We know how daunting teaching English online can be, particularly when you have to learn how to manage a platform and deliver quality lessons with little time to prepare.
Teachers from around the world have been sending in their questions about the best way to teach online and which tools to use. So here are 20 top tips to help you based on the most frequently asked questions.
To find out more about teaching English online, visit our distance learning resource page.
1. What online tools help with distance learning?
If you’re teaching English online, you’ll need to set up an account on a reliable meeting platform, such as Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom. These will allow you to interact face-to-face with your learners. Other tools which might help include Google Docs (for collaborative writing tasks), our Graded Readers (which can now be downloaded as eBooks) for reading practice, Kahoot! for creating fun quizzes and Quizlet for reviewing vocabulary.
2. What’s the ideal length for an online lesson?
Schools may expect your online classes to be the same length as your normal classes. However, depending on the age of your learners, you might find it more appropriate to teach for a shorter time, for example 20 minutes, and then give your learners a ‘brain break’. It’s important to find a way to give your learners’ eyes a break from too much screen time, so this could be standing up to stretch, taking thirty seconds to look out the window or doing ten jumping jacks. .
3. I’ve never taught online and feel overwhelmed. Where can I get some help?
Many teachers are being expected to learn new skills overnight and it’s perfectly natural to worry about providing the best service to your learners. On our distance learning resource page, we have lots of useful content including videos, webinars, blogs and guides – all about teaching and learning online.
Remember that this is a transition teachers around the world are making and there are lots of places where you can find support online. On Twitter, for example, lots of teachers from different countries are sharing their experiences of working remotely. You’ll find advice from teachers of very young learners delivering after-school classes; from teachers of secondary learners in mainstream education; and tips from university lecturers delivering content to large groups.
4. My school wants our online classes to be shorter. Will I be able to get through all my content?
Even with a brain break during the lesson, learners can find the virtual classroom more tiring and some schools are opting to teach for 50 minutes instead of an hour. Be aware that things will often take longer when you do them online, particularly any type of oral interaction as you may need to mute/unmute individuals and deal with any unexpected interruptions.
5. How can I structure an online lesson?
Planning the structure of your lesson won’t be too different from planning for a traditional classroom environment. It’s important to include a variety of skills and activities in the lesson as well as routines, especially with younger learners. One thing to consider is the materials you’ll be using when you are teaching English online and how you’ll share them with your learners: will you share worksheets on the screen for them to copy down? If you send them a file before the lesson, does it need to be printed?
6. If I already have the lessons planned, what will I need to modify to teach them online?
You’ll need to check that the materials you have already created can be easily adapted to an online environment. Your activity instructions need to be very clear and also include how students can answer questions or take part online. Remember to check as well that you’re familiar with the tech you’ll be using and check that your learners will be able to hear any audio you want to play and watch any videos you share easily.
7. Is teaching online that different to what I’m used to?
There are many aspects of teaching English online that are similar. For example, you still need to prepare your lessons, get the materials ready, think of ways to engage your students and consider how to give feedback. One thing you’ll probably find is that teaching online involves more teacher talking time, especially at the start as everyone becomes familiar with their new environment. Another aspect which can be challenging is being able to ‘read the room’ which is far easier in a face-to-face setting. However, you can use gestures, such as a thumbs up or a wave, to interact and check everyone’s on track.
8. If I’m using a presentation tool, how can I keep my learners engaged?
Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides are great tools to use during your online lessons as you can embed audio and video directly into them. You can use highlighting tools to point to specific parts of the presentation as you share it to help learners follow the lesson. However, it’s also important for your learners to have some ‘face time’ – moments of interaction where they can see themselves, you and their classmates on screen.
Other tools like Zoom, with “breakout rooms” allow you to assign students to separate video chat rooms for pairwork, games and project work. Also, remember to include activities which require feedback from the learners so they are actively engaged in their learning. Why not conduct polls to generate more engagement and interest during the lesson?
9. I’m worried about behavior management. Do you have any advice?
There are always going to be some students who want to play the class clown. If you find you have one learner who is pulling funny faces to try and distract his classmates, most platforms give you the option to turn off an individual’s webcam. Sometimes, learners might use the chatbox to share unnecessary comments and you may be able to limit their chat privileges so that they can only chat to you. Fortunately, on most platforms you also have the option to mute all participants and then unmute individuals when you want them to speak.
Discover more ideas to deal with cyberbullying and how to build rapport online in our article with six top tips for teaching English online.
10. Should I be giving my learners homework?
We don’t want to overwhelm our learners and it’s also important to think about how you can set homework which can easily and quickly be checked in the next lesson. One option could be taking a flipped classroom approach. This involves setting activities for homework which introduce learners to a new linguistic point and do controlled practice of it. Then, the time in the lesson can be used to clarify any doubts they have and practice the language more communicatively.
