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Must-have online English teacher skills

You are probably wondering, “How can I improve my online teaching skills?” 

Implementing the best online English teacher skills can be a little different than the teaching skills you might have learned and refined in your brick and mortar classroom.

And let’s face it, we all want to be good at what we do. 

Some of the must-have online English skills you will need to have to be successful in your online classes are:

  1. Effective use of TPR (total physical response)
  2. Ability to engage your students 
  3. Identifying strengths and weaknesses
  4. Scaffold challenging concepts
  5. Ability to use props and visuals effectively
  6. Ability to use and troubleshoot technology 

Learning, refining and practicing these skills will help you land an online teaching job that is right for you!

1. Effective use of TPR

Total physical response, also known as TPR, is the ability to use hand gestures and your body to help your students learn.

Think of TPR as your unique way to bring the lesson, words, concepts and sentences to life! 
Do you need to act like a clown? Absolutely not!

Practice simple gestures and actions with your hands that might help your students learn. 

For example, when you ask them to draw a circle around something, you can use your mouse to model that in the air! 

If you are teaching them about the concepts of large and small, use your hands to demonstrate those adjectives.

TPR doesn’t have to be complicated. 

Think simple and use TPR when appropriate to help your student pair the action with the word. 

Tip: Have your student do the action as well, they will love it!

2. Ability to engage your students

One of the unique challenges with teaching English online is that you only have your audio and visuals to teach with on your camera screen. 

You don’t have the opportunity to be in the same room as your students, which means you need to amplify your energy and engagement! 

Engaging your student can look like many different things. 

Try connecting with them on a personal level. 

Ask them about their hobbies and interests or find connections to their life by asking relevant questions.

Think about what type of online class you would like to be in and then create that fun and engaging environment for your student! 

Why not include some online TEFL games

You know you have it in you to be fun and creative-just let your true personality shine!

Engagement will take you a long way and help your students return and come back for more of your fabulous classes!

3. Identifying strengths and weaknesses

Sometimes we only have a short amount of time to assess our students, deliver quality instruction and help them achieve results.

If you are teaching for an online ESL company then you might only have 25 minutes to meet your student and identify their strengths and weaknesses.

That’s not a lot of time but if you are skilled you can figure out ways to help them in the first few minutes!

You need to be able to ask appropriate questions to get your student speaking from the beginning. 

This will help you learn how to adapt the lesson to meet their needs almost immediately.

Not all students are correctly placed so it is your job as their teacher to scaffold or extend the lesson to best meet their needs. 

If the lesson is too easy, find ways to extend beyond the lesson and if it’s too challenging, find small areas they can succeed in and support them in the challenging areas.

Try to do this in the first 5 minutes of your lesson!

4. Scaffold challenging concepts

What do you do when a student doesn’t understand you? 

Have you ever asked a question or given a direction but were met with a blank stare?

What can you do? Besides repeating and going around in circles, we can scaffold for our students to help them feel successful.

Firstly, reflect on your question or instruction. 
Was it too complicated? Break your sentence down into smaller steps. 

Use props to assist your teaching and don’t forget about good ‘ol TPR. 

Make sure that you don’t put the blame on your student for not understanding but rather take a look at how you are delivering the content and scaffold from there.

A great scaffolding strategy is to use your whiteboard to break down words into smaller chunks and give them more support before expecting them to be independent.

5. Ability to use props and visuals effectively

Most teachers didn’t go to school for puppetry nor learn how to teach with stuffed animals, toys and props. 

Using props and visuals, however, is a necessary component of teaching English online and actually, it can be a lot of fun! 

Using props effectively means that you are intentional about when and how you use them and the purpose is to bring your lesson to life!

Try creating your own props from household items, use digital props from software like ManyCam or find images that you can print from the internet. 

The sky really is the limit!

Using props like these helps engage your students, ignite curiosity and simply create a more exciting lesson!

6. Ability to use and troubleshoot technology

No matter what capacity you are teaching English online at, you will need to have some proficiency with technology. 

You will most likely be using your desktop or laptop to teach online but you might be using a device like an iPad or a phone.

