We’ve had a number of friends and colleagues reach out to us recently for advice and support with teaching online and so we realized this might be something new you’re working on, too! Although we have each now had various experiences leading classes and workshops virtually over the years, we know it takes some getting used to. We hope that these tips help you prepare logistically and emotionally to teach online. While today’s post will focus primarily on one-on-one virtual classroom experiences, many of the tips can apply to group classes as well. However, if you are specifically interested in teaching group classes virtually, check out our separate post that precisely covers that!
BEFORE THE CLASS: Create your classroom atmosphere
When it comes to teaching over the internet, it can sometimes be difficult to set the same ‘classroom’ mode you would naturally have in a physical space. We think creating a ‘classroom’ space can bring a feeling of seriousness to your virtual classes that you might miss if you are just having a Skype call from your couch. Assuming that you also find this important, here are our top logistical tips. Many of these are quick and easy but it’s often the little things that can go a long way.
1.) Choose a clean space to teach: Ideally, you’ll want to position yourself with your back to a wall—blank backgrounds are excellent. Alternatively, you could go for something else that feels fitting to your work (e.g. Dani has a map as her background). This article provides some further insight into choosing a background.
2.) Make sure the space is quiet: You might find that you have to do your work at home while others are there too. However, it can be distracting when you are carrying out one-on-one teaching and you have people/the TV in the background. Try to make sure your space is as quiet as possible to ensure the call is good.
3.) Find a headset with a microphone that works for you: One big way to reduce the noise around you and ensure good audio quality is to use a headset and microphone. We do not recommend Bluetooth sets such as airpods but something that puts the microphone closer to your mouth such as this one. This makes the microphone focus on what you are saying and picks up less on the noise around you. The fact that this particular headset includes noise-canceling headphones means you won’t be distracted by noises around you either.
4.) Set up your workspace strategically: We recommend positioning your laptop and/or camera far enough back so that you have space for a notebook in front of you in order to take notes during class, if needed. This way, you can jot things down without catching your pen movements on camera. While many students would not be bothered to know you’re taking notes, it can make others nervous. Alternatively, you could have a separate tab opened to take notes on your computer. For more tips on this topic, please see our post on working from home effectively.
5.) Make sure you have everything you need: On the day of your class, be sure to set up at least five minutes ahead of time to check the functionality of your camera and microphone. Keep a water bottle, extra pen, and anything else you might need during the class within grabbing distances. It’s much more professional than needing to pause the lesson while you get up to fetch something.
Before the class: Prepare an effective class
If you’re used to teaching in a traditional classroom, adjusting to virtual lessons may feel cumbersome at first. However, keep these tips in mind and, fingers crossed, it will all be smooth sailing.*
1.) Define your objective: You can’t determine if you have an effective lesson until you know what your objective is! If you’re teaching a one-on-one lesson, it’s best to define this with the person you are teaching. Depending on the circumstances, you could discuss this in advance or during the first lesson. By having an open conversation about objectives you can ensure both parties are working to meet the expectations of the other.
2.) In accordance with the objective, create or find virtual-classroom-friendly materials: As this is a one-on-one lesson, you can make this material as personal and fitted to individual interests as you’d like. The materials you choose will also depend on the platform you are working with and how you will be able to share them. In some cases, video or audio content can be useful but can also cause distractions when sharing them if the platform doesn’t support it. If you’re looking for ideas or entire lesson plans you could put to use for an English lesson, check out some of our favorite resources here.
3.) Decide when and how to share these materials: Consider whether it makes more sense to share materials via the platform itself during the call or if it is better to share them beforehand another way (such as by email). Keep in mind that if your resources are longer than a few minutes, it might make sense to ask your student to listen to/read them beforehand and only discuss during the lesson.
4.) Practice it! We highly recommend doing a run through session with a family member or friend. You can do something as light as just testing your wifi, audio, and video with them or do an entire run-through of your class. If you cannot test all of your content with someone else, make sure you go through it on your own. You want to make sure that you have enough content for about ¾ of the class. In a one-on-one class, you want a lot of student interaction, so you might not use it all but, just in case, make sure you have about that much and a couple extra activities if your student is very fast.
5.) Have your student test out the platform beforehand! There’s nothing more frustrating than spending the majority of a lesson trying to sort out tech issues. Encourage your student to log into the classroom or use whatever platform while on the same device, connected to the same internet, and with the same headphones as they plan to use during your lesson. Speedcheck.org and Speedtest.net are reliable sites to use in order to test wifi speeds. Ideally, you’ll want to have upload and download speeds of around 10 Mbps for a video lesson.
DURING THE CLASS
Now you have planned your physical space and the materials you want to share, there are several things you should be aware about during the class itself. By keeping these tips in mind, you are more likely creating an atmosphere that is conducive to learning for your student.
1.) Have your student use videos: When we are online, it is much easier for us to get distracted by other things around us (either in the physical or virtual environment). If both you and your student use your video function, you are increasing the probability that there is higher student engagement. In addition, you are more likely to be able to see if the student is less communicative and is having difficulties.
2.) Speak clearly and more slowly than you think is necessary: Understanding someone virtually is significantly more difficult than when you are talking to them face to face. This is doubled when you don’t have video and, subsequently, cannot track the facial movements of your students. In addition, if you are teaching a foreign language lesson, remember that they use what you look like to help them learn. If there is no possibility for your students to see your face, try to speak even slower.
3.) Use gestures and facial expressions: If you can use video, try to use movements that can help you explain what you are saying. This is a double-sided sword, however, as you don’t want to have too much movement in your video as it might be difficult to follow if you or your student are having internet issues.
4.) Make it interactive: We believe that one of the best ways to learn is by doing. However, all students are different and some will speak up more without prompting and others will need you to guide them before talking. That is why we recommend building in interactive moments to your lessons, at least until you know the student. In this way, you will ensure that he/she is getting all the practice needed for improvement.
5.) Ask for feedback: Especially if you plan on doing more than one lesson with the student, but also if it is a one-time thing, as for feedback on how you can improve for the future. Many times we think one thing is better or worse and our students see something totally different that needs to be worked on. By taking your student feedback into account you are improving your own skills while making your student feel like he/she is being listened to.
Those are our 15 tips for teaching one-on-one virtual classes with your students around the world. How many of these suggestions have you already implemented? What are you looking forward to trying? We would love to hear what you do to make your classes better in the comments below!
*Of course, we know even the most ‘perfectly prepared’ lessons backfire from time to time. Read up on our tips about how to recover if your lesson turns disastrous.