Would you like to try teaching online English classes? We all know that Skype English classes can save busy teachers time and money, but are they really worth the effort?
This article is part of our series for teachers of English as a second language.
We also publish our own free-to-download classroom materials.
Forget complaining teenagers and demanding business people, the hardest part of the day, for many ELT teachers, is the commute.
Unless you’re lucky enough to be working in an office or academy with multiple, back-to-back classes, you’ll probably find yourself spending much of your time in the car, on your bike, or in public transport. Travelling from house to school to business centre is tough going. Our days might be varied, but they’re certainly not relaxing.
For many, the appeal of Skype classes, or other online courses, is obvious. Teaching from the comfort of your own home, without having to worry about the traffic, or missing out on consecutive clients, sounds ideal.
So what do you need to know if you decide to become an online English teacher?
A large part of your job as a teacher is to make sure that your students are on track and progressing in their learning. While the desire to study and learn a language must come from the student, it’s often hard for them to keep the momentum going when they are sitting at home, without a “physical” teacher or classmates to hold them accountable.
Online teachers therefore have to work much harder to simulate a classroom-like atmosphere and keep students engaged, motivated, and working hard.
Preparation and resources
A lot of your success as an online English teacher comes down to preparation. Planning an online class—whether for a one-to-one or for a group class—is obviously different to planning a face-to-face class.
But your aim should be the same: you need a set of focused, varied tasks that prepare, challenge and test your student(s). While many people just want “conversation in English”, they often don’t learn get enough out of it, unless the teacher injects structured activities into the mix.
It seems there are an infinite number of resources—both ELT and non-ELT focused—that help you do this.
There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts out there. While it’s never a good idea to listen to a whole one, you can select extracts to play, and create questions and discussion around the topic.
Spotify, for example, has a huge selection of podcasts to choose from and they are free to listen to and share. But, of course, these are better for higher level students as the language is not graded at all. If you would prefer to use a more student-focused podcast resource, see the All Ears English Podcast, which is made with ELT in mind.
I’m a huge fan of using engaging videos in my classes – online or in the classroom. YouTube is the obvious choice because links are easily shareable. Don’t limit yourself to using videos with language – there are many short clips of cities, landmarks, and locations that lead themselves well to descriptive activities. Recent news clips are catalysts for discussion activities, and you can even use short films – my favourite channel for this is Future Shorts, but there are thousands of others to choose from.
Depending on the level of my students, I often set authentic reading tasks. I usually opt for opinion-led pieces from well known publications or websites, like the BBC. As with any class, you must decide on your aims – but being online, it’s paper free. I recommend preparing a list of questions to paste into the chat window (if you’re using Skype).
Platforms for online teaching
Skype is the obvious choice for small groups and one-to-one classes, as it has video, screen sharing, text chat – and is free for one to one calls. It’s relatively stable, and works well if you have a strong internet connection. My tip is to plug your computer into the router, rather than relying on wifi.
Verbling is a nicely branded and easy-to-use video teaching platform, with a simple sign up process and the option to set your own hourly rates. You can brand your services and advertise on the platform to find new students. You need to be a native speaker of the language you are teaching, which is obviously a drawback for qualified, non-native speaking teachers. You will need teaching experience, and a qualification is preferable.
Udemy is a very popular (and free) teaching platform, allowing you to use video lectures, add presentations, documents, audio, and even allows you to charge for your courses. Obviously, this is more involved and high tech than Skype, but it’s a very worthwhile investment.
Similar to Udemy, Eliademy is an interactive learning management system (LMS) and free for teachers to use. Branded as being simple and quick to set up, it’s worth investigating if you want impressive online courses – or blended learning courses for your “real life” students.
As I mentioned, one the hardest parts of online teaching is the developing sense of community you get in a physical classroom. For this reason, I highly recommend setting up a private Facebook Group – or even Slack Channel – for your students.
Here you can invite all your private and group students, create quizzes, share articles, resources and so on, as well as starting English language challenges and competitions between your students. It keeps them engaged, creates conversation and may even lead to new clients in the future, as people like to talk about what they are enjoying.
Although it sounds like a lot of effort, you can plan for several posts a week in less than half an hour, and spend 10-15 mins a day managing comments; I recommend doing this at a set time each day do your students don’t constantly talk to you online. Also, set up a separate Facebook account for this, so you don’t mix up your private and professional lives.
While teaching online comes with its own set of challenges, it’s certainly a good skill to master. You’ll be able to work with people from all over the world, at a time that suits you, in the comfort of your own home. It certainly beats sitting in traffic, anyway.
For more tips and advice on teaching English as a foreign language, check out our section for English teachers.