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.

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1. Create A Virtual Community

Language teaching requires a sense of community spirit for learners, where they are able to feel a place within society with their second language. During any initial teacher training course, most trainees are recommended to develop a sense of rapport with their learners. This in essence is creating a community between learners and teachers. However, when teaching remotely, it is vital that we attempt to replicate within an online context.

One way to create such a virtual community is by allowing students to share who they are, including their likes or dislikes. This can be achieved by getting students to share something from their location. They could introduce their study room, complete a self-introduction, and also take the teacher, as well as other learners, on a tour of their room and neighbourhood. Another idea is getting students to share what is outside their window rather than things being restricted to a monitor and the learner’s computer. Favourite objects also play an important role for learners and this could also help create a sense of a virtual community. Get students to share with one another objects that they believe is important for them: an important coffee mug, an important book, etc. All these ideas above could help teachers plan for their first online lesson and it will help teachers achieve that much needed virtual rapport, but try to demonstrate to learners what is required by producing your own self-introduction, introduction of your home-town or favourite object.

2. Offer Individual Student Tutorials

The next piece of advice recommended for teachers with limited experience of teaching remotely is to provide a space for individual student tutorials. If you are limited to just teaching and delivering content, you will only see a portrait of students on your screen and will know very little about the student themselves and how they respond individually with you as a teacher. As teachers, we may forget that if you have 15 students that you are teaching, there are 15 individual students sitting down with their laptop or tablet engaging with the course.

Take time to connect with each individual student via a tutorial allow a virtual environment which is conducive for student feedback and support. Also schedule in regular times for student tutorials in advance so that learners are able to have enough time to think of support that they very well need. You could provide a feedback form for learners to complete or reflect on the course which prompt students to provided much-needed feedback for the teacher to respond towards.

Another way to schedule in tutorials is to take one student out of a possible online group activity and speak to them individually. Once you have finished the tutorial with that learner, you could then place them back in the classroom and replace them with another learner. This, thereby, provides the teacher to be able to speak to students one after the other and to build up a picture of the course so far, activities that students respond positively towards as well as areas for improvement.

3. Teaching Online Requires Patience

Early on in my online English teaching, I was quite ambitious: I wanted to incorporate different activities and tasks during a lesson. I expected too much with the technology and soon realised that I needed to incorporate a sense of patience with this. I discovered that students were connecting in less than ideal situations (in noisy environments: eg. in a car, in a cafe, etc.) and what I planned to execute within an online environment was based on the assumption that all students were engaged within an educationally conducive environment (at home or in a study room), with the lesson not achieving its primary aim as expected. I found that I had to be patient with myself as well as the learners.

If you attempt to achieve too much or expect too much from your students, you will soon discover that lesson aims will not be achieved accordingly. Maintain some sense of patience when teaching remotely and also try to make tweaks to the lesson either prior to teaching or as you are teaching so you can better accommodate the environment that the learners are placed. Should you have little patience for the learners and expect too much, you will find yourself annoyed that learners are not putting as much effort into the online lesson that you are yourself. So be patient and take your time to reflect, with less being more in most cases.

4. Reflect As An Online Teacher

Any teacher worth their weight should be able to reflect on their lessons: what went well, what did not go so well and what sort of changes could be incorporated. This is even more important when teaching English online. Consider making creating a Word document with thoughts and reflections: think about what you are trying to achieve in the lesson and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”, “Does this actually benefit the learners?”, “Will this task help me achieve the aim of the lesson?”, “Was I successful in achieving the lesson aims?”.

I found keeping a diary of my teaching for the first number of weeks vital for reflecting on my online English teaching, so consider keeping a diary and making a few bullet points for pertinent information. However, when reflecting on the teaching of English online, try to not be too critical with yourself. If you are too critical with yourself, you will soon be unhappy and resent the online teaching environment.

5. Flipping The Lesson

The final piece of advice that I have for teachers who face teaching remotely is to flip the lesson. What do I mean by ‘flipping the lesson’? Well it means students complete tasks prior to attending the synchronous lesson and share their results with other learners during the lesson. Therefore, the teacher prepares the students prior to the synchronous lesson by sending homework or tasks to complete. It lends itself very well towards a blended approach to English language teaching.

The main reason to flip the lesson tasks is it allows students to connect with their teacher and fellow students, with much of the synchronous lesson environment offering learners the chance to communicate naturally and share opinions effectively. The teacher will be able to respond to question as they arise and place students into breakout rooms to share results of tasks. If you did not flip the lesson, much of the activity that will be one-way: the teacher presenting information to students, with an increase of ‘teacher talking time’ (TTT). This is not conducive for a language learning environment.

What do you think is important when teaching English online? Have you experience of teaching remotely? Why not share your thoughts in the comments.