What It’s Really Like to Teach English Online

Okay, let me insert a little disclaimer right at the start:

This is what it has been like for me to teach English online so far with the iTutor group. Other people will have different experiences and use different software. Their perspective will be different.

Okay, on with the writing.

Each session I have taught has been 45 minutes in length. There have been as many as six students and as few as one. The lessons are built around slides the students see and I can change. The students see me on video but I can only hear them. There is also a little chat box where the students and I can type messages if we want to do so.

Each lesson has started with some kind of welcome and introduction. My approach to this is really simple but flexible. I could just say, “Hi _______, how are you?” Then we can make a little small talk about the weather or whatever. This works well if there is one student in the session early. When students arrive very quickly one after another, then it is easiest for me to just say a simple greeting, ask everyone how they are doing and then move into the lesson.

During the session time, I ask the students to read parts of the lesson out loud. I usually do this individually rather than all together so I can hear their pronunciation. If there is a mistake, then I try to find a gentle way to correct it. I also underline the mispronounced word on the whiteboard/slide area of the lesson. This helps the students see the word being corrected.

My other common activity is to ask the students questions and then type their answers while they are speaking. This helps me and the student to look more closely at their speech and correct any problems they might have created. My typing skills aren’t the best but I can keep up with most non-native English speakers!

The last thing I do in each session is try to get the students to talk freely with me or with each other. The sessions include this in a structured way sometimes through dialogue or discussion questions. If the lesson does not have this built in, then I will try to create some practice by typing a question or two in the lesson screen.

Along the way, I ask students if they understand what has been covered. I probably ask this question about ten times every session! Still, I think there are students who do not tell me what they don’t understand.

So, what’s it really like? What am I actually doing?

I think it is more like facilitating the students interaction with the lesson rather than teaching. Sometimes I interject an idea or a little focus slot on grammar or pronunciation. Mostly, though, I am walking the students through the lesson plan. Their comprehension and answers give the most shape to my teaching. Sometimes I say a lot but most of the time I am guiding the students through reading, speaking and understanding.

In a really short summary, I think teaching these sessions has been like this:

Here, read this out loud.

Did you understand?

Now, moving on…

What do you think? Does this sound interesting, boring, intimidating, exciting or something else?

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