Teaching English Online


The following information is intended to provide ideas and suggestions for teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) online. This information applies to synchronous teaching – that is, when students and teacher see each other and interact online. Two possible scenarios are envisioned in this document:

  • Scenario A: The English teacher is teaching a group of students, such as in the scenario where a regular English class is moved online, or provides additional sessions online. Each student is in his own home. They can all see the teacher, and each other, via an online platform such as Zoom.
  • Scenario B: The English teacher is teaching one student, such as in a tutoring session, via distance.

NOTE: In both scenarios, it is assumed that a parent or other caregiver is supervising the at-home learning if the student is a child, and is available for assistance.


  1. It is best not to have more than 8-10 students in a virtual classroom. Larger student groups could be broken up into different virtual sessions at different times.
  2. The younger the child, the more there is a need for adult presence at the computer with the child. If the adult does not speak English, some advance orientation as to how the classes work should be provided in their native language. Key classroom phrases can also be translated in advance, for the parent.
  3. A parent who does speak English and is sitting with the child must not translate what the teacher says. The parent can be helpful by alerting the teacher when their child does not understand, so the teacher can reformulate and clarify.


  • Teach the lesson as it would be taught in a regular classroom, as much as possible. Often, a lesson plan for an onsite class can be taught online with just a few alterations.
  • Ensure that your virtual teaching setