Google Hangouts Post Artwork Featured

Using Google Hangouts on Air for Teaching English

Google Hangouts Post ArtworkI had my first experience using Google Hangouts on Air this week. I’m happy to say that it was successful both in terms of the presentation I gave and the technical side of things. I did A LOT of research and testing to ensure that everything went smoothly.

There are a lot of ways that you can mess things up as it’s not as intuitive as you would think. But, once you have done it once, you will be able to get things set up in minutes.

I’ve written this post to tell you about my experience, and also to give you step-by-step instructions so that you can do it too.

What is a Google Hangout on Air?

A Google Hangout on Air (HOA) lets you stream a video live on Youtube to an unlimited amount of people. Basically, it allows you to host your own webinar. It also records the live video and adds it to your Youtube channel.

It was perfect for what I wanted to do this week: host a free lesson/presentation on my website as a way to introduce a new course that I’m going to teach in April.

Google Hangouts on Air is free, easy to use once you know what to do, and allows you to embed the live video on your site. Here is what I did to get around 140 people watching my presentation live on my website.

Get learners to sign up

I created a squeeze page (a page where people can enter their email addresses to sign up) on my website. This is what it looked like:

Webinar Squeeze Page

When someone entered their details, they were automatically subscribed to my mailing list, and then received an automatic message about the lesson. Increasing my mailing list is a big goal of mine, so having people opt-in was really important. It also gave me the ability to remind everyone about the free lesson before it went live, and to send the recording of the lesson to those who missed it.

In total, I had over 1,000 people visit this page, and out of those, over 350 people signed up to the webinar. I’m going to look at ways to increase this conversion rate in the future.

Setting up the event

You need to have a Google Plus profile and a Youtube channel to be able to host a HOA. Setting both of those up is pretty easy to do, and if you need help with this stage, a quick Google search will give you what you need.

You also need to link your channel to your Google+ profile to host a HOA. Think about whether you want to host the hangout from your personal profile or a page that you manage. I hosted mine from my JDA English page.

Create a Hangout on Air, not a Hangout

This is probably the most confusing part. A lot of people have made this mistake (I nearly did too). Don’t create an event, but instead do the following:

Create a Hangout

Select the option below from the main menu on your Google Plus account.

Hanogut Screenshot

Click “Start a Hangout on Air

HAO Screenshot

Then you’ll see this

HAO Form

This is where you enter the details of your hangout. As you can see, there is the option to start it now or later. During my research I read that you couldn’t schedule a HOA for a later date; I guess this is a feature that they’ve just added. However, I decided to get everything set up an hour before my presentation so I selected “Now.”

The reason why you shouldn’t create an event (and choose the hangout option) is because there is a difference between a regular Hangout (where you can chat live with up to nine other people – perfect for one-to-one lessons and group lessons) and a HAO (where anyone with the link can watch your event live – for presentations and big live lessons).

When setting it up, I only shared it with myself (I didn’t make it public). This gave me time to get everything ready. Once you fill in the details of your HAO, you will see this screen.

The Event Page

HAO Event Screen

Your live event will be streamed on this page, on your Youtube channel, and you can also embed the video on your site. I didn’t make the event public because I wanted people watching on my website. More on this later.

You can add a trailer for the event, and there is also the option for people to ask you questions. See the blue start button in the bottom left hand corner? Click this to open up the hangout on air control room (this won’t automatically start the hangout).

The HAO Control Room

Once you click the blue start button, it will ask you if you would like to invite others (I skipped this step), and then you’ll see your lovely face staring back at you. What I did next was mute my microphone and turn off the camera. Here is what you’ll see:

Control Room

There is a big green button at the bottom; don’t click this until you’re ready to start your broadcast. I got to this stage about an hour before the lesson so that I had time to embed the video on my site.

Embed the stream on your site

You can do this before you start. All you need to do is to click “Links” in the bottom right hand corner and grab the code. I modified it a little by making the video a little bigger.

Check settings

As I use an external mic, I went into the settings to select the right one. Make sure that your webcam (if you’re going to show your face) is working correctly.

Screen share

I decided to do a presentation for my live event, and I created this in Google Drive. When creating your presentation, make sure that you use widescreen, and open up the presentation in a new window. Choose this screen to share. You can open up your teaching notes as these won’t be shown on the video. I more or less wrote my entire script in the teaching notes.

Start Broadcast

Once you have everything ready, start your broadcast. I did this about 15 minutes before the time of presentation without turning my microphone on. I wanted to make sure that it was working properly, and got feedback from those who came early.

When it was time to start the presentation, I turned my microphone on, asked for feedback to ensure that everyone could see and hear the video properly, and then began.

Live Chat on the Page

If you decide to have people come to your live event on Google Plus or Youtube, there is the option to leave comments. But, I wanted something a little more interactive. So, I embedded next to the video on my website.

