Online teaching is really taking off, but it can be an adjustment for teachers who are used to being in the classroom. Connecting via webcam isn't always easy!
In fact, you might find that you need a completely different teaching skillset online than you would in-person. With most students taking online lessons outside regular school hours and at home (a.k.a surrounded by potential distractions!) keeping them engaged, motivated, and interested in their English lessons can be one of the biggest challenges online teachers face.
So how do you motivate students online?
Luckily there are plenty of tips and tricks to help you...
Make sure your timing is on point
Timing is really crucial in online teaching and you might find you need to break up your online lessons differently than you would face-to-face ones. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep a fast pace and break down information into small, easily digestible chunks. In practical terms, this means to steer clear of long-winded explanations and slides with too much text!
Mixing up the tempo of your lessons by adding a variety of activity types is also a great way to make the time fly by for your students.
Adapt your activities to the virtual classroom
In a face-to-face class, it’s typical to give students some quiet reflection time to work alone or read a text. But these kinds of activities don’t translate well in online classrooms.
Long, dense texts are really difficult to read on a screen (see earlier point about breaking things into chunks 👆) And, silence just doesn’t translate that well in virtual classrooms—in fact, it provides the perfect excuse for a student’s attention to drift elsewhere!
Planning activities that keep your students actively clicking, typing or talking throughout the lesson is the way to go. You can do this by asking lots of questions, including games and making sure learners have to physically do things like use drawing tools or typing in dialogue boxes. And when you’re planning your lesson remember it’s advised that as an online teacher you make sure your student has to say something every three minutes or so.
Make real connections online
For students studying in online classrooms, isolation can be a huge factor in making them feel demotivated. They might think that no one will notice or care if they miss a class, or find it all too tempting to not log in to the classroom if they’re feeling tired.
The best way online teachers can help remedy this is by making their students feel valued in the classroom. How do I do that, you ask? Here are some suggestions…
- It’s a basic one, but learn your student’s name and use their name throughout the lesson, and make sure they learn yours
- Follow up on what you did in previous lessons so your students know that you’re on top of what they’re learning (and they should be too)
- Find out about your student’s interests and incorporate them into the lesson where possible
- Give regular feedback on your students’ work
- Aim to be a positive, encouraging presence
Set goals and help your students stick to them
Another way to help online students stay on track with their studies and keep a sense of purpose is to set goals and remind them of their progress.
Setting goals for online learners
One simple way to introduce short-term goals into your online classroom is to make sure each lesson has a clear outline that you share with your student so they know where they are in the learning process and the context for any activity they are doing.
Then think about how you might reward students for finishing tasks (or, even better, for working hard) during a lesson. You could try positive feedback, badges, points, playing games or doing other fun learning activities your students would like.
When it comes to long-term goals, going too far into the future might not be effective, but try taking time every now and then to check in with your students and set goals together for the next month, three months, or six months down the line.
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Progress checks for online learners
For short-term progress checks, make sure you build continuity between lessons by doing quick revisions or quizzes on previous topics.
A great way to remind students of their long-term progress is by building up a portfolio of work with them so they can look back themselves and see how far they’ve come.
One way of doing this online is to start an achievement page. If you are teaching kids, every time they achieve something you can go to the achievement page and ask them to draw something that reminds them of what they’ve learned (you might want to make it an achievement tree they can add to or a trophy shelf.) With teens or adult learners, you might prefer asking them to write something. As the course progresses the page will fill up with reminders of successes and proud moments for your students.
Use technology to your advantage!
Teaching online comes with its own challenges, but it also put a whole load of really cool tools at your fingertips. Whether it’s discussion boards, pointers, virtual games, text editor, drawing tools, file editors, breakout rooms or screen-sharing tools, you can use the technology you have to add variety to your lessons and keep students on their toes.
First of all, make sure you know how to use these virtual tools and take time to explain them to students so they feel confident with them too. Then think about how you might use them to liven up your lessons. For example, you could use them as a reward (there is no kid out there whose eyes don’t light up at the prospect of 30 seconds of free play on a drawing tool!) or engage different senses and skills among your students.
Present your best (online) self
All teachers need to think about how they present themselves in the classroom. Looking neat, organized, and confident will inspire a certain amount of respect from your students. But online teachers might need to approach this slightly differently than in-person teachers...
If your students can see you via a webcam make sure that not only do you look presentable, but the location you’re in does too. And that’s just the first step! If students can see your face, it’s going to be 100 times more motivating for them if you look engaged and interested in what they are saying (even if sometimes this requires all your saintly teacher patience!)
Also, it’s important that your visual materials are up to scratch, so make sure your slides look clean and clear and any videos you use are good quality.
A one-note lesson will quickly become boring. So try changing the tone of your voice to introduce new activities or mix up the tempo of your class. Practice different skills like telling stories, giving instructions, and giving praise out loud to see how animating your voice can make a difference.
And, again, make sure any audio clips you plan to use a good quality.
Finally, this might be stating the obvious, but make sure you can teach your online lessons from somewhere with a reliable internet connection. Nothing will have students switching off quicker than a crackly connection that keeps on cutting out.
Bring it back to your students
As a teacher, you already have plenty of practice in working out what makes your students tick.
So the good news is, just like in any face-to-face classroom, the real key to getting your online students involved is to find out what motivates them and give them their own reason to be engaged in the classroom.
Whether it’s music, chatting about a particular subject, connecting what you’re doing to the real world, or just being allowed to go to town on the drawing tool, don’t be afraid to try different things with your students until you find something that works for them.