Successfully Teaching English via Skype: 6 Tips to Attract Students, Craft Unique Lessons and More
You have a 9 a.m. lesson with an English beginner in Tokyo.
At 10:30, you will run pronunciation drills with your student in Lima.
After that, you will help a Chinese speaker in Boston prepare for her first job interview in English.
All without stepping outside of your home office.
Sound like an exciting schedule?
Teaching English via Skype allows ESL teachers and students from across the globe to connect in new ways. It opens up so many opportunities for English teachers who want to broaden their student base while taking control of their work schedule.
But successful online English teaching is not any easier than successful classroom teaching. It has its own pitfalls and requires a particular set of skills to do it right.
In this post, we will show you how to craft engaging, effective online lessons and avoid the major obstacles of online teaching. We will also help you promote your Skype English lessons and attract loyal students from all over the world.
What Are the Advantages of Teaching with Skype?
There are a variety of benefits for teachers when it comes to ESL Skype lessons. For one, you are 100 percent remote, available for students to attend your virtual classroom anywhere you are in the world. That means you can plan classes on your schedule (and you get to avoid commuting, too!).
Teaching English via Skype also connects you to a wider audience. You are no longer limited to the student base in the city where you live. As noted earlier, you could hold morning classes for ESL students in, say, Russia, and connect with your Japanese students online in the afternoon.
Another benefit for teachers is having access to a larger resource base. Since you are teaching via Skype, any and all resources you want to use in your virtual classroom are at your fingertips online.
What Are the Student Benefits of ESL Skype Lessons?
ESL students can benefit from online English classes as much as their teachers. One major draw for ESL students to attend classes via Skype is that they get a wider variety of teachers available to them. They may have one ESL teacher for grammar and textbook learning, one teacher for business English and another for conversational classes.
Another big benefit ESL students enjoy is the ability to fit a class in anytime, anywhere. This is especially important for busy students who may be balancing work, school, family time and other obligations.
6 Secrets to Teaching English via Skype Every Online Educator Should Know
The benefits of teaching English via Skype are pretty clear, but how do you do it? The following six secrets will help you make the most of your future online classes.
1. Getting the Right Tech and Teaching Equipment
Teaching English via Skype involves a few technical aspects many first-time online teachers will need to get familiar with.
The first one is an obvious one: download Skype to your computer and other devices. Skype is downloadable for PC, Mac, your mobile device and even Xbox. You can get all the downloadable links here.
The best plan is to download Skype to both your computer and mobile device or tablet. This gives you multiple ways to connect with your ESL students, providing a Plan B if Skype becomes glitchy on the device you are using.
One commonly overlooked essential of teaching ESL classes online is a good headset. Since you will be teaching your students how to pronounce English words correctly, it is absolutely imperative that they can hear you clearly and you can hear them too. There are plenty of headsets available online, and the most expensive is not always the best. Read customer reviews and do a bit of research to find the right headset for your teaching needs.
Once Skype is downloaded and you have your new headset, it is time to make a few test calls. Skype has a test call feature that measures voice clarity, background noise and other essentials to your students’ virtual classroom experience. It is also a good idea to call a few friends and family members to ensure everything is working well. (Plus, it never hurts to connect with friends and family for a Saturday afternoon video call!)
The digital era has ushered in some fantastic innovations, like Skype. However, these innovations can have some limitations. Poor internet connections or computer speeds are important issues for online teachers to be aware of. You need to ensure your connection is optimal prior to class.
You can test your computer speed here. For your Wi-Fi, it may be worth a few extra dollars to boost your connection. Here is a quick and easy internet connection test.
And remember, it is a good idea to always have a back up plan. This could be a nearby library, a quite coffee shop or even your smartphone as noted above.
2. Choosing Engaging Online Teaching Resources
There is an ocean of online resources teachers can access, whether they are teaching English via Skype or in a traditional classroom setting. For online teachers, however, the use of those resources is seamless. Before you begin bookmarking new resources for your virtual classes, there are essential ESL elements to consider.
