Lockdown Downunder: some snapshots (and online lesson ideas!) from New Zealand

11th May 2020

Blog article by Jill Hadfield

Situation at the time of writing

We are currently in Week Seven of Lockdown. The government adopted a policy of ‘Go Early, Go Hard’ and ‘Test! Test! Test’! This means that at Level 4 only ‘essential services’ were open. No flights except to repatriate people. All repatriated Kiwis are quarantined in hotels for 14 days. No driving at all, except for food, pharmacy, or doctor. One could go out for exercise, but that’s all. We are now at Level 3- basically the same but a few more  services open. We are waiting to hear if we will go down to Level 2 next week. There have been 21 deaths so far; mostly infirm residents in a care home. The latest stats: between 0-2 new cases a day, around 1400 cases in total, 92% recovered with 2 in hospital.

We are so grateful for our Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern's mix of resolve and compassion, as well as her good sense and down to earth honest humanity. She gave her first national briefing in a tracksuit from home. She apologised to the nation for her informal attire but explained that she had just been putting their toddler, Neve, to bed "….and, as you parents will know, it can be a messy business”. She suggested putting coloured paper eggs in our windows, so that children out for a walk with their parents could have an Easter egg hunt. Here are ours: 

Some Vignettes of Lockdown Downunder

Before the Easter Egg Hunt, people had been putting Teddy Bears (or, in NZ English, "Tiddy Beers") in their windows so that children could go on a Bear Hunt. Remember that wonderful book by Michael Rosen - "We're Going On A Bear Hunt"? Here’s the author performing it – lovely video to share with children if you are teaching online. Get your students to do the actions!


Yesterday, a Lufthansa A380 jet with the last batch of 500 German nationals departed Auckland. It flew over our house and then did a big loop around the city centre to see the Sky Tower illuminated with the colours of the German flag.

Our daughter is a primary teacher, living across town with three teacher flatmates. They are all teaching online, working at different schools, and have been very supportive of each other with lesson planning, movie nights, a book club et al. I cannot imagine the organisational skills involved in teaching twenty 8-year olds by Zoom!  Here’s a nice idea she shared with us that you might like to try if you are teaching online. She asked the kids to go outside, sit quietly and to focus on their senses: what could they hear/see/smell/feel. Then they came back and shared impressions, and she gave them a framework to make a poem. A great idea for getting children away from the screen, and into the ‘real’ world!

The Student Volunteer Army (who did a wonderful job in Christchurch clearing up after the earthquakes there) are now doing shopping for the over 65s. The Sikh community are also doing this.  We appreciate the sense of community in NZ, the “can do” attitude, as well as the sense of humour! For example, the NZ Police have made some funny videos with advice on distancing: a fun song, ‘Two metres please”, and a translation guide to ‘teen speak’ for parents stuck at home with teenagers:


These fun videos could be used in lessons as listening comprehension, or even as a source for creative writing - for example, to write another verse for the song, or to write a parent-teenager dialogue.

Stop press!

Jacinda Ardern, our Prime Minister, has just announced that she, as well as all the ministers, are all going to take a 20% pay cut!

Positives arising from the Lockdown  

Staying in touch with family, friends and colleagues across the globe via social media, such as email, skype, zoom, facetime and even… old fashioned ‘telephone’! At one of these virtual meetings, we all showed an unusual object and the others had to guess what it was. Then the owner revealed the story behind it. Objects shared included a sextant, a Tibetan amulet and a porcupine fish float bladder! Again, a nice idea for an online teaching session: get your students to show an object, and the others can guess what it is, when or how they obtained it, or the story behind it!

Charlie’s choir concert, St Matthew Passion, was due this week; cancelled now, obviously, but the choir still meet for virtual sing-alongs. Charlie dressed up for one recording in the choir ‘uniform’ of black shirt and tie, but below waist he wore shorts and sandals!  After the recording, he came out to join me on the deck for a shouted conversation with neighbours and had to explain why he was dressed so oddly! The neighbours then demanded a performance; so, he sang the chorale and the whole street applauded!

What I think is keeping us sane, apart from all of the above, is trying to do something creative every day. I mean creative with a small ‘c’ – not works of art! Currently, we are trying our hands at a limerick competition – try to summarize a Shakespeare play in a limerick. Here’s one. Can you guess the play? And another one about the same play that somehow ended up being rather more about the NZ accent than the play:

When it looks like the marriage won't mend
she gets the wife to pretend
that she's dead
enough said
'cos it works out fine in the end.

"Ixit pursued by a beer"
is a line you don't often hear
But one time we did
Performed in In Zid
where Kiwis pronounce /eə/ as /ɪə/.

Creativity can give you a real boost! Try it! As a variation, ask students to summarize a book/film in a haiku. Can you guess these:

Precious ring is lost
Small men with hairy feet
Try to find it.

Orphan boy
Buys a broomstick and an owl
Defeats evil lord.

Old lady tells story
Of love, ships and icebergs
Lover dies, she survives.

This can make a nice lesson if you are teaching online! Get students to post a haiku and to guess the source of others’ haikus!

Finally, it’s been great to share something of our lives here ‘downunder’ and feel a sense of connection with you all in these strange times. Stay safe and keep cheerful! Noho ora mai!

Jill Hadfield (NZ)

About Jill

Jill Hadfield has worked in France, China, Tibet and Madagascar and  was until this year Associate Professor in Language Teacher Education, Unitec, New Zealand. She is currently working freelance, writing and editing ELT materials.  She  has published over 30 books for language teachers including the Communication Games series, Classroom Dynamics, Introduction to Language Teaching  and Motivating Learning. She has also written two travel books and a novel.  She is currently interested in bringing research into practice through the Research and Resources in Language Teaching series, creativity in language teaching and online interaction.  Her latest book Interaction Online, with Lindsay Clandfield (CUP)  was shortlisted for the Ben Warren Prize  and the ELTons Award for Innovation in Teacher Resources.

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