The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English Online Like a Pro

Do you find it challenging to conduct successful online English lessons and to engage your students? After reading and applying this guide to online teaching methods, your students (or their parents) will want to book you again and again.

Your TEFL course might have touched on online teaching a little, but 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. That’s why it’s so important to learn the most effective online teaching methods for a successful online career.

However, online teaching isn’t just about cracking open a textbook and lecturing to someone for 25 minutes. So many things can make or break an online lesson, and 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.

This article aims to guide you in determining which techniques you can incorporate into your teaching style and lessons for the purpose of being the most effective online English teacher possible.

Read our guide on how to become an online teacher with VIPKID.

Why Online Teaching Poses Challenges

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.

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 won’t be able to jump through the computer screen and have as many physical interactions with your students. 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 focusing on the entertainment aspect of teaching. 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.

The Key to Online Teaching is Student Engagement

Well, I’ve addressed that there is a huge variety of the types of classes you might encounter in the online TEFL industry, most commonly learners you will teach will fit the description of being 5 to 11 years old. Most bookings tend to be 25- to 45-minute one-to-one English sessions. That gives you just enough time to make an impression, be memorable, and make the student 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 good. That means you must give them your full attention, always be pleasant and smile, and deliver quality work. By being kind and friendly, students will feel comfortable engaging with you. Student engagement is the most important part of a lesson. By being active with you, they will learn more and will likely want to take your courses again.

Let’s explore some methods you can use to get your students to be more engaged in the classroom.

Show Up a Professional

Showing up to class hungover wearing last nights party tank top will quickly get you fired from these types of remote jobs. Remember, the majority of the clients in the TEFL online teaching industry are children and their parents. That means you have to be a role model at all times. Even when teaching adults, 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.

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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 a company employee also reviewing each lesson for quality control purposes. If a lesson starts steering in an unprofessional manner 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. Even though you’re teaching online, it is important to remember that it is a job. 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.

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Kids love props, and grown-ups, too. Make sure to always have suitable props at hand. Yummy!

Prepare Your Classroom

Keep a tidy background. You don’t want your dirty laundry making an appearance in the background of your video. Neutral and muted colors look best. Don’t select rooms in your home with vibrant walls or strange acoustics.

Make sure you have proper lighting in your room. 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.

Prepare Before Each Class

Always know who your student will be before class and what they want to learn about. While most online TEFL companies do provide curriculum and online books to help steer each class in the right direction, 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, showing 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 can mean the difference between getting booked again or being forgotten forever.

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.

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 own 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!

Teach English From Home

Earn up to $22 per hour. If you are American or Canadian, have a degree and 1 year of teaching experience, VIPKID wants you as an online teacher!

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For an adult learner studying the stock market, providing a current newspaper article about the subject might lead to an additional conversation to supplement the lesson. For one insisting they would like to find a new job, recommending resume writing books or offering links to good job references they can review after class can really impress them.

Effectively Use Your Voice and Gestures

Remember the importance of your body language. Be pleasant and smile throughout the class. Nod when your student is speaking. Be mindful of the sound of your voice. Keep a soft but audible tone. Use body language and gestures with your hands to help establish your points. Be enthusiastic about each student that books you.

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Body language and facial expression are very powerful in online teaching. Am smile goes a long way!

Always Have a Backup

When teaching English online, sometimes things happen. Whether there’s a family emergency, a power outage, an internet issue, or an online textbook not loading, 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.

Leave Actionable Feedback

As soon as you begin teaching your class, regularly leave notes about things you observe throughout the class. If a student has a thick accent that they should work on or they keep mispronouncing a word, use the chat option available on the screen to make notes throughout the lesson so the student can reference them later. If the student makes the mistake more than once, it might be important to also correct the error during class. 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 have the opportunity to leave feedback for the student in a lesson memo. I’m willing to argue that this part of the process might be the most important one. Why?

Because it is a written record that the student will be able to reference continuously in the future. It is also, from a business standpoint, the way that you sell yourself and make yourself all the more memorable to the student.

To be an effective online English teacher, it is important to list all of the positive aspects of the lesson and the student’s abilities. It is also 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, 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 students always notice it and 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.

What do you think about the points we outlined? Do you agree with them or have something to add? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

VIPKID is one of the most renowned online teaching companies. If you like teaching Chinese kids and want to work from home on your own schedule, check out our guide on how to become a VIPKID teacher.

Emina Dedic was born in Bosnia but grew up in the US. She’s a Director of Studies for an English training school in China, career student, writer, and political activist. Previously, she taught in Korea for two years and is passionate about educational topics.

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