How To Be a Good Online English Teacher
One of the biggest questions I get is how to be a good online English teacher. Just like anything else, it’s about knowing the skills and strategies, and practicing them until you feel confident. But what are the skills and strategies that can get you 5 star ratings from students?
strategies for how to be a good online english teacher
First of all, don’t try to learn everything. Focus on three to five skills that will serve your students in a variety of lessons. Here are some of my favorite strategies.
Strategies for beginners
Beginners need a lot of repetition, but how do you make repetition interesting? When students are learning new vocabulary they need to practice saying the word A LOT. You can practice with props, drawings, total physical response and then do some recall to mix it up. Recall means you will test them to see if they remember the word. Let’s practice with the word apple.
Get food props because you’ll use them often with beginners. You could even grab a real apple from your fridge. Real life props are called realia. Lift up your apple so the student can see it. Point to it and say, “apple”.
Do not say “repeat: apple”.
Do not say, “say, apple”.
If you say “repeat” or “say” the student will parrot you. Use minimal English. My rule of thumb for beginners: only use the language that’s written on the materials.
To have more fun with the prop, hide the apple then flash it quickly in front of the camera. Show it close so it’s all the student can see, then bring it back towards you and point to it. Have a perplexed look on your face and see if the student can recall the word. Cup your ear so the student knows you’re waiting for him/her to say it. If the student can’t recall it, just say it again.
Next, get a whiteboard and draw an apple. See if the student can recall the word now. Point to your drawing with a perplexed look and then cup your ear.
Finally do some TPR by pretending to eat an apple. You could have fun with this by using the words good and bad. Start to form some basic sentences and say: It’s a good apple! or It’s a bad apple.
Use some expression with your TPR. Make the student laugh!
Let’s recap our strategies for begginers:
- Use minimal language (only say what’s written on the materials)
- Drawings on a whiteboard
- See if the student can recall the word after practicing a few times
Strategies for Intermediate
Intermediate students need a lot of help with expanding their vocabulary and fine-tuning their grammar. The best way for them to do this is to practice new words and grammar in context. How?
- Relate it to their life or the topic in the lesson.
- Provide them with tools to help them when they’re struggling.
- You can still use repetition and modeling to help them, but in a different way.
A way to relate the lesson to their life is through story telling. Usually intermediate students speak enough English to tell a simple story. This is a great way for students to use vocabulary and grammar in context. Let’s say you were doing a lesson about shopping or sports. Once you’ve taught the lesson or provided enough practice for them to produce the language, ask them to tell you a story about a time they went shopping or a time they played a sport.
Write down what they say verbatim. Usually intermediate students speak slowly so you should be able to type most of what they say. After they finish, go back and correct their grammatical errors or pronunciation. Chinese students absolutely love to be corrected. This is a must for all levels.
One important tool for helping struggling students is a sentence starter or a sentence frame. For example, when you ask the student a question and they’re not sure how to answer provide the first part of the sentence (that’s what a sentence starter is). If you want the student to give a more detailed answer provide a sentence frame.
Sentence Starter Example: I like pandas because ___________________.
Sentence Frame Example: Pandas are ___________ and ___________. They live in the ___________ and like to eat___________.
If they still struggle to answer, provide a model by sharing your own answer. Then ask them to answer. Also, write the question and answer on the whiteboard so they can see it. Visuals are very important for language learners. Photos and notes are a must for all levels.
After teaching a set of vocabulary, do a recall game. I like to cover up the words on the screen and quiz the student. One way I do this is through a memory game, which is a way to incorporate repetition without it feeling repetitive. You can grab a free copy of this game here.
The best way to challenge advanced students is by correcting them. Advanced students are fluent, but they still make a lot of grammatical mistakes and pronunciation errors. Correct them consistently throughout class.
You also want to engage your advanced students with thought provoking questions and conversation. After every reading page I ask advanced students a question.
Questions for advanced students:
- What are your thoughts about this?
- What’s your opinion about this?
- Do you agree or disagree with the paragraph?
- Have you ever experienced this before?
- Can you connect this to your work (for adults) or something in your life?
- What did you find most interesting about this page?
- Summarize this page.
- What did you learn from this page?
Something you can do with all students is connect with them as human beings. Get to know them, make jokes, and allow them to share stories related to the lesson.
When teaching ESL online it’s all about the 2 C’s: Connection & Correction
Part time online english teacher home based
You can teach ESL online part-time or full-time. I absolutely love working from home because of the autonomy and the impact I get to have on students’ lives globally. You get to make your schedule. The flexibility is unbeatable. All of the companies I work for create the materials for the teachers so there’s no preparation for the lessons other than reviewing them and having your props nearby to incorporate while teaching.
teaching conversational english
I advise you to get comfortable teaching conversational English even though it’s not technically part of the lesson materials. You want to be able to teach your students how to extend their answers. A lot of students just give one-word answers. Some students are very introverted and are not comfortable conversing, so you want to model good conversation skills.
