Teaching individual students can be a challenge to be honest, especially when learners expect their teachers to contribute more during online lessons. After teaching privately to individual students, especially for those that are preparing for IELTS, I wanted to share some of my favourite speaking activities that I tend to incorporate during online lessons to get my students speaking and communicating more.
Activity 1: Wheel of Words
Wheel of Words is a great tool which I tend to use for a variety of purposes – one of which is to randomise conversation questions. Essentially, you write in your conversation questions or copy and paste them into the text box on the right of the website.
I tend to share my screen when spinning the wheel, and once a question is chosen, confetti shoots up and the question is displayed fully. Students find this rather engaging and entertaining, then proceed to answer their question. The best thing about this is you can save questions in Word and then import them into Wheel of Words, or refer to the Internet TESL Journal website for inspiration on questions to ask on particular topics. Otherwise, you can choose a variety of common questions which may arise on certain topics within the IELTS exam and randomise the choice of them by using this website.
Activity 2: Tell Me Why / Give Three Reasons
A huge thanks to David Sweetham for sharing this activity with me on Twitter (refer to his Tweet below), but I have found this a joy to incorporate into most of my conversational lessons.
Based on the activity that was shared, you choose one card for student(s) to talk about for a few minutes. As David mentioned, you can attempt intentionally wacky topics or ideas to get students thinking outside the box. It takes minimal preparation – always a bonus for me based on my Dogme-esque approach – which can then be used effectively with online IELTS conversational lessons. Here are some example conversational prompts to give you an idea of how this task runs.
Give three reasons why everyone should learn another language.
Tell me why rabbits make better pets than hamsters.
Present three reasons in favour for national service.
Give three reasons outlining why social media is harmful.
As you can see, being as creative and wacky as possible is a bonus. Students are forced to reason or justify their thoughts. This will help students gain greater confidence with dealing those challenging questions in the IELTS exam.
Activity 3: Odd One Out
A popular speaking activity in the physical classroom is getting students to reason why a particular object or word is the odd one out compared to the others. There is not a correct answer, as long as the reason is valid. I used to incorporate this activity in lessons and students found this task engaging and motivating, often allowing learners to develop their fluency.
You can either provide each group of words one at a time, by using Wheel of Words or by some other tool, or all at once as a document. Whatever approach you decide, you can give your individual student a short while to prepare and then allow students a short time to explain their reasoning. This task is engaging and motivating, and can be adapted for groups of students if needed. It is also a suitable activity for those learners preparing for the IELTS examination.
Activity 4: Picture This
The final activity that I enjoy incorporating into my individual IELTS preparation online lessons is getting students to respond to pictures on similar topics. It is very quick to prepare a selection of images within PowerPoint, Word or Jamboard, and then share the screen to students asking them to talk between 2 to 3 minutes explaining the similarities or differences about the pictures.
It is a task which naturally focuses on the use of comparative forms but getting students to draw similarities will require a bit of practice and creativity, especially once you have sourced rather random images for the activity. Again, it is a task which lends itself well in preparing students for speaking in English, as well as developing their confidence in communicating and expressing ideas or opinions.
What are your favourite individual speaking activities to get your online learners developing their fluency? Have you tried any of the activities shared in this post? If so, how did learners respond to them? As ever, please share in the comments.
Teaching trial or demonstration lessons are part and parcel of teaching privately to students, in which teachers and students should meet to ensure both parties are happy to continue lessons with each achieving that much needed rapport in the initial of online. As such, online private English tutors need to make a good impression in that first hour. If not, the tutor will have a challenge to convert the learner into a paying student – this is the crux of the matter.
So what should private tutors do to make a valuable first impression and how best to achieve this? In this post, we will review this and I will share my tips and tricks for establishing a good relationship with potential students.
Last week, on the Twitter sphere, Tyson Seburn was polling to see how many tutors were using emojis with their general communication with students – either in email or via class pages (such as Canvas or Blackboard).
This got me thinking about the pedagogical benefit of using emojis within a teaching context, and I had used emojis to teach basic vocabulary to beginner online students. For example, for learners who has very little to no English, this difficulty is alleviated with the use of images or pictures, and thus emojis are a quick and easy solution. If I wanted to ask students if they liked or dislike apples, I would use the following emojis to help express the question.
