Defining, Refining and Choosing Your English Teaching Niche: Two Questions to Ask

This post will greatly help you if you already have a teaching niche idea or if you are stuck trying to find one. Even if you are planning on offering generic English lessons, I’m sure that the following information will help you think about how you are going to offer your lessons, and how you are going to find students.

There are two questions that you definitely should ask before getting started. Doing this will help you define your niche and will go a long way to helping you avoid making the same mistakes that I (and many others) did when starting out.

The most important questions to ask before starting

1. Can and Will They Pay?

You can have the best website in the world, the best teaching methods, and the best promotional campaign, but without students who both have the ability and willingness to pay, you’ve basically got nothing.

This may seem simple, but I’ve seen English teaching websites come and go because this initial question wasn’t asked. One site built its whole brand around the keywords (what you type into a Google search), “English speaking course.” This is a term with over 12,000 searches in Google per month.

At first, this seems like it may seem that this keyword is golden. It is targeted towards English lessons and it has a high search quantity. But, when you delve deeper, from those 12,000, over 10,000 come from India and Pakistan.

This is such valuable information because the vast majority of people from these two countries don’t have the necessary credit/debit card to be able to pay online. In fact, Paypal isn’t available in Pakistan at all. Also, most people who are reading this will want to charge much more than the average person from these two countries can afford.

When answering this question, don’t just focus on the country potential students come from. A student’s ability to pay isn’t just limited to geographical demographics (more on this below).

2. Am I going to enjoy teaching this group?

I won’t include any examples here as I don’t want this discussion to be about stereotypes, but I’m sure that you will all agree that certain students are much more enjoyable than others.

A lot of the time, this isn’t determined by nationality (from my experience anyway). But, there are certain types of students that are highly motivated, dedicated, and don’t cause any problems. And on the other end of the spectrum, there the kind of students who cause a whole variety of problems.

You don’t want to start with a new niche and find out later that you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing. Loving what you do really important in general, but even more so when teaching.

Those are the two questions to ask. Now let’s take a look at finding out exactly how we can define our niche and how we can find better answers.

Defining our niche: how to answer these questions with two more questions

What turns my niche on?

What makes your audience tick? What do they like? What turns them off? Are they motivated? Are they potentially good students? What are their values?

These are are questions related to what is called, “Psychographics.” This is important because you need to know who your audience is before you decide to go ahead with your niche, and when you do decide, you’ll need to know what resonates with them (remember this when you start marketing to your niche).

Knowing the psychographics of your niche will greatly help you know whether you are going to enjoy taking lessons with this niche and whether your student is able and willing to pay.

Who is my niche?

This is less sexy than question two, but equally as important. Demographics will play a large role in deciding our niche. Here are some variables to think about:

  • Age
  • Nationality
  • Current location
  • Job
  • Wage
  • Sex

A note on the last variable: If you are a female teacher, you will find it impossible to get male students in certain countries, and vice versa.

Defining your niche through demographics is especially important when doing the research on whether your niche will be able and willing to pay.

(Re)Choosing Your Niche

If your original idea now seems dead in the water – Good! I hope that I have saved you from going into something that won’t work out in the long term. If this is you, or if you haven’t decided on a niche as yet, then don’t worry, there is something that you can do to help you find the perfect niche for you.

(Note: Look at what you enjoy teaching and what you have experience in first. In most cases you can offer something quite general, but then target specific students within that general category).

Firstly, think about your perfect type of student (psychographics). Next, think about what type of students are willing to pay you what you you want to charge (demographics and psychographics). List the traits, countries, jobs, etc. that define this super student.

Once you have done this, think about how you can best target this person. What type of lessons could you offer this group of students, and how can you word your website so that your message resonates with them?

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Second Conditional Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan #3 – How to Teach The Second Conditional

Teaching the second conditional can be a lot of fun if taught in an engaging way. This lesson plan will involve videos, songs, explanations, and exercises to ensure that your students know how to use the second conditional and when to use it.

Level: Pre – Intermediate + (can also be adapted for lower levels)
Language: The second conditional.
Type: Grammar

Approaching and Introducing the Second Conditional

Please note: I teach one-to-one online and, on the whole, teach grammar when the need naturally arises during a lesson. The following plan is not a rigid one, can be stretched out over several lessons, and is based on how I teach; but, it can be adapted for different teaching situations. Use what you feel is necessary, and adapt and improve on everything here.

Usually, the need to teach the second conditional comes about during conversation, something like this:

Me: So, what did you do yesterday?
Student: I was really busy yesterday.
Me: Are you normally busy?
Student: Yeah.
Me: If you had more free time, how would you spend it?

