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Teach English Online: A Guide to Getting Started

Online English teaching has rocketed in popularity over the past few years, mostly thanks to better internet connections and the rise of mobiles and tablets.

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For a teacher it can be a good way to earn extra money on the side, another place to acquire freelance clients or sometimes even a full job.

Let's take a look at how you can start teaching English online and what you'll need to do it.

Teaching Environment

For the most basic teaching setup there are two things you need to be able to do:

  1. Make video calls
  2. Share your screen

Thankfully nowadays, getting both of these done is easy.

Making Video Calls

There are plenty of options, the most popular are Google Hangouts & Skype.

Both are free, Skype requires you download a program, while Google Hangouts needs a Google account/gmail address, but otherwise they're both quite similar.

Sharing your screen

Both Skype and Google Hangouts make it easy to share your screen in the program. But if you're using something else that doesn't allow screen sharing there are still plenty of other options:

The program we'd recommend would be join.me, again it's nice and easy to setup and use. If you don't like join.me both ScreenLeap and TeamViewer are both good options (although TV is a tiny bit more complicated than the other two).

Having a good quality call

The piece of equipment that will make the biggest difference in your lessons is a good microphone headset. If your student can't hear you clearly then there's no point in having the lesson in the first place and a good quality audio headset will make all the difference.

The two we'd recommend would be the two headsets recommended by The WireCutter depending on your budget. (Unfortunately you get a better deal if you're a US shopper than if you're from the UK.)

Where do I find students?

The best way to get students, even online, will always be word of mouth and referrals, but we all have to start somewhere, so where else can you look?

  • Online freelancing sites, like Upwork and Elance. They don't get so many straight up teaching positions, but you will still come across them alongside a mix of translation and other English language jobs.
  • Craigslist: The daddy of all listings sites. While internet connections have got a lot better, getting a good connection across several countries can still be hard. Craigslist's ultra localization gives you the opportunity to advertise in the countries and cities where your students can be easily connected to you.
  • Sites that match teachers with students. A quick search for "english online tutors" or "teach english online" will show up a number of marketplace style websites who will match you with students.
  • In a similar vein you can also work for a site that employs online English teachers directly (rather than providing a marketplace) and connects them to students. (See our jobs link above!)
  • Work with students locally and then incorporate online lessons into your program. Teaching is a lot about the personal touch, finding students locally and then working in online lessons can be more convenient for both of you and means your students can then recommend you on-line as well as off-line.
  • When you do start getting students and building up a good rapport, then offering your students incentives for referrals is a good way to help you build your student base. It's easy to forget to refer someone however good the lessons are and providing that extra incentive can really help!

FAQ's & Contracts

Although you don't need get a formal contract written, having a FAQ style document that you can send to students is invaluable.

It can cover everything from questions like: What happens if lessons get cancelled or a pupil doesn't show up, to the basic prep that should be done to make sure the student is ready to go when you're online.

Send it over to all your students and put in summary at the top with all the really important points in case they just skim it.

Creating lessons and a student plan

Resources could easily be the subject of a far larger post of its own, the EFL community is excellent at generating resources and there are plenty of great educational tools out there for teachers.

There are in-depth exercise websites like Best Teacher and Using English that offer countless exercises and ideas. There are interesting presentation and video tools like Prezi which allows you to make high quality presentations and Educanon which lets you annotate videos and add quizzes alongside them.

There are EFL specific tools like SpeechPeek which lets you record online exercises for your students.

If you're feeling super ambitious you could create a free Udemy course that you'd walk all your students through, or create your own learning environment in Moodle to manage multiple students.

What can be a lot harder if you're just starting out, or not very experienced, is learning how to put together a curriculum that will really help your online students. Joining a company when you start off, can often be beneficial to give you an idea of how online courses and lessons can be structured.

What do you do when you get stuck?

If you run into problems teaching when you're freelancing you won't have colleagues to fall back on, you'll have to sort it out yourself. This is where being part of a community of teachers really helps.

There are Twitter communities like #ELTChat, blogging networks like Edublogs, teaching networks like IATEFL & TESOL, the British Council run TeachingEnglish another community site; it doesn't matter where you find a community, but having to a place to discuss and chat when you're not surrounded by fellow teachers each day is invaluable!

How do I take payment

Something else that's been made easy is taking payment. There are a number of ways you can take payment, the two most popular are:

  • Paypal - The largest of online payment providers and currently available in 203 countries. The biggest benefit is your students are likely to already have a Paypal account making it easier for them to pay you.
  • TransferWise - Another popular site for sending money across borders, it typically offers better exchange rate costs than Paypal.

Scheduling your lessons

You'll definitely need a calender to help you schedule all your lessons and keep on top of everything. The most popular are:

  • Google Calender
  • Outlook calender
  • iCal (if you're an Apple user)

And you can of course just do it with pen and paper, although then you lose out on the ability to send calender invites.

That wraps up the basics, good luck with the teaching! And if you're looking to work for companies online, then we have an online teaching jobs page.

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