TEFL Teaching English Online

Teaching English Online or Virtual English Teaching is a growing business. Essentially it means teaching students – usually 1-to-1‏‎ – from your own home and thus bypassing a school. With the advent of new technology and the prevalence of broadband internet (allowing audio/visual communication) it is gaining ground on traditional methods of teaching.

This article explains exactly how to teach English online.

Some of the features of teaching online include:

  • students from many different nationalities and locations
  • a freer timetable; the teacher sets when lessons take place
  • no interference from management; as your own boss you decide what happens
  • much better pay than most schools

Having said this, it is also a long process. In a similar way that teachers moving into teaching only private TEFL lessons have found, it can take time to build up a solid base of students allowing you to work full time.

The article explores the steps to move from teaching in a school to teaching fully online.

Step 1 – What to Teach

The first question to get sorted, is what you will teach.

It is obviously English‏‎ but this may mean teaching General English‏‎ or specializing in Business English‏‎. Do you have any special skills which you can bring to the lessons. For example, if you spent several years working in advertising before going into teaching then this is a niche you might be able to exploit.

In general, the market seems to be looking for exam preparation teachers so if you have experience of preparing students for First Certificate in English‏‎ or TOEFL‏‎, etc, then this might be for you. Of course if you don’t have that experience you can pick it up, but the important thing to remember is that you will need to know your subject!

Since you are teaching on your own, you will need to have access to all the books and reference material. It may well be that a student requires help with a certain aspect of grammar‏‎ in which case you will need to send them a worksheet to complete. Obviously at the start you won’t have these as you won’t really know what your students will need, but you will need to be prepared to do your own writing and preparation so that you can give your students exactly what they need.

Teacher Tip: if you need to send students user-friendly information about a grammatical point, by all means send them the link to right page on this site!

To help, get yourself a system to catalogue and file all these electronically so in the future when a student needs something, you can quickly find it on your computer and send it over within a few minutes. There are several note programs out there where you can store not only details of your students but also links to online grammar points, pages of information, notes and suchlike.

Step 2 – Equipment

At the very basic you’ll need:

  • A headset/microphone. These should be comfortable to wear for several hours at a time and the earpieces should cover your ears fully and block out external sounds. On this point you’ll need a reasonably quiet place to work – a home office is usually fine.
  • A webcam. One extra use of the webcam, aside from seeing your students, is that it will allow you to record short videos on various aspects of teaching. You might, for example, spend five minutes recording a video on how to pronounce certain words and then upload this to YouTube (see below). (Remember, however, that in cases where your students have a low bandwidth connection, you can turn this off for better results.)
  • A Skype/Zoom, etc… account. This is free and, amongst other features, it allows you to send files to each other when the need arises. Although there are other programs on the market which offer bells and whistles such as collaborative whiteboards and so on, Skype is very popular and most of students will already be familiar with it. It is simple to use and this is good.
  • Decent internet access. This is important; if your access keeps dropping or slowing down you will lose students.
  • Payment collection. The easiest is through PayPal – just set up an account and make sure your students have paid before you teach them.

When it comes to equipment, you should try and get the best you can afford. Because you will appear on screen to many of your students, remember also to set it up with a decent background. You do not want a grubby bedroom scene in the background when you talk to students!

Step 3 – Finding Students

This is perhaps the most difficult part of the process. There are several ways of getting students into your virtual classroom:

  • Online schools which sell teaching services – this is often where most new teachers start, however in all but location it is little different from teaching in a normal school. The wages are often very low – rarely much above $15 USD (€12, £10) per hour and often much less – and there are restrictions on when and where and what you can teach. They can be useful for new online teachers to get the hang of how things work, but if you can avoid these places then do so.
  • Online markets which brings students and teachers together – teachers sell their services to students. The problem here is that while you have more independence than in online schools, competition means that teachers are selling themselves at ridiculously low prices and students are often happier to pay a few dollars less to a poorly qualified and inexperienced teacher than a few dollars more to a highly qualified and experienced teacher. In addition, there are commission fees to be paid for the market owner who finds you the student.
  • Independently. This is by far the best way to attract students. Firstly you will not pay a commission to get the student. Secondly you will likely be able to charge a reasonable rate for your services.

However, this is the hardest way to find students so requires a lot more work.

Attracting Students

Although not all these methods will apply to you, the following list gives some ideas on how to attract students. Essentially it is the same as any other business – you need to get your name out there and known. You need to have a presence.

To help with this you firstly need to select a simple name or moniker so people will come to recognize you and know you. This might be your name or something to do with your profession, but it needs to be memorable and easy for non-native speakers of English to use.

Then spread the name – and yourself – around:

  • Get a webpage where you can write more information about yourself; small websites‏‎ can be set up freely online and this is a good idea as long as you don’t have adverts there for other teachers! A good idea is to have a place on your website where you can have material for students for free and a forum where you can encourage potential students to come and learn.
  • Get a YouTube account. You can use this to upload short videos you make relating to your lessons and looking at specific elements of language. These videos can also be embedded in your website above and provide more online presence.
  • The more you write online, the better. Write a blog about your work, for example.
  • Sign on to all the language forums and visit them every day to answer questions and take part in the debates. Good ones are those which have questions from learners of English asking for advice. Many forums will allow you to include a link to your own website so use this to let readers find out more about you.
  • Make a Facebook page for your services.

Tips for Successful Online Teaching

  • Look good. Dress well and be presentable so your students can see you’ve made an effort.
  • Make sure you have all your files well organized. If a students asks for an example of some minimal pairs‏‎ for example, you should be able to browse to the right place and send them over immediately; if they ask for more help with countable and non-countable nouns‏‎ you should be able to send them this link within a few seconds. This means building up a good database of resources.
  • Be patient and calm. It is slightly more difficult than face to face teaching, but when there is a silence allow your students time to think and then speak. In other words, don’t feel anxious to fill every void with your voice!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that it is possible to build up a really good business teaching online and make decent money doing this. However it will take time and effort. But the more time you put into it and the more effort, the more money you will make. It’s as simple as that.

Useful Links

Private English Lessons – how to find and run private lessons


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Posted in Country Guides, Finding TEFL Jobs, Technology & TEFL.

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