Most online ESL companies have their own built-in classroom software but you might also be using applications like Zoom or ClassIn to teach your classes. 

A basic understanding of how to change your audio and video settings is needed as well as how to navigate the built-in functions of your classroom. 

Sometimes the internet Gods don’t cooperate so knowing how to change your wifi settings, connect using an ethernet cord and troubleshoot should be in your “technology toolkit.”

You might need to drag and drop items on the screen, type text, draw and encourage your students to do the same.  

Practice before entering a new classroom platform and get familiar with the tools.

Know how to ask for support and how to troubleshoot and keep a list next to you of things you can do when you are “in the moment” and having trouble.

Beyond your equipment, you will need to figure out your lighting situation and general technology setup to make sure that you look great and so does your classroom!

online English teacher skills

What makes a good online English teacher?

Beyond the aforementioned skills, good online English teachers have the following key traits.

These will greatly help you book more classes, gain regular students and have a successful online teaching career.

Adaptable and flexible

A good online teacher is adaptable and flexible. When teaching students online, there are a multitude of things that can happen.

Beyond the obvious technical issues that could happen, you might have an uninterested student, a student who refuses to participate or a student who is not able to move through the lesson as you hoped.

What are you going to do in these situations?

Don’t panic! 

Collect some go-to questions or problem-solving strategies that you can pull from your teaching toolkit to help them out.

Maybe you have a puppet, a sidekick or a classroom prop that students love! 

Pull it out and use it to re-engage your student. 

The most important thing to do is learn how to manage your emotions and demeanor. 

A lot of this comes with experience but sometimes anticipating problems before they occur can help alleviate concerns when they happen.

Warm and friendly

No one wants to be greeted by a cold and boring teacher, right? 

I know that’s not you! You didn’t choose to become a teacher if you didn’t have a warm and friendly personality.

However, online teaching can be exhausting and repetitive. 

Try to always put on your game face and give your students your 100%.

They deserve it and so do you!

Reflective and committed to growth

Teachers are, generally, reflective in nature and being reflective on your own teaching will help you become a great online English teacher.

Watching your online classes can be awkward…we get it! 

Try watching the playback of a few of your online classes to highlight some areas of weakness or to simply get a feel for what your student experiences in your classroom.

Put yourself in your students’ shoes. 

Would you want to take a class with you as the teacher?

Are you fun and engaging? 

Doing this can really help you step up your game and improve your teaching.

How can I improve my online teaching skills even more?

Hopefully, you want to improve your online teaching skills. 

Try the following strategies to improve your skills and level up to be the best teacher you can be.

Take workshops provided by the company

Most online ESL companies, like VIPKid, GoGoKid and many others offer workshops and professional development for their teachers. 

Have you signed up for one recently? 

Even if you are an experienced online English teacher, taking workshops can only help you become better and you might even learn something new!

Learn from other online teachers on social media

Not everyone loves social media but engaging on these platforms with other online teachers can be a real game-changer.

There are hundreds of Facebook groups for online teachers that are full of support and resources to help you improve.

Of course, there are also groups out there that are not the most positive. 

Find your tribe and connect with like-minded teachers. You won’t regret it!

Instagram is another great place for sharing and learning. 

YouTube is a great place for quick videos to level up your game and learn some new ideas for your classroom.

The visual nature of these platforms means that you get a peek into other teachers’ classrooms!

Take courses and further training

Whether you are a brand new online English teacher or an experienced veteran, improving your online English teaching skills is a must for your success!

To recap, some of the best online English teacher skills you can learn are:

  1. Effective use of TPR (total physical response)
  2. Ability to engage your students 
  3. Identifying strengths and weaknesses
  4. Scaffold challenging concepts
  5. Ability to use props and visuals effectively
  6. Ability to use and troubleshoot technology 

But as you already know, it doesn’t end here. 

Maybe you want to invest in courses or coaching to become an even better online English teacher? 

There are lots of great opportunities out there to grab a hold of.

Try taking one of our online teaching courses to help you improve your online teaching skills!

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