Starting Online Lessons With Your New Students: Where to Begin?

Starting Online Lessons_ Where to begin?-2

Your first few online lessons with a new student are crucial. Within a short period of time you will need to establish a number of things which will help to plan your lessons effectively, tailor your lessons accordingly and most importantly achieve expected results, for both your student and yourself. This blog post is for new online tutors and covers essential information you will need to elicit during your first few lessons.

Your Student’s Level

Before planning your lessons, you need to be clear what assessment scale/framework you will need to apply and use for measuring student’s progress. This depends on what your student needs English lessons for, e.g. exam preparation, general English or professional English. Determining a suitable level is also essential for choosing appropriate resources and interaction during your lessons.

Your Student’s Learning Goals

In most cases, students, especially adult learners, can clearly articulate why they want to take English classes. However, your new student may not be fully aware of how long it may take to master a certain skill and what strategies they need to achieve a certain goal. Your role will be to explain and discuss specific goals, steps and then implement a realistic time frame to achieve your students’ goals.

Your Student’s Study Skills

Successful outcomes depend on your student’s ability to absorb, apply and reflect on what they are learning with you. It will take some time to observe and draw conclusions. Another strategy is to ask explicit questions about how your student approaches learning, e.g. dealing with new vocabulary, practicing outside class or what learning strategies the student finds useful.

Your Student’s Learning Style

Online learning/teaching does not present any limits to addressing different learning styles. When you start with a new student, ask questions while you observe your learner. What types of activities suit them better? What do they like doing during your lessons more? What activities do they find effective/ineffective?

Your Student’s Computer Skills

It’s a bad strategy to rely on assumptions that if your students choose to study online, they have adequate skills for the virtual classroom. Instead, think of what computer skills are essential for your student to have for effective online learning: Skype, email, word processing? Basic knowledge of hardware and software will make your life easier as well. If there are gaps in their knowledge or language for online learning, why not plan a couple of lessons to fill in the gaps?

Your Student’s Understanding of Your Policies

Whether you are an independent online teacher/tutor or work for an organisation/company, if you don’t have policies regarding attendance or your policies are vague, it will soon lead to disappointment and frustration. It helps to sit down with a notebook and brainstorm the potential reasons students can have not to attend online lessons. Then think of strategies to address those reasons. Maybe rescheduling is needed or a certain number of lessons per term/semester/month are required to be attended, or offer a packaged deal. You need to discuss your policies with your student openly and assertively. Your livelihood will depend on this.


Teaching online doesn’t mean being available 24/7. Clearly explain and remind your students your availability to answer their emails, check their work or negotiate their lesson day/time. Consider your most convenient way to communicate with students: email, Skype or phone messages or a combination of the above. You set the rules and model your own expectations. It’s a good idea to include your availability time in your email signature or record your message on Skype.


Having a resource your student can buy and use for their studies has certain advantages: their learning will be structured, organised and well sequenced. That’s what less experience teachers should choose. However, your teaching will be much more effective if you develop an ability to customise your course/lessons depending on your student’s needs and expectations.


It’s understandable that adult students lead busy lives; however, the success of your teaching will heavily depend on how much they practise outside your class. It is important to start a dialogue with your student about the role and importance of homework. It doesn’t always mean doing exercises from the books you are using. Instead, offer your student more hands-on types of activities, such as online scavenger hunts, keeping a diary/blog or regular listening practice of news online.

Language for Instruction

Your lessons will run smoothly if your students can understand and follow you easily. If your student is new to online instruction, teach them the basic language when learning on the computer.

Your Student’s Understanding of Metalanguage

Teaching grammar will be less challenging for your student if you start with terms to help him/her grasp grammar material: parts of speech/sentence/tenses, etc. All grammar books use them and your student will be well prepared to understand them clearly.

If you have been teaching online for quite some time, what are your tips for new teachers?


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