I came to the event about 30 minutes early to chat with others and to build the excitement.

Recording the event

Your HOA will be automatically recorded for you and uploaded to your Youtube page. The video will be unlisted, but you can make it public or private if you wish. Additionally, you don’t need a new embed code; it’s the same video link as the live video.

Because I went live before I started the presentation, I cut the video using the editor in Youtube so that it starts right when I start talking. I then sent out the link of the recording to everyone who signed up.

Going Forward and a Question for You

The whole experience was amazing, and I have to admit that I got a big buzz from doing a live online event. I’m glad that I tested it out first, but if you are going to run a test, I recommend setting up a test page and Youtube channel. One of my students told me that he was browsing through Youtube when he saw that my channel was live, and decided to watch my test. He only caught the end, and luckily missed the part where I was moaning at my wife because she wasn’t paying attention to the test stream!

I’m definitely going to do more of these live events and have other ideas for both this site and my teaching site. I want to do more lessons, live interviews, product launches, and spontaneous hangouts.

I’m also going to test making the hangout public on Google Plus (the step I skipped) as I’m sure that a lot of people would have signed up to this and shared my event. But, you do lose the ability to sign people up to your list.

I now have a question for you:

Are you thinking about using Google Hangouts on Air for your students? If so, what ideas do you have?

Leave your comments below. If you would like more information about setting up a squeeze page, marketing your live event, and setting up an email list, then send me a message.


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Online Teaching Projects

What I Achieved in 2013, Projects in 2014, the Baby Effect, and Bill Gates

Online Teaching ProjectsFirst of all, Happy (belated) New Year to all my wonderful readers!

I receive many emails from fellow teachers each day, and love hearing about your situation, what you want to achieve, and your successes. Keep the emails coming!

2013 was a great year for me. On a personal note, our son Thomas was born in August and having him has brought us so much joy. Things have obviously changed a lot since then, but as you’ll see later in the post, having a baby around the house can actually improve productivity!

The best decision I made professionally was to focus on making and cultivating relationships; I have made some great connections with other online teachers which has led to some really incredible opportunities and new learning experiences.

Here is a summary of what I have achieved and learned in 2013.

I improved the lessons that I gave:  I always talk about how going freelance gives you the ability to experiment and grow as a teacher. Well, I took my own advice and added some new features, experimented with different techniques, and made my lessons even more specific to each learner.

I now give my students personalized audio every week that focuses on them getting past their common mistakes. I recommend that they listen a couple of times a day, every day. My students love it, and it means that they can hear my lovely voice wherever they go!

I started making videos on Youtube: I now have five videos on Youtube and the response so far has been really positive. I love making the videos (although it does take a lot of time and can be frustrating, especially when you forget to record the audio!) as I can throw all my creative energy into each one.

It has definitely given me more exposure and I have had many lesson requests from leaners who found me on Youtube. I have also noticed that my videos are shared much more than my blog posts.

I got serious with email: I started a free email course that received nearly 500 subscribers. Most came from a guest post that I wrote for Vocabla. I created an automated email course that subscribers received each day for 30 days. I tried to make it as informative and inspiring as possible, giving away a lot of value (marketing speak) and responding to each email that I received.

I have now made it about 20 emails over 30 days as I got some feedback saying that an email a day (which included action to be taken) was too much. As I gave out some really great information and responded to each email, I feel that I have a lot of dedicated followers. When I now email my list with new posts or videos, I get a lot of feedback and shares.

I have also received a lot of lesson requests from this list. The soft-sell approach has worked really well in this case.

I started this blog!: Starting this blog has not only allowed me to teach online, but to help me get my thoughts on marketing and teaching organized. Writing has been wonderful for me in general. I try to write a little each day whether it be a new post here, on my teaching site, or writing other materials and plans.

I made some really great connections: Connecting with other teachers has been incredible. I started this whole online thing with a lone wolf mindset, and thought that other teachers were competitors (keep away from MY students!). But, connecting with others has brought me into a whole new connected world. As I mentioned, this has brought new opportunities (such as being part of a wonderful MOOC on Wiz IQ).

To use social networks, you have to be social: I used to just copy and paste my links into Facebook groups, on Twitter, and Google Plus. But, to really get a lot out of these networks you have to adapt your message, ask questions, and interact.

I also try to make my artwork standout instead of just using a simple picture (or no picture at all). Visuals are becoming so much more important now due to the vast amount of posts that people see each day.

My son has made me more productive: Having a baby and stay-at-home wife around the house has forced me to change my working habits. I get up A LOT earlier than I used to (I got up at 5am this morning), take care of the morning type stuff, and then get to work. I have about three hours in the morning to do my non-teaching work, with an hour break changing/playing with/looking after Thomas the baby. I then usually teach from 11am to 4pm, and after that it’s family time again. I get a an hour or so at about 8pm to read a few things and do a bit of this and a bit of that.