As you can see, for lower levels of learners, teachers have a quick and easy way to use emojis within an online environment. However, you don’t have to stop there with regards to using emojis with beginner students. You could use emojis in a more creative manner. I have created a free emoji worksheet for teachers to use with their face-to-face or online lessons. It is probably best suited for the general English classroom, possibly younger learners, with an emphasis on adjectives and general feelings (i.e. exhausted, well off, etc.).
Lesson Material for Teachers
The first task is for learners to match emojis to their corresponding adjectives – the first one is done. The next is for learners to guess the possible translation, before learners check with their translating tools.
There is a brief discussion for learners which could be used as a prompt to discuss the use of emojis within their context. Next, there is a story, with gaps and emojis to help, which students are to complete before sharing with their fellow students. The final part of this lesson is for students to retell the story without referring to the script. I hope you enjoy this lesson activity, and a huge thanks to Tyson for the Tweet which got me inspired to create a lesson using emojis. I may even use emojis with my EAP students!
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As some of you may know, during this precarious environment I have taken to teaching on Preply. For those that unaware, Preply is an online platform whereby it matches potential students with teachers. I have now been teaching freelance via Preply for over six months now and I thought it would be worthwhile to share possible suggestions for improving the platform as well as share my statistics (how many lessons I have delivered, overall rating, etc.). I believe this post (and the corresponding video) would benefit those that are attempting to find alternative English teaching platforms to find possible students, as well as supplement their income to make ends meet.
Suggestions for Preply
1. Student Learning History
The first suggestion that I have for this platform is for Preply to update is to offer tutors the chance to view potential student history. Whenever I have a new student start, it is difficult to find any information about the student other than the predicted level, the number of hours this student has booked, location they are based, as well as the language that they are studying. What I would prefer to know is how many teachers a student has had on the platform: am I their first teacher or have they had a number of tutors before on Preply? It would help all teachers be aware and prepare for trial classes (which is the first class where student and teacher meet) with their potential new students. This in itself could help aid me understanding why a student is moving from one tutor to another so that I would not make the same mistake as their previous teacher.
2. Confirmation of Lessons
The next suggestion which I hope Preply address or consider is the overall process on how lessons are confirmed. Without both the student and teacher confirming that they have been present for the lesson, Preply would not release payment for those classes unless automatic confirmation has been organised. There is the possibility (despite the risk being incredibly low) that a lesson could be challenged by the student and the tutor is not being remunerated.
What I would suggest Preply consider incorporating is to allow confirmation to be within the lesson, so that both the tutor and student are present allowing payment is delivered promptly with minimal risk of it being disrupted – much like a register. This is crucial with trial lessons, particularly as they are unpaid, and this could hold back future lessons or reduce the profile of the tutor for other students or being promoted for other committed students. I suppose both students and tutors do not wish to divert their time and energy into other managerial elements of being freelance with the platform such as confirming that a lesson has indeed been delivered and received successfully.
3. Offer a Donation Button
One aspect of teaching that I thoroughly enjoy is the ability to support learners achieve their English learning goals, whether it is allowing students to achieve a particular grade in an examination or improving their fluency. Occasionally, private students do share their achievements by rewarding their teacher with a coffee or something more personal. It would therefore make sense to make the opportunity for students to reward their teachers with a small donation.
This donation would motivate teachers, particularly in such a difficult time, that they are doing what they do best for their students. It would also make sense for students to reward their favourite tutors, with no commission taken by Preply. At the moment Preply take a percentage from a tutor’s rate for each individual lesson delivered depending on the number of lessons taught through the platform, and it would be rather cruel if Preply take a percentage of the donation from the student. Nevertheless, I know this donation tool could be quite popular amongst Preply tutors and offer a chance for students to reward their most valued teachers.
4. Update Teaching Material
Tutors using the Preply platform have varying degrees of experience of teaching online. Currently, Preply offer teaching material to support those teachers with less experience and need that aid, which is better than nothing. One of the biggest stresses facing teachers is delivering a quality lesson that students appreciate. Based on my experience, qualifications, and area of expertise (i.e. exam and academic preparation studies), I have to charge a rate which is commensurate. For less experienced teachers, I can understand their reliance on Preply material. Personally, I prepare all my lessons ahead of time and source material which would makes me feel more comfortable and confident. The material on Preply is varied with most in-class activities revolving round conversation prompts and most self-study activities including grammar, vocabulary, and reading tasks. I have dabbled with the Preply material once with a student and the lesson did not go as well as a lesson with self-prepared activities.
