Today’s blog follows on eight hours of online lessons over the course of a day – probably one of the longest stretches of teaching remotely – so apologies for the lack of readability or stating the obvious. Anyhow, in this post, I thought that it would be best to focus on the aspects of feedback provision within an online environment, after previous posts on dealing with first lessons with private students and another with online activities to get students speaking.
When one is not within the constraints of a physical classroom, an English teacher may find the online distance further enhances the separation to provide feedback in a prompt and candid manner. Most students that book private lessons, explain that they have received little feedback from previous teachers, and the main reason for finding another tutor is due to this. Thus, it is crucial for all online private tutors to provide a level of feedback that is expected by students.
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.
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.
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.
A few months ago, I was welcomed with a contract change with iTutorGroup – with the ‘take it or leave us’ approach. Thus, I decided to no longer accept this new agreement but this left me with no alternative subsidiary freelance opportunities. However, very recently, I decided to seek a different path for freelance work via the route of Preply.
For those that are unaware of Preply, it is a platform which connects language learners with language teachers. They offer support and have an environment to help online teachers tutor potential students – whatever the language, not just English. Tutors are expected to prepare their own lessons to suit the profile and aims of the particular student, while also selling lesson packages for the student to purchase with the tutor (more information about this later on in this post).
It is very different to online educational institutes located in South East Asia, whereby these organisations offer packages of language education and tutors deliver in-house lessons. There are advantages and disadvantages to both Preply as well as those online educational institutes and i
A number of days ago, I asked on Twitter a question about how to go about a task within an online environment. I received a number of practical suggestions including Pete from ELT Planning and Leo Selivan of Leoxicon. This prompted me to record a video (available below) about the suggested applications and review some which I had used in the past.
The task that I was trying to organise within a remote environment required placing headings in order and then matching the descriptions to the headings. A simple enough idea, yeah? In a physical classroom this would work fine, but in an online environment how does one achieve it? Thank you to all who contributed their suggestions.
In this post, I will be sharing a few of the applications that were recommended as well as some of the others that I have used to ensure that lessons are interactive, engaging and memorable.
I have been teaching English online for the past four or five years now with experience teaching students located in South East Asia. This week I received a suggested update to my employment contract which made me rethink working for this company. The company that I had worked with for such an extensive period of time is iTutorGroup.
Teaching online to your learners, whatever the subject, can be a challenge if you have never had any experience of teaching remotely. When I first started teaching online to students from South East Asia, I made so many mistakes and in this post I will be sharing some of the mistakes that I made when teaching English online.
In 2020, many teachers around the world were forced to teach online. However, many were unfamiliar with this area of teaching and spent most of the Spring and Summer terms learning. Personally, I spent the whole of the summer teaching a university pre-sessional course to students resident in numerous countries and I would like to share with you my ideas on what makes an excellent online English teacher. It would be great to hear your thoughts on what makes a great online English teacher in the comments.
When teaching online, it is difficult to replicate different aspects of a physical lesson: classroom management, responding to visual clues from students or incorporating classroom games. In today’s post and video, I share five games you can use for your online English classes.