Online teaching is a recent and promising medium of instruction that has created promising teaching opportunities for educators and learners, however, equally new ideas and new approaches are needed to make best use of this medium.
Here are ten techniques I now use in my online teaching. These are aimed at western teachers who teach school aged Chinese students, however, they can be applied in varying extent to different students and different ages.
One. Chat at the beginning of the lesson
Before you dive into the lesson spend one to two minutes talking to your student about her or his day, and yours—the idle chitchat that people do. Discuss the weather, school, and friends.
For regular students keep track of what your student tells you, don’t forget any essentials (see point seven below). A month later, if you can refer back to the time your student lost her kite in the tree, you will make a long-standing favourable impression.
This practice is good with older students, and I believe essential with younger students. A few minutes of conversation will put a smile on their face, humanise you in their eyes (a distant foreigner looking out of their computer screen), and make the learning more relaxed.
Your online school will give you a lesson, but treat this as a guide. By this I am not advising you to ignore the lesson, but consider the lesson the starting point of your teaching, not the end. Your aim is to educate, which means you must adapt to your student—a student focused lesson. So, when needed, don’t hesitate to divert from the strict time and pages of your provided lesson.
For example, if you student is interested in one aspect of the lesson follow that interest to its conclusion, or if you student struggles with one section of the lesson spend time revising. In a more extreme case, if you find your student unresponsive, maybe having a bad day, abandon the lesson and go for free-talk.
Three. Invite your student to ask you questions
At the beginning of the lesson, and once or twice during the lesson, tell you student that you want to hear his or her questions. This may seem obvious but students, specially younger students, are often shy with foreign teachers. So, tell your students that you want to know their questions, and when they do ask, be genuinely interested and helpful.
Four. Type important words and phrases from the lesson
New words, important words, significant phrases—anything your student should remember—type into your communication app. Typing signifies the importance of the word and it gives the student a visual cue. Encourage the student to type the word back to you: “Can you type that?”
Don’t overdue this, aim for three to four words each lesson. This is enough to encourage, but not enough to overwhelm.
Five. Ask your student to tell you a word in her language
Bonding. For the entire lesson you are teaching, telling the student something. No matter how interactive your lesson is, no matter how good a teacher you are, no matter how great the student, this becomes a little aggravating. No one likes to be repeatedly told what to do. So, during the lesson when an interesting word appears, ask your student to give you that word in their language.
Then, repeat the word. You will undoubtedly mispronounce. Your mumblings will undoubtedly cause your student to smile, maybe laugh. Ask him to repeat, and try again. This also gives you a better idea of what it is like to learn new vocabulary.
Six. Remember mistakes and revise at the end of the class
By this I mean make a written note of your student’s mistakes during the lesson. These mistakes can be in pronunciation, grammar, or syntax. Make a note and schedule a minute or two at the end of the lesson to discuss these errors.
Write the words and phrases into your communication app, ask your student to repeat the text, give them feedback, and speak the word yourself.
Be positive about this: “There are three words we can do a little work on”, “Lets check these words”. After they repeat the words correctly inform them that they have improved and are doing well.
This act reinforces learning and shows the student that you are paying.
Seven. Keep notes on your regular students
A good teacher quickly accumulates regular students, and regular students are needed for a good teaching practice. Therefore, right from the start, keep effective notes about your students—specifically your regulars.
This information falls into two categories. The first is their English proficiency, their strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Second, their background and general interests.
Make your notes immediately after class, when you recollection is freshest. Even jot down points during the lesson, summarise at the conclusion.
Your means of recording is what works best for you, however, I use Evernote. Works well.
Eight. Revision and homework
Give your students revision (don’t call it homework). This is usually not part of the package, however, revision is an essential part of learning. Let me be clear, not homework, but revision. Not new work, but a revision of what was covered in class. Ask your students to read through the lesson one more time, and then write new words and phrases into their “English Book”. This should take only a few minutes and will reinforce the learning carried out in the lesson. This will also reinforce your worth as a teacher to the student and their parents.
Let me stress the importance of writing. Humans, if we write new knowledge onto paper we will remember what we write. If we just repeat it a few times, we will not. Thus, have your students in each lesson write three or four new words into their English book. If they don’t have an English book ask them to use any paper to hand, and encourage them to acquire an English book. Your aim is to encourage your student to automatically write new words and phrases as soon as they are encountered.
Writing serves several purposes. It improves memorisation, it is a valuable skill in itself, and it focuses the student’s immediate attention on their work.
Nine. Name. Say the students name, repeatedly
Repeating a student’s name reinforces their self-worth, and keeps their attention focused. At the start of the lesson use your student’s name, during the lesson address the student directly by his name, and at the end of the lesson thank the student for her or his work, by name.
Ten. Curtesy, treat your youngest student as an adult
Manners, curtesy, respect, show these qualities to your student. Use please and thank you. Treating your student with curtesy will encourage them to act in the same manner and to give your curtesy and respect in return.