Engaging Online Lessons – What are the best ways to create engaging online lessons for your students

With the current Covid19 pandemic sweeping the world there has never been a time when online classes are more vital for both students and teachers alike. Teachers still need to earn a living and students still need to learn. Some of you may have already dipped your toe into the world of teaching online via Skype or Zoom, but for others this may be a new adventure. Either way, here at Synergy Recruitment we have a combined online teaching experience of over 25 years and would like to share some of our experience with you guys to help you create memorable and engaging online lessons!


1. Tailor Your Lessons to the Exact Needs of Your Students

It’s always important to target the lesson and course aims to your students’ needs in a group setting and absolutely critical in a 1:1 setting. The vast majority of online classes are 1:1 so clearly there needs to be more emphasis on this.

Firstly, establish what it is exactly this student needs to improve. This can be done as a needs analysis form before the class, or simply speaking with them during a free trial lesson, it shouldn’t take long. The student may not even be aware of what their exact weaknesses are in English and your teaching experience when speaking with the student should give you some clues as to what they need to improve upon.

Next, select appropriate course books, supplementary materials to their level and needs so that you have some sort of basis of a curriculum, which should be mapped out by milestones. For example, by lesson 5 we will have covered “phrasal verbs with take” and by lesson 10 we will have covered phrasal verbs with “make, do and take.” You may even want to refer to the CEFR “Can Do statements” for some milestones to help you map out your courses.

Finally, keep on referring back to the areas you wanted to cover with your student(s), constantly reviewing until the student has nailed it!

2. Use Your Teaching Platform and IT To The Maximum Potential!

Traditionally Skype was the main platform for conducting online lessons. However, in recent times there have been a plethora of other online teaching platforms released. These include: Zoom, Webex, Google Hangouts and of course there are lots of communication portals where you can conduct simple video calls on such as Line, Whatsapp, WeChat etc. The platform or school you work with may have their own software to use for online teaching, which is a whole different conversation as to the pros and cons.

You need to ensure that you are using the software to its maximum potential when teaching your online lessons. Are you using screen share to share certain documents, slides and texts? Do you record whole or parts of the lessons for students to review or for your own self review? Have you researched how to use the software you teach on to its maximum potential to benefit your students? Have you asked for extra training or researched how to use it better than you are currently using it?

I used to work for the British Council and we would use Active Inspire software on all our IWBs (interactive whiteboard). I now have integrated this software into a lot of my online lessons. It’s super useful when screen sharing for vocabulary and pronunciation lists as well as using images and tables, particularly for younger learners. Click here to download a free copy of active inspire.

3. Ensure that your teaching space & Materials are Well Prepared

Ok, so once you have identified your student’s strengths and weaknesses, selected appropriate course materials you are now ready to begin. However, you shouldn’t overlook the practical elements involved in online teaching! First of all, you need to have a hi-speed internet connection so your video images are smooth and don’t cut out or freeze, this is an absolute must in 2020! Make sure your technology is working in terms of your webcam, microphone and software and that you adequate lighting. Ensure that you have a quiet teaching space with nothing distracting in the background, unless you are teaching young learners when you will definitely want a colourful background, phonemic chart etc.

If you are teaching young learners, make sure that you have suitable realia, in terms of puppets, toys, figures etc. Young learners are more kinesthetic learners so use as many visual aids as possible. Keep the learning stages short, sharp and snappy as well because they do not have long attention spans.

Last but not least, make sure that you have a comfortable chair to use when teaching!

4. Success breeds success!

Lastly, if you adopt a significant number of the above points into your online ESL lessons you will find that your students will benefit greatly from your lessons and will be more than happy to book you again for future courses. Furthermore, they may even tell their friends what a great teacher you are and word of mouth can count for a lot in online teaching, particularly if you work freelance. Don’t be afraid to change things during your course if things are working out the way you planned them, flexibility is key. Don’t worry if some students don’t like your lessons, you can’t keep everyone happy, so long as you are delivering the best possible lessons you can. Finally, if you aren’t enjoying what you do, then maybe online teaching isn’t for you. Those who succeed are those who have a passion for teaching and look forward to their working day the moment they get out of bed!

Thanks for reading and I hope some of that was useful for you.

Greg M. – Managing Director @Synergy Recruitment UK

Useful links:

If you would like to improve yourself as a teacher and become more employable you may want to study a TEFL course. Premier TEFL has a wide range of fully accredited and internationally recognized courses: Discounted Premier TEFL Courses

Are you interested in becoming an online ESL teacher?

For US and Canadian teachers, please click here:

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For all other Native English speaking teachers:

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