Updated: Nov 16, 2020
The world as we know it is changing, and as the world changes, so does the way we learn! Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. Although there are still plenty of traditional classroom-based ESL teaching positions available worldwide, the emergence of online learning platforms has created new teaching opportunities for teachers looking to work from home. Not sure how to get started? Well, here are the top five tips that every online ESL teacher needs to know when first getting started with online teaching.
You would think that getting ready for your online class is easy. Turn on the camera and go! But, unless you put a little effort into your set-up, you are in danger of looking like a teenager checking for boogers before a date! Trust me; no-one wants to see up your nostrils.
But worry not, you can quickly improve your on-camera look by thinking about a few simple points: the camera angle, lighting, sound quality, and background. These can make a huge difference! So, let's start by taking a look at your camera angle.
The angle of your camera makes a big difference to your on-camera appearance. Most teachers start by merely placing their laptop or phone on the table and hitting the record button. However, this tends to leave you with an upward angle that is not likely to show off your best features (again with the nostrils). If using a laptop, raise the height of your computer by placing a few books underneath it, bringing the camera up to eye level. This angle will give you a much more natural appearance. If you are using a phone, the same principle applies. Ensure your phone is in a fixed position so that you are not wobbling and moving the camera as you teach.
You do not need to have fancy lights to make yourself look good on camera, but you do need to consider lighting when planning your camera set up. There is nothing less appealing than looking like a mysterious goth to your students. The easiest and cheapest light source available is the sun. Filming by a window gives you all the natural light needed to make you look good. However, you need to face the window as much as possible so that the light is falling on your face, if you sit with a window behind you, this is likely to make you look somewhat angelic, and your students will not be able to see you.
The background of your ‘classroom' is also essential. You do not have to make your apartment super fancy, but you do need to tidy up! Nobody wants to see your dirty underwear or family photos. Try to pick a spot with a fairly plain background so that your students can be focused on you and not what is going on behind you.
Sound is essential for an ESL online lesson. Without a good sound, it is not very easy for you to communicate with your students. For the best possible sound, include an external microphone in with your camera set up. Luckily your phone and laptop will have a relatively good mic that will do the trick if you do not have access to a professional one. Try to limit background noise by closing windows and by asking any roommates or family members to be quiet during your class.
Just like your classroom-based lesson, you need to plan your class. Depending on whether you are teaching individual or group classes, you may have limited ability to interact with your students. So, when planning your lesson, you need to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Your lesson plan should become like a script. You should still follow a standard structure, the warm-up, introduction of new content, practice, and dismissal. But you will need to plan the presentation of each section carefully.
If you have ever watched a children's TV show, you will have noticed how enthusiastic and energetic the hosts are. And there is a reason for this. Imagine for a moment; your students sat at a computer watching you on screen. Unless you are visually appealing, you can quickly lose their attention. So, all your movements should be exaggerated and your enthusiasm and energy needs to be at maximum levels. If you are a little shy on camera, do not be afraid to practice before your class. Record yourself on your phone and watch back to see how you look. If you are not happy with what you see, you can delete it and try again. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will become on camera.
For those lower-level students, TPR is essential! If you are not sure what TPR is, you can check out my video on TRP right here. Without TPR, it can be hard for students to break down sentences and remember new words. Minimizing incidental language can also be beneficial if your students have a lower level of English. Sentences such as “can you say…” may not be understood by students and could mean you lose their attention. Instead, use more visual cues such as cupping your ear to indicate listening when you want students to repeat vocabulary back.
Just like with any ESL lesson, you will need to use materials to help put meaning to new words or sentences. These can come in the form of flashcards, drawings, or ideally props such as puppets. If you do not have access to many materials right now, stop and take a look around your house and see what materials you could use. For example, if teaching a kitchen unit, you might use some pots and pans to show the names of different kitchen utensils.
Just like your classroom-based lessons, it is imperative to give your students feedback. It is even more critical because you need to keep students happy and engaged throughout the lesson. Let students know when they are doing well, again be sure to be about 50% more energetic than you otherwise would, and do not be afraid to be creative with things like an online high five. Reward systems also help to keep online students motivated and engaged throughout the lesson. You can keep it simple by giving students a star every time they do something well and let them know that once they reach a certain number of stars, they will receive a reward, such as singing their favorite song.
So there you have it, the top five must-know tips for new online ESL teachers. Let me know if you have any suggestions that can help new online teachers and make sure you check out the five simple ESL games video on the Mooncake English YouTube page for some easy online ESL games.
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