Before Thomas came into our lives, I was nowhere near as focused. Having a baby not only makes you more productive (by having less time to work on things, I get them done instead of procrastinating), but it also has given me a big boost of motivation to move my business onto the next level instead of just coasting.

Which helps us move on to the next section: 2014!

What Will 2014 Bring?

I have a lot of projects planned for 2014, all of which are focused on finding different types of income instead of just one-to-one teaching.

I love my one-to-one lessons and I have learned so much about the problems that students have through these lessons. I now feel that I have enough knowledge to branch out and enter the world of podcasting, group courses, and other products.

Podcasting: I have the microphone, the recording software, and, as I’ve been told, the voice to make it big in the world of podcasting! I also have a very willing and American sounding wife who will bring an entertaining dynamic to our new shows.

We want to create a fun show for intermediate speakers and up that is based on conversational English. The inspiration has come from many other podcasts, but mostly from Notes in Spanish (If you’re learning Spanish, I highly recommend this podcast). I received an email from them the other day that said that they have had over ten million downloads. TEN MILLION! It blew me away. If we can get just one percent of that in the first year, and a certain percent of those buy our product, then, well.. let’s not get carried away. Instead, I’m looking at it as an adventure and it’s going to be a lot of fun!

More videos: I love making videos and I’m going to experiment with different ways to approach this. For example, I want to make more videos that help learners take charge of their learning. I also received a request from a student to introduce more vocabulary. So, there is a lot to be explored.

I don’t currently monetize my videos on Youtube, but I may look at doing this in the future. At the moment, I use it to drive people to my email list and as a way to better connect with English learners.

More email focus: I’m going to make my email list a priority again this year. 2013 was when I truefully understood how important it is to have people subscribed to your email list. I’m going to offer more freebies and specifically target areas that are included in my niche.

I also redesigned my site so that users know the one action that I want them to take: to sign up. My design before had buttons everywhere and this led to confusion. My sign up rates have doubled as a result of this change.

More niche focus: Niche, niche, niche.. I think this is the most used word on this blog. But, it’s so important, and I’ve found myself falling into an even more targeted niche over the past 12 months: a language coach. I love language learning in general, and I’m also interested in the personal development world, so a lot of what I enjoy writing about now is how English learners can improve through self-study.

I’m also staying with my exam preparation lessons as as preparing students for exams makes the lessons more focused and it naturally has an end point. In a lot of cases, it also makes a huge difference to the lives of my students. Seeing pictures of my formerly frozen Russian students sunbathing in Australia also gives me the sense that I’m doing something worthwhile!

Group lessons and MOOCS: I’m currently putting together a group course that focuses on the change of mindset that is needed for learners to make progress and how learners can do this on their own (with a little help of a certain teacher through online lessons 😉 ).

Doing courses such as these will help me scale my income and will ultimately mean that I can teach less hours.

Continue this blog: .. and complete my guide. I have the first draft more or lesson finished, but there is still a lot to do. I want it to offer A HUGE amount of value (marketing speak again). I’m not putting a date on it, but if I had to guess… no, I’m not even going to give an estimate.

There’s a lot there. Enough to make me want to curl up into a ball and watch reruns of Friends all day. But, let’s bring in Bill Gates to help me get my focus back:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

I’m going to change ten years to one yearand voila, I feel much better. In fact, if I look back to what I achieved in 2013, the majority was done in the second half of the year (after Thomas was born), and was all due to a change of mindset.

The three hour window that I have each day to do my creative work and marketing doesn’t seem that much. But, over a year, I can get a lot done. So, instead of feeling overwhelmed with my projects and then doing nothing, I just focus on what I can do right now to keep myself going in the right direction, and try to enjoy the process as much as possible.

And, if you are starting to think that this focus can be applied to learning languages and that I’m going to include this advice in my self-study course, then you are most certainly correct!


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Online Learning and Group Lessons (Guest Vlog by Jason R Levine)

Today we welcome our second guest poster to the blog: Jason R Levine.

Jason and I have been collaborating on a few things recently, and I really wanted him to share his knowledge of online teaching here at TeachingESLOnline. So, below you’ll find a video that he kindly put together that gives some great advice for us online teachers.

A lot of you may already know about Jase (Fluency MC), especially if you connect with other teachers on social media. He is probably the most prolific poster I know, and his ESL raps and songs have had millions of views on Youtube. He has recently become an ambassador for Wiz IQ where he trains English language teachers.

In the video he talks about his transition to online teaching, why it is important to make real connections, the future of online learning and teaching, and much more.

