Teach English Online – Introduction
Why Teach English Online?
Teaching English (or any language) online is increasingly popular and will only continue to gain popularity. It is generally done one-to-one but more and more schools/teachers are also teaching small groups online. This introduction to the concept of online teaching—whether you’re self-employed or working for a school—looks at one-to-one teaching in particular.
- is flexible for you the teacher—and for the student too
- let’s you teach anywhere—and your students learn anywhere
- doesn’t involve wasted travel time or costs
- focusses on listening and speaking skills
- is less good for reading and writing skills (though by no means impossible)
- can be quite intense or stressful for you the teacher if you don’t have appropriate breaks
If you are teaching online through a school or similar, then the business issues are taken care of for you. Otherwise, if you are self-employed/freelancing you will need to consider:
- finding customers—anything from ads in local cafes/libraries to free or paid online directories and online advertising with language websites or Google/Facebook etc
- a method for getting paid—the easiest and most popular being PayPal
- running your own website or at least a social media page
- having at least a basic contract that includes matters such as your cancellation policy
While it is possible to teach online using a tablet (think iPad) or even a smartphone (think iPhone)—usually with dedicated teaching apps—this article is restricted to the conventional computer (desktop/laptop).
We’re going to assume you want to see and be seen while teaching online, not just hear and be heard.
Here is the basic hardware you will need:
- computer, whether desktop or laptop
- Internet connection (highest speed and most reliable possible)
- backup power source if you are in an area of the world subject to power cuts (a laptop might give you sufficient battery power)
Whatever your computer, it will need:
For you to hear:
- built-in speakers OR external headphones
For you to be heard:
- built-in microphone OR external microphone
Instead of the above you could just use a headset, which is external headphones with external mike combined—probably the best of all options with good sound quality. A headset can be wireless too, giving you total freedom of movement. Highly recommended.
For you to see:
- screen, which is usually part of your computer though it could also be an external monitor
For you to be seen:
- built-in or external webcam
If you teach online, the most basic platform you need is a video chat system, and the Big Three are:
The first and most obvious choice is Skype (now owned by Microsoft), which is generally free and cross-platform (PC/Mac, Android/iOS). You and your students will need a Microsoft account or Skype name to login.
Pros: it’s well-known and ubiquitous, has screen share, file transfer and IM (instant message) built-in
Cons: service sometimes unreliable
You and your students will need a Google account to login. It is free and generally cross-platform (though a plugin may be needed depending on browser).
Pros: screen share, YouTube share with realtime controls, great for Google ecosystem users (Drive, Docs, Slides etc)
Cons: service sometimes unreliable; slightly more difficult to learn than Skype
This Apple video chat software comes built-in to Mac computers and iOS devices (iPhone/iPad). Login is with an Apple account.
Pros: very reliable with high-quality fast video, easy to use
Cons: no screen share, video share or link share, no integrated IM. Apple only
For teachers new to online teaching, getting familiar with two if not all three of the above is recommended, allowing you more flexibility depending on your students’ access and giving you a fallback in case of technical issues (which happen).
There are other, more exotic and less ubiquitous platforms, some of which are dedicated to teaching online, and some of which are more proprietary in the sense that they get in on the act, perhaps providing their own marketplace for students and teachers to find each other and/or handling payments and taking a cut (more like being employed by a school). Here are a few worth exploring, in alphabetical order:
- Presentation software such as MS PowerPoint or Apple KeyNote (can also be online as in Google Slides)
- Word Processing software such as MS Word or Apple Pages (can also be online as in Google Docs)
- Audio Recording software (if not built into your platform) such as cross-platform Audacity or Apple Garage Band
- Email program online or offline which you undoubtedly have
In many ways, the same principles apply to actual online teaching as to offline or face-to-face teaching, principal among them:
- Prepare! Have a lesson plan, even if it’s on the back of an envelope. A lesson going off the rails or running out of rails is always embarrassing, even more so online where it may be more difficult to improvise.
- Don’t talk too much. Put another way, learn to shut up. Give your student thinking time, and reply time. Don’t be afraid of the sound of silence.
- Use warmers, just as you would in class. Be prepared for all eventualities by having plenty of fillers available.
Points relating more specifically to online lessons are:
- Make sure your online lessons are not too long. One hour (which really means 50 minutes) would be an absolute maximum in my opinion.
- If appropriate, send materials to students in advance so that they can read and prepare without wasting lesson time.
- Make liberal use of high-quality online resources. These can include audio, video, games, quizzes. Some of these might be used for homework rather than lessonwork—you will be the judge. You can send the URLs to your student before or during the lesson as required.
While teaching online can be applied to all four macro-skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing), it is especially useful for the aural/oral skills:
It also lends itself to the teaching of micro-skills like:
Teaching Listening Online
Apart from the obvious possibility of your student listening to you (not too much please!), online teaching makes it very easy to have your student listening to all kinds of English, using podcasts and videos from the web. Clearly these days you can find endless “authentic listening” (though mostly at higher levels), but there are also sites with audio and video made for learners at the appropriate level. Some of these have additional activities such as gap-fills and quizzes to test learners’ understanding. In other cases, you can prepare your own questions (for example using PowerPoint) and share them with your student using your desktop as a virtual whiteboard. Or of course ask questions orally. Listen to News with Tara Benwell is an excellent and topical weekly listening resource. But it’s much more than that, too. With this resource your students can practise listening, reading, writing and even speaking. See teacher’s notes here
Teaching Speaking Online
Teaching online allows you to concentrate on pronunciation and fluency. You can very easily record your student speaking and play it back right there and then, or later. (Depending where you are in the world you may need to have explicit permission before recording your student.) The online classroom is ideal for conversation that builds confidence, but also for homing in on language points (and errors) and focusing on any pronunciation problems.
Teaching Grammar Online
If a student particularly wants to study grammar (or perhaps has some grammar points for you to clarify), you can use tools such as PowerPoint and share the details on your virtual desktop (whiteboard). In addition of course, you can visit many online grammar pages with your students and go over various tutorials or have them do grammar quizzes online (though this may be better reserved for homework).
Not Forgetting Homework
If you believe in homework, there are plenty of ways to do this for your online students. The most basic way is to send printable worksheets for your student to complete and return. But really you can be as creative and ingenious as you want. Send your students to website activities such as quizzes or ESL games to revise what you have just taught, have them practise dictation online, or read an online text in preparation for your next lesson.
Are you teaching English online? Or perhaps you’ve studied a language online? Any comments you have about your experiences welcome below in the comments 😉
Thank you for recommendations and names of programs! About Paypal I can say that unfortunately, this service does not support some countries and mine as well. What else could be done to deal with it?
Erica Soto says:
Great idea but it needs more research on the subject-the students has the last word.
I’m ready for teaching English grammar on line. My level is Upper-Intermediate.
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