How to Switch to Teaching English Online

The COVID-19 pandemic has plucked many teachers out of the classroom and into the comfort of their own homes. But for some teachers, it’s far from comforting; it’s new territory.

With a new teaching environment comes new challenges but also huge benefits. Teaching English online allows for a more flexible lifestyle and more opportunities to travel (yay!). Research also shows that, on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom.

Even before COVID-19, there was high growth and adoption in online learning. The overall market for online education is projected to reach $350bn by 2025. With a significant surge in online learning during the pandemic, it’s crucial to keep up in an ever-changing industry.

Here’s my advice for an easier transition from the chalkboard to the cursor.

Setting Up and Technology

  1. Laptop stand

One thing I wish I’d bought sooner was a laptop stand. It has made a massive difference to my posture and relieved the strain on my hands from typing. They are relatively inexpensive – I bought mine on Amazon. They’re even better if they’re portable.

  1. Earphones

Secondly, a good pair of earphones is essential. Initially, I was reluctant about buying a good pair of earphones, but they are a sound investment (pardon the pun). Depending on the company or school, you may be required to wear headphones when teaching English online. I found wearing the heavier headphones for a long time gave me headaches and hurt my ears. For me, Apple earphones are the perfect option for comfort. It also depends on your environment. If you have noisy neighbours, you might need to look at buying noise-cancelling earphones.

  1. Video calling platform

If you have the choice of a video calling platform for your online lessons, I’d recommend Zoom. It gives you a clear view of your students while simultaneously sharing your screen, and you can create separate rooms for pair work in the lesson. Using an online whiteboard is very beneficial, especially for visual learners or lower levels who understand text better than speaking. Pronunciation is also more straightforward when it’s spelt out for them. My favourite online whiteboard tool is miro.com. It’s very customisable and easy to navigate while you’re teaching English online. You can also send a copy of the whiteboard at the end of the lesson to your student.

  1. Lighting and stance

It’s important to simulate the classroom experience as much as possible. Remember to use gestures as you would in the classroom. There is a tendency to look closer into the camera to focus on the student, but this can inhibit useful gestures aiding the student’s understanding. Your students should be able to see you clearly, so make sure you have good lighting. Your facial expressions are also a great tool to aid their learning. It’s essential for students to know how you pronounce words by watching you say them. This is a significant advantage over classroom teaching with a mask.

  1. Limit distractions

Use a plain white backdrop to avoid distractions during your lesson. It would also be best to mute yourself during writing or listening activities to avoid distracting students. If you have some background noise, you can also mute yourself when you’re not speaking.

  1. Lesson resources

If your school doesn’t provide lesson materials for you or you’re working for yourself, wordwall.net is a great platform to customise your resources from word searches to gap fills. Worksheets are a great benefit of teaching in the classroom, but you don’t have to compromise. You can use websites such as fluentize.com and liveworksheets.com where you can fill out the worksheets online or in PDF.

Online Teaching Methods

Initially, I thought I wouldn’t need to make many adjustments to my lesson when teaching online, but I was wrong. You will find that students are less likely to speak up in online classes. Your students might be used to work video calls being on mute or cameras off. Constantly encourage questions and contributions as long as students aren’t talking over each other.

  1. Interacting with students

You can point or make eye contact with a student in the classroom, but online you need to say the student’s name before asking a question. It’s also essential to pick your correction method before a lesson; will it be an on-the-spot correction or will you wait until they finish? Depending on the student’s internet connection, you may need to wait until they finish speaking.

  1. Accommodate all learning styles

I like to use various activities in my online lessons to accommodate all learning styles: visual, audio, and kinaesthetic learning. Younger people tend to be kinaesthetic and need a bit of movement incorporated into the lessons.

  1. Check in with students more

It’s easier for students to zone out of the class when you are not there in front of them, they may turn off their cameras, and it is hard to gauge if they are paying attention. Since you can’t see their faces directly, it will be harder to know if your students have genuinely grasped the lesson’s objectives. You can ask ICQs (instruction checking questions) or ask them to repeat the instructions back to you.

  1. Plan for technological issues

Remember that not every student has different technological abilities. They may need more assistance than others, which can take up more time in your lesson, so plan for this. Online learning is not for every student; not every student will be happy about the transition. Remind them it’s vital to keep up their language learning in this period, and they will be glad when they return to the classroom.

  1. Work on keeping focused  

Long periods of sitting at the computer can also cause teachers to zone out occasionally. I like to write notes throughout my lessons of student feedback or go for a walk in between classes to maintain focus.

Professional Development

  1. Upskill your training

Most schools will provide some form of training when you’re asked to transition online. If this isn’t the case, or you would like further training, I’ve found online courses like the 30 Hour Teaching English Online course very helpful. It’s a valuable upskilling course that will look great on your CV. It will also give you more confidence in your teaching, which will lead to more fulfilling lessons.

  1. Ask for feedback

Another great way to get feedback on your online lesson is through observations from management or a colleague. They can watch your lesson incognito and give you some constructive feedback after.

Don’t be afraid to ask for input from students at the end of the lesson too. Your students will probably be aware if you’re new to online teaching and used to working in the classroom. Getting feedback on the parts they liked and didn’t like will save you more time on lesson planning in the future.

  1. Learn first-hand

I also encourage English teachers to take up online lessons themselves if they have a language they’re interested in learning. It’s an excellent opportunity to see things through the student’s eyes. I’ve learned a lot from online lessons – the good, the bad, and the ugly examples of teaching online!

The most important takeaway of all is to have a separate place for your work and another area for relaxing. When you’re teaching online, it can be harder to switch off compared to when you’re working in a school. In these times, it’s more important than ever to maintain a healthy work-life balance. 

Want to better understand how to adapt your face-to-face teaching skills to an online environment? Find out more about our 30 Hour Teaching English Online course today.

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