More specifically, you’ll learn about:

– What he first thought about teaching online and why he now loves it.
– Why we should pay attention to how people are learning in social media spaces and how to take this to the next level.
– His first MOOC and what he learned from it.
– How to get started teaching online and the mind frame needed.
– Why it’s important to make real relationships and be open to people’s needs and interests.
– The difference between one-on-one and group lessons.
– The future of online language learning.

The Video

As I’m currently looking to build on what I already do by offering more than just one-to-one lessons, I took a lot from this.

One thing that really stands out for me is the point Jase made about building real relationships and learning from your students (see my last post on connections about my thoughts on this).

I see my current students as the ones that are dictating what is going to be included in my future courses. This is because as I learn more about those in my niche, I can better shape my courses to meet their needs.

I would love to know your thoughts on what Jason discusses, so whatever you have on your mind, leave us a comment below.

More About Jason

Jason R Levine (Jase, for short) has fifteen years of experience in ELT as a teacher, teacher trainer, and materials writer. He is the creator of ColloLearn, an approach to English language learning based on the songs he writes and performs as Fluency MC.

Online, Jase maintains the ColloLearn YouTube channel and the Fluency MC Facebook page.


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Why Connecting With Others Brings You More Students and Makes You a Better Teacher

One piece of advice that I give to teachers starting out in this online world of teaching is to create true connections with English learners, students, and fellow teachers.

My approach to reaching out and connecting with others online has changed dramatically over the past couple of years, and it’s only recently that I have truly come to realize why this is so important when doing what we do.

However, things were much different when I first started out.

When I created my website and started teaching online back in 2008/9, I felt that there were only just a handful of people doing something similar. I did a little research into my “competitors,” and I had a sudden rush of panic when I found a website that was trying to achieve something similar to me.

I came across sites that had better marketing plans and designs, and I mistakingly thought that there was only a certain amount of room for creative teachers who wanted to move their make their mark online.

It took me a long time to reach out to my fellow onliners, and for many years, I remained isolated.

In addition to being disconnected from my fellow teachers, I didn’t put enough effort into setting up my site in way that visitors could connect with me. I was very apprehensive about putting information about myself on my site and on other platforms. This meant that I wasn’t giving English learners the ability to make that important initial connection.

But, after receiving a lot of referrals a couple of years ago, my confidence as a teacher started to grow, and this is when my mentality changed. I started seeing the wonderful things that resulted from making meaningful connections, and I went from being a lone ranger to someone who felt supported by like-minded people.

If you are involved or want to be involved in online teaching, read on to learn how connecting with others will help you find more students, improve your teaching, and make you feel part of a greater collaborative community.

Why and How to Connect With English Learners and Students

On Your Website

Your website is a place where your potential students come to find out more about you and your lessons. When visiting new teaching websites, I far too often see a message that is impersonal and one that makes no attempt to resonate with the English learners who visit the site. I see the same mistakes that I made being played out over again.

Instead of going through the problems, desires, and solutions, many sites focus on features and facts. In addition, sometimes there is no face or name to be found anywhere.

But, as I have learned, students want to connect personally with their potential teachers before signing up. They want to know that there is a real person behind the information who is dedicated to and effective in what they do.

To ensure a high conversion rate you must make connecting with your learners a priority. This can be achieved by including information about who you are and by injecting your personality into what your write. Include pictures, and if want to take that extra step, videos.

It might be hard for some of you to take this step (like it was for me), but it is such a vital part in you becoming a successful online teacher.


Once you have worked out your message and feel confident about putting yourself out there, the next step is to connect with English learners on different platforms.

Don’t just post things with links back to your site, but instead think about ways that you can connect in meaningful way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend hours communicating with English learners on forums, as sometimes just showing that you are care about what you do is enough.

To highlight this, I want to share a little experiment that I did this week on Facebook.

I looked at the new likes that I had one of my Facebook pages and added those in my target martet as friends. Around 40% accepted my request, and those that did received a little message from me. This message was very basic and just thanked them for liking my page and asked them a quick question about their learning.

From the ten people that I contacted, two messaged me back asking for a trial lesson.

What I found interesting about this is that they had both known that I offered lessons before I sent the message. But, the friend request and message most likely made them feel connected to me and gave them the nudge they needed to take the initial step.

This is just one small example of why I believe it is important it is to ensure that you are connecting with learners in your niche, and I’ll be experimenting with other methods in the coming weeks.

Your Current Students

One of the things that excites me most about teaching one-to-one online is that you become much more than just an English teacher. In my case, I am also a friend to my students, a mentor, a motivator, and a language coach. There are also days when I feel that I am a life coach!

To be able to be all of the above to online English learners from around the world is what I love most about my job. The connections that I make aren’t just important in terms of the relationships that we share, but also an integral part of ensuring that my students make the progress that they desire.

This connection can’t be made with every student, and that is why I suggest choosing a niche that has they types of English learners that you enjoy working with.

