10 mind-blowing tips to help you succeed at teaching English online

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Teaching English online is a terrifically rewarding career path.

Is it the end of the world if you're so eager to teach English online but don’t have a degree?

No - it isn’t the end of the world!

Social media, personality, desire and ideas matter far more than qualifications.

After all, very few of the students I’ve recruited in recent years have taken an interest in my education.

In fact, my methods and knowledge of language learning strategies won them over.

Read on for ten mind-blowing tips to help you succeed at teaching English online:


TIP 1: BUILD A PERSONAL PROFILE THAT FOCUSES ON YOUR POSITIVE CHARACTER TRAITS

Regardless of whether or not you’ve got a stack of qualifications and teaching certificates under your belt, online tutors need to focus on building a personal profile in which their humanistic qualities and ideas shine through.

It’s not a piece of cake to become fluent in English. You need to respect this and radiate how you will walk potential students through the process of achieving their goals. 

How? 

You need to do a great deal of digging and research into language learning strategies. How did you learn languages? What methods have polyglots used to master languages? Do students really need so much grammar to speak English confidently and fluently? 

Humanistic qualities of integrity, respect and compassion matter a great deal when it comes to converting potential clients into happy customers.


TIP 2: MATERIALS MATTER - CREATE YOUR OWN

Having used popular coursebook series in language schools for five years, I can safely say that I would never develop an entire study course for a student based solely on a coursebook. In my view, coursebooks create a damaging psychological distance between teachers and students.

Looking back on the six years I’ve been teaching English online, I believe that one of the main reasons I have drawn in and retained students is because I write and share my own texts with them.

In my texts, I don’t share information about my private life. Instead, I focus on sharing stories about things I’ve seen and done and my life, cultural observations and travel notes. Occasionally, I react to world news events.

You can read more about the value of my texts here.


TIP 3: INCORPORATE PHRASAL VERBS AND COLLOCATIONS TYPICALLY USED BY NATIVE SPEAKERS INTO YOUR TEXTS

I do not think English language teachers should be obsessed with grading vocabulary according to proficiency levels. 

Collocations with “get”, “make” and “do” are very common in everyday speech, as are phrasal verbs. Focus more on these!

Write texts from your heart and try to incorporate relevant collocations and phrasal verbs into your texts.

Students will find it truly empowering!


TIP 4 : HAVE VERY FAIR TERMS AND CONDITIONS

You’re going to make a name for yourself and get new students through word-of-mouth by being principled, honest and as non-materialistic as possible.

From the word go, I tell my students that I don’t tolerate same-day cancellations. I take 15 minutes from a student’s batch of pre-paid minutes if they make a same-day cancellation. As my lessons usually last between 15 and 30 minutes, I think this charge is more than fair.

I try to be tolerant with students who might be “running late”, so I don’t charge them if they’re five minutes late. However, if they inform me that they’ll be fifteen minutes late, I add ten minutes to the overall length of the lesson.

Another area I like to nip in the bud at an early stage is the amount of “help” I am willing to give to a student.

I encourage students to write short texts, which contain previously learned vocabulary and phrases. I also try to persuade them to create word tables for me to check. However, I refuse to check students’ business letters, website pages and personal correspondence etc. 

Students need to be fair with their teachers, just as much as teachers need to be fair with their students.


TIP 5: LOOK AFTER STUDENTS BETWEEN LESSONS

It’s absolutely vital to keep students motivated between lessons.

I make a habit of sending lesson notes after every lesson. In essence, I summarise new words and phrases, pronunciation errors and mistakes, together with corrections.

Here’s an example of a set of notes from a single lesson with one of my students from Russia:

ESL lesson notes

A set of lesson notes for a student of English

You can read more about the learning cycle I tend to implement with students at the bottom of this page. 

It’s not all about updating lesson notes. I openly encourage students to send questions to me on Skype, particularly if clarification is sought pertaining to language encountered in a previous lesson.


TIP 6: BALANCE STUDENT TALKING TIME (STT) AND TEACHER TALKING TIME (TTT)

Frankly, I’m not one of those teachers who likes the sound of their own voice. I remember a few teachers I worked with who spent a large amount of time in class talking about themselves.

Teaching Talking Time (TTT) should never be over 20% in a class which is based on communication. I reckon I am at around 5% in my conversation classes. 

If a student asks me questions about what’s going on in my life, I know they’re only being polite. However, I get to the point as quickly as I can with my answers. Students don’t want to hear me create lengthy monologues.


TIP 7: GIVE FEEDBACK AT THE END OF CLASS

Online lessons should be free-flowing and interactive.

I tend to teach on Skype. I’m used to sending instant messages during every lesson to confirm new words and phrases, grammar points and pronunciation errors. Most of my students are used to the fact that I explain all of these points at the end of every class. 

In my view, the last thing that students need after every other utterance is a lecture on an obscure grammar point.

Allow students to speak without interrupting them every twenty seconds.


TIP 8: DON'T SPEAK TOO SLOWLY

Online lessons should be free-flowing and interactive.

I tend to teach on Skype. I’m used to sending instant messages during every lesson to confirm new words and phrases, grammar points and pronunciation errors. Most of my students are used to the fact that I explain all of these points at the end of every class. 

In my view, the last thing that students need after every other utterance is a lecture on an obscure grammar point.

Allow students to speak without interrupting them every twenty seconds.


TIP 9: SPECIALISE - DON'T OFFER EVERY TYPE OF COURSE UNDER THE SUN!

If I see that a competitor offers every kind of English language course under the sun to potential students, I think to myself - what a poor soul!

Imagine Mr Bloggs’ advert: 

"I teach General English, Business English, KET, PET, FCE, CAE, CPE, TOEFL, Travel English, Medical English, Aviation English, IELTS, EAP, Cambridge English Young Learners Tests (YLE) and many, many more courses!"

Frankly, I think that such a list looks unconvincing and unprofessional. Where did Mr Bloggs amass all the experience to claim that he can teach these courses? 

I have experience in many of the areas listed in Mr Bloggs’ advert. However, I prefer to play to my strengths.

I only have four courses listed on my site: my ‘Fluency Development’ course, IELTS, CAE and Business English. 

Naturally, my self-created ‘Fluency Development’ course is the one which gets me out of bed in the morning. The course revolves around my own self-written texts, which is extremely motivating both for me and my students.

When it comes to IELTS, CAE and Business English, I have many hours of teaching experience under my belt, both as a private tutor and as an employee at universities and language schools.


TIP 10: OFFER SHORT BUT REGULAR CLASSES

Most online teachers offer 45, 60 or 90 minute lessons. Do you really have to do the same?

No!

Do longer lessons necessarily lead to greater spoken competence and language acquisition?

Not at all!

Since 2013, I have been teaching a Polish student called Marek every second day. Our conversation classes, which are based on a range of self-written texts, articles from online news websites and TED talks, usually last around 15 minutes. 

Most of my other students have classes once or twice a week so I tend to cover a little more ground with these students.

Having classes every second day ensures that English becomes a habit. Revision and preparation included, I am sure that the Polish student in question has contact with English every day. 

If a student only has one ninety-minute class a week, there is a danger that they might become deluded into thinking that ninety minutes per week is enough to make progress with their English. They might think to themselves they don’t need to revise and work with new words and phrases every day because so many exercises and pages are dealt with during a single class.

My best students are the ones who have SHORT but REGULAR classes.



CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

If you pay heed to all of the above tips and have plenty of skills when it comes to marketing, there’s no reason why you can’t teach English online and make a name for yourself at it.  

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