serie met de blog van Gail Ellis & Tatia Gruenbaum met de titel Writing mini picturebook lessons for English language teachers in times of Covid-19.

The challenge

I am Tatia Gruenbaum, a lecturer and a member of the Lectoraat Leerkracht at Avans University of Applied Sciences in Breda (NL).  My research centres on the use of picturebooks in primary English language teacher education in the Netherlands. In-line with this research interest, I am part of an online not-for-profit project (PEPELT[1]) which aims to support and educate teachers of English working with picturebooks as a rich and flexible resource. When Covid-19 forced primary schools to close my PEPELT co-founder, Gail Ellis, and I were aware that many teachers were feeling overwhelmed by the demands of teaching remotely during this crisis. Teaching English as a foreign (EFL), second (ESL) or additional language (EAL) to children is adding a further layer of difficulty to an already extraordinary online teaching challenge.

Offering support

Gail and I wanted to offer support.  We experimented with the idea of writing mini picturebook lessons using YouTube video recordings of authors reading aloud their own picturebooks. Our aim was for these lessons to be completed by children with teachers and/or parents (carers) at home, as well as in a classroom context with key worker children. The lessons would need to provide clear guidelines. We wanted children to engage with picturebooks, develop their English language, especially their listening skills, and enjoy meeting and listening to and watching the creator of the picturebook.

A three-stage model

With this in mind, Gail and I worked on a plan to reproduce the three stages of teaching an EFL picturebook-based lesson: pre-listening, listening to the story and post-listening. We drew on Gail’s story-based methodology  adapted from the Plan-Do-Review model (Ellis & Brewster 2014:22), to sequence the activities for each stage. We were aware that children using the materials would have differing ages and levels of English and would be based all over the world. We needed to ensure that our mini picturebook lessons were concise and offered teachers, parents and the children flexibility to meet their needs and interests but to also develop their English language skills. It was important to connect each lesson to children’s own context as well as to make links to other subjects in the curriculum.

Making learning explicit

We created our first lesson for Amazing by Steve Antony – a book with an imaginative story about a boy and his pet dragon. We decided that in:

  • Stage 1 (Look at the Cover) children explore the book cover to prepare and predict for Stage 2
  • Stage 2 (Listen and Watch) children listen and watch the author/illustrator reading and complete listening and comprehension tasks.
  • Stage 3 (Add your Voice) children review the story, expand and personalise their picturebook experience.

In order to guide children, as well as teachers and parents (carers) supporting children in English language learning, we have avoided lengthy instructions. We use action verbs in Stages 1 and 3 to indicate what children are required to do and to make learning intentions and learning strategies explicit. Examples in Stage 1 are “look, think, predict” and, in Stage 3, “review, create, observe and remember”.

Positive feedback

We posted our first lesson 19 March 2020 on our PEPELT website and shared it via our Facebook page. Feedback was encouraging and so we continued writing! To date, we have written 14 lessons. At the time of writing, our 14 lessons have been viewed 14.000 times on our website and shared all around the world. Primary English language teachers have reported how much they and their children are enjoying these lessons.  This has been very encouraging and motivates us to produce more lessons. Publishers and authors have also been very supportive and delighted with the lessons we have created based on their recordings. Our lessons have also been shared on many internal, national and international Covid-19 teaching resource pages such as Nuffic in the Netherlands, ELSA in France and APPI in Portugal but also by authors, bloggers and organisations such as Diverse Books in the USA and the IATEFL Young Learners and Teenagers Special Interest Group.

We will keep on writing while primary schools are closed and teachers consider our materials to be useful. Our skills are niche so having found a way to support primary English language teachers during this crisis is a humbling and rewarding experience. It shows we can all help in our own different ways.

About the Authors:

  • Gail Ellis, Independent ELT Consultant & author based in France, Co-founder of PEPELT (
  • Tatia Gruenbaum, Lecturer & PhD Student at Avans University of Applied Sciences (NL) and University College London Institute of Education (UK), Co-founder of PEPELT (


Ellis, G. and Brewster, J., 2014. Tell It Again! The Storytelling Handbook for Primary English Language Teachers.  British Council.


[1] Picturebooks in European Primary English Language Teaching (