How I use the following materials and suggestions all depends on how my student deals that question.

If you want to introduce the second conditional specifically (for example, for an exam, or if you know that your student(s) don’t use it properly), you can talk about the lottery and use the first video (see below). Here are a couple of questions that you can ask that lead into the key question:

– “Do you play the lottery?” -> follow up questions.
– “How much money can you win playing the lottery?” -> followup questions.

Have a little conversation about this, and then ask the key question:

“If you won the lottery, what would you buy?”

It is the question that most students are familiar with when it comes to the second conditional, and usually they can answer this one. When they can’t answer this, they usually understand the concept behind it.

If not, go through the different forms used (if + past simple, would | would + if past simple) and that they can be reversible. For example:

– If I won the lottery, I would buy a new car
– I would buy a new car if I won the lottery.

Now it’s time to talk about when it can be used before going into more examples.

When to use it

The next stage is to explain when the second conditional can be used: for imaginary / unreal situations. From the first example, winning the lottery is an unreal situation, therefore, we use the second conditional (with would) to talk about what we would do if that situation were true.

The if clause uses the past simple. At this point, I usually ask my student to complete some sentences, and here are some examples:

– If I had more time, I…
– I would be really happy if…
– If I could travel anywhere in the world, I..

Try and think about more questions that are specific to your students and correct where necessary.

Introduce a video

Now is a great time to introduce a song (or this can be used as a warm up along with the talk about the lottery). The following song by the Barenaked Ladies, fits perfectly with this lesson plan. It’s called, “If I had a Million Dollars.”

After your student has watched the video, go over some of the lyrics. But first, introduce the contracted form used in the song (I’d = I would). A good way to lead into this is to ask your students if they noticed the contracted form, or by asking them to look out for it before the video.

Next ask, “What would the singer of the song buy or do if he had a million dollars?”  There are lots of examples in the video, including: a house, a car (K-Car), a tree-fort (with a fridge), a fur coat (not a real one), an exotic pet (llama or emu), John Merrick’s remains, crazy elephant bones, your love, expensive ketchups, art, and a monkey.

Some good conversations can result from this video.

How it is used for advice and was -> were

After you have gone through the video, put the following into Skype or on the board:

– If I _______ President, I would…

Most make the mistake here of putting in was instead of were. Show your students that was -> were when using the second conditional. This is great to lead into the next use of the second conditional: Using it for advice; here is an example:

– I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

At this stage, I usually explain that this can be used for advice, similar to using should. I then put some problems into Skype and ask my students to answer them starting with, If I were you.. 

Use problems that are specific to your student, but some general ones are relationship problems (“I think my boyfriend is cheating on me.”) or work problems (“I need a pay rise.”) I then go on to explain that in most situations, the if clause (if I were you) is omitted.

Using ‘could’ and ‘might’ instead of ‘would’

I also like to point out that we can use could and might in place of would. To do this, I give my students the following sentences and ask them to explain the difference.

– If I had more time, I could start learning the guitar.
– If I had more time, I would start learning the guitar.

Do the same with other sentences that are specific to the student.

A little practice

This can be done at anytime during the lesson, but it is a good idea to just do a few exercises to make sure that your students understand how to form the second conditional. The following questions can be done in class.

I always ask my students to read out the sentences instead of writing them out. These can also be given for homework. I then try and ask similar questions related to my student after each question.

Comparison with the first conditional

Depending on what you have already taught, or what the student already knows, you can go into the comparison between the first and second conditionals. The best way to do this is firstly show some examples of the first conditional, explaining that this is used for real situations, and then show them the following sentences, asking what makes them different.

– If I won the lottery, I’d buy a car.
– If I win the lottery tonight, I’ll buy a car tomorrow.

In the second sentence, the person has a ticket and is playing the lottery, while in the first example, the person is imagining what it would be like to win the lottery.

Comparisons with the third conditional and wish

Going through the third conditional is perfect after the second conditional. I actually think the best time to introduce this conditional is after reviewing the second conditional in a separate class. (Third Conditional lesson plan to come).

Also, it is really beneficial to introduce the verb wish and how this is related to the second conditional. The following will show this:

– I wish I had more time. If I had more time, I could do so much more.
– I wish we had more money. If we had more money, we could go on vacation this year.
– I wish it wasn’t raining, then we could go to the beach.

Explain how this relates to the 2nd conditional and that we use wish when we want a change of circumstance.