When I have introverted students I write down my expectations for speaking and answering questions. I write on a blank page:
At this school we want the student to speak more than the teacher. Please provide detailed answers. For example, I like basketball because it’s a competitive sport and I get to have fun with my friends.
When a student understands the expectations and sees a clear example of what a detailed answer looks like, you’re setting them up for success. Anytime I’ve done this, I’ve seen a major difference in their participation and willingness to provide extended responses.
Teach conversational english online
Most online ESL schools don’t just offer the ability to teach conversational English online. However, some schools do provide free talk, such as Palfish. Currently Palfish is only hiring for their kid’s course, which is not part of their free talk option. Trust me when I say, you’ll get the opportunity for free talk in some of your lessons whether it’s through discussion questions or at the end of class.
how to teach kids online
The vast majority of online ESL schools cater to kids. The majority of kids are well-behaved, but you do get a few here and there that are hyperactive or distracted. Once in a blue moon you’ll get a kid with attitude. Here are my tips for those situations:
- Set expectations through your tone and by disengaging with any sort of negative behavior. Disengage by not reacting to what they’re doing. Stop what you’re doing. Look at the student. When they notice the class has stopped, look at them firmly and say, “We are in English class. It’s time to learn now.” Of course you can call their name and get a prop out to try to get their attention, but if you do that too much you are engaging in their game.
- When a student has a negative attitude I will call them out on it by saying, “Do you like English class? It seems like you don’t want to be here.” or “Are you ok? You seem upset.” You can say this a few times if necessary. Nine times out of ten they will straighten up their attitude and maybe even warm up to you. By saying the above, you’re putting the bad attitude back on them, where it belongs, instead of taking it personally. When you put it back on them they know you’re not playing their game.
google classroom ideas
A lot of online ESL teachers use Google Slides. There are tons of Google classroom ideas related to rewards, games, and visual aids (photos, maps, GIFS, etc.). The video I did with the memory game above is from Google Slides.
If you are interested in using Google for your online class, you can incorporate it two ways: Manycam or using a tablet. Manycam is a virtual software that connects to your computer’s camera and allows you to display digital images on the screen. My friend Joe Milne has an excellent Manycam tutorial here.
If you don’t want to mess with Manycam due to the technical issues, you should use a tablet. You can lift your tablet up as a prop and show it to the student just like you would any other prop.
props for teaching online
I already have a blog post about props for teaching online, but I will recap my favorite props here.
Maps are one of my favorite props. I refer to them in lessons for both adults and kids. Because I use them so much I decided to make a resource available for teachers here.
I only use a few stuffed animals. Because I have a panda puppet in my introduction video, kids often ask me about that. Stuffed animals are great for making kids feel comfortable with participating and reading. Sometimes they will pretend their stuffed animal is reading or answering questions. What a great way for kids to feel safe while learning!
Another great prop is a whiteboard and dry erase markers. I use it to explain grammar, practice letter sounds, play games, and draw.
Another excellent prop is a photo bank. Adults and kids alike need visuals to understand the vocabulary. You can’t always act out every word with total physical response. Sometimes people just need to see a picture. I am working on a photo bank to add to my TpT store, so stay tuned. I’ll definitely be e-mailing people about it. If you’re not already on my e-mail list, be sure to join it.
how to make learning fun
If you want to know how to be a good online English teacher, you need to know how to make learning fun. Part of that is not trying to control a students; behavior. Say this mantra to yourself, “Let go of control and go with the flow.” Use the sand analogy. The tighter you hold on to sand, the more it starts to fall through your fingers.
When you have a student that doesn’t pay attention or has a bad attitude, go with the flow. That doesn’t mean you should abandon the lesson, but take breaks. Play with the kid or converse depending on their age. Call them out on their mood if they’re in a bad mood! Nine times out of ten, when I say, “Are you ok, you seem upset?” or, “Do you not like English class? It seems like you don’t want to be here,” the kid straightens up.
Never let someone bring your mood down. You stay in your happy place, but when someone isn’t in the same mood as you, adjust your lesson plan. Be honest with the person about their behavior and don’t hesitate to let students know your expectations. One thing I say to reluctant speakers is, “In this class, the students are supposed to speak more than the teacher.”
The biggest thing to remember is that we work with human beings. Connect with your students as humans! Play games, converse, and allow the student to interact with an activity.
how to connect with students
So now you might be wondering how to connect with students. Don’t overcomplicate things. Smile. Be friendly. Ask genuine questions. Be playful and carefree, but have your expectations in place so that you can do your job.
When a student tells me she likes to read I get really excited and say, “I like to read, too!” If a student talks about travel, I ask them to share a story and then share one of my own. Go about it the same way you would with a friend, but maintain your duty as a teacher to help the student learn and grow. You’ve got this!
If you have any questions about how to be a good online English teacher, leave a comment below.