In order to improve current material would be to make it more adaptable for potential lessons. One aspect of online teaching and learning is the remoteness included with this. In order to reduce this, it would make sense for tutors within this platform be able to sharing material with each other – much like a physical staffroom. I would also like to see more suitable courses being developed, as currently there appears to be some sort of disjointness between all lessons as a whole. If teachers were able to upload and share PowerPoints, Word documents or other tasks within the platform, would help less experienced tutors prepare and deliver quality lessons to students
5. Update Trial Lesson Commission
The next area whereby Preply could improve is the aspect of trial lessons and the lack of remuneration. Currently, Preply take 100% the cost of the trial lesson from the student with nothing being paid to the tutor, regardless whether the trial lesson was successful with the student booking more hours or not. Therefore, at the moment, all Preply trial lessons are unpaid and it can cause some resentment among language teachers, as I have witnessed on the various Preply Facebook Groups.
In theory, a new tutor attempting to find their feet and become established on this platform could find themselves having to deliver a variety of trial lessons (all unpaid), with minimal paid bookings. It would be suggested that Preply review this by supporting those successful first lessons by rewarding teachers with say 50% of the cost of the lesson. Remember students are paying the cost of the lesson regardless, but this does not go toward the teacher. I know I am motivated when a new student joins, but I would be pleased to be rewarded and acknowledged by Preply with this updated trial lesson commission rate.
6. Offer Group Lessons
All my lessons revolve around individual lessons, with each student paying $30 per 60 minutes of class. This can be quite a lot of money for some students, but one way to make lessons more accessible would be to offer group lessons for a discounted rate. Imagine that I am able to market a group rate at $6 for six students, I would still earn more than my individual rate. Some students who are unable to afford the individual rate would still get a chance to have lessons at a more affordable rate. This is the final suggestion that I would recommend Preply to consider incorporating group lessons for particular courses, such as exam preparation or speaking lessons.
In this part of the post, I will be sharing my personal Preply statistics so that it helps you inform of the potential to discover more private students or to make a living through other aspects of freelance teaching.
As you can see in the first part of my statistics, I have had over 20,000 views on my Preply profile, with my current hourly rate being $30. With those 20,000 views, I have had a conversion rate of 0.22% with 45 students booking trial lessons with me. The current profile score (which is calculated by your profile picture, description, etc.) is at 100%, with my profile position being 120, but this position continues to change every day. In terms of new students, I have converted just over 62% of those 45 trials into regular lessons. The average number of hours booked by students is 5.7 hours.
In relation to the earnings, I have managed to earn around $3,400 in over the six months that I have been using the Preply platform. If you divide the number of tutoring hours by my net earnings, it does not equate to my hourly rate (actually . This is due to the trial lessons being included as well as my initial rate being $20 per hour. I increased this rate in increments of $5 in the past few months, finally agreeing the $30 hourly rate. In the following months, I am reported to have earned:
April 2021: $26.80
May 2021: $393.20
June 2021: $452.70
July 2021: $206.25
August 2021: $262.50
September 2021: $455.63
October 2021: $495.00
November 2021: $793.35
December 2021 to date: $380.25
Remember, that earnings include both unpaid trial lessons as well as those that students have attended before Preply take their commission from your earnings. What may appear to be quite a good month so far ($380.25) is far below what I have earned due to trial lessons being booked and Preply taking 22% out of my hourly rate as commission.
Final Reflections About Preply
Preply is a good platform which enables students to find suitable tutors, but as can be witnessed above, the opportunity to improve earnings takes a while until you are an established tutor. Once you have established yourself as a professional teacher, you will start to find your earnings increase but it takes time. It is important to find alternative sources of income, particularly in this rather precarious environment so it is best to juggle your online teaching with private students, other teacher and student platforms as you may find yourself struggling to make a liveable salary.
