Six top tips for teaching English online

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Teaching English Online

More and more, schools are offering blended language and remote teaching options. There are lots of benefits of teaching English online. Firstly, it’s sustainable, saving on transport, travel costs and it reduces the number of printed materials. Secondly, it allows you the flexibility to teach students when you’re away from school and the classroom. 

So, if you’re faced with a new remote class and you’re not sure how to approach it, follow these six tips and you’ll soon be an online teaching pro.

1. Find the right technology

If you want to become a great online English teacher, the first thing you’ll need to do is find a reliable online platform or learning management system to help you communicate with your students. The good news is that there are lots of free options available to you.

Platforms for teaching one-to-one classes and small groups

If you are running one-to-one or small group English classes and are mostly focused on conversation, Google Hangouts is an easy-to-use option. It’s free and web-based, which means desktop users do not have to download applications to use it. If you have a Gmail address, you’ll be able to send recurring calendar invitations to your student(s) and they will be able to sign in to the Hangout directly from their email.

Use Google Hangouts for Teaching English Online
Set recurring meetings in your Google Calendar and students can join your class on Hangouts directly.

Google Hangouts has some useful features. For example, you can easily share your screen, share files, write messages and talk on video. There’s also a neat add-on which is that it provides captions. That’s right, the platform actually subtitles your speech in real-time. This can help lower-level learners follow what you’re saying more easily. Of course, it can be switched off for higher-level students, or during listening activities where you want to test their listening comprehension. 

Teaching English Online with Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts adds subtitles to your conversations (teddy bear not included)

Note: to use this platform you’ll have to use Google Chrome as your browser. To organize calls on Hangouts you’ll also need a Google account. However, students should be able to access just with the link. 

Skype is also a good option and is free for group calls. In much the same way as Google Hangouts, you can share files, type messages and video chat. You can also call to landlines if necessary, but you’ll be charged for this. Please note: You will need to download the program and set up an account (and so will your students).

With its video conferencing capabilities, Zoom is another popular option for those teaching group classes online. You could also try creating your own video lessons by recording your screen in Microsoft Powerpoint

As with any technology, we recommend testing it with another teacher or a friend ahead of time to make sure you have a firm understanding of how it works. This will also help you train your students to use whichever platform you choose. 

Specialised online teaching platforms for larger classes

If you’re teaching a larger class or want to run your whole school online, you should look into more robust online teaching platforms. There are many paid subscription services you can test out, however the following options are free and fairly well used in the English teaching community:

Easyclass 

This non-profit and free online teaching platform is a complete learning management system. It helps teachers with everything from scheduling classes, tracking due dates and assigning classwork, to running quizzes and offering feedback. 

See more at Easyclass.com

Moodle

Moodle is a free, open-source learning management platform that offers an integrated teaching and administration system to teachers and schools. It works on mobile and desktop and is free for teachers who will have 50 or fewer students. But if you need a more powerful Moodle site, you’ll need to download the software onto your own server. Moodle is tried and tested, having been developed for many years.

See more at Moodle.org

2. Set expectations for student behavior 

Students may not be used to doing classes online and might see it as an opportunity to relax (a little too much). It is therefore essential you discuss what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you during the online sessions. 

Talk to them about the types of activities they can expect to take part in, how often you’ll be assigning homework and how they’ll be assessed. It’s also a good idea to discuss the advantages of distance learning and address any doubts they might have, especially when it comes to technology. 

Bullying and bad classroom behavior may also be something you have to deal with. Whether you’re teaching children, teenagers, or adults it’s essential that you set out behavioral guidelines before starting a course. For younger learners, this can take the form of a classroom contract.

In this agreement, you should also define what cyberbullying and harassment is, establish rules, and make sure your students agree to treat each other well in forums and chats online. You must also make sure that students feel comfortable to come to you and report anything untoward. Monitor how students are talking to each other and intervene if necessary. 

See Pearson International Schools’ article How to protect your students from cyberbullying for more and check out these 5 things you can do to improve online safety for young learners.

3. Community building

Building rapport in an online English class is considerably harder than in a face-to-face environment. While video conversations are effective and human, they simply don’t equal being in the same room. For this reason, it’s important to build a sense of community among your students, so they feel part of a group and want to continue learning together. 

Having a private Facebook or Slack group and making sure your students work together on projects can help overcome this problem (so long as you have created your classroom behavior guidelines). 

Slack is a freemium communication platform that allows you to add conversation channels and hold private discussions. It also integrates with other web apps, like Google docs – which is helpful when you want to send activities or share projects and videos.

Alternatively, set up a private Facebook group for your students (aged 13 or over) to discuss classroom activities. Be sure to get parents’ permission, have a strict no-spamming rule and don’t permit students to add you as a friend. Also, don’t get sucked into spending all day in the group. Spend 15 minutes – at a set time of day – answering questions and moderating your class.

4. Manage your time carefully

It’s all too easy to fill your schedule with online classes – and then find yourself overloaded and headed for burn out. If you’re not spending time traveling to classes, it may feel easy at first. 

However, you should give yourself enough time to prepare every class and plenty of free time so you can wind down between classes. 

If you feel you might struggle with this, check out Rachael Roberts’ post on using to-do lists to manage your workload: Feeling overwhelmed? How to reduce anxiety using to-do lists.

5. Make the most of free online resources

There are hundreds of free online resources for online English teachers and their students. We’ve mentioned several useful resources already, including Slack, Google Hangouts, Google Docs.

You may also be interested in these 18 online English resources which are shared on Linguabanca.

6. Collaborate with other English teachers

Many online teachers find they feel a little isolated. It’s a good idea to join local meetups or online communities. There you can share tips, talk with other teachers and have a staffroom experience – only online!

There are a number of popular international Facebook and LinkedIn groups you can join for free. Make sure to introduce yourself to your fellow members, if you do!

Distance Teaching and Learning: Useful Tips for Making it Work

If you are looking for more tips and advice about transitioning to teaching English online, don’t miss our webinar with Dr. Ken Beatty

During the session he’ll explore how to get organized, plan effectively, stay motivated and keep learners engaged. He’ll also be answering some key questions about online distance learning such as:

  • What can I do if I’m not a computer-savvy teacher?
  • How do online lessons differ from face-to-face lessons?
  • How should I schedule classes for different age groups and at different levels, and how often?
  • What are creative ways to use chat and social media to help students engage with each other?
  • What technical tools, such as platforms, make teaching and learning easier?

When do they take place? 

We currently have three one hour sessions available at the following times: 

1. March 17, 2020 12:00 p.m. (GMT)

Register now!

2. March 18, 2020 10:00 a.m. (GMT)

Register now!

3. March 18, 2020 5:00 p.m. (GMT)

Register now!

If you are unable to join us, keep an eye on our YouTube channel, where we’ll be sharing the recording of the webinars.

You can also register to watch all our distance learning webinars here. 

Have you got any questions or doubts about teaching online? Let us know in the comments!

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