So you want to learn how to teach English online. Great idea!.
If you’ve already taught offline, you know how to run a lesson with a whiteboard, a marker, worksheets and a textbook. But what language teaching tools do you need for an online lesson?
Well, the good news is that teaching languages online doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, you’ll be able to use many free tools that you and your students are already familiar with to deliver fun and interactive online English lessons.
By the end of this post, you’ll have all the tips and resources you’ll need to deliver your first online English lesson. So let’s get started.
If you want to become a qualified online language teacher and earn a living from home, I recommend checking out CeOLT (Certificate of Online Language Teaching).
How To Teach English Online: 6 Language Teaching Tools
So this post is about the practical side of things first – the online tools for language teaching you’ll need to teach English online.
As I mentioned before, these tools may be ones you’re using already so there shouldn’t be too much of a learning curve. The trick is adapting them for an online learning environment.
And I’ll explain how to do that below.
#1 Video Conferencing Software
When you think of how to teach English online, the first tool that comes to mind is video conferencing software. No wonder. This is the main image most people have of online teaching and learning.
A few years ago, Skype was a popular online video conferencing tool. And it was easy to get started with Skype, because many potential students already had it on their computers.
Nowadays though, you and your students have many other video conferencing options. One of the best digital tools for teaching language online is Zoom and for good reason. Zoom comes with built-in recording software so you can record lessons which can be an added benefit for your student.
It also has extremely robust sharing settings and a built-in whiteboard. With Zoom, you can share video and sound so you don’t need to use a separate video sharing tool such as TogetherTube.
The other main benefit of Zoom is the options it offers for groups. On the first paid tier (15 USD/month), you can offer group classes of unlimited duration for up to 100 people. On the free version, you can run group classes too, but they’re limited to 45 minutes.
With the paid version, you also have access to the breakout room function. With breakout rooms you can split your students into smaller groups where they can practise speaking together. You can then join their “room” and listen to them talk and make notes about that, or join in the conversation.
These features make Zoom a great option for when you’re ready to expand from 1:1 online English teaching to teaching groups.
You could also consider other video conferencing options such as Whereby or Microsoft Teams.
#2 Tools To Take Notes During the Lesson
Think back to the traditional language teaching classroom. You usually finished the lesson with some kind of worksheet or a page full of notes. Online English lessons are no different.
Even though you can record your sessions, your students will also expect a written record of the lesson. My recommendation for taking these lesson notes is Google Docs.
Why? Because this means you don’t even have to share your screen or get distracted by the chat box. You just need to create your Google Doc and generate a shareable link to send to your student.
Then during the lesson, you can collaborate live in this document together. You will both see any changes the other person makes in the document.
As the lesson unfolds, you can write down any mistakes you hear and ask your student to correct their work at the end. You can either do this in class or make it a homework assignment.
You can also make notes on new vocabulary and expressions you encounter, tools, books or website recommendations for the student and more.
Google Docs is also the perfect solution if you’re working with a student on their writing skills. You can set them a writing task, they can write in the document and you can correct their work using the “comment” function. You can do this in class or asynchronously.
Otherwise, if your student is searching for a word and needs a bit of help, you could just type it in the chatbox that comes with most video conferencing software.
To make your lessons extra professional, you can use a lesson template for each session you have together. In this template, you type the date, topic of the lesson, create a space for feedback and add any other relevant information.
For example, you could add ideas for future lessons or resources for the student to access outside of the lesson, such as exercises on a particular grammar point or a suggested YouTube video. This document won’t take long to set up and it will make your lessons look extra pro. You can copy and paste it for each lesson.
Other Note-Taking Tools And Google Suite Tips
Evernote is another of the most useful apps for language teachers. You can use it to create documents to share with your students. But it’s not as easy or simple to collaborate in a “note” together in real-time, even though you can share them.
The other tools in the Google suite could be useful to you too. For example, you can use Google presentations to create slideshows about different topics. Or you could set your student that task.
For example, you could ask them to present a book report this way. If they’re preparing a presentation for work, you could get them to do a practice one in class first.
