Conducting successful online English lessons and engaging young students can be challenging.
Which factors make or break an online ESL lesson?
Many teaching strategies you’ve learned won’t work outside a physical classroom when you teach English online to kids. Online language lessons aren’t just about cracking open a textbook and lecturing for 25 minutes.
Join our mailing list to receive a free ESL teaching resource every week.
It’s your job as a teacher to make sure that each lesson finishes as a hit instead of a hit on your approval rating.
But worry not! Follow the 7 pro-tips below when you teach kids online — and your students and their parents will certainly book you again and again.
- What's So Challenging About Teaching English to Kids Online?
- The Key to Online Lessons is Student Engagement
- 1. Show Up a Professional
- 2. Prepare Your Classroom
- 3. Prepare Before Each Class
- 4. Use Activities and Props
- 5. Effectively Use Your Voice and Gestures
- 6. Always Have a Backup
- 7. Leave Actionable Feedback
- You’re Ready for the Ultimate Lesson
What’s So Challenging About Teaching English to Kids Online?
The first thing you have to do when considering an online teaching job is to understand the differences between having classes in a traditional educational environment and having them online.
They are two completely separate experiences.
Your TEFL course might have touched on online teaching a little, but it probably mostly focused on practical classroom skills. Those skills, however, don’t always translate from a physical classroom to an online one with the type of fluidity you might expect.
In an online setting, incorporating outside media, using physical objects, and involving kinesthetic learning methods will largely be unavailable to you as an educator.
You won’t be able to look over a student’s shoulder as they read or write. You also won’t be able to jump through the computer screen and have as many physical interactions with your students. And, of course, it will also be harder to discipline them.
It will be necessary to adapt and to improvise by coming up with new teaching methods, introducing different ways of checking for understanding, and developing innovative ways to keep your students entertained and engaged throughout class.
Furthermore, the way you plan your lessons will change depending on whether you only have one student or a group of eight students online.
Remember, the structure and audience of an online lesson will always influence the approach you should take.
For a successful online career, it’s so important to learn the most effective methods to teach kids English online.
The Key to Online Lessons is Student Engagement
In the online TEFL industry, you will most commonly teach students ranging from about 5 to 11 years old.
Most bookings tend to be 25- to 45-minute one-on-one English sessions.
That gives you just enough time to make an impression, teach a few key concepts, and make the kid’s parents want to book you again.
The most important thing to remember about teaching English online, especially to young learners in a one-to-one setting, is that it’s imperative to make them feel happy and welcome in your classroom.
That means you must give them your full attention, always be pleasant and smile, and deliver quality work. By being kind and friendly, you make students feel comfortable engaging with you.
Student engagement is the most important part of the lesson. When students are active participants in your lessons, they won’t just learn more – they’ll also be more likely to book your classes again.
Let’s explore some methods you can use to get your little students to be more engaged in the classroom.
1. Show Up a Professional
Showing up to class hungover wearing last night’s outfit will quickly get you fired from a professional online teaching position.
Remember, your clients are children and their parents!
That means you have to be a role model at all times. There is an expectation that you will show up promptly to each class, smile, be well-groomed, and maintain a professional decorum at all times.
Keep in mind that each class that you teach is recorded and monitored.
Not only does the student retain a video copy of every class on their student dashboard, usually there is also a company employee reviewing each lesson for quality control purposes.
If a lesson starts steering into inappropriate territory or a teacher dresses unprofessionally, they will soon hear about it.
So do yourself a favor and make sure that a video or image of you doesn’t end up in your company’s employee training manual as an example of the things you shouldn’t do while on the job. (Yes, this happens).
Choose your wardrobe selectively. I would recommend dressing business casual at all times – or check on your company’s specific dress code.
Even though you’re teaching online, it is important to remember that this job is no less “real” than any other. Certain standards must be upheld, and every company has an image to maintain.
A smart, preppy blouse, a button-up shirt, a collared shirt, or a nice, clean polo work best.
2. Prepare Your Classroom
Keeping your background tidy yet visually interesting is key to creating a fun, professional environment for your students.
You don’t want your dirty laundry making an appearance in the background of your video. However, you don’t want your background to look totally boring, either.
Place maps, alphabet posters, or other fun, simple visuals behind you to create a classroom feel that adds some interest without distracting your students or looking messy.
Proper lighting and good acoustics are also essential to creating the right atmosphere for your classroom. Dim, flickering lighting or an echoey room can ruin even the best-planned class by ruining the atmosphere and creating distractions.
If necessary, buy a small, portable lamp to make sure the student can see you clearly on the screen. Sometimes, only using room lighting isn’t enough to illuminate your face on the screen.
Make sure your camera is positioned properly and centered in the middle of your screen.
In my opinion, students should be able to see you from the elbows up. That way, they can see your facial expressions and mannerisms. It also gives students a more comfortable feeling because it is more personal, almost like talking face-to-face.
3. Prepare Before Each Class
Before each class, you should always make sure you know who your student is, how old they are, what their language level is, and what you’ll be teaching.
While most online TEFL companies do provide curriculum and online books to help steer each class in the right direction, you can supplement the materials given with little effort to take your classes over the top.
Incorporating props, knowing a student’s level before class, having an idea of a student’s interests, and brainstorming additional games or topics of discussion can really help enhance a class.
