Planning for Your Online English Lessons and Where to Find the Best Resources

If you are new to teaching English online, then you might be wondering how best to plan for your new students.

It’s one of the most common concerns that new teachers have.

This article gives you three tips to plan more effectively and includes links to my favorite resources and lesson plans so that you can go into your lessons with confidence.

Watch the video below or scroll down for the text version:

What Makes Online Teaching Unique

There are two main differences between online lessons and classroom lessons:

  1. The vast majority of online lessons are one-to-one, whereas, classroom lessons have many students
  2. You use platforms such as Skype or to deliver your lessons online

This creates a different dynamic and, in most cases, puts more focus on speaking and listening.

The one-to-one nature of the lesson means that lessons can – and in most cases should – be tailored to each individual student. This is a key point and something that will be touched upon throughout the article.

With those two things in mind, here are my three tips to help you plan for your online English lessons.

Planning Tip #1: Go Lesson-to-Lesson

Get your student and then plan.

Don’t feel like you have to build up a pile of resources before you start marketing your services. In fact, it’s advantageous to work with your new learner when coming up with a curriculum.

Every learner is unique and what works for one student won’t necessarily work for another. We can take this to the extreme: an advanced learner who has a weakness in speaking and is studying for the IELTS exam will need different lessons to a beginner who wants to learn some basic phrases and grammar.

How you decide to teach might limit this disparity. For example, if you only focus on IELTS preparation, then this will limit the scope of resources needed.

Yet, there will still be differences between your students and accordingly, a different class will need to be taught.

This can all be planned out starting with the initial trial lesson/consultation.

This is where you are evaluating the student and asking what he/she would like to get out of his/her lessons. A great question to ask is this: why do you need to learn English and how are you going to use it?

Answers to this question will help you both come up with a tailored plan for the next lesson.

Create lessons based on the English they need to know and work on weaknesses that come up during the first lesson. For example, if the student can’t use the second conditional, introduce this into the next lesson. Find resources that will help you (tip number three) with the teaching of this grammar point.

Go lesson-to-lesson and keep everything specific to your learner.

Planning Tip #2: Know that Most Lessons Involve a Lot of Speaking

As the majority of online lessons are one-to-one, there is more emphasis on speaking.

A typical classroom lesson usually includes group work, listening exercises, reading, and writing where the student often does this in silence. These type of activities aren’t as prominent in online lessons and, when given, are done verbally. Or in the case of writing, outside of lesson time.

From my experience, many learners want one-to-one online lessons so that they can get more speaking practice. They want to have an environment where they can express themselves and receive feedback on mistakes they make.

Having said that, this doesn’t mean that lessons have to only be made up of informal conversations. It’s important to still have a certain structure that makes up your lessons.

Here is how I structure mine:

Planning Tip #3: Use Online Resources or Make Your Own

You don’t want to spend hours and hours planning. Luckily, you don’t have to.

There are three ways to approach this:

  1. Use ready-made resources and lesson plans
  2. Create your own
  3. Plan quickly

After gaining experience online, you’ll be able to plan a lesson within minutes based on an ariticle, news story, or a video. Additionally, you will be able to plan while you’re teaching depending on how the lesson is going feedback from your student. With new students, you’ll be able to recycle past plans without having to review them first.

This is a great place to be in. However…

… if you’re new to teaching, this isn’t possible. Instead, I recommend using lesson plans that others have created and if this is in your plan, start creating your own too.

Here are some ready-made lesson plans that I have found useful in the past:

Off2Class: Lesson plans specific to online lessons with a student portal. Great for structured lessons.

Breaking News English: Numerous activities and conversations based on news topics.

Film English: Plans based on short films.

ITESLJ: All the conversation questions you’ll ever need.

Personally, I’ve never used a textbook with a learner. It doesn’t quite work as you both need the book for legal reasons and it’s much easier to screen share an article or parts of your plan using teaching software. You can even embed videos and have the sound play on both ends.

Creating Your Own Lesson Plans

If you create your own lesson plans, post them on your blog.

This not only helps your current learners review what they have done but also can help you attract new learners.

Share these plans on Facebook and with other teachers. This is how I attracted a lot of new students during my first years. One of my lesson plans got shared by the British Council and thousands of new students and teachers found my blog.

Be sure to include a call-to-action (either a trial lesson or a lead magnet) to capitalize on this new audience.

Including a clip of you teaching the lesson plan will help you build a connection with your new learner. Include one if you can.

Over to You

What tips do you have for planning online lessons and which resources/plans do you use? Leave a comment below sharing your favorites with us.

Thank you for reading!


If so, join the 5-Day Email Marketing Challenge for FREE! Sign up to get the first lesson instantly delivered to your inbox!

email marketing challenge

Rich Kiker Interview

Using Google Products and Apps to Teach Online: An Interview with Rich Kiker

Rich Kiker was one of the presenters at the Teachers Teaching Online MOOC hosted over at WizIQ. I learned a lot watching his presentation, and as the number one voted Google Apps Trainer in the world, I was eager to interview him so he could share his knowledge and experience with us online English teachers.

In the interview I ask Rich about using free Google products and apps as a way to connect and collaborate with our learners. I have used many of these products and know how useful and effective they can be when teaching online.

There’s a lot of value in this interview, and below the video I summarize what we talk about, post some resources, and expand on the ideas.

Here is the video interview:

What We Discussed

We talked about several different Google products and applications during the interview. Let’s start with Hangouts.


We started by discussing how to connect with learners online using Hangouts. I was using Google Hangouts on Air (I wrote about this here) for the interview, and Rich talked about the distinction between Hangouts and Hangouts on Air.

Hangouts on Air are live events where you want to reach a big audience (or to record the interview like I did), while a private Hangout is what you need to teach your one-to-one or group lessons online.

