By Emma Segev

18 June 2014 - 09:38

Original illustration for How to get started as an online teacher of English
'Online teaching opens up new levels of creativity and opportunity.' Original illustration  ©

Jamie Johnson for British Council 

Have you thought about teaching English online? Emma Segev gives some practical tips and useful websites for getting started in one of our top five articles of all time, illustrated by artist Jamie Johnson.

When I first started teaching in 2004, I was sceptical about the effectiveness of online teaching, but since then I have accumulated a lot of experience. I'd like to share with you a few things I've learned along the way.

Getting started

Contrary to popular opinion, I recommend starting your online teaching career by working for an established company. If your teaching experience is limited and you're not an internet wiz, working for a company can act as an excellent type of 'internship'. Admittedly, the money can be low and the hours unreliable, but you'll receive on-the-job training and technical and pedagogical support. I started out working for one of the well-known English learning centres. I gained valuable skills, experience and the confidence, which later enabled me to go it alone.

When choosing an established company, you'll need to find one that has students looking for lessons in your working hours (your time zone). There are often advertisements on Facebook pages like Online English teachers, I haven't worked for any of these companies. However, I am sure that you can request feedback from the teachers in the group that have. A lot of online teachers prefer to jump straight in at the deep end and use platforms like Italki to advertise their lessons.

Creating a blog

In the last few years, I've created more of my own materials, usually on the back of envelopes, in notebooks, word files and on scraps of paper. I often use authentic materials such as news articles, TED talks and YouTube clips, and create lesson plans around them. While looking for inspiration for a new lesson plan, I came across an English teaching blog for the first time and so discovered the possibility to create and save lesson plans on such a platform, which can then be easily accessed anywhere. I was so impressed that I immediately got to work learning how to create my own blog. I chose Blogger, as it seemed very easy to use. My blog was born in November 2013 and marked the beginning of an incredible journey of self-development.

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Becoming part of a network of teachers

The most important discovery I've made since starting my blog is undoubtedly the British Council's Teaching English Facebook page. If only I had discovered it earlier! Through this page, I have connected with an amazing community of teachers (teaching online can at times be a little lonely) and to a vast quantity of excellent materials and resources. My blog has been visited by thousands of new people, which has led me to working on a very interesting new project.

I live in Israel and would never have dreamed of being able to enter a classroom in Iran. But a few months ago, a course co-ordinator in a college in Iran approached me about teaching three groups of Iranian men. I accepted the offer, and now I'm beamed into their classroom via Google Hangouts, which is projected onto a screen. I screen share a document containing a list of weekly topics connected to their course materials, and each student gives a presentation on these topics. I coach and correct the students and send detailed feedback to each one after the lesson. These classes demonstrate the incredible power online teaching has to break through cultural and geographical barriers, offering endless possibilities to both teachers and students alike.

Choosing a platform to communicate with your students

Skype is a very useful platform for online teaching. You can have free video or audio conversations with your students, as long as they have a Skype account. You can send files, type corrections and new vocabulary in the message box, share a view of your screen and also share a system sound, which makes Skype a powerful tool for teachers wishing to use videos in their lessons.

Zoom allows you to connect with students using an interactive video conference platform.  The free version offers unlimited 1 to 1 meetings or group meetings which are limited to a 40-minute duration. The system automatically creates a copyable URL and invitation to join the meeting, which can be forwarded to your student, once you have created a new meeting.  When your student first connects they will be prompted to upload the Zoom plug-in, which only takes a few seconds. The call seems to be of a much higher quality than other video conference platforms, it works well internationally, and appears to offer a solution to students in some countries where Skype is not available. Zoom’s features like screen sharing, system sound sharing, a whiteboard, screen annotation and meeting recording are ideal for an online classroom.

WIX is a free online website builder.  About two years ago, I decided, that in addition to my blog, I required a website. I needed to have a calling card for my business, something to share with potential students. It was time to clearly define the courses that I offer, and create an easy to use online booking system.  

Initially, I thought it would be worth investing money and paying a professional to create the website, then I discovered how much they charge.  I did some research and learned that there were a number of website building platforms, I chose WIX.  From the reviews, Wix is user-friendly, it offers a free plan, gets the most online searches, has a good selection of designs, and a mobile editor.  It is necessary to have a very clear idea of your brand, your niche, your students' requirements, your prices and what it is exactly you are offering.  When I started my blog I began fine tuning my business; the process of creating my website has taken this a step further. 

Managing your time effectively

The most difficult aspect of being a self-employed teacher is learning to manage your time. To be honest, I'm still not very good at limiting my research and preparation time. I hope, in the long run, that having my lesson plans on a blog will help, but creating these materials is time-consuming. I would like to recommend two webpages I've discovered, which I'm sure will help teachers manage their time effectively.

Playposit is free and works on all major internet browsers. It is free and works on all major internet browsers. It enables you to create interactive video lessons using any YouTube video, a URL or MP4 file, and allows you to embed time-linked interactive activities, in the form of questions, to the video. Students participate in these activities as they watch the video. They can stop and rewind the video at any point, but cannot progress until they have completed each activity. When you've finished creating your interactive video lesson, it can be shared or you can embed it on your website or blog. I think it's a fantastic idea and extremely useful for online teaching and flipped classrooms.

Off2Class is a website that offers ready-made course materials in the form of a set of slides. The site offers a library of ESL (English as a Second Language) lesson plans and new lessons are added weekly -- they're really good too. The content is teacher-led and designed for a live conversation class, to be taught online. As the teacher, you have the ability to invite a student to join you in order to view the lesson materials together and interact with the content during the lesson. It's a great website and a real time-saver, you can even brand the site with your own personal logo and domain. 

Summing up

The internet is a window of opportunity for teachers. It enables us to develop, create, share and teach independently, wherever and however we choose. Happy teaching!

This article is one of our top five most-read of all time. 

Emma Segev owns Talk2Me English. She gives online English lessons to adult learners and business professionals of all levels, worldwide. She an English speaker from the UK, currently living in Israel, and became an English teacher by accident. She has been teaching online for 13 years; teaching more than 25,000 lessons to students in 57 different countries in that time. She specialises in improving spoken communication and favours a combination of communicative languages training (CLT) and content-based instruction (CBI). She looks for new and interesting ways to teach, using materials based on authentic videos, news articles, case studies and real-life situations. She is passionate about using technology to facilitate learning and encourages her students to use a variety of learning tools. When she’s not working, she enjoys taking long walks in the countryside with her husband, spending time with her two teenage sons, cooking and going to the gym. She also loves taking photos, discovering new places, listening to loud music and eating out with friends. 

Jamie Johnson is an artist and illustrator based in Glasgow, Scotland. He works in painting, collage, drawing and various digital media techniques. Jamie has exhibited his work in galleries around the UK, Europe and North America, most recently as a solo show at Chopping Block Gallery in London. He continues to work with a wide variety of clients as an illustrator and designer, alongside a personal interest in community-based projects. 

Update, 8 May 2015: A previous version of this article made reference to Google Helpouts, which is no longer available. We have therefore removed the reference.

Update, 6 July 2018: A previous version of this article made reference to Google Hangouts and WixIQ, and has been updated with references to Zoom and Wix.

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