If you really want to have a great online class experience, show a student you went the extra mile by including props regarding the subject they chose or doing research on the things that they like to discuss: things like these can mean the difference between getting booked again or being forgotten forever.
4. Use Activities and Props
For a young learner learning about fruits, being sure to have flashcards of different types of fruit would be a great idea. If you have some of those fruits in your fridge, take them out and show the student.
Ask the student to describe the fruit and ask them questions such as “What do you think this fruit will taste like?”, “Do you like this fruit?”, “Do you eat this type of fruit often?”
There are so many games that you can play by incorporating flashcards or physical props while teaching English online to kids.
Just a few weeks ago, I had a class with a young learner about pets.
She really wanted a dog, but her parents weren’t convinced of the idea. During the lesson, I brought my puppy on screen, and we described what it looked like together, what tricks dogs can do, and where dogs like to go.
She was so delighted to see the puppy in class and left a wonderful post-class evaluation. I will be seeing the same student next week for another online lesson.
Many young learners are just starting to learn their numbers, colors, and ABCs. There is so much you can do to make those lessons more entertaining than simply reading from a book.
One of my favorite games to play when students are learning colors is “Find the Color”. It is basically a scavenger hunt where I tell the student to find something around them in the color that I ask for. They love to laugh and run around looking for the perfect item.
When teaching numbers, I always use stuffed animals to teach students how to count. My favorite game is “How Many Bears Do I Have?” The students count each bear, learn to describe them, create stories about each one, and solve math equations using them.
In terms of ABCs, most online providers offer tracing exercises and repetition exercises in each book. To make those lessons more fun, use the power of sound. If a student is learning the letter “A”, try to teach them how to say A softly, then at a medium sound, and then loudly.
When you turn tasks that can often be mundane into a game, students have the best time.
When I was younger, I always watched a cartoon about a group of superheroines who would fight evil with magic wands. At the time, those types of cartoons were relatively new. Now, similar shows are everywhere.
I try to take advantage of that by bringing my light up, magical toy wand that plays music. When a student answers a question very well or solves a difficult question, I turn on the magic wand and reward the student with a song and some horribly hilarious flailing. They love it!
Use props, always!
5. Effectively Use Your Voice and Gestures
Remember the importance of your body language. Smiling and maintaining a pleasant demeanor throughout class will make your students feel comfortable and welcome in your class.
Keeping your voice at an appropriate volume and pitch and speaking and slowly and clearly will also improve the quality of your class.
You can also indicate that you’re engaged in class by nodding to indicate that you hear what your student is saying and refraining from eating, drinking, or scrolling online during class. Use body language and gestures with your hands to help establish your points. Total physical response will help you engage students better and will aid in their understanding of the ideas you’re illustrating.
6. Always Have a Backup
When teaching English online, sometimes accidents happen.
Whether there’s a family emergency, a power outage, an internet issue, or an online textbook not loading, it’s smart to always have a backup plan.
Document everything. If there is a glitch on a website that you need for your lesson, take a screenshot of it. If a student is late for class or a no-show, be sure to record that in case that information is needed later.
If concerned whether or not a textbook will load, download it in advance.
7. Leave Actionable Feedback
As soon as you begin teaching your class, start taking notes about things you observe throughout the class.
If a student keeps mispronouncing a word or has trouble with a certain grammar concept, make a note so that you can remind them to work on it when you leave them feedback after class.
You should also correct mistakes students make during class so that they don’t get into bad habits.
However, it’s important to do this in a kind, positive way. Rather than telling them they’re wrong, simply demonstrate the correct way to say a word or sentence once they’ve finished speaking.
Pay attention to any notes left prior to the class about the student’s preferred correction style and help cater to their needs.
Once you have finished teaching your first class, you might think you’ve done all there is to do. Not so fast, though!
Your job is not over when the lesson ends. After each lesson, you usually have the opportunity to leave feedback for the student or their parents.
This feedback might seem like an unimportant, throwaway step, but you should put as much care into it as you put into your lesson.
Not only can the feedback help your students keep working on their English outside of class, it’s also a way to sell yourself and further set yourself apart from other teachers.
To be an effective online English teacher, it is important to list the positive aspects of the lesson and the student’s abilities. It is equally essential to reference all of the things that a student might have missed in the lesson or the things that they must work on to improve their overall English abilities.
Be sure to use the sandwiching technique when giving feedback to the students. You want to be honest about your feedback but also delicate in your approach.
Always incorporate ways to improve in between positive sentences offering the student praise. Always end each lesson memo with a positive sentence thanking the student for coming to your lesson and stating that you hope to see them again.
You’re Ready for the Ultimate Lesson
Remember, when you teach English online to kids, you only have one shot to make a lasting, positive impression. What you do in your online lessons count.
So, show up dressed for the job, put on a smile, and prepare some games and fun activities to use in the classroom.
It doesn’t take too much time to do and the young learners and their parents always notice it – and often reward teachers for it by booking them again in the future.
One of the best parts of being an online English teacher is having the satisfaction of seeing your students improve throughout their time with you.
You may also realize you have grown as a teacher, too. So, teach, teach, teach – and remember, there is no perfect teacher.
What matters is getting the online English teaching experience you need and putting your best effort forward to grow in your skills.