Online teaching has opened the world of connecting native speakers with non-native learners, and it appears that more and more countries are getting on board with this phenomenon that allows English teachers to work remotely and earn great money while doing so. It is estimated that by the year 2020, over 2 billion people will be speaking or learning English!1
For sure, we are living in exciting times to be an ESL or EFL teacher.

I have been teaching EFL in Latin America for over sixteen years now, and two years ago, I added the virtual classroom through ALO7 to my daily teaching activities. Here are some tips that I have found useful in both my brick and mortar and my internet classrooms.

Teachermolly
Teacher Molly engages her ESL students with songs built into the courseware

  • Be energetic and positive: Positive energy can be transmitted through your webcam through a simple smile. Remember that some of the students have never had contact with a foreigner before, and to actually speak a second language with a native speaker can be quite daunting. Do your best to be welcoming and encouraging with your facial expressions and voice inflections. Get a feel for the personalities of your students, and you will know how far to take your silliness so as not to overwhelm them. Always make sure to smile and be patient with them.
  • Use props as much as possible: Showing the students household items, playing musical instruments and using puppets can be helpful to show the students that you are a real person on the other side of their screen. They can also see practical uses for vocabulary words or even how to have a conversation with the puppets. Encourage the students to use their own toys and household items as props as well.

ESL teacher with puppet
Teacher Jan uses her Ola puppet to engage young ESL students

  • Use modeling and repetition: I will use puppets or dolls to model a conversation or sentence with my students. Total Physical Response (TPR), repetition and modeling are vital for showing the students how to use English in real life situations, which helps them to understand the need to learn the language and the proper context in which to use what they are learning.
  • Decrease your rate of speech and be patient when asking questions: Speaking slowly gives new English language learners more time to process what you are saying. Take a moment to pause after asking questions to give the students time to formulate their answers. Remember, they are thinking in at least two languages and what may be perceived as shyness or lack of fluency may simply be an issue of needing more time to figure out their answer.
  • Give clear instructions: I will often give my students instructions verbally using TPR as well as type them out for the students to read and say. This ensures that they understand what I am expecting from them as well as showing them with modeling and examples. Clear expectations can help a student to have success as they achieve academic goals and expectations set forth.
  • Regularly assess how the students are advancing and check for comprehension: Many times, students are taking English in their schools as well as attending online classes. It helps to assess what they have learned between online sessions by asking them simple questions related to past lessons and the current lesson of the day. Also, during the lesson, it is imperative to check their understanding to know if the foundations are settling down firmly or are still a bit unstable. I often ask simple questions to my students to see if they are “getting it,” whether after reading a short passage or just looking at a picture from the lesson. After I assess where they are, I know if I can expand on the lesson or if I need to backpedal a bit and review.
  • Praise and positive reinforcement: Many of the online schools have built-in rewards systems with points and games, make sure to use them so the students can see when they are doing well. Also, don’t hesitate to offer high fives with the webcam or even clap your hands and tell them, “Great job!” Learning a foreign language can be discouraging at times, and those little pats on the back can be what a student needs to keep pressing on through the difficult lessons. Also, if you have the opportunity to leave a report for the parents and students, make sure to mention the areas where you see improvement and not only their weaknesses.

Teaching EFL in a virtual classroom takes a little bit of stretching and imagination for those of us who are brick and mortar veterans. These tips can help to make the process easier and to flow well.

What are your tips? Leave them in the comments below.

Citations for Useful Tips for Teaching English Language Learners
1 “The English Effect.” British Council. 2013. Accessed July 04, 2019. britishcouncil.org.

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Brandi G

Great article Jan! I love using props in my class, I honestly believe it’s because I’m a visual learning, so I’m always trying to use a visual aid for a vocabulary word, or phrase. Also, it’s always a bonus to watch the student’s faces light up when they see a picture, or a prop come on camera.