In addition, I also strive to help my learners make a connection with the English language. When I start working with a new student, I go through the process of finding the resources they need to make English relevant to them and give the information and motivation they require to immerse themselves in the language.

Finding the music, television shows, podcasts, articles, and other resources that are relevant to your student, and introducing these materials into your lessons, is the key to your learners fully connecting with the language, which in turn resuls in a burst of motivation and progress.

Why You Should Connect With Other Teachers

Through this blog I’ve been able to make some great relationships with other online teachers and with those who want to move their teaching online.

As mentioned in the introduction, I was very hesitant about doing this for the first couple of years; I guess it came down to me thinking that it would be exciting to do everything on my own.

But I’ve learned that connecting and collaborating with other teachers is just so much more rewarding and has helped me grow as a teacher. I feel incredibly excited about what working with others in the same industry is going to bring over the next months and years. This change of mentality was the driving force behind the creation of this blog and my renewed motivation for creating something that really matters.

I have learned so much from connecting with my fellow teachers, and I have come across so many great resources that have improved my lessons.

But, there is much more to it than that. These connections also make me feel that I am part of something bigger. Speaking with other teachers who share my passion for online teaching, and ELT in general, gives me the extra motivation to continue what I’m doing and to keep growing as a teacher.

Over to You

I would love for you to share your ideas in the comment section below about how you currently connect with English learners. Speaking of sharing, if you have enjoyed this post, I would be so grateful if you could share it with others.

And finally, I love hearing from my fellow teachers. So, don’t hesitate to get in touch and connect with me.


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Falling into ELT and cultivating my passion


Here I am in Argentina at the stadium of Boca Juniors in 2007. Football (soccer) was my passion for a long time.


As I mentioned in my post about becoming an independent teacher, I encourage my students to shape our lessons and choose topics and articles that are relevant and interesting to them.

One student this week chose an article that talked about the following advice – “Follow your passion!” The author had a rather negative view of this commonly given piece of advice and argued that passion is cultivated rather than something that is innate – (“FOLLOW YOUR PASSION’ IS CRAPPY ADVICE.“)

This led to a great in-class discussion and got me thinking about how I got into what I do now: ELT and web design & marketing. I am very passionate about both fields and love what I do.

But, six years ago, I had absolutely no interest in either. I had created a couple of free sites but found it unrewarding. As for teaching, I had no experience of this and expected to get back into marketing after completing my travels. If I had followed my passion back in 2007, I would have become a professional footballer (soccer player). The Premier League’s loss is my students’ and clients’ gain.

I started teaching more out of necessity (easy to find work; could live abroad with my American girlfriend) rather than anything else. I had considered it once or twice as a profession but kind of fell into it without really knowing what it was about. And, I also fell into web design because I created my website for my new teaching business and started to build websites for friends.

I had certain skills that I could transfer over to these two new worlds, and I am a perfectionist so I made sure that I got both right. But, I didn’t go into teaching and web design because I was following my passion; this came later. And what Cal Newport describes as cultivating a passion really resonates with my outlook on my two professions:

“…It requires you to approach your work like a craftsman. Honing your ability, and then leveraging your value, once good, to shape your working life toward the type of lifestyle that resonates with you”.

I love thinking about myself as a craftsman, always improving, always following my own path. He goes on to differentiate between excitement and true passion:

“The sensation of excitement about a particular idea is often a different sensation than the type of deep passion that drives people into a fulfilling career. Excitement comes and goes. True passion arises after you’ve put in the long hours to really become a craftsman in your field and can then leverage this value to really have an impact, to gain autonomy and respect, to control your occupational destiny.”.

Have you followed your passion into ELT? Or has it been cultivated through becoming an ELT craftsman?


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Follow Your Own Path

Going alone – Becoming an independent ESL teacher and following your own path

Follow Your Own Path

Asturias, Spain. Following your own teaching and business path leads to wonderful things.

“We make the world we live in and shape our own environment.” Orison Swett Marden

You know the story: Man/woman is fed up with the rat race and his/her terrible boss, escapes his/her 9-5 hell and ends up becoming their own boss and making lots of money.

Sorry to disappoint those looking for a similar story here, but that isn’t exactly how I ended up with my own language school and becoming an independent ESL/EFL teacher. My 9-5 hell could be better summarized as an enjoyable time teaching students in Spain with differing degrees of independence, depending on which company I was working for at the time. My terrible bosses weren’t too bad (especially compared to some of my friends’ bosses), and, well, let’s leave how much I make out of it for the moment (let’s just say that I earn more now than I did back then).

I used to work for different institutes in Spain, teaching English to children, teenagers, adults, and businesspeople. On the whole I enjoyed the experience and liked the people that I worked for. There were certain things (some really important things) that I didn’t enjoy doing or agree with, and I realized that the more people there are above you, the less you can shape your own path.

