Whether you are a seasoned teacher of 30 years or a work-from-home parent, a career in virtual teaching and online ESL classes could be right for you. If you have decided to lend your talents to tutoring online, teaching your first online ESL class can cause some anxiety. Yes, there are some significant differences between the traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms and online classrooms. But fear not, with proper preparation your first online ESL classes can be a success!

Just as athletes prepare for competition, a tutor must prepare for their first online ESL class with the same purposeful intent to succeed. Athletes prepare by reviewing playbooks, practicing, stretching, and starting with a positive, winning attitude, and tutors must prepare for their first virtual classroom for online ESL classes as well. Naturally, a tutor will not utilize the same methods to prepare as an athlete would, but the procedure is the same. The night before a tutor is to teach ESL, the tutor should review the lessons plans. Like the playbook to an athlete, lesson plans provide detailed information about the strategies and methods utilized within the upcoming online ESL classes.

Practice makes perfect. Athletes practice daily to hone abilities and fine-tune their craft and so must a tutor practice to teach online well.  A mirror is a useful tool to see how you present a lesson to students. You can also use the learning platform to practice without students first. Ensure all equipment is properly functioning, the minimum internet speed is met, and all features are functional and ready. The final step is to go to sleep with a positive, winning attitude!

“Proper preparation can be the difference between success and failure.”

So now, you’re ready. You are prepared but what should you expect during your first online ESL class?

The first obstacle a tutor faces in her first online class is “How do I break the ice?” Introductions are important. A tutor should begin her class by introducing herself and then asking the students for their names in English. Knowing how to pronounce the students’ names is respectful and you may also be required to submit feedback to the parents of the students, the student’s school or principal, and your company.

Focus on the student. Specifically, the student’s interests, hobbies, and likes. These are very useful to help gauge your students level of understanding. Warm-up questions can include: What is your favorite color? What did you eat today? What do you like to do for play? Each of these questions should get a response from your students; bonus if you get a smile!

But what if your students are very young or do not have enough ESL education yet to answer? In these situations, you would simplify the question to allow a yes or no answer. Examples of these fundamental, lower-level questions are: Are you happy? Did you go to school today? Did you eat today?

For some online ESL classes, the student’s fluency level may fall between being able to compose conversational answers about interests and yes or no answers. These students need visual aids or may be helped by the tutor acting out the meaning of a word by using a method similar to charades. We call this TPR or Total Physical Response. The tutor can also use copyright-free images to help facilitate conversation. Ask simple questions like, what is this? And, what is that? The students will be able to answer the questions by identifying a target item. Each of these questions will prompt a response from your new students and help to ease the anxiety that can come on a tutor’s first day of online ESL classes.

Lastly, remember to include yourself in this ice-breaker conversation. The students will feel more relaxed and more apt to respond when the tutor also contributes to their discussion. Sometimes, you may need to answer the question about yourself first to ensure that the students have a proper understanding and can give an appropriate response. Your students will be taking English education within their brick-and-mortar classrooms, so with a little help, they will be able to understand and answer.

“Students will feel more relaxed when the tutor also contributes to the discussion.”

It is essential to set the tone of the class on your first day. Remember, the first day is about introductions and setting the environment. Don’t be too serious, but don’t be too wild either. Be yourself and try to be flexible. Within many cultures, the instructor is the authority within the classroom. There is no need to set a stern tone to achieve authority within your online classroom. Set a tone that facilitates engagement and interaction.

You can never know what is going to happen in your class, but you can be prepared by thinking of extra activities should you need them. These activities should be used if a student is too fidgety in your online classroom or if you finish your lesson too early. These activities can be simple.   Cater your backup activities to foster the student’s interests and likes. Be calm and relaxed. Bring the same confidence, winning attitude into your online classroom that you prepared the night before. The students will respond positively, and your class will be a sure success!

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James p Hamilton

As I listened to and watched the video, I was pleased to see that the program fits with my own beliefs about teaching and learning. As Anna Leonowens says in “The King an I” famously said, if you would be a teacher, “by your students you’ll be taught.” I love the visuals. I once had a class of teenagers in Saudi Arabia who were enamored of the Pink Panther, so I drew him on grammar posters. The results were immediate.

Dalissa McEwen

Thanks for the keen observation. I can picture how pleased your students must’ve been to see Pink Panther on the posters.

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