There are some great benefits of teaching with Preply (you are capable of deciding on the best rate to charge potential students, gaining online teaching experience, seeing students develop, etc.) and this is not to be disregarded, but the overall ‘gig economy’ and precarious nature of language education causes much stress for those involved. As a self-employed tutor (whether it is with Preply or elsewhere) offers no security in terms of earnings, pension contributions, etc. and you are liable for all your income tax. Essentially, a third of your earnings could be liable for tax if you earn above the taxable threshold (which I think is around £12,000 in the UK), but I doubt this would be achievable in the near future based on my earnings with Preply.
Anyhow, I do hope you enjoyed this post and if you recommend that I try other online teaching platforms, then it would be great to hear your suggestions in the comments.
I have decided to start a weekly livestream which is currently on Mondays at 1pm (UK time) to answer questions that others may have about teaching online, tips for teaching English or address any thoughts or opinions that you may have. Today marked the second week (hence Episode 2) and decided to do something that may resonate with other teachers.
The first week, I had some technical issues which meant I started at a later time – 30 minutes to be precise. I never realised that streaming via my MacBook would be so complicated. I was relying upon using my Sony ZV-1 as a webcam but YouTube Studio had issues recognising this, so I had to end up using OBS to stream. To eventually get everything working took 30 minutes to resolve.
This week, I started Episode 2 of Teacher Talking Time but noticed something quite odd after the livestream. I realised that the scheduled stream did not connect with OBS – I made a mistake and learned afterwards what I must do. However in Episode 2, I was able to share my screen and used this function quite regularly during the livestream. I will use this function in next week’s episode. It was great to answer questions from viewers and share a corresponding website to answer their queries. I also created a countdown timer on one screen but be sure not to watch the timer and skip the first 5 minutes of the video below.
Hopefully from Episode 3, I will be able to use the correct scheduled link for the livestream rather than creating a new link. It would also be wonderful to get another teacher to join the livestream in the future but I will have to see how best to stream a Zoom call or other tool. If there are any other English teachers who have experience of streaming and inviting a guest to virtually join this, then it would be great to hear your advice. Another area that I would like to develop is to share particular questions on the screen asked by those in the stream. I would need to improve my knowledge of OBS and create more scenes in the future.
As ever a huge thanks to all who have contributed past and current livestreams and if any readers have questions about streaming and using OBS, then please let me know.
One of the most challenging aspects of teaching online is maintaining learner engagement and interest. Within a physical classroom, teachers achieve this by incorporating a variety of games and activities throughout the lesson. However, this is much harder in a remote environment. In this post, I will be sharing three games that you could use with your online lessons immediately, which require little to no preparation, to boost student engagement and interest.
Game 1: Pictionary
One popular game with learners of any age is Pictionary. If you are unfamiliar with this activity, it involves sharing a word to a student that has been taught in a previous lesson or has just been taught. The student then has to draw a picture on the physical whiteboard – no words or numbers can be used – and other students have to guess the word that has been drawn. It encourages students to be creative and spontaneous. To add a bit of a competitive edge to the game, you could place students into two groups, add a time limit, and the first group to guess the correct word gains a point. The group with the most amount of points wins the game. But how can this be achieved in an online environment?
With remote classes, teachers could either allow students to use the online whiteboard (if using Zoom) or a shared whiteboard such as Web Whiteboard. Send an individual student a private message with the word that they must draw, start a countdown time (if you wish), and then get the student to share their screen with their whiteboard and other students must use the Chat function in Zoom to send their nominated word. The first student to write the correct word gains a point. An alternative to this is getting students to use a pen and paper to draw and share on their webcam.
Game 2: Odd One Out
This task requires a little more preparation prior to lessons but nothing too different to the classroom activity. You could either prepare a Word document as a worksheet with a range of words or use a PowerPoint with each slide sharing these words (about four to five on each row or slide). An alternative is to use images instead of words. Anyhow, students must work together in small groups to decide on the odd word or image out of all others. Once learners have completed the activity (perhaps with a time limit), then they must describe why certain words or images are the odd one out. Each acceptable description by a group is awarded a point and the group with the most amount of points are the winners.