But now, I am the one who makes the decisions and I am free to shape my lessons as I see best. Because of this I have grown into a much more effective teacher and have created a working environment that I love.

Following your own teaching path

Being able to shape your own methods as a teacher is an incredible thing. I’ve been able to grow and learn so much over the past few years.

Here are some of the methods and strategies that I use (note: this is for general English lessons and not exam preparation):

One-to-one specific lessons – I teach individual lessons (not a limitation that I’ll always stick to) and make the classes as specific to each student as possible. I work on their weaknesses and stick to topics that are relevant to them. It’s also good not to worry about discussing slang and strong language when it is suitable for certain students.

Organic lessons – I have a general plan and certain things that I want to cover for each student, but I go into each lesson with an open mind and let the lesson take its own course. I also encourage my students to take control of their learning and shape their own lessons.

Conversational English – I focus on conversational English and get my students using their English. Examples of grammar are done with a focus on real English conversation and role plays. I also love introducing real, engaging, and relevant materials before, during, and after the lesson.

Repetition – I repeat things that we have learned in the past by using different conversations and resources.

Language coach – I’m a language coach and not just a teacher of English. I motivate, inspire, and guide my students on their own learning path, recommending self-learning methods that produce real progress.

The above is the basic outline of what my student can expect when taking lessons with me. The feedback that I receive from my students is that they feel that they are making real progress, and I have seen this progress first-hand.

I will go into more depth about my methods in later posts, but for now I want to highlight that setting up my own school and becoming a freelance tutor has allowed me to fully incorporate methods that I have found to be the most effective. My students see real results and that is the value of what I give them.

This wouldn’t have been possible if I was still working for someone else.

Following your own business path

Here are some of the features of my online teaching business:

The best students – I only teach students that fit my teaching criteria. I’ve picked (or fallen into) a couple of really great niches. Being able to target any type of student in the world has HUGE implications for online freelancers.

I work at home – This is really important for me and something that I love doing. Being from the UK, having family in France, and having an American wife means that I may well be moving around a lot in the following years. This type of job allows me to work where I want.

Higher income – I charge based on the going rate for my niches and how much I can offer. The only cut that is taken is from my Paypal, minimal hosting costs, a small amount of advertising, and, of course, taxes. The potential for well-paid classes is massive when teaching online.

Flexible schedule – I set my own hours and decide when to teach and when not to teach. I used to agree to lessons at inconvenient times at first but don’t do this anymore. All my lessons are within 10am and 5pm.

Flexible holidays – I take holidays when I want to. I actually take less holidays now than I used to, but that is something that I decide to do.

I’m my own boss – I love making decisions about all aspects of my business and teaching. No one to put limits on my growth as a teacher and a business person.

I sometimes take the above for granted. I have worked for many companies and language schools and nothing comes close to what I’m doing now. Working from home and being the one who makes the decisions is pretty special.

I have also come to realize that the student-teacher relationship is a reciprocal one. I put up with some terrible students when first starting out as I took on anyone who got in contact with me. That was especially true when working for my different language schools.  I don’t take those students on anymore and only work with people who pay on time, come to class, and make the most out of the time we spend together.

The students that I’ve had over the past couple of years have been incredible. I’ve made some really special relationships with people from all over the world. All my students are good students and there is no need for me to take on the bad apples anymore.

Becoming my own boss and following my own business path have allowed me to have the above.

Steps to take to start freelancing

If you are wanting to follow your own path and teach English online, then there are some steps that you need to follow. Here is a guide to what you will need:

1. A clear vision of your business – What type of lessons do you want to give? How much do you want to charge? What will your cancellation policy look like? What times are you available to teach? How and where are you going to get students from? Thinking through these and other questions will help you create a clear strategy of what your online teaching business will look like.

2. Your own website – Your website is your base and where your students will go first. This is where you introduce yourself, give information about your lessons, convince potential students that you are the teacher for them, and finally have the necessary forms to collect information. It’s pretty hard to make it as an independent online teacher without a website. And make sure that you have your own domain name. (more about having your own website).

3. Other necessary tools – These include Skype or Google Hangout and a way to receive payment (Paypal is my choice).

This is a pretty basic outline of what you will need to get started. Each of these points have already been or will be discussed in detail on this blog.

Becoming an independent online English teacher has allowed me to follow my own path in so many ways. Are you following yours?


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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?


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Trial lesson

Offering trial lessons and converting students

Trial lesson

Making trial lessons $1 filtered out the time wasters.

But, I thought that you offered free courses?

This was probably the number one thing I heard during my first year of online teaching. I had offered new students a free twenty-minute trial lesson which the majority of my students interpreted to mean free lessons for life.

Two of the biggest mistakes I made at the start were not charging for the initial trial lesson and targeting students in countries that were much lower down the economic spectrum than the UK and US.

