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12 tips for teaching an unforgettable online English class

12 tips for teaching an unforgettable online English class

by Cambridge English, 16/04/2020

Have you suddenly found yourself teaching online? You’re certainly not alone. English teachers all around the world are in the same position – and it can be hard to know where to start.

In this guide, we’ll cover 12 of the most important aspects of online teaching. You’ll be planning and delivering excellent online English classes in no time at all! You can also download our Top tips for teaching English online.

1. Choose your platform and teaching tools

Before you start, you’ll need to decide on a platform to deliver your online classes. Some teachers choose Google Classroom, which is a free online learning management service for schools. It facilitates collaboration, creativity, file sharing and grading – and of course works well with all other Google platforms, like G Suite for Education, Google Docs, Google Slides, and so on.



Alternatively, you could explore Flipgrid. Free for teachers to sign up, Flipgrid is designed for all levels of education – from pre-primary to postgraduate. It’s especially good for sharing videos, collaboration and storytelling.

In addition, there’s Zoom, a video conferencing and teaching platform which has exploded in popularity recently. It comes with a built-in interactive whiteboard, space for up to 100 students, file sharing, breakaway rooms for group work and chat features. Zoom has a generous free plan, though sessions can only last up to 40 minutes (at which point you would need to restart the lesson to continue or upgrade to a Pro account).

Skype is another option, however it will require all your students to download the software and create an account.

Google Hangouts is a useful tool if you have a Google account. Providing screen share, file sharing, live captions and chat, it’s simple to use but is not specifically designed for teaching. Learners can sign in without a Gmail address.

Watch our Getting started with teaching English online webinar to learn more about online teaching platforms and decide which is right for your class. You can also download our Quick-start guide to teaching English online and our tips on How to choose the right online platform for your classroom.

2. Technology requirements

As a teacher, you’ll need to administer your course, create materials, broadcast your class, interact with your students and grade their work. For efficiency, you’ll need a laptop, a desktop computer or a professional tablet.

Your students will also need a laptop or computer if they want to fully participate in your classes. However, smartphones or tablets with an internet connection can be used when there’s no alternative.

3. Privacy and safety online

When delivering any kind of class online, you need a to take safety and privacy seriously. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) ruling in Europe means teachers (and their schools) have the responsibility to treat their students’ data carefully, safely and with respect. GDPR may also affect educators who work outside of Europe if their students live abroad.

The regulations provide sensible guidance for managing personal data so are well worth reading up on. Our article covering What you need to know about security when teaching learners online also has some really useful advice on safety.

4. Training

Dedicate a portion of your first class to helping your students get to grips with the technology. Even if you spend half of the first session doing so, it will save you time explaining things to individuals over and over again. Many online teaching and conferencing platforms also have guides and video explainers to help you get started.

You can even use these introductory videos as listening activities and play games on the whiteboard to try out functionality.

5. Space and resources

Where possible, set aside a dedicated area in your home or office to teach from. Make sure you have all the visual aids and materials you need to hand. This will help you feel you are in a classroom and will help you be more spontaneous and creative during your lessons. This is especially important in young learner classes, where you might need to change the pace of the class using flashcards, puppets or even costumes!

Encourage your learners to do the same and set up a designated study area. If your students are very young, ask their parents to help. This will help them get in the right frame of mind to focus on learning.

Additionally, ensure that nothing in view of the camera can identify your home address, any sensitive information like bank details, any book titles you wouldn’t want to be associated with, any information about your children, etc. If this information is accidentally (or purposefully) shared online it can be a security risk.

6. Learning objectives

It can be difficult for students to adjust to online learning, especially when they’re joining your class from their homes. Bring them into your lessons by starting all your classes with learning objectives.

Use your chat box or interactive whiteboard to share what you will cover during the class and explain what you expect from your students. This will help students focus and feel like they are in a regular classroom. At the end of the class, you can reflect on what you’ve done together and whether you have achieved what you set out to do.

7. Create a routine

Do your best to develop a routine in the classroom. This will help your students feel they’re in a safe learning environment and makes giving instructions faster and more efficient.

For example, you can start with a warmer activity that involves all the students (for example, a game, a review or a few student-centred discussion questions), then go into your class objectives and review homework or project work. Also, make sure you mix study with energising games or mini-breaks and have students share their ideas.

8. Delivering instructions

Online teaching lets you deliver instructions to all your students verbally and in written format. You can also ask students to confirm their understanding in chat boxes and speak to individuals if they are unclear about what to do. Unlike in a physical class, every student can do this at the same time – so you can check everyone is on track.

Depending on which platform you use, there’s a good chance you’ll also be able to share your materials, documents and presentation slides, and display and use other activities like online quizzes and games with the class, which will help them follow along with ease.

9. Classroom management

Online classrooms can be easier to manage than physical ones. It’s unlikely that you’ll be interrupted by students whispering at the back of the class, passing notes or running around. However, you might be interrupted if students have their microphones on while you’re speaking – and they can talk to each other via chat box and get distracted with irrelevant online content.

It’s a good idea to have students mute their microphones while you are delivering input and have them close all other windows on their computers, so they are only focused on your class. Some platforms will allow you to mute participants’ microphones too. This can be a good idea – it ensures the lesson runs smoothly and avoids unnecessary distractions and background noises. But be sure to let your students know why you are doing this, so they don’t feel like they are being forcibly silenced. Tell students they can ask you questions in the chat box – either publicly or privately – so they feel comfortable and supported throughout the lesson. Read more of our top tips on keeping students’ attention when teaching English online.

10. Student engagement

It’s harder to engage with your students when teaching over a webcam connection. It pays to be a little larger than life on camera. Exaggerate your expressions and tone of voice slightly so they stay alert and interested in what you have to stay (just don’t overdo it).

You can also keep them on their toes by having every single student in the class respond to your questions by typing in the chat box. That will ensure they pay attention. Incorporating fun digital tools such as Quizlet or Quizizz will help keep learners engaged too.

You could also use a spinner to nominate students for tasks and questions to build a sense of fun and suspense – or get students to nominate each other!

Remember, just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean they’re not learning.

11. In-class group work

Mix up your activities to keep things interesting. Just because you’re online, it doesn’t mean students can’t collaborate. Many platforms allow you to put students in pairs or groups to work together in designated chat rooms. As a teacher, you can drop in and out of these rooms to monitor how things are going, and give feedback just as you would in a regular class.

Google DocsEtherpad (which requires a download and may be more suitable for older learners) and Dropbox Paper allow your students to work on collaborative writing.

You can also make use of your students’ webcams. Flipgrid, for example, lets students record and share their own videos, which is great for making online presentations.

12. Grading and progress tests

Just as in any regular classroom, you’ll need to track your students’ progress – both during class and throughout their course.

Have students present their own ideas to the class using their webcams, and offer them progress tests through online forms and writing assignments. You could also test students using fun quiz software like Kahoot, or more formal online progress tests with Typeform’s test maker.