11. Can I use a digital coursebook during my lessons?
Absolutely! Many coursebooks come with an ebook version for students. Otherwise there’s a digital copy for the teacher that you can share on-screen with your learners. You can also access the Pearson English Portal to find more resources to use online in your classes.
12. I’ve got an account with MyEnglishLab. How can I use it in class?
Most meeting platforms let you share content on your screen with the learners. Make an activity from MyEnglishLab into a competition by dividing the class into teams and taking turns to complete the questions.
Learners can communicate with each other in ‘breakout’ rooms or use the chatbox to confer before you nominate one person in the team to provide the answer.
Another option is to share an activity on your screen and have the learners complete it individually, writing their answers in a private chat box message to you. You can then check as a class and nominate individuals to provide each answer.
13. How can I be sure my students are actually learning?
You can still have learners take tests in an online environment. You can share the test on screen and give them time to complete it during your lesson – or use a tool like Google forms or Typeform to deliver reading and writing tests. Just remember to limit your chatbox settings so they can’t ask each other for the answers!
Alternatively, opt for self-assessment in class. Have students give smiley faces or a score out of five for how they think they’ve done in the class activities. This is a useful way to encourage self-reflection during class.
14. I’m looking for interactive activities to keep my learners engaged during the lesson. What do you recommend?
There are lots of online games that your learners can access during the lesson, such as Kahoot or Quizlet. However, you don’t necessarily need to use more tech in the lessons; games like bingo or charades, and activities like an information gap or a jigsaw reading work well in an online classroom too.
15. I teach large classes of 50+ students. How can I keep track of who attends online?
On some platforms, you’ll be able to get a report at the end of each lesson telling you who signed in that day and at what time. Others provide an alphabetical list of participants during the lesson which you could take a screenshot of and check against your register. However, this will only show who’s in the lesson at that particular point, so it’s perhaps best to take the screenshot at the end of the lesson before the learners leave and you could request that students leave their cameras running throughout the session to check they are still there.
Another option could be for all students to write you a message during the lesson and then save the chat. Although, this means you then have to review it and tick everyone off.
16. Is online learning suitable for everyone? What about pre-primary?
Similarly to teaching in a traditional environment, you’ll need to vary your activities frequently with very young learners as they are likely to become distracted more easily. Use realia and puppets to keep them engaged during activities where you’re speaking and find suitable songs and short videos you can watch together too.
It’s also important to get learners up and moving, so involve lots of activities with total physical response such as Simon Says or Charades. Remember to get them up and dancing when you’re singing songs together too.
However, this age group also needs consistency, so build more routines into your lessons, such as storytime.
Find out more about teaching younger learners online with these four ways to keep them engaged.
17. Will my students know how to use the platform I’m using?
It is important to introduce your learners to the platform at the start of the course and tell them about the features it has and how you can use them. For younger learners, this is best done with their parents or guardians present so they can help if their children have any problems during the lessons.
Many platforms have How To videos in numerous languages, which can be very useful if you don’t speak your learners’ L1.
It’s likely to be a new environment for most families, so be prepared to do some troubleshooting during the first few days as people learn how to connect and check their audio and video are working correctly.
18. Is there any information I should give to students before the online lessons start?
Aside from instructions for how to join the course, you may also like to provide a ‘netiquette’ guide with your learners, which are some basic rules for their new environment.
It may include some rules which you have in your classroom anyway, as well as others which are relevant to the teaching English online, such as:
- Dressing appropriately for class
- Not bringing food to class
- Raising your hand if you want to speak
- Turning your microphone off if you’re not speaking
You should also check out your school’s policy on whether learners should have their webcams turned on and let parents and guardians know who to contact if they have any technical problems.
19. How can I give my students the best experience when they’re having classes at home?
There are simple things you can suggest to your learners to make their lessons easier, especially as they’re likely to be with other people at home. Wearing a headset helps to reduce background noise to help them focus more easily. It’s worth finding out what device your learners will be using for your classes too, as this may affect how easily they can use different tools available on your teaching platform. While computers and laptops are often the most effective devices, many learners may be joining the class on a mobile device. You can also try muting certain students’ microphones if there’s a lot of noise interference.
20. Will I have enough time in between my lessons to stand up and move around?
Sitting down for long periods is one of the drawbacks to teaching English online, so it’s important to look after yourself. Make sure your workspace is suitable and that your computer, desk and chair are in a comfortable position.
If you can decide your own timetable, give yourself a break between classes to stand up and move around. Remember those brain breaks are important for you too, as well as taking some time to look into the distance to give your eyes a rest.
We’d love to hear your experiences of teaching online, whether you’re new to the environment or have been doing it for years. Leave us a comment below!