I remember sitting in a cafe, my website and adwords campaign had just gone live, watching the requests come flying in. After twenty minutes and twenty requests, I paused the advertisements and started emailing my eager students back. I think from the initial twenty I arranged ten trial lessons, and from those ten, not one went on to take lessons.

Because I had the word “FREE!” written all over my website, Google also started ranking me for keywords such as, “Free online English lessons” and “Online English tutor free.” After a year of going through a lot of trial lessons, I decided to make a radical change and charge one whole dollar for a twenty-minute trial.

And it worked beautifully. It was a filter that only let through serious students with the capability of making online payments. When I woke up and saw that someone had requested a trial lesson, I knew that the likelihood of them being a time-waster was minimal and that I could go into the trial with a great chance of converting the trial student into a long-term student.

Did the number of requests drop? Absolutely. But I was spending my time and energy on students that I knew were seriously looking for lessons.

I used the 80/20 principle and focused on those who were taking a trial because they were serious about improving their English and knew what was involved. Just that one change got rid of most of the time wasters and released more free time focus on other things that were much more effective. It also made me much happier.

How to conduct a trial lesson and get lifetime students

Through experience, I go into the trial lesson fully expecting that they are going to start taking lessons with me. This is especially true for referrals and those looking for exam preparation.

Here are some things that have worked for me:

1. Expect them to take a lesson – This makes you use language like, “So, how many lessons would you like per week?”, instead of, “So, do you think that my lessons sound right for you?” It also comes across to the student that you are a sought after teacher.

2. Be enthusiastic – Make your lessons sound exciting and make your student know that they are going to progress with you. Keep your explanation of your lessons simple and make them want more.

3. Correct their English – Most students want a teacher who will be able to correct their mistakes. Make some notes on their mistakes and explain a few things. Give some examples and say that you’ll review this in their next lesson. Students love this.

4. “So, do you have any questions?” – I usually ask this question near the end of the lesson. There are usually a couple of questions, sometimes there are none. Once this is over ask the question used in point one and get your calendar ready.

I keep trial lessons short (10-20 minutes). I see some teachers offering a one hour trial lesson (and for free!), which I think is crazy. Twenty minutes is enough time to showcase your teaching skills, get to know each other, sell your lessons, and answer any questions. If your student is still unsure then you could offer a discounted first (real) lesson, which is something that I have done in the past but don’t do anymore.

The follow-up

If your student says that they need to think about it and that they’ll get back in contact with you, then you need to be proactive. In these situations, I send an email straight after the trial summarizing your lessons and what you have talked about. I then follow this up with a quick chat on Skype a few days later (if they are online).

This has worked for me, maybe not always straight away, but sometimes six months later I see them online, ask them how their English learning is going, and see if they would like to try and start again with you. I’m pretty selective about who I do this with as some students were just put off by the price. It’s no use chasing students and spending lots of time following up if you know that they aren’t going to take lessons with you. But, if you have lots of free hours, you might want to do this a little more in the beginning. Just know that they aren’t likely to be the best students long-term.

The no-shows

Even the most enthusiastic students, those who seemed really excited during the trial lesson, don’t show. I have a knack of knowing which students are going to show and which are going to fall off the face of the earth after agreeing to a lesson. It’s hard for me to dissect this, but over time, you’ll be able to do this too.

I usually send the invoice just after the trial and send them a link for the cancellation policy. I explain that the class needs to be paid well in advance of the lesson and will send a quick email if this hasn’t been done the day before.

I usually plan some admin to do during this hour, so that if they decide to no-show, I’m not just sitting there scrolling through some random article until my next class.

If they don’t show then I send them an email telling them that they have missed a lesson. If you don’t hear anything then good luck getting that lesson fee! If they reply and say that they are sorry and want to try again then use your cancellation policy and don’t budge. There might some circumstances where you give them another chance or half-off the next lesson, but these should be few and far between. Be strong and ask for payment within 24 hours (for both classes), otherwise, you’ll cancel their lesson. You don’t want to be waiting for your student for a second time.

This sets the precedent right away and stops you from wasting time chasing students who are just going to flake out anyway.

To summarize:

1. The first stage of converting students is making sure that only serious students sign up for a trial in the first place.
2. Use the advice above to convert as many students as possible.
3. Be strong with no-shows (time wasters) and don’t waste too much time chasing.

I hope that this post has helped and I would love to hear from you other ESL onliners about how you conduct trial lessons and how you convert as many students as possible.

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Choosing your teaching space and limiting interruptions


This guy can make quite the noise. He also pops up out of nowhere!

From Monday to Friday at around 1pm, and again 10 minutes later, my 12lb dog sounds like he wants to rip someone’s head off. I never knew such a small dog could sound so angry and ferocious. The nice, friendly mailman pulls up and drops off our mail, and then 10 minutes later pulls up across the road.

