Teaching English Online: 18 Best Practices Guaranteed to Increase Your Bookings

Every online ESL teacher wants to increase their bookings – but only some teachers have what it takes to consistently fill all their slots.

If you want to be a top-tier ESL teacher, there are a few things you definitely have to do to max out your bookings and provide consistently good classes.


Here are some best practices you must follow to be an A+ online ESL teacher:

Becoming a First-Class Online ESL Teacher: 18 Best Practices

Be Punctual

Have you ever made plans with a friend only for them to show up 15 minutes late, sweaty and apologizing?

I bet waiting on them was pretty frustrating. When people show up late we feel annoyed and cheated out of our precious time, and that’s all the more true when we’re paying them.

As an online teacher, it’s imperative that you’re always ready for the start of class. After all, it’s not like you can act like traffic held you up between your kitchen and the computer.

Dress to Impress

Make sure to dress appropriately for your lessons. You don’t have to go all out for your online classes or anything – a clean solid-color t-shirt or sweater and combed hair should generally do the trick.

Just make sure you look neat, presentable, and professional, and that you obey any company policies regarding appearance.

Have a Plan

You should go into every class having an idea of what each part of the lesson will consist of and having materials prepared for each part of your lesson.

Most teaching platforms give teachers lesson plans, meaning that most of the heavy lifting is done for you – all you need to do is prepare any relevant props and rewards and review the lesson material ahead of class.

If you’re developing your own lesson plan for class, design a killer lesson plan using our guide and be sure to have backup activities prepared just in case.

Think Long Term

If you’re creating your own lesson plans, it’s not enough to think through each individual lesson – you need to think about the arc of each student’s learning over time.

Your curriculum should help your students build on what they’ve previously learned and solidify new information, and it should be clear to your students themselves how they’re progressing and building toward goals in your lessons.

Creating curriculum that builds on itself and leads toward tangible goals will help your students learn more, and it will also make students feel more motivated and confident in their learning.

Pick the Right Material

It’s important that your lessons are tailored to your students: that they’re tailored to their age level and ability, of course, but also that your lessons speak to your students particular interests.

For example, if you’re teaching a student who’s obsessed with trains, you could have them read passages about trains, use trains in examples, or use toy trains as rewards.

Choosing material that matches your students will help them feel more engaged, which will in turn help them learn more.

Use Quality Gear

You don’t need a trillion dollar laptop and space age headset to teach online – after all you’re holding English lessons over video call, not commanding the Hubble Space Telescope.

You do, however, need a setup that’s reliable and sturdy. You don’t want your laptop dying halfway through a class or your microphone crackling while you’re trying to teach, for example.

Investing in some decent teaching equipment now will save you headaches and potential embarrassment down the line.

Speak to Their Level

How quickly you speak, how much you enunciate, and what kind of vocabulary you use should all be dictated by the level and ability of the student you’re teaching.

If you’re teaching total beginners, it’s important to speak slowly and clearly, enunciate each word, and use simple vocabulary that they can understand. It’s important to accommodate your students as they develop their listening ability and build a foundation in English.

With more advanced students, however, you should speak more as you normally would, so they can get accustomed to engaging in English conversation in the real world.

After all, never learn how to ride a bike if you don’t take the training wheels off at some point!

Don’t Miss Classes

Everyone misses class once in awhile: emergencies arise, power outages and wifi mishaps occur, and sometimes that pesky alarm clock just doesn’t go off. 

When unavoidable hiccups happen and you just can’t make it to class, don’t worry: your students and the people you’re contracting with will understand. After all, they’re human too.

However, it’s super important to not make a habit of missing classes.

Doing so will make you seem unreliable and uncommitted, and it’ll give you less leeway if and when you have to miss class for legitimate reasons.

Handle Cancellations Well

Over the course of your teaching career, students will occasionally miss class (or show up late).

If you teach for a platform like VIPKID they’ll help you handle lateness and missed classes, but if you teach independently you should have a firm policy in place so that students know the consequences of cancellations in advance.

You can of course be lenient with students and evaluate cases according to each student’s track record and their unique situation.

You don’t, however, want to be stuck arguing with students about whether they owe you payment after they cancelled class 5 minutes before it was supposed to start for the third time in a row.

Have a Backup

You don’t want to be caught with a malfunctioning headset at the start of class, and you want a poor wifi connection even less. 

Having good supplies is key to creating smooth lessons – check out this buying guide if you’re looking to upgrade your classroom.

Having extra supplies on hand is even better.

Investing in a backup pair of headphones, a backup computer charger, and perhaps an ethernet cable or some other alternate means of connecting to the Internet will help you ensure that every class goes off without a hitch.

