Tips for teaching English online

By Trevor Jones
Trevor has been teaching General and Business English, ESP and Teacher Training for the past 7 years in the UK, Spain and France to a wide range of students, following an extensive career in business management.

Tips for teaching English online

By techsrc2371 (Flickr: Student using Laptop) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In this article I will relate my experiences with teaching English online after 7 years classroom teaching. It will cover in my opinion the important points and discuss links to classroom teaching. I still teach in the classroom and I have found that teaching online has helped my classroom skills and I will discuss this further.

However I would really appreciate your views about online teaching to help me improve my teaching. Please add any comments below the article.

One does not have to be a computer “geek” to enjoy teaching online, just have enough confidence to operate a computer, adapt to speaking and listening over a computer voice network and using a few simple computer programmes. What has been more challenging is the focus I have had to make on my teaching style.

What are the differences when teaching on line?

Well of course the first major difference is that you are not in the same room as your students. This can lead to a sense of feeling isolated and as a teacher one must develop a rapport with the students to overcome this. I have found this can be achieved by taking an interest in the students, discussing their life outside of the lesson, if they have chosen to share this with you, and I do this predominantly at the start of the lesson. In a 1 hour lesson I try to use the first 10 minutes discussing personal points they may have shared with me. This can seem quite lengthy however one can use it to reinforce pronunciation or new vocabulary even when discussing a student’s interests so it becomes part of the lesson itself. I find this focus can also help when teaching in the classroom and I have taken my development into the classroom.

A second point is a strong need to motivate the students to work between lessons on material you have given them and in fact I try to encourage self-learning by the students. Without this, the online lessons can become the only English they use perhaps weekly and they will not progress. This of course can be a similar problem with classroom teaching if you are working in a non-English speaking country. I set exercises for them to complete between lessons, often using the wide range of internet material and then we discuss this in the lesson. For some students in the classroom they may have limited computer access however you know with online teaching they have a computer.

Another key point with online teaching is feedback, important in all teaching, however with online especially so as you are not personally in the classroom with them. In the classroom it is easier to detect if a student may have a problem, online it takes longer. I take time in the first few weeks to ask the students how they feel about the lessons, are they meeting their needs and I check regularly throughout the course.

I have recently written an article on producing a scheme of work for online and other forms of teaching and if you share this with the students it can help ensure you are meeting their needs and also allows them to make suggestions about what they would like to focus on.

One can also develop a “feel” for how the students respond to the lesson, even online and adapt accordingly. All of this requires listening skills, patience, adaptability and experience and these are all transferable into the classroom.

My final point when teaching online is that I must ensure I speak slowly and appropriately for the students, over the computer voice network. One can lose much of the non-verbal communication online, that is achieved in the classroom and the teacher must focus on ensuring pronunciation and speed of speech is appropriate for the level of the student and regularly check it meets their needs. Also when explaining new vocabulary one must be inventive in explaining meanings as the use of realia and authentic material is limited when working online.

I have found teaching online to be very enjoyable, it has clear advantages with flexibility and reduced personal costs and I have been surprised how the development of skills with online teaching is transferable to the classroom. I would encourage any teacher to consider this modern form of teaching.

An excellent article has been produced by Bright Hub called “Benefits of teaching online”. It is well worth reading. I would also like to thank Woospeak who I work with to teach online.

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6 Responses to “Tips for teaching English online”

  1. Maria
    April 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Dear Trevor

    I am looking into teaching English online at the moment but I am worried about choosing the right school/organisation. (i.e. on that I can trust) Any advice on this?



    • Trevor Jones
      June 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

      Hello Maria
      I don’t think you need worry too much about choosing the right school or organisation because you have good control over whatever happens. If you find a school or organisation is not for you then you change to another one as you will be freelance, I have not found one that pays you a salary that is taxed.

      The main points to consider are: –
      What is the hourly rate of pay – I have found this can range from £5-13 for an hourly lesson.

      How often will you be paid. The current organisation I work for pays monthly and is very reliable although you can ask for more frequent payment and so at the start if you are not sure about an organisation you could ask for more frequent payment to build that trust.

      The final point to consider is cancellations. Some students will cancel the lesson, my current organisation charges for cancellations of less that 24 hours so you still get paid, however I have known of one school that allows cancellations 5 minutes before the lesson is due to start which does seem unfair after the preparation you will have done as a good teacher, before the lesson
      Hope this helps

  2. Julie
    May 27, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    I’ve just passed my 120 Advance TEFL/TSOL Course (with Merit). I am currently doing volunteer work with foreign workers in our town but would like to be able to do one to one tuition on line.

    I’m not sure how one goes about it.

    I don’t have a degree or a diploma which I guess limits me on these “Homework Help” websites.

    Any advice would be welcomed!



    • Trevor Jones
      June 22, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

      Hello Julia
      If you look at one of the online TEFL job advertising agencies you will find that they regularly advertise online teaching jobs and you can apply from there.
      If you consider the points that I have sent in my reply to Maria you will be equipped to ask the the right questions in an online interview.
      I am sure your 120 Advance TEFL/TSOL Course (with merit)qualification is a good starting point for online teaching and then when you have some experience you can consider further study.
      Hope this helps

  3. Veronica Ingrams
    June 3, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    I was looking at your Website because I am interested in teaching English On Line. I am horrified to find the spelling error ‘raphor’. There is no such word. The word is, ‘rapport’, which is basically French and which means ‘a sympathetic relationship’ or ‘to be in harmony with’.

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