Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Wondering about how you can move your English tutoring sessions online? Toby shares his tips and tricks to help tutors keep their lessons running smoothly.
The first thing to say about online English tutoring is that essentially it doesn't have to be very different from tutoring in person. In fact, it shouldn't be. After all, unless your lesson plans typically involve reciting poetry while running around a park, or high-fiving your student every time they give a good answer, it is unlikely that you do anything that can't be replicated over Skype or a similar platform.
The fundamentals of an English lesson (communication between tutor and student, reading out loud, silent reading, and writing tasks) are all things that can be conducted over the internet just as happily as between two people in the same room. And yet, many people believe that it's not quite the same thing. There is the feeling that somehow the same experience can't be achieved. So here are a list of do's and don'ts that should help to prove the doubters wrong about online tuition!
✔ Check the tech
Make sure you have a good, reliable internet connection and that your device is fully charged before you start. Always try to test your connection with a brief video call to a friend before the lesson. The only way that online lessons can be greatly inferior to face to face lessons is if the technology goes wrong. There are always things you can't account for, but the simple steps suggested here should help to avoid most common problems.
I would always recommend using a pair of headphones. This should give you better audio quality, and it means that the student won't hear the sound of their own voice, which can be an unhelpful distraction. An added bonus is that you are less likely to annoy flatmates or family members quarantined in the next room!
✔ Track changes
Familiarise yourself with the track changes feature of Microsoft Word or Google Docs. I actually find these an improvement on conventional handwritten annotations on a student's work. The onscreen edits and comments are easier for students to read and keep a neat history of the essay through different drafts.
✔ Make the most of it
Exploit the medium! As you've got them staring at a screen anyway, you may as well use it to your advantage. Teaching Shakespeare online, for instance, I find YouTube an invaluable resource when I want to show a student how a particular speech or scene might work in performance.
✘ Expect the student to squint
I would strongly advise you never to try to hold up a book or a piece of writing to the camera for the student to read. I promise you, it's a nightmare. You'll be much better off sending your student anything you want them to read via email before the lesson. If there is an image you want to show them, just take a photograph and send the jpeg. Trust me, the old wiggling the paper in front of the camera technique—is that better?, how about now? —never, ever, works.
✘ Talk too much
Try not to spend too much time monologuing. This is always good advice for a tutor but is especially relevant when teaching over the internet, when it is that little bit harder to judge if you've lost a student's attention. Do not rely on your ability to judge their concentration from the darting of their eyes! Instead, make sure you ask questions throughout to keep them engaged.
✘ Take the tech for granted
Lastly, don't expect that the technology will definitely work one hundred percent of the time. Think how you can have a backup plan if you lose your connection, or if a video or image won't load. With an older student this might be a case of setting work to be done in the student's own time, and then to mark it and get back to them later, perhaps discussing your comments over the phone. Whatever you end up doing, as long as you make it clear you prepared for a technology failure, and you can keep your cool, you won't lose the student's confidence and you won't end up wasting time.
Good luck to anyone beginning online tutoring for the first time, particularly if you're volunteering for our free tutoring for NHS workers' children scheme. Stay safe, and wash your hands!
Blog Post Crafted by Toby
Toby is in charge of recruitment of new tutors. He conducts interviews with prospective tutors and assesses their lessons to get a feel for whether they have the teaching style we're looking for.