Hone Your Technical Know-How

You’ll need to troubleshoot problems on your end during class, sure, but your students will also doubtlessly run into problems with your teaching platform. 

Knowing enough about the platform and basic computer info to help a student restart their router, reload the webpage, unmute themselves, or angle the camera to their face will save you time and a headache. 

And you’ll appreciate not having to call for an intermediary every time a small problem arises.

Create an A+ Environment

The most important components of a great classroom environment are a private, quiet area to teach in and good, bright lighting.

Once you have those components, you can start worrying about cutesy backgrounds and props.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter how many killer teaching tools you have if your student can barely see them, or if there’s so much background noise that it’s hard for them to hear you.

A bright, quiet teaching environment is key.

A green screen will let your online classroom even look more professional.

Teach With a Smile

When you smile, you come off as friendlier and happier, which will make your students feel more at ease in class and in turn encourage them to feel more comfortable taking risks and speaking more.

You don’t need to ham it up as much with older students as with younger students, but a pleasant demeanor will go a long way with students of any age.

And the more you practice smiling during class, the more it will come naturally to you!

Use Props

Props are a relatively inexpensive investment that make a huge difference in the quality of your lessons.

They can add a bit of fun to class, which helps engage younger students especially. They can also help you easily explain concepts that might otherwise be difficult to convey.

Whiteboards, flaschcards, and “realia” (i.e. using a real or plastic apple when you’re discussing fruit) are all great props. You might also invest in a puppet to demonstrate dialogue or a toy microphone to signal who should be speaking when.

Props don’t just add fun to lessons – they also show that you’ve put thought and preparation into your lessons.

Check our list of great props for ESL teachers.

Set – And Check – Your Schedule

I’ve had more than my fair shares of scheduling mishaps – forgetting I have a class scheduled until five minutes before it starts, running home to make it to class on time, or showing up a minute late to a class I totally blanked on.

Now, I’m totally on top of my class schedule.

I double check my schedule for the following day every night before I go to bed and close any early morning slots that haven’t been booked because I know I’m not going to wake up to check to see whether I had a short-notice booking at 4:30 am. 

I also check my teaching schedule anytime I schedule something, closing bookings the morning after I plan on going out or on travel days and not scheduling activities if I already have classes booked.

Managing your schedule like this will become second nature once you’ve been teaching for awhile, but it’s important to start cultivating these habits early.

Assign Homework

If you teach with VIPKID or a similar company, you don’t need to worry about this step! The teaching platform will assign homework and the student’s learning partner will check it – all you have to do is teach class.

If you’re teaching independently or through a tutoring marketplace, though, you’ll want to assign homework to help your student concretize the information they’re learning and progress faster.

Homework also helps your students come to class more prepared, which makes lessons go more smoothly, and it gives students a sense of control and accomplishment.

Stay Up-To-Date

Join forums, message boards, and Facebook groups (like ours!) to stay up-to-date on the latest teaching developments.

Being ahead of the curve will help you teach effectively and stay in demand!

Just Keep Chugging!

If you take these tips to heart, you’ll be on your way to getting full bookings in no time.

And if you’re looking for more tips about how to up your online teaching game, no worries – here are even more ways to be the best online ESL teacher ever.

And remember: you’re on your teaching journey and you’ve made mistakes along the way, don’t worry! Everyone has missteps while they’re learning, including your students – and including you.

The more classes you teach, the more you’ll learn how to prepare and make every class a smash hit.

Interested in teaching English through VIPKID? Click my referral link and apply today!

Need a new computer for teaching online? Read this guide.

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  1. Hi Molly
    Your advice is very insightful. I obtained my TEFL diploma today and am so excited to get started teaching young minds English. I am from South Africa.

  2. Hi all, I’m Mr Diop Jean Joseph from Senegal. And what I’ve discovered there is really significant. Why because there are so many details centered on reinforcement. And imagine, with such a way of delivering classes, students will have eagerness for attending such classes. I’m really impressed and what to conclude with is just congratulate you and repeat saying thank you for your kindness. And may God bless us all!

    1. I’m so glad that you found the article valuable! Thanks so much for your kind comment.

  3. Hi Molly,
    This is all great advice, specially for beginner teachers. Punctuality seems to be a big issue in other countries, and is practically expected from everyone.
    On different note, I would like to know your opinion on using students native language in class. Are you for it or agains it?

    1. I would recommend that using a native language could be used in a very limited sitations. It saves time and adds more variety to the class if the instructor knows how to pronounce the word in the student’s native language

    2. I think you’re right! I also think it really depends on the platform, the type of class, and the expectations of the student as to whether that’s appropriate in a given situation or not.

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