Further videos and homework

For homework, I usually give a couple more videos and set a writing exercise. The first video is an interview with different people asking them what they would buy if they won the lottery, and the second video has lots of songs that use the second conditional:

For homework, you can give the above videos, more exercises, and ask your students to write some sentences using the second conditional and wish.

Problems with pronunciation

A lot of students have problems with pronouncing would and it sometimes sounds like they are saying good. To get around this problem I ask my students to say the following words:

  • Win
  • Wing
  • Wood
  • Would

Usually, the problem isn’t the w sound, but confusion about how would is pronounced. Practice the difference between would and good until your students can say them both clearly.


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Please Share

If you have found this lesson plan useful, then I would be really grateful if you could share it with other teachers. Thanks so much in advance, and please also get in contact if you have any questions or suggestions.


What you should include in your cancellation policy and how to avoid time wasters


Nobody Likes Cancellations

This post is going to look at the tricky area of creating a cancellation policy and ensuring that you are paid for the lessons that you arrange.

At the moment, I have a great set of students who always turn up on time, hardly ever cancel, and when they do, give me lots of advanced notice. In the past, however, I have had students who sounded incredibly enthusiastic about booking lessons, but when it came time to take the lesson, just went missing.

It is incredibly frustrating when you are ready for a lesson and your student doesn’t show. It is even worse when you haven’t been paid beforehand and need to chase them for payment.

Minimizing cancellations and making sure that you are paid for every hour that you arrange makes a big difference to your bottom line at the end of the year. As teachers, we want to fill our schedules, teach those hours, and get paid for them.

This post will go into some of the things that you can do to limit cancellations and time wasters.

Geting the right students

It all starts with getting the right students. This is usually determined by a few key factors, and one of the most important ones is marketing to students that can afford your lessons. It is no use getting a trial lesson and then scaring away the student with your prices. Additionally, it isn’t a good long-term strategy to convert someone if in the long-run, they won’t be able to pay for them. So, always market to students that fit into your pricing structure.

Also, different students have different attitudes to English lessons. Some feel that it is normal to just not turn up without notification and payment. Others will apologize profusely if they turn up to the lesson even just a few minutes late.

The latter category of student type is what we want. It is sometimes difficult to judge which category the student is going to fall into.  Differences between cultures can make a big difference, along with the motivation of the student, and their personality.

The reason why your student wants to learn English can make a difference: having an exam for visa purposes gives the learner much more focus and reason to take lessons. I have definitely noticed that when teaching exam preparation lessons that my students hardly ever cancel and are always on time.

When thinking your niche, you should think about which students are likely to cause you least amount of problems with cancellations.

Setting out and enforcing your cancellation policy

Having a strong and clear cancellation policy is vital. You should go through this policy with your students before you start and make sure they completely understand the different scenarios at play.

So, what is the best policy to have? I have seen some teachers being very lax about no shows, while others will cancel the lesson (no refund) if their student is ten minutes late.

The following is what I have found to be fair for both parties:

  • If the lesson is cancelled with 24 hours (or more) notice, then a full refund is given.
  • If the lesson is cancelled with less than 24 hours notice, no refund is given.
  • If the student doesn’t show for whatever reason, no refund is given.

Having the student understand this policy and that you are strict about it will negate most potential problems. It is much more difficult to try and get strict with students if you have been lax about them canceling in the past.

Rearranging lessons with advanced notice is a tricky area. It is usually fine if your schedule is flexible, but if you are fully booked and don’t have any open slots, you will be less flexible to change lesson times.

You also don’t want your students to get in the habit of rearranging lessons all the time, as when they do, this is usually at a time that you haven’t planned for.

In this case, it is best to take it on a case by case and student by student basis.

Lesson Packages

Getting your student to sign up for five, ten, or twenty lesson packages at a discounted rate greatly reduces the number of cancellations and also does away with those who don’t show and don’t pay.

Having to invest in a number of lessons changes the attitude of the learner as it commits them to you for a period of time. And, if they miss a lesson, they usually don’t complain about it being counted as one of the lessons out of their package.

A package can also be used for problem students. If you are having problems with a particular student (for example, arranging lessons and then canceling often), then let them know that you can only go ahead teaching them if they commit to a time and a package. Otherwise, it is not worth all the problems and wasted energy.

Student-Teacher relationship

One of the most important factors when it comes to your students canceling is the relationship that you have. Having a mutual understanding will definitely make your student think twice about canceling.

Communicating and sticking to your policy clearly, having a strong relationship with the right students, and offering lesson packages, will ensure that your time isn’t wasted and that you get paid for the lessons that you and your students have arranged.

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