Rich talked about the different features of Hangouts, especially how we can integrate Google Drive.

“What’s beautiful about Hangouts… it also has its own mini app platform. When you’re in a Hangout, on the left of the screen, you can see a range of tools.. you can share Youtube videos, and watch a Youtube video together in theatre view… there are screen sharing apps… I think, for this audience doing online instruction, the most powerful feature is the direct drive integration.”

Here is how to use Google Drive inside of a hangout:


Hangout Google Drive Integration

Google Drive

Rich talks about Google Drive and highlights two big picture features:

1. The anytime, anywhere access. The ability to use a cloud based application and work with students no matter where you are or what device you are using.

“The any time any place access is critical, especially when we have students using mobile devices.”

2. Using Google Drive as a way to collaborate with learners, both live and asynchronously. This is both for written and audio feedback.

“Online… is a better platform for delivering feedback and providing quality assessment to students to have second chance learning, and evaluate writing, and also to give them the opportunity to provide revisions.”

Here is the application that Rich mentioned so that you can leave audio feedback for your learners, and vice-versa: Kaizena. This is something that I’m going to start using with my students.

There are other add-ons that you can find through Google Drive. Here is how to find them:

Add ons Google Drive(1)

Google Plus

I then asked Rich about Google Plus and how an online teacher could use this platform to communicate with learners and attract students. He mentioned a guide from Eric Curts as an easy way to get started: click here to access this.

Rich gives a great tip about to to find those within your niche: search and go into communities that are already active and then…

“… like any other social network, like Twitter or LinkedIn, you gain value by adding value.”

You can build your network by adding people to your circles (like following/friending someone on Facebook). You can ask people to share their favourite circles, and start networking within this community.

Just like any platform, it’s all about becoming familiar with how it works, connecting with others, and adding value. Here is what Google Plus looks like (when searching for communities):

Google Plus Communities


Rich was using a Chromebook for this interview, and said:

“I absolutely would recommend a Chromebook to anyone in an online space.. there’s no anti-virus, it turns on in eight seconds, there’s no versions, it’s always on the latest update and updates don’t cost anything.”

Rich goes onto to say that they are much more powerful than people give them credit for and he actually replaced his thousand dollar computer with a Chromebook..

I found it really interesting when he talked about the difference between local and cloud based applications, and how companies are moving their applications to the web. I feel that getting a Chromebook is a great option for those who want a low cost device as it has everything a teacher needs to teach online.

(Note: A Chromebook is a laptop that uses Chrome OS. Applications such as Skype, iTunes, and Photoshop can’t be used on this device. Any browser or cloud based applications can be used, including: Hangouts for teaching online, Pixlr for editing photos, and Google Drive for spreadsheets and documents.)

The Chromebook that Rich uses is currently available for under $300. Here is more information about this.

Conclusion and Discussion

Although Rich and I only talked about Google products and apps, I think this interview really highlights the progress in tools available to online teachers and learners in general.

Two points really stood out for me: firstly, the fact that applications and work in general is moving from the local space to the cloud, and secondly that collaborating with learners online through the tools mentioned is in many ways more effective than traditional teaching methods.

I would love to know your thoughts on these issues and the other things that we discussed. Also, if you have used any of these tools, then please let us know how you are using them and any tricks and tips that you have. For example, how would you use a tool such as Kaizena?

Leave your comments below.

You can connect with Rich through Twitter and Google Plus: @rkiker and +richkiker.


If so, join the 5-Day Email Marketing Challenge for FREE! Sign up to get the first lesson instantly delivered to your inbox!

email marketing challenge


Are online newspapers a good resource?

Newspapers as a Resource

The Guardian is a popular newspaper resource for online teachers and learners.

I have seen many new English teachers make a beeline straight for the online newspaper when first taking lessons. It seems a great idea at first, right? You choose an article that you think is interesting, send it to the student, they read it before class and out loud during class, then you look at key vocabulary before having a discussion about the topic.

The above lesson plan isn’t very effective for the vast majority of students as the language used is far removed from the student’s desired language use.  Every student that I have taught has said that improving their speaking is their number on priority (non-IELTS students). I always ask the following question before using any resource, “Is the language used in this resource something that my student can use?”

A Passive Activity

When I used newspapers during lessons in the past I always seemed to be telling my student that the vocabulary and phrases that they come across just aren’t that common for everyday use. Do your students want to speak just like a newspaper reads? If not, then you shouldn’t make that type of language the focus of your lesson.

I advise my students to read newspapers as a passive activity; something to be done in their free time. I push them towards interviews as they are great for learning conversational English, but if they are really interested in world affairs then they are better off reading about them in English. And even then I try to send them to more conversational pieces like blog posts and podcasts.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t use news articles at all, I just use them in a different way. And thanks to a great resource from +Sean Banville, my preparation time has been dramatically reduced.

Using newspaper articles effectively

When I realized that the discussed method of using newspapers as a resource was ineffective I started to break down the stories and rewrite them for my students. I also dissected the topics, thought about the key issues, and created warm up activities and discussion topics related to the story. Then I found Breaking News English and realized that is was already there for me.

With a two paragraph simplified version of a particular news story, over 40 activities, and two recordings, this site has made my lesson planning much easier. I especially love the warm up exercises and find them perfect for my students.

Using stories from newspapers should be engaging and fun for your students. Using news stories in this way has improved my lessons and has ensured that my students are learning the type of language that they can use in everyday situations. Opinons are shared and use role-plays as a way of really getting into the different topics. My students are engaged and learn a lot of language that they can use with their English speaking friends.

How do you use newspaper articles in your lessons and what other resources do you use?


If so, join the 5-Day Email Marketing Challenge for FREE! Sign up to get the first lesson instantly delivered to your inbox!

email marketing challenge