How to teach English Online


The advantages of online learning are all too obvious. For both students and teachers, it offers flexibility and convenience. Gone are the days when physical classrooms and blackboards were the only way to teach English.

Unsurprisingly then, the industry is booming, offering ever-increasing opportunities for those looking to teach ESL. And if you want to travel, don’t worry! There are online teaching positions abroad as well as in your home country. In this article, we bring you a basic guide on how to teach English online. Everything from lesson planning to equipment.

1. Full-time? Freelance? Independent?

Let’s go through each of these one by one.

Let’s say you are employed full-time as an online ESL teacher for an education company. Assuming the company is professional and responsible, you will likely be provided with some basic lesson materials, a schedule of your classes and technical support in case anything goes wrong mid-lesson. Plus, you don’t have to worry about where your next student will come from. On the downside, being a full-time employee may not give you the freedom and flexibility you dreamt of. Not to mention that the company will take a cut of the fee paid by the student.

Another option is to go freelance by advertising your services on teaching platforms. This may give you a little more flexibility; you can create your own schedule and not face any restrictions regarding what you teach. A downside to this is that such platforms tend to have a lot of teachers, so you will have to think very carefully about your niche in the online ESL market.

The third option is to go independent. This will take time. You will be responsible for setting up your own platform, finding your students, lesson planning, and creating your own teaching materials. On the plus side, you will reap all the rewards, financial and otherwise, assuming you make a success of it. If you want to teach English online long-term, this might be the option for you.

Remember that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. Just be sure to do your research beforehand so you know which option is best for you.

2. Equipment

Here’s a basic checklist of what you need to teach a high-quality online English lesson:

  • An up-to-date computer
  • HD Webcam 1080/720 HD
  • Headset with microphone/external microphone
  • Minimum 5MB per second internet speed

Beyond this, you should think about using a virtual classroom platform to make your lessons interactive. A few that come recommended include New Row, Vedamo, Big Blue Button, Learn Cube, Electa Live, Adobe Connect and Wiz IQ. As well as clear audio and video, such platforms offer features such as a virtual whiteboard, space to upload screenshots or photocopies of text, space to upload PowerPoints, a messaging service and more.

If you are employed by a company, this is probably something you will not have to worry about too much beyond familiarising yourself with the platform. You may also have tech support on hand to assist if anything goes wrong. If you are going it alone, familiarising yourself with equipment and software is a must, as is knowing what to do if you have a technical issue mid-lesson. One or two problems can be excused. But if you find you have unclear audio or slow software every lesson, your paying customers probably won’t be too happy.

How to teach English Online

3. Lesson Planning

This is largely similar to standard ESL methodology. There are some obvious differences to lesson planning for a classroom setting. There is no group work and no way to physically play games.

Let me share my own experience of teaching business English to adults with German company Learnship Networks. A typical lesson would usually be something like the following. I would start with a warmer, perhaps reviewing the previous lesson’s work or doing some “get to know you” activities if I was teaching the student for the first time. I would then introduce the target language, perhaps by slowly going through a few examples. I would then do some practice exercises. These could range from gap fills to listening activities, both of which were possible through the interactive classroom software. Following this, I would get the student to produce the target language independently perhaps through a role-play activity or an interview.

However you structure your lessons, planning is crucial. It may also be wise to prepare some back-up activities in case any of your teaching software crashes.

4. Know your Students

Online ESL classes are popular amongst students of various ages and abilities. From primary school students to adult business English learners. Managing different students can be challenging.

Remember that for absolute beginners, learning English online can be tough as the teacher cannot illicit lesson content face-to-face as in a physical classroom. If you work for a company, there may be staff on hand to help students get familiar with the interactive classroom amongst other things in their native language. This is also something you could do yourself presuming you can speak the language in question. However, do your best to keep this to a minimum. One rule you could follow is this: only use the student’s native language for administrative issues and not for lesson content or instruction-giving. As in all ESL lessons, you want to create an English-speaking environment to the greatest extent possible.

For very young learners, they may need help from an adult in the first few lessons. You may also want to know that an adult is on hand on their end in case of an emergency.

How to teach English Online

5. Managing your Appearance

While on a webcam, you will probably be visible from your face down to your shoulders. So make sure you are dressed appropriately. While working for a company, you may be asked to adhere to a particular dress code. As a freelancer or independent teacher, you are in theory free to dress as you please. However, for the sake of building your reputation and thereby gaining more students, maintaining a professional appearance is probably not a bad idea.

And then there’s your background. Perhaps you are happy just to show the plain walls of whichever room you are in. Or perhaps you could display something related to learning English, like the flag of an English-speaking country. Whatever you choose, make sure your background is presentable.

And one more thing. If applicable, make sure you have adequate childcare arrangements and keep any pets from disturbing you during your class. The last thing you want is to be stopping the lesson to get out of your seat because your little one has just woken up, or Sammy the dog has come into the room and won’t stop barking.

Opportunities await

That then is a basic guide on how to teach English online. Job opportunities of all shapes and sizes are available at home and abroad. For more information, head to Your online teaching adventure has only just begun!

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