Love it or hate it, there are not many of us who have escaped teaching online during the past 18 months. Personally, after several months of basically sitting indoors with not a lot to do, I relished the chance to get back to some interaction with students last summer, even if it was on the other end of a computer. However, I know other teachers were not so keen to take the plunge. Further down the line, it’s become a way of life for some of us and, even though a lot of teachers have now been able to go back to the physical classroom, there are some - who for a whole variety of reasons - are continuing to work virtually.
My biggest fears when I was unexpectedly asked to teach online in May last year were: firstly, whether I’d be able to cope with the technology; secondly, whether I would be able to engage students remotely; finally, what on earth I was going to teach!
I must confess the technology side of things is still my biggest fear but three different teaching platforms in, I’m a little more confident than I was at first! Most platforms allow you to do the same or very similar things - and all seem to have online training and help to at least get you through the basics. It really is a case of trial and error, and talking through with your students, how to use the features, so you all understand how you can do what you need to. It really does get easier the more you do. My advice would be to always have more material you need for a lesson, with extension activities for stronger students – just as you would in the physical classroom. Also, always have a ‘Plan B’ just in case the technology does not play ball!
As far as engaging with students, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be at the beginning. One-to-one lessons give you the chance to really get to know individual students, what they like and dislike, what makes them tick, their strengths and weaknesses and this allows them to feel more confident and comfortable with you. I’ve built a fantastic rapport with a student I’ve now been teaching for a year and seen her really grow in confidence during the last 12 months.
In small groups, students are still able to work with each other. You just need to provide guidance and monitoring - which takes the pressure off you being the focus of attention all the time. Larger groups require more organisation and checks but try to let students work at their own pace while still making yourself available to help as and when necessary.
As far as what to teach was concerned, I wasn’t sure where to start and spent days blindly trawling the internet, creating PowerPoints of my own and scanning documents I had previously used in the classroom. I could have done with a list of helpful websites, but I’m not even sure one existed at the time. It may be a little late for some of you, but below is a list I have created. This is just what I could have done with at the time and it’s always handy to have some new ideas and-or pre-prepared activities to turn to when needed. It’s by no means a definitive list but just some of the ones I’ve found most useful or have had recommended to me during the last year and a half.
First of all, here are a couple of really helpful websites if you’re new to online teaching or would like help and/or training:
The Digital Teacher is a great platform for online teachers. It offers a self-analysis tool of your technological capabilities, so you can find out where you need to improve. Plus, it has really good articles on every aspect of teaching English online, as well as reviews of useful products.
Future Learn offers free online courses to help you develop your teaching skills. Current courses which may be of interest include- Teaching English Online, How to Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students, Online Teaching: Evaluating and Improving Courses, Online Teaching: Accessibility and Inclusive Learning.
Here are some other websites that will help make virtual lessons more fun and exciting. Some sites offer free resources, whereas others require you to take out a paid subscription or have individual items for sale.
Sites where you have to pay for materials:
One Stop English is part of Macmillan Education, one of the world's leading publishers of English language teaching materials. It provides access to thousands of resources, including lesson plans, worksheets, audio, video and flashcards.
ESL Library has 1,000+ professionally developed printable and digital lessons plus 3,000+ printable and digital flashcards aimed at supporting vocabulary and grammar lessons, as well as digital homework and assessment tools.
Linguahouse caters for teachers, students and language schools and if you can’t find what you are looking for, they will even design custom-made lesson plans specifically for you.
Twinkl is aimed at general teaching but does include some TEFL and ESL resources and activities. Has a mix of premium (paid for) content and free resources.
Mentimeter is great for anyone who enjoys designing and working on presentations. You can build your own interactive presentations using the online editor and then add questions, polls, quizzes, slides, images, gifs to make it even more engaging. The audience uses their smartphones to connect to the presentation and answer questions - and you can then add their responses in real-time to create an interactive experience. Once your presentation is complete you can share and export your results for further analysis, and even compare data over time to measure your audience’s progress.
Websites that provide free teaching materials:
English Club is designed for English self-study and is really easy to use. Divided into main sections covering grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, you can find help, tutorials and soundbites. Students can design their own English page, test their level, play English games or do English quizzes; they can chat in English with other students and teachers, and find schools to learn English at home or abroad. There is also a useful section on Business English.
The British Council has hundreds of resources covering everything you would expect, including reading, writing, speaking and listening activities, all usefully sectioned into CEFR levels from A1 to C1. You can also find articles, videos, publications and courses and take part in webinars with English teaching experts.
Quizlet is a great website for revision activities. It basically contains flashcards on hundreds of different topics including verb tenses, time, prepositions, current events, animals, clothing, food and dining etc. You can search for flashcard sets that have been created by teachers, lecturers and other students, or you can make your own. Students can use the flashcards to review language and there is a testing function as well.
Wordwall allows teachers to create interactive games and printed materials for their students. Teachers simply enter the content they want into a range of different templates, including matching pairs, random wheel, match up, missing word, group sort, word search and many others. Or you can just use one of the almost 23 million sets of resources that have already been created!
Quizizz is another site that allows you to create quizzes, lessons, presentations, and flashcards for students.
Wheel Decide is not aimed at TEFL or teaching but can be used to pick a random student in class to answer a question or take part in a classroom activity, to assign groups or teams with no bias, or to spin a wheel of questions, topics or vocabulary terms.
Phonemic Chart is great for those of us (like me!) that aren’t top of the class when it comes to teaching phonetics. The chart itself can be shared online with students and can be used to type phonemic characters using a virtual keyboard which can be saved as an image and stored or pasted into a worksheet or handout. The site also allows you to transcribe words to and from their phonemic form.
Scholastic isn’t specifically aimed at TEFL learners but is filled with resources for teachers. It includes articles based on news and current events and is aimed at Primary Learners. If you’re looking for a reading text to give to your students to prepare for a discussion in your next lesson, this could be a good place to look.
Videos and podcasts:
YouTube is the ‘go-to’ for many teachers since you can find just about everything you want on this free video-sharing website. You can also create and upload your own videos to share with others.
TED is full of influential videos from expert speakers on education, business, science, technology and creativity. It also provides subtitles in 100+ languages.
TED Ed is similar to the main ‘Ted’ site, but the videos are aimed at being educational rather than just informative. They also have a lesson plan which accompanies each video.
BBC Sounds has a plethora of podcasts (is that a real collective noun!) covering a whole range of topics.
Luke’s ENGLISH Podcast is an award-winning show for English learners which has over 740 audio episodes on a whole range of topics. Luke has been producing the podcast from his flat in London for the past 12 years and is a stand-up comedian who also happens to be a DELTA-qualified English teacher.
Written by Maya Wheeler