Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.
Get Started Teaching ESL Remotely
Teaching or tutoring English as a Second Language remotely is a rewarding experience and an excellent side job for teachers, and even other professionals. However, there are some challenges, especially for instructors who are new to ESL teaching or teaching remotely via video calling software.
When you teach ESL lessons online, you will usually be teaching students one-on-one or in small groups via video calling software such as Skype, WeChat, or in some cases, proprietary software developed by a specific ESL tutoring company. It is important for remote ESL instructors to have not only the teaching skills needed to teach English as a Second Language effectively, but to also have an understanding of and sensitivity to different cultures. They will also need to possess the technical know-how to troubleshoot any software or hardware issues that may arise during lessons.
1. Be Aware of Cultural Differences
When you first begin teaching students from another culture, it is important to be aware of cultural differences to avoid offending your students or making them feel uncomfortable. For example, many cultures expect more conservative dress than what is acceptable in the United States, so make sure you dress appropriately and professionally during lessons (i.e. no sleeveless or low-cut outfits).
Also, take the time to learn about your students’ cultures. If you are teaching students in China, learn about Chinese holidays and customs. You can include activities related to your students’ holidays in the lessons.
English as a Second Language students are also generally very interested in learning about American or British culture, so you should incorporate activities related to your own culture into the lessons as well. Ask your students questions about their culture and be prepared to answer their questions about yours.
2. Plan Ahead
Even if you work for a company that does not require instructors to make formal lesson plans, it is still a good idea to plan your lessons ahead of time. Create an outline for what you plan to accomplish during each lesson. Make sure you have any materials you will need for the lesson (including workbooks, flashcards, and materials for games), ready before the lesson begins.
I prefer to keep a separate notebook for each of my students containing the lesson plans for each week’s lesson. In the notebook, I take notes about what we covered each week, how they are progressing, and what they still need to work on. This makes it easy to organize each lesson and remember what was covered the week before as I’m creating the next week’s lesson.
3. Test Your Equipment Before Each Lesson
At least a few minutes before the start-time of your first lesson of the day, take the time to test your internet connection, webcam, and microphone. Technology problems happen, but you can reduce the issues you have during lessons if you test your equipment beforehand and work out any issues before the lesson start time. Make sure your internet connection is stable and that your webcam and microphone or headset are connected and working properly. It’s not always possible to account for any possible problem, especially connection problems on the student’s end, but you can limit technology problems on your end by being prepared.
4. Set Realistic Goals for Your Students
Each student is at a different place in their English language learning. Some students learn more quickly than others, and some may be more advanced than others their age. When you first start working with a new student, take the time to access their level. Push them to always learn more but set goals for them that are attainable. You don’t want the lessons to be too easy, but you also don’t want them to become frustrated by lessons that are too difficult.
5. Tailor Lessons to Individual Students’ Needs
Each student has specific goals and each student will be at a different level when they begin. Find out the student’s primary goals in their English language learning. Is this a younger student who needs to improve their English to get into a good school? Are they an adult who wants to learn English for business reasons? Do they want to improve their speaking, reading comprehension, writing skills, or all three? Are there specific aspects of English that they are having more difficulty with and need to practice more? Are they a complete beginner at English, or have they already begun learning the language? These are all questions you should take into consideration when designing your students’ individualized lessons.
6. Make Your Lessons Fun
School-aged students have a lot of responsibilities between their regular school classes, extracurricular activities, and lessons outside of school. Make your ESL lessons fun by including games in your lessons. Younger children enjoy games like Simon Says, which helps to improve their listening skills. Hangman is also a favorite of all ages. For older students, you can use complete sentences in your Hangman games. Take turns between having your students create the words/sentences for you to guess and having them guess your word/sentence.
Show and Tell is also another fun activity that you can incorporate into lessons to encourage your students to speak more as they tell you about something interesting from their own lives. This can be a favorite toy or object or even photos from a recent vacation.
If your students have access to a printer, you can also send them printable ESL games to play during lessons, which you can find online.
7. Keep the Student Talking
The student should be the one doing most of the talking during each lesson. Encourage your student to answer questions in complete sentences and ask you questions for clarification whenever they don’t understand something. Your student should be the one doing most of the talking during their ESL lessons, as one of the goals is to help them to improve their English conversational skills.
Resist the urge to simply explain lesson materials while the student just sits and listens. Lessons are most effective when they are interactive. Ask the student questions throughout the lesson to make sure they understand the lesson and encourage them to ask for clarification if they don’t understand something. If you are using a workbook or worksheets with your student, have them read the questions out load before they answer the questions.
8. Assign Homework - But Don’t Overdo It
Homework assignments are important because they keep the student thinking about their English lessons outside of class time, which can help them to better retain the new information they have learned. However, most students, especially those in China, have a lot of homework from their regular school classes and simply won’t have time to complete large amounts of homework for their supplementary English classes. It is important that they are able to balance their ESL homework with all of their other responsibilities.
9. Take Notes and Assess Student Progress
It is important to take accurate notes regarding each student’s progress so that you can better tailor future lessons to their specific needs, and to be able to send accurate progress reports at regular intervals while they are taking lessons with you.
Throughout the lesson or immediately afterward, be sure to take notes regarding each student’s progress, including what they are excelling at and what they are having difficulty understanding. If your student is having trouble with a particular concept, make sure to address this by giving them extra practice to help improve whatever it is that they are having difficulty with.
10. Stay Organized
It is important to keep your materials and notes for each student organized to keep their lessons running smoothly, especially if you have several students. Keep separate files for each student you teach containing progress reports, lesson plans, lesson materials, notes, and any other paperwork you have for each student.
I keep a calendar on my phone with each student’s lesson times, which video chat application they prefer, and other notes about their lessons. I also keep a folder in my filing cabinet for each student containing their lesson plan notebooks and other paperwork. I also keep folders on my computer for each student containing any digital materials I am using with them, as well as digital progress report files. You may find that a different system works better for you.
Teaching English as a Second Language
Teaching English as a Second Language remotely can be an excellent side job for teachers and other types of professionals who are looking to gain more experience or to gain an additional skill set. Teaching remotely via video calling software such as Skype or WeChat requires some different skill sets than traditional classroom teaching, but it is doable. Many remote ESL companies don’t require instructors to be licensed teachers, so this can also be a valuable opportunity for aspiring teachers who haven’t yet completed their teaching license, or other professionals looking to change careers or looking for a rewarding and meaningful side job.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber
Janisa from Earth on August 26, 2018:
I agree with all of these. These tips are very useful for new teachers, especially those that are teaching a lesson/student/ course for the first time. When it comes to homework, I usually let my private students choose their assignments from a list I prepare for them that takes into account their interests and things they need to work on.