You can also use Google Sheets to manage your students and lessons. For instance, when did they last pay you? How many lessons are left in this particular package?
Google Sheets is also a great place for you to keep notes on your students such as their birthday (so you can send them a message on the day) or details such as their job title and their English goals.
#3 Screen Share
One huge advantage of the online classroom compared to traditional classrooms is the ability to screen share.
This is especially important when it comes to watching online videos. In an in-person setting, it’s not always easy or possible to share a clip from the internet. You might not have Wi-Fi or a way to download the clip for offline viewing.
In an online lesson though, the technology for teaching English is completely different. For example, you can use the screen share option in Zoom to show your student a video.
Just make sure you hit the “share sound” button and you can watch any online video together. That could be anything from a clip from a TV show to all or part of a TED talk.
You can prepare questions and other activities for your student to do in your Google Doc for that particular lesson. For instance, you could write some comprehension questions for them to answer to check their understanding. You could also write a list of discussion questions based on the video.
If your student has a presentation coming up, you could write a list of questions to help them analyse another speaker’s TED Talk. The possibilities are endless.
If you’d prefer to work with videos designed for English learners, you could use a site like ELLLO (English Listening Library Online), Real English or one of the many famous English YouTube channels, such as Rachel’s English or English with Lucy.
#4 Lesson Scheduling Software
One tool you won’t be able to live without as an online teacher is scheduling software. Scheduling tools such as Calendly, Acuity or Book Like A Boss will save you hours of time. They eliminate the back and forth with students via email trying to find a suitable lesson time.
With these tools, you input the times you’re available into the back end and generate a link to your booking page. You send this link to your (potential) students where they can set their time zone and select a convenient lesson slot.
In some tools, you can also take payments so your students can book and pay in one go. You don’t even need a website to get started with this type of software.
These tools will send confirmation emails out to your student with the lesson time and your Zoom link and any other links or information you want to include.
They’re super easy to set up and you don’t have to worry about sending your students reminder messages – your scheduling software will do it all for you, even while you sleep!
Getting payment for lessons upfront ensures you get paid for your time and that your students show up. You can also create a lesson cancellation policy, such as lessons not cancelled within 24 hours are lost. This is the kind of information you can add to your scheduling software, either on the booking page or in the confirmation emails.
#5 Offline Tools And Resources
Even though you’re teaching online, you don’t need to throw all your offline material into the recycling bin! If you have worksheets that you like to use, consider scanning them so you can send them to your students or show them in the lesson with the screen share function.
Also, if there’s a textbook or grammar book you like to use, you can ask your students to buy a copy of it for your lessons together. You can then ask them to work on specific chapters either in the lesson or as a homework task.
If you don’t have any offline materials because you haven’t taught before, you could use the materials on reputable sites such as the British Council's Learn English site and more.
And of course, your students’ English progress depends, not only on what you do together in the lesson but also on the contact that your students have with English outside of the lesson.
You can encourage them to immerse themselves in English distraction-free with my Short Stories in English book for example. You can then use the time in your lessons to talk about the stories.
#6 Chat Apps
Between lessons or as a homework activity, you may wish to use chat apps like WhatsApp or Telegram with your students. They can send you voice or even video messages.
Depending on their level, they can record themselves talking about a topic for a set time, such as 1-3 minutes. You can then give them feedback directly in the app, either by text or voice message.
The key here is to be very specific so that you and your students don’t get overwhelmed. You may wish to only focus on a topic you’ve covered recently, such as talking about the future, and ignore all other mistakes.
The task you give them could also be related to a professional context, such as giving an elevator pitch. Here you might wish to focus more on the content of the message than on the grammar and vocabulary mistakes.
How To Teach English Online
So there you have it – 6 essential tools to get started with online English teaching.
It’s easy to teach English online with tools that you already have on your computer or phone. You don’t need to use anything complicated or expensive. In fact, the simpler, the better.
What’s more, as many of these tools are free and easily accessible, your students will be familiar with them too. So that means no steep learning curve with new technology. Just plenty of time and energy to focus on teaching and learning English.