20 strategies for teaching English online

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ESL Tate
I have been an ESL Teacher for more than 15 years and a Teacher trainer for the last three. Now I help new teachers start their journey traveling and teaching English abroad.

One of the great things about teaching English online is the flexibility. Not just in allowing you to live the life you want to live, but also in how you approach your teaching. I hope these 20 teaching strategies will help you become a better online teacher.

There are several methods or strategies you can use to make you more effective at doing your job. You have the freedom to explore different methods in order to find your groove. In this article, we are going to explore 20 simple but highly effective tips.

You can try to use them simultaneously or one after the other. Just make sure that you are not putting too much on your plate and most importantly, ensure that you are having fun!

Strategy one: Be clear about each lesson

Every session you have with your student should have them learning something new. It could be a verb, a phrase, or the proper pronunciation of a vowel sound. Whatever is, structure your classes in such a way that each encounter leaves them more knowledgeable.

Have a clear outcome that will be accomplished in that lesson and make that outcome the focal point of all activities. All activities should aim at accomplishing that outcome.

Light bulb: If the topic of the lesson is, for example, the difference between fun and funny:

Outcome – by the end of this lesson, we will be able to: 1. define funny 2. define fun 3. be able to use examples that show the difference between the two.

It’s good to note here that, of course, not all students will get everything about each lesson. It helps me to keep track and percentages of students that got it and those that did not. For instance, on my lesson plan, I might write my reflection on the lesson like: 1. 90-100 percent of the class was able to accomplish the outcome 2. 80-90 percent was able to accomplish the outcome. Doing this allows me to improve as a teacher as well.

Strategy two: Use visuals

Images are an excellent training tool in any classroom. While language is more or less an abstract form, you still need to find a way to make it tangible and real for your students so that they can connect with it. So, when you, for example, tell them what an orange is, you should also have a corresponding image.

Light bulb: Show the students, don’t just tell them. Model what the students need to do, show them a step by step process.

Strategy three: Always ask questions

You may have your own ideas about what you think your students should learn but the questions you ask and the answers that they give you will tell you where your students stand in terms of their language proficiency.

And when you are able to accurately assess their needs, you put yourself in a better position to teach effectively.

Light bulb: Good use of ICQs (Instruction-Checking Questions to make sure students understand what is expected of them to be grasped during a certain activity) and CCQs (Concept Checking Questions to make sure students understand what is being taught) can make a lesson a success.

Strategy four: Use interactive videos

This is to support the use of imagery in the classroom. Videos are a lot more engaging than images. So, using special apps to create short but very interesting videos that will educate and entertain your student at the same time will go a long way to improve the learning sessions you have.

Light bulb: Record a video of yourself going over a certain point. Youtube is a great source.

use video lessons

Strategy five: Enter your classes prepared

English language may come as naturally as breathing to you but that does not mean you should wing it when you get into your classes.

Taking out time to prep your lessons will go on to improve your methods and bring about better results in your classrooms.

Light bulb:  Have backup activities. The online sessions are no different than being in the class in this regard. Have several tools ready, such as Kahoots or a live worksheet that students can work on after finishing in class activities.

Strategy six: Make your classes fun

Teaching is a serious business but you don’t have to be dull about it. There are things you can do and elements you can introduce into your teaching methods that will keep your students engaged and excited. This is important if you want them to improve every time they come to you.

Light bulb:  The way to make your classes fun is to vary your presentation methods. It goes without saying that when teaching online, students will be sitting in one spot.

So, you want to get them involved. Have a student introduce the lesson, have them do presentations via screen sharing, bring in a prop, use different voices and voice intonations, videos like mentioned above. There are endless ways to make an online class fun.

Strategy seven: Don’t shy away from apps

Apps are designed to simplify the tasks that we carry out and there are many apps out there that would make your teaching job much easier. You are not doing the traditional teaching.

So, it makes sense that your methods are also not traditional. With the right app, you can become more efficient without sacrificing too many resources.

Light bulb: Use apps like class dojo, Duolingo etc, and have students do a certain lesson on there. The point is to use as many resources as possible. Duolingo is one of those apps I use (free) that I have recommended to advanced students that struggle with spelling and grammar.

For some that need conversation practice, I have heard good things about Italki.com. I, however,  have never used it since it’s meant for students.

The bottom line is: if they struggling with a particular skill, point them where they could get help if you are unable to find the time. If you can help directly, even better!

Strategy eight: Use relatable content

You have to understand that the world your student is living in is very different from where you are right now.

Therefore, their experiences are also going to differ from yours. So, take out some time to understand a little bit about the culture and try to create content that they can relate with.