First, you need to know your audience. One of the best parts about teaching ESL students online is a wider student base, but this also comes with a need to be more culturally aware. For example, using a Chinese resource for a Japanese student will not go over very well. You also would not necessarily want to use a Forbes article for a teenage student.
Think culturally, and also think about relevance. This will allow you to find powerful, engaging resources like blog articles, YouTube videos or even Pinterest posts for your students.
A few ESL gems you can include in your Skype class are:
- Smithsonian for Educators: Smithsonian for educators has more than a million learning resources, from language labs to educational tidbits from the National Zoo.
- ello: ello is a great online resource for Skype ESL teachers, serving up videos, games, news and more.
- FluentU: This innovative web and mobile app will expose your students to authentic English videos with tools to help them actively build their vocabularies.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
FluentU supplements Skype lessons perfectly, providing an entertaining but focused environment for students to apply their lessons—all from their computer or mobile device and on their own schedule.
With FluentU’s integrated curriculum building tools, you can easily assign videos to keep your students’ skills and motivation up between lessons. You can also track student progress straight from the FluentU platform, so you will know which topics or vocabulary sets to hammer in during your virtual classes.
- English Club: English Club has a wide range of ESL activities teachers can use in their Skype lessons. You will find ESL worksheets, activities and lesson plans to guide your students to English proficiency online.
- Armored Penguin: Armored Penguin is a simple site with lots of crosswords, word puzzles and word matches to improve your students’ vocabulary skills.
- Reading Rockets: Reading Rockets serves up a variety of audiobooks you can extend into more than one lesson. This site also has valuable resources for teachers, including fluency and early literacy development.
- The New York Times Learning Network: The New York Times Learning Network brings news into the virtual classroom. There are quizzes, an “article of the day” feature and much more.
Always mix up your resources as well. This will keep things fresh and engaging for your online students. You may find that theming your lessons by days is beneficial. Monday could be dedicated to blog articles (reading and conversation), Tuesday could be videos (listening) and so on.
3. Setting up Your Virtual Workspace
Like any English class, whether online or in the traditional setting, you need to set up a teacher and student workspace. When teaching English via Skype, you need to create a virtual space for students to access class materials and submit work.
The good news is that there are plenty of platforms you can use to ensure you and your students can share notes, homework and resources. A few online platforms include:
- Google Drive: free storage up to 15 GB; very easy to share and edit documents between multiple people
- Dropbox: free storage up to 2 GB; comes with desktop apps and document scanning features
- Trello: free collaborative workspace for organizing/syncing work and keeping track of assignments and due dates
- Amazon Drive: free storage up to a limit, compatible across all major devices
One of the benefits of having an online platform in place is that your students can access materials and resources anytime, anywhere and from a variety of devices.
4. Getting More out of Skype’s Chat Features
Teaching English over Skype involves a lot more than simply hitting the video chat button. You will need to type out vocabulary words, share links for the day’s lesson and send images and videos. You will also want to make notes or corrections as your students speak to enforce proper grammar, word use and pronunciation.
Skype makes this easy with a chat feature that can serve as your virtual whiteboard. You and your students can share text and images, or copy and paste paragraphs that they want to understand better.
You can also use Skype chat to provide student feedback or wrap-up at the end of a lesson. For example, you might send the following points over chat, which your student can easily click back to for reference after the lesson:
- Main topic for that day
- Resources (text, links, images, videos)
- The ESL skills covered
- Notable advances for the student
- Things to improve and how to improve them
- Next lesson topic and date
Skype chat also allows teachers to share screens with their students. For instance, when you and your students are working through a set of online exercises, open a screen share so the student can see your cursor and follow along with you.
Share your screen with your students by first finding the “+” sign on your Skype screen during a call. Click the “+” and scroll to “share screen” to initiate the screen share feature.
