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Tips for new online teachers of English

Tips from experienced online teachers to new online teachers.
So what advice would you give to a new online teacher of English? Well, I think the first thing is to get to know your student. Find out what they’re interested in. Find out why they’re learning English, but also do some diagnosis. Find out what they’re good at, what they’re not good at, also what they think they’re good at and not good at. I think needs analysis is really, really important. I agree. What about you? I think planning is really key, in particular having a backup plan. We always plan. We know what we’re going to do, but thinking about what we’re going to do when things go wrong.
So you set a student some homework and you want them to have done that homework for the lesson. It’s really important, but they’ve not done it. What are you going to do– things like that. It’s a matter of planning. You really need good ideas that are going to fill the time. So if you’re teaching online for an hour, you need an hour of material that naturally has variation in pace because you’re not physically in the room with someone. You’re limited in how you can change the pace. So it’s thinking very carefully about the types of activities.
The advice I’d give to anyone who wants to become an online teacher is to plan, plan, plan for all eventualities because of tech difficulties, basically. That’s the number-one issue you’re likely to have. For one thing, making sure your technology 100% works. So I know that sounds like the bare basics, but technology fails you. And so I, for example, one time a headset that I have used lots and lots of times on the exact same computer. Just my very first class ever actually, it just did not work. So you have to understand your platform and how it works before you start. And then, ideally, you should have a practise with somebody else on the other end because actually it’s really difficult.
Because if you’re trying to teach and you have sort of information in your head that you’re trying to get across or a direction that you’re trying to push the conversation in, that’s one thing. So then you are speaking. You’re obviously kind of arranging your teaching materials at the same time, and then there’s this chat going on which you can’t actually read when you’re speaking, although some people I guess they can. So then there’s this chat, and then maybe you’re responding to people in the chat and you’re trying to speak again, and then a flag comes up to say that someone else is ready to do something. So the management of that environment can be quite overwhelming when you start.
I think just making sure to review the information beforehand because every now and then it still happens to me that I’m going through the slides and I accidentally say something that’s not exactly what was the plan. I use a different vocabulary word, for example, say talk instead of chat when chat was really the word that they wanted to focus on– so just reviewing the material a little bit more. I think it’s important to make sure the students are comfortable with how the class operates, make them comfortable with each other.
Before you even start teaching a class, you might invite your group or your learner to a session where you do a quick orientation to make sure that they can use the tools from their perspective, to make sure that the internet connection works. So you might just do a “getting to know you” activity, check it all works, check they can all write on the blackboard or the whiteboard that’s on the screen, and check that you’re happy with the interaction. And then when that session’s over, you can welcome them into the first real lesson, but you already know them. You’ve already formed a relationship with them.
So it’s a little bit easier for everyone to start communicating and focusing on the language because they’re not so worried about the technical side of it. Yes, definitely prepare everything. Review all the materials that you’re going to be working with. But it’s just like working in any other classroom environment, just with a camera rather than in person. And be prepared to use your face a lot. [LAUGHS]

Whenever we start teaching in a new context, we find ourselves having to spend more time researching and planning. We also need to pay more attention to the techniques we use during lessons to ensure they are effective and to deliver lessons which are as effective as possible.


Watch experienced online teachers of English share their tips for creating effective online lessons. Complete each sentence below with a word.

  1. Get to know your student, do a needs _____.

  2. Planning is key but have a _____ plan.

  3. Plan fully and make sure there is a _____ of different materials.

  4. Check that the _____ works.

  5. Understand your _____ and practise using it.

  6. _____ the teaching materials beforehand.

  7. Make sure the students are _____ with how the class works.

  8. Run an _____ session before you start teaching.

  9. Be prepared to use your _____ a lot.

Check your answers

If you’re planning on working for yourself, you’ll need to plan how you attract students. Read Cecilia Nobre’s article here giving you tips on how to market yourself as an online teacher.

Reflect and share

What do you think the biggest challenge might be when starting to teach online? Why? How might you overcome it? Share your ideas in the comments and then respond to at least two comments you read. Can you offer any advice to other course participants?

This article is from the free online

Teaching English Online

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