This activity is a wonderful opportunity for learners to review verbs, lexical sets (fruit, jobs, etc.) or pronunciation patterns. It is best to have this activity at the end of the lesson – the last 20 minutes of an online lesson – while students start to switch off. It will maintain interest and motivation with the class particularly at the end of the lesson, and ensure that learners end their online lesson with a positive.
Game 3: Sentence Maker
The final game that online teachers could incorporate with their online lessons is a familiar for those teachers who wish to review a range of vocabulary from previous lessons. This activity requires just a little preparation from the teacher but if you have been teaching from a coursebook, preparation would be minimal. Choose a range of vocabulary (around fifteen to twenty words) to use and they must have a range of functions (i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.). Try to create a worksheet which could be shared with learners, so that they can write down their group sentences.
Tell students that they will be placed into groups of three or fours for five minutes and they must use the vocabulary to create a variety of grammatically correct sentences – possibly demonstrate to learners beforehand so that they know what is expected. Share the worksheet with all learners, place them into breakout rooms, and then wait for all to return. Students share their worksheet with the teacher via the Chat and the teachers provides a point for each sentence which is grammatically correct. You could give an extra point to the sentence which contains the grammar form that was taught during the past few lessons. For example, if you had taught the second conditional and a group created a suitable sentence with the grammar form, then a point could be awarded for the sentence and another for the grammar form included – a total of two points. The group with the most points are the winners.
Those are three possible games that you could incorporate with your future online lessons which require minimal preparation. What games have you used in your online lessons? Have you adapted a tried and tested physical game for the online environment? How did it go? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
The International English Language Testing System (also known as IELTS) examination is one of the most widely acknowledged tools of assessment which is recognised by universities, public organisations as well as organisations. With many international students preparing to undertake an IELTS examination as a pathway to universities in North America, Australia or the UK, it is natural for schools and teachers to offer preparation courses with a vast array of publications and material available for such courses.
Prosperity Education was kind enough to send me one such publication to review: their latest publication, IELTS Academic Reading Practice. IELTS Academic Reading Practice is co-authored by Peter Clements who is an academic skills specialist based in an international school in Thailand (also known for his acclaimed website ELT Planning), and Paul Murphy who is currently an IELTS Speaking Examiner, has been teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in Glasgow and is currently teaching such courses at Mahidol University International College in Thailand. The first two chapters of the book naturally guide the reader towards the use of the book within a classroom environment, include preliminary information about the units, suggestions for speaking activities, as well as introduce readers to the IELTS examination, particularly the Academic Reading tasks.
Summary of the book
The book is organised into 14 chapters depending upon the task focus. Tasks types which are included within the publication include Matching Headings, Matching Information or Summary Completion to name just a few.
After the initial introductory chapters, the reader is introduced to the 14 task types (matching headings, sentence completion, etc.). Each of the 14 task introductions are accompanied with suggestions for completing the relevant task as well as potential pit falls. For example, the first task is Matching headings. The reader is introduced to this task (testing the candidate’s ability to understand main ideas), suggestions on the most suitable approach to complete the task (skim-reading, using prediction skills, guessing meaning) as well as recommendations on what not to do during the exam (not to look for an exact match of words or focusing to heavily on unknown language).
Once readers have been introduced to the various academic reading tasks included in the IELTS, the following chapters focus on individual task types with a focus on a range of topics. Each task type includes discussion questions – always a good opportunity to incorporate with possible lessons, a vocabulary matching activity, followed by a practice activity for the task, then a more exam-focused task.
Each of the task types include extra practice activities (page 110-137) with all answers being included at the end of the book (page 138-151). There is also a glossary of language used throughout the publication with necessary definitions and a reference to the page number. I could see myself using the glossary of terms to help prepare vocabulary review tasks with students.
Who is the book for?
The publication is geared towards either students who are preparing for the IELTS examination independently, or for schools and teachers who are delivering and teaching preparation courses. It would also be a suitable resource for teachers who are venturing into the teaching of IELTS preparation courses.
The great benefit of such a preparation book is the flexibility to incorporate with future IELTS courses – both online or face-to-face. Combined with Jane Turner’s Reading Practice with 28 sample papers, teachers will have a range of material that could be used with relevant preparatory exam courses. It would also be wonderful to see a future publication by Prosperity Education that prepares students for the Listening and Writing elements of the IELTS exam.