It may take a moment before your students see your screen, so ask them to tell you when they can before moving on in the ESL lesson. Screen sharing will certainly keep the lesson on track and moving forward without confusion.
5. Showing Professionalism in an Online Setting
With the technical aspects out of the way, it is time to focus on you, the teacher. One misconception of teaching English via Skype is that you no longer need to look as professional. This train of thought can cost you students. Always remember that students are no longer tethered to just one teacher when it comes to online learning.
Students get to pick and choose their online teachers, and they will often keep the ones who appear the most professional, prepared and put together. You want to dress to impress, but also take your audience into account.
You probably would not want to wear a suit and tie for younger students, nor would you wear a T-shirt for your online ESL business classes. Know when to dress the part, and ensure you are representing professionalism in every class.
Your video background is also important, and a commonly overlooked aspect of online teaching. Students do not want to see your kitchen or a messy bedroom when trying to learn English. They should be focused on one thing during class, and that is you.
Here are a few camera tips for teaching English via Skype:
- Have a white wall behind you
- Ensure there are no photos, mirrors, messes or any other distractions
- Position yourself in the camera like a passport picture
- Make sure the room is well lit
Noise is another distraction to be on the lookout for. If you plan on having your Skype lessons from a coffee shop, you should rethink your strategy. Coffee shops should be reserved for emergencies only. You want your virtual classroom to be quiet and distraction-free. Remember, your voice should be all your students hear.
Always be inviting as well. Some students, regardless of how the class is given, can still be nervous. Smile, enjoy the time with your students and do not bring outside issues into your class. The warmer you are, the more comfortable your students will feel, thus creating an atmosphere conducive to learning.
6. Promoting Your Classes and Getting Students
With all the above secrets in your online teacher toolkit, you can easily implement online teaching into your ESL career. Launching your online classes to the world is, however, easier said than done. There are a few important elements you will need to attract students from every corner of the globe.
One of the best ways to be found when teaching English via Skype is to have an English language blog. You can set up a free blog using WordPress. Once set up, you can begin posting short blogs about how to learn English, offering insightful tips and news about learning English.
After you have a blog, create social media accounts for your blog. If you already have a social following online, you can just link your personal accounts to your blog. However, ensure your social media accounts are “PG.” Remember professionalism! Using social media, you can connect with new and present students to share your fondness and passion for language learning.
Next is to have a pricing sheet in place to make things a little easier. You certainly do not want to have one price for some students and another for other students. They may find each other on your social media accounts and exchange information. Be affordable, but do not sell your ESL teaching skills short.
Do you have to give an introductory class? You bet. Giving one free ESL class has become standard in online teaching. One of the best ways to avoid having free classes take up much of your day is to give free shorter classes. If your normal Skype English class is one hour in length, make your free introductory classes 30 minutes.
You also do not have to go at teaching English online alone. There are a number of online teaching companies looking for qualified ESL teachers.
You can find online ESL teaching jobs at the following sites:
- Indeed Online ESL Teacher Jobs: Indeed is a traditional job search platform that has plenty of teaching job potential as well. A quick search for “Online ESL Teacher” will net over a hundred new opportunities for online teachers.
- Dave’s ESL Cafe: Dave’s ESL Cafe is worth bookmarking if you want to teach English via Skype or teach abroad. You can find an International Job Board, which includes online/remote opportunities.
- TEFL.com: TEFL.com has a very easy-to-use job search platform where you can enter a country, type of position, experience level and a number of other keywords to find the right online job for your ESL teaching future.
Are you ready to teach English via Skype? The benefits are certainly enticing for teachers looking to either take a break from the traditional classroom setting, or earn money while traveling or living abroad.
Enjoy the freedom of teaching anywhere in the world, from the comfort of your home.
Armed with the above six secrets every teacher must know about online teaching, you can expand your horizons and connect with students from all over the world.
Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With nearly a decade of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.