Tip 1 – Familiarise yourself with the technology
Get to know the tools you have at your disposal. If you’re using Zoom as your main means of conducting lessons check that you are familiar with the technology. Here are some things to think about:
(1) If you haven’t used Zoom before, try it out with a friend or colleague. Practise sharing your screen, using breakout rooms (you’ll need more than on friend or colleague though) and if you’re feeling adventurous, the poll feature.
(2) Is your microphone good enough? Some students complain that they can’t hear the teacher very well. You might want to consider getting a headset.
(3) Don’t forget to admit students into the lesson, otherwise, they’ll be stuck in the waiting room. If you want to share audio, remember to click on the box “Share computer audio” when you share your screen.
Tip 2 – Gradually build up your knowledge of other tools
There is a wealth of other online tools and recourses that you can use. If you are unfamiliar with these set yourself a goal of learning one new one each week. Don’t overwhelm yourself with lots of new tools at once. Start simple, and learn how to use the more complicated tools later. You don’t want to use all your bells and whistles in your first lesson, as it will be difficult to maintain that standard consistently.
Tip 3 – Be prepared for a bit of extra preparation
Be prepared to spend more time planning your lessons, at least initially. As you learn what will work online and what needs to be adapted, planning should become quicker and easier. It’s a good idea to have a slide template you can work from, and from that create slides for each lesson, so that you do not need to recreate the type of slide you normally have from scratch each time.
Tip 4 – Check your background and the angle of your camera
You want to look as professional as you can while working from home. Avoid the half-drunk can of Red Bull on the shelf behind you or the pile of clothes waiting to be ironed. It’s a good idea to use a virtual background if your computer supports this feature. If not, try and sit in front of a plain wall or bookcase. One thing that gets overlooked is the angle of your camera. It’s a good idea to try and position your camera so that it’s at eye level and pointing at 90 degrees to you. Your students don’t need to see up your nose! Also, don’t forget to actually look at your camera rather than the image of your students on your screen. Stick a post-it note with an arrow next to it to remind you if necessary.
Tip 5 – Check everything just before the lesson
Check everything is working and your connection is good before each lesson. One way to do that is to quickly go on YouTube and play a random video. If the video plays, then your connection should be good. Have everything you are going to share with your students open and ready to go. You don’t want to spend too long of their precious lesson time hunting for things you forgot to have ready. However, no fear. If you do forget something, give your students a task to be getting on with while you look for it.
Tip 6 – Dress as if it’s your first day at a new school.
Dressing a bit more smartly than you would normally can give you a confidence boost and will instil confidence in your students, who, if they are new to the whole idea of an online English class, might be a little sceptical at first. It will also help them to understand that you’re taking the lesson seriously and you expect them to do so too.
Tip 7 – Smile! And exaggerate your gestures.
It’s easy to forget this when online, especially if you are concentrating. Facial expressions are a lot more difficult to read when your students see you in a small square on their screens. Likewise, it’s difficult for you to see what they’re thinking. Encourage them to exaggerate their gestures while exaggerating your own and try to encourage the students to tell you verbally if they don’t understand something.
Keep it light and friendly, remember to personalise and get to know your students. It’s easy to make an online class impersonal and serious. Bring in humour and have the confidence to improvise.
Tip 8 – Use movement and have a break
Sitting in front of a screen for extended periods of time can be tiring, both for you and the students. Try and incorporate some movement into the lesson. For example, you could encourage students to lean to their right or left to answer yes/no questions. You could get them to stand up if they have a question, or why not start and end the lesson with a bit of stretching? Have a brain break if you feel you need it – give the students something to do while you take a step back for a couple of minutes, or give the students a quick break away from their screens if you feel they would benefit from this.
Tip 9 – Think about what works well online
What works in a physical classroom doesn’t always translate well online. You may find that you need shorter, snappier activities than you would in a physical classroom, and have more controlled activities and fewer freer activities. Don’t be worried if students are quieter than they are in a real classroom. Remember it will take them a while to build their own strategies to learn English online. However, do continue with the basic learning principles of individualised learning and setting goals with students. Set out clear learning aims at the start of each lesson and review at the end. It is even more important online to show your students what your focus is for the day and that there is a clear structure.
Tip 10 – See this as an opportunity to learn new skills
Some teachers report that they feel like a brand-new teacher all over again in their first online lesson. They feel really out of their comfort zone at first, which means they are coping with a lot of new things. While things might not always go to plan at first, don’t stress – there is always a solution to be found. Don’t forget to reflect on your successes as well as learn from any mistakes. You could start saving a bank of lessons to build up a portfolio of lesson materials and ideas. You may even want to record some of your lessons and watch them back, considering them from the students’ perspective. However, please get permission from your school and the students first.
Remember to be yourself. You’re an experienced teacher who has run hundreds of classes before. With a bit of practice, you’ll be as confident in a virtual classroom as you are in a physical one.