He didn’t use to be like that. He was fine and friendly towards our old mailmen. But, one day when we were all outside our temporary mailman decided to approach our little dog and start acting like a dog: barking, running around, and looking aggressive. Ever since he associates mailmen and their trucks (and even their sounds) as the number one danger.

This means that my beautifully created downstairs office is now left unused. It’s terrible to be in a lesson and have your little dog barking like a madman. So, I’ve moved upstairs into the spare room away from the ferocious little beast.

Having a good space to teach in is a challenge. Most of us don’t have a separate wing where everything is peaceful and without interruptions, so we have to try to work with the best that we’ve got. Other potential interruptions can be the telephone, people knocking on the door, children, partners, and I’m sure you can add some more.

Achieving interruption-free lessons.

I overcame the barking problem by moving upstairs, far away from the noise. This also took me away from the centers of action (living room, kitchen etc.) and the front door. My wife also needs to walk upstairs to pop in for a quick question (the stairs being the barrier) so I get less interruptions from her during the lessons too.

I also try and block my lessons from 12-4pm. This allows me to get into teaching mode during the afternoon and it means that those who want to contact me know that it’s best to do this in the mornings. This could easily be switched to mornings or evenings depending on your situation and the time-zone of your niche.

I have toyed with the idea of getting an office space, but there haven’t been many available within walking distance of where I live. I also have managed to overcome interruptions by having a good space at home.

So, try and think what space is best for you and what times you’ll receive the least interruptions. And, if you do get interrupted, make the interruption part of your lesson (asking my wife for something to show an example of a request), apologize, and move on.

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Niche Featured

What’s your niche?


Do you have a teaching niche?

Let’s get our business brains on while we talk about niches.

I see a lot of online teachers giving general lessons without really being specific about what they do. Conversational lessons are the most common, with some offering business English along with exam preparation.

But, it usually stops there. To really stand out from the crowd you should focus on one, two, three (or more) niches and offer yourself as an expert in this/these specific niche(s). This isn’t to say that you have to make your whole website just about your niche, as you can achieve this through having different areas on your website.

We are going to talk about ways to think about your niche and how this can help you.

All about niches and how it brings your students

Why is it important to focus on a niche instead of giving general lessons?

Firstly, having a niche makes what you offer much crisper. You are able to get what you offer across clearly, and your content will resonate will those who you are targeting.

Focusing on a niche gives you expert status in that field; your value is much greater to those students than just any other teacher. You know what works for those students, what they are looking for, and how much they are willing to pay.

In addition, focusing on one area of English makes lesson planning much easier; having to plan for learners of different needs and levels increases the amount of time you spend working outside of your classes.

In my case, I have spent a lot of time teaching people from Spain and know exactly what mistakes they are going to make in terms of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. The same goes for Russian students, IELTS exam preparation, and business English. I am in the process of creating sites specifically for these learners.

Having these niches greatly helps my referral rate. As I offer a lot of value, my students talk about me with their friends. They tell them that I am worth the cost of the lesson and my value is much greater than someone without this specialized knowledge and skills.

There are so many different niches out there. The best way is to start with what you have experience in and what you are interested in. If you are new or would like a change of direction, think about which niches are profitable and fun.

Some students might be profitable, but can also cause problems. Getting that combination correct will greatly improve your income while also ensuring that you enjoy what you do..

Exam preparation as an example

From my experience, focusing on exam preparation is a great area to be involved in. Students have a sense of urgency because the test means so much to them.

Some learners have to take an exam so that they can work, study, or just move to a new country. They have a lot riding on the outcome of the test which means that they are more focused. Homework is done, they don’t miss as many lessons, and they are looking for someone with experience and the skills to help them pass.

I met a girl who focused on teaching pilots who needed to pass an English test to be able to fly. These students generally had the money to pay for her high rate, were impressed by the fact that she had the experience of the exam, and needed lots of lesson really soon because their exam was coming up, an exam which is really important to potential pilots. They also referred her to their other  pilot friends because she helped them pass this test.

As someone who has prepared students for exams, there is no better feeling when you help someone move to a country abroad or allows them to study in an English speaking country. I stay in contact with my students and see pictures from Australia and other countries where they have moved.

But, this is just one example. There are hundreds of different niches that you could concentrate on.

Be your niche(s)

Imagine that your expertise is on teaching business English. In this case, your website and pictures should look professional, and the content on your site should be business related. Branding yourself is a lot of fun and the rewards make the initial effort worth it in the long-run.

You don’t have to limit yourself to one niche. There’s nothing stopping you from creating two, three, or more websites, each focusing on a different niche. Or, you can split up your website into different sections creating content for each area that you teach.

Offering specialized lessons will help you find more students, help you focus on your teaching, and can potentially help you charge a higher rate. So, what niche will you choose?

If you need help choosing a niche, see my follow up post to this here.

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