Monday, August 07, 2017

Online English Teaching: Tips and Advice

Andréa Guterres Câmara (Final Project for the course Writing for Teachers)

When we think about English teaching in the 21st century, we can’t ignore the impact of the Internet on our practice as teachers. Students of all ages can now access information 24/7. There’s YouTube, with an impressive library of millions of videos growing steadily, with about 300 hours of new content uploaded every minute. Students can watch videos, listen to different accents, and learn authentic language anytime and as many times they want, something unimaginable and unattainable not long ago. 

As our society advanced technologically, the demand for virtual classrooms was a natural consequence. To answer that, our first MOOCs, or massive open online courses, came to be in the 2000s. Since then, more and more people across the globe have been able to learn countless subjects without the need to commute to a brick-and-mortar school. This phenomenon hasn’t been different in regard to language learning.

We live in a fast-paced world; traffic can be daunting in big cities, and in some remote locations traveling to attend face-to-face classes can be quite impossible. Commuting to class used to be a chore for many, but now with a computer and a reliable Internet connection, anyone can have access to online courses and private tutors alike. As online teachers, we have the potential to reach students practically anywhere on the planet. More and more people are discovering this learning option and embracing it. “Due to a combination of factors (for example cost, convenience, learner expectations, developments in technology, and changing paradigms within education), it is clear that online learning is here to stay” (Hockly, 2015).

The challenge we online teachers face is to offer the same quality lessons to students who are miles away, as we’ve done in traditional in-person settings. Below I’ve included a few tips to address common problems and to circumvent issues we may have with technology and distance learning. They are intended for one-to-one lessons for adults, which is my niche, and with which I’m most experienced.

Start with a needs analysis and a placement test
Like with a regular course, you must know exactly what your student needs and wants to learn. It will be a partnership between your student and you. Both need to be aware of what is necessary to achieve their goal.

Choose your favorite communication platform and have a backup option
You can use Skype, which is probably the most popular platform, but there is also Zoom, a favorite of many teachers: “Zoom is excellent. It offers a wide range of annotation tools, recording facilities and great audio and video quality” (Nobre, 2017).
It is a good idea to have a backup plan. If Skype is not working, use Zoom or Google Hangout. As a last resort, you may also try FaceTime for Mac/iPhone users or WhatsApp Video Calling. The important tip is to be ready in case things don’t go as expected.

Make sure your student knows the basics about technology before you start your course
It may be straightforward to you, but many people are not familiar with all the technology available out there, let alone learn a language in a new environment. You can send them tutorials, links and schedule a call if they need extra help getting set up. Remember their success and commitment depend on a good start.

Choose your materials wisely
If you decide to use a textbook, look for one with a presentation tool. Most publishing companies nowadays offer that feature. You can install a program or download it, and have access to the student’s book on your computer screen. This way you can share your screen, make annotations during the lesson, play audio files, videos, and make your class more fun and interactive.

Create your own online lessons
You can create your own lessons using articles from blogs, news websites, or stories you saw on TV; the options are countless. There are many reasons to do this. Here I list a few: you will bring more contemporaneous issues to your lessons; you’ll be using authentic materials that can help students learn collocations, pronunciation and connected speech in a natural way; they can improve their listening and writing skills with examples taken from authentic texts; and you can also stimulate their critical thinking in the process.

Use other online teachers’ free lessons
If you are pressed for time and can’t produce your own lessons, you can also download free lessons from other teachers. My favorite ones are:

Rachel Robert’s at
Luiz Otavio de Barros at
Cristina Cabal at

Websites like the British Council and VOA (Voice of America), for instance, offer free lessons with authentic resources to make yours interesting and up-to-date on current world issues.

Use videos for storytelling
Videos can be a great resource, but don’t just show your students a video and use it as a listening skills lesson. You can use videos to tell a story.
“The traditional way to use video in the classroom is to watch the video first and talk about it later. In a Videotelling activity, the teacher communicates a video narrative through traditional interactive storytelling. In this way, the technology takes a back seat, and human communication comes to the front of the class” (Keddie, 2017, p.15).

Have your students participate actively
A challenge to teachers and more so to online tutors is to control their TTT, or Teacher Talking Time. You must prepare your lessons to be student-centered. Use Skype’s chat boxes to have your students write. Share your screen, and show them PowerPoint presentations to scaffold vocabulary and language. Engage their attention with nice visuals and videos. Ask them to record an audio at home about a topic you’ve agreed upon, and then give them feedback. These are simple and easy to do. The important thing is to create opportunities for the students to produce and not just sit and listen to you lecture them for 1 hour.

Final Considerations
Online teaching is not for everyone. Not all students will want to study online, and not all teachers will adapt to this new environment or enjoy it. “It might sound obvious, but some people simply don’t enjoy studying online, preferring face-to-face lessons” (Nobre, 2017).
As with anything relatively new and changing fast, it’s a matter of trying for yourself and seeing if you like it or not.
If you do decide to take the plunge, I recommend you create a databank of resources. The more lessons and content you have saved, the easier it will be for you to adapt your lessons and save time in the long run.


Hockly, N. (2015). Developments in online language learning. ELT Journal Advance Access. Retrieved from

Keddie, J. (2017). Videotelling | YouTube Stories for the Classroom. (Introduction, page 15). Retrieved from Kindle,

Nobre, C. (2017). Challenges in ELT: Teaching online.

 The British Council,

VOA (Voice of America),



  1. Thank you for sharing your impressions, tips and recommendations, Andrea! There are valuable and strong references here to guide any teacher who wants to venture into the world of online teaching. I particularly liked that you listed links and named specific tools and features that would help us go through the process. Way to go!

  2. Many thanks for your comments Aline! I'm currently working on a website where I intend to share my thoughts and experience teaching online. If you want to keep in touch you can find me on FB at

  3. Thank you very much for this useful article with your impressions and suggestions for all of us. The links you provide are well organized and this makes your guide easy to read - use and even more interesting.

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