The book is an invaluable resource which helps guide and prepare students to complete the relevant Academic Reading activities depending on the type of task. It naturally organises the tasks into comprehensible chapters and will support students seeking to become confident candidates for reading in the exam or to help support teachers prepare IELTS reading classes. The authors have done a marvellous job organising the components of IELTS Academic Reading with the publication. If you are a teacher looking to update your current IELTS material, then this book would be a worth considering.
Finally, here are a few pages that give you an idea should you consider purchasing this book – you will not be disappointed.
If you are using a laptop, then chances are you have a built-in webcam included with it. However, the quality of the webcam is likely to be rather questionable and I would always recommend that you consider purchasing a dedicated webcam that connects to your laptop or desktop for use with your online lessons. Here are my suggestions:
Razer Kiyo: this is a budget webcam which combines the use of a ring light and offering a resolution of 1080p, being priced at £54.99
Sony ZV-1 and Canon G7 X MIII: for those that wish to combine video making and use the dedicated camera as a webcam, then the solution is to purchase the Sony ZV-1 or Canon G7 X MIII, each with a price tag of £694.61 and £649.00 respectively. Each camera could be used if you are keen on photography or taking those holiday snaps or videos too
Step 2: Using A Ring Light
If you purchase a webcam which does not include a ring light (much like the Razer Kiyo), then you will discover that during darker periods of the year will impact the quality of the webcam footage. Should you wish to improve the quality of your webcam footage, a ring light would be ideal. These are some suggested investments for your home office:
Gskaiwen 18″ Ring Light: this is an affordable ring light for those that wish to improve the lighting with their webcam and is priced at £44.99
UBeesize 10″ LED Ring Light: this is one alternative ring light that you could purchase which could be used in conjunction with your webcam and is priced at £95.67
Elgato Ring Light: this is the more expensive alternative of ring light that is available for those that wish to improve the overall quality with a dedicated webcam or camera, but it is currently priced at £176.48
If you don’t wish to invest in a ring light, then the alternative is to get a lamp or portable light and place it behind your computer monitor or webcam.
Step 3: Look at the Webcam
When you start teaching it is natural to look at the computer monitor when talking to others, but people will notice that your sight will be focused either below the embedded webcam or away from the external webcam. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you remind yourself to look at the camera as much as possible when speaking, as listeners will feel that you are talking to them. It is natural to look at yourself on screen when teaching remotely, but the more you train yourself to keep your eye level at the camera, the more you will improve engagement with students.
Step 4: Remote Gestures
If you are standing in the classroom, it makes sense to use a variety of gestures when providing instructions or responding to students. Thus, it is important to maintain these when teaching remotely. If the connection drops a little and you do not hear exactly what the student uttered, then respond naturally and ask them to repeat but using a variety of gestures to accompany such a request. If you cannot hear what someone is saying or they are on mute gesture to your ear and explain you are unable to hear them. Just because you are not in the classroom does not mean you do not have to drop such gestures.
Thank you for reading today’s brief blog post and I hope it was helpful. If you have any ideas about using the webcam effectively in your classroom, please do not hesitate to share in the comments.
Getting students to communicate and practise speaking in English remotely can be quite a challenge. Here is a quick idea for getting students speaking and using questions as prompts.
Step 1: Create the prompts
Go to the website Wheel of Names and type in some questions which could be used as prompts.
Step 2: Share the questions
Share the question prompts with your students using the shareable function on the website, and place students into breakout rooms on Zoom. Tell students that they have a ten minutes to discuss the questions and report back when they return to the main room.
Step 3: Review questions and scaffold
Nominate students to summarise their discussions and possibly select students to share the questions that they asked. It would be a good idea to review question formation and scaffold language where required.
I hope that this blog post was useful for your online classes and gives you some idea for future conversation prompts for your students. If you have ideas that you would like to suggest, please share in the comments.
For the past few months, I have been teaching via the platform ‘Preply‘ tutoring private students in my free-time. When I first registered, back in 2016, it took me 5 years to finally create a profile promoting myself as an English tutor. After my profile went live a few months ago, I thought it would be time to share an honest opinion of this platform.
In this post, I shall share both the advantages, the drawbacks and my overall conclusions about finding students and teaching via Preply.