Light bulb:  Bring their favorite anime into the lesson, discuss football or whatever topics they express interest in and somehow bring that into the lesson. Be adaptive so that you may engage more of them.

Strategy nine: Be flexible

One essential skill when it comes to teaching is the ability to stretch yourself to accommodate the needs of your students.

This is vital to the success of the learning programs that you have. This does not mean that you should go out of your way in order to appease one student.

However, you should be ready to make adjustments to your schedule to adapt to some of their needs as they arise.

Light bulb: Be like water. Go around, immerse in, bring together what they want to discuss into the lesson. There is a way to motivate and interest students without going too far off task. Make an environment that even if a student is wrong, they don’t feel wrong but allowed to learn from their mistakes.

Strategy ten: Improve your own skills

Every day, there are new things that come up. You will discover new apps, new English words and phrases, and so on. Keeping yourself updated will help you be more effective at your job.

Light bulb:  Learn a new skill and share it with the students. Share your life with them as they share theirs and create that environment of mutual understanding. Be personable yet professional. They will respect you more and also enjoy your lessons.

Strategy eleven: Try to solve problems

The services that you offer are meant to help your students with the problem of their English language proficiency.

So, every session that you have with them should be focused on solving those critical areas where they have problems.

Light bulb: Go the extra mile or kilometre 🙂 to make sure that the student understood. If they are stuck on a certain topic, provide them links or extra resources that can help them and then follow up.

Invite them to join sites like Magoosh were they can get extra help and improve their test scores.

Strategy twelve: Create digital content

This should be a short learning material interspersed with a little bit of imagery that your students can access when you are not having your one-on-one sessions.

It is a healthy practice for improved learning. Like I said already, guide them to extra resources and participate with them in it. Create an account yourself on a particular website like liveworksheet and have them work on certain topics outside of class.

Strategy thirteen: Plan live classes but make them available after

This is especially important if you are organizing group classes which may be accessed by members who weren’t able to attend. If you keep it fun, it will remain engaging even though they are not able to participate directly.

Light bulb:  Record your class and share it with the students after. This will give them a second chance to go over what they might not have understood while in class.

Strategy fourteen: Keep it short


When it comes to learning, a lot of people have a very short attention span. Your way of teaching should be able to accommodate this problem. So, always remember to keep it short but fun!

Light bulb:  Give clear and concise directions and answers. Keep your examples short and to the point. Then use ICQs and CCQs to check for understanding.

Strategy fifteen: Mix it up

As I mentioned earlier, teaching online can be very flexible. However, to maximize this platform, you also have to be flexible. Your teaching classes should be able to mix things up every now and then in order to keep things interesting for your students.

That means, using different platforms and different ways to present the information you are teaching.

Strategy sixteen: Be observant

Your powers of observation can reveal things your students may not even be aware of. As you teach, observe their interactions with you closely. You may get important education clues that can improve your sessions.

There are some students that struggle silently. This is a big no-no in my class. And it is something I stress often in my sessions. I do my best to find ways to make them feel comfortable and encourage them.

Strategy seventeen: Design your class around building confidence

Teaching does not mean you should be the one doing all the talking. Structure your class in a way that gives your students the chance to respond verbally, in written form, and so on. This builds confidence in their abilities.

Strategy eighteen: Pack your classes with activities

This supports the last strategy but takes this a step further. It is meant to inspire your students to take more interest in their learning. Just remember, the activities should match the lifestyle of your client. A business professional has different priorities compared to a backpacking traveler.

Strategy nineteen: Be relaxed

When you are tense and nervous, it shows and it could distract your students. Take some time to calm yourself before each class. A relaxed teacher creates a relaxed atmosphere for learning.

Light bulb:  Taking care of yourself goes a long way in having a stable mind and attitude. Sleep enough hours (8-9) works for me, drinking enough water and exercising.

It’s tougher these days with the coronavirus but I put on my mask and go walk the stairs a few times until I break a sweat. Then I do a few push-ups, sit-ups and air squats; have a healthy breakfast then start my lessons.

In between classes, it’s good to get up and walk around, stretch a bit, do some jumping jacks then get to the next class.

Strategy twenty: Prepare your students

This is something that is often overlooked but if applied consistently, can be effective. Before each class, let your students know what to expect from that session and then follow through on it.

Final thoughts

Online teaching is not easy, it takes a toll on your eyes and you may even find yourself more tired than when teaching face to face. So it’s important to have a routine that takes your health and the health of your students into consideration.

That’s why I put these 20 strategies that will help you make the best of online teaching, both for you and your students. If I missed something that has worked for you, please share it in the comment section.

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The hilarious E-book and novella about the life of an ESL Teacher in South Korea. A small town, not many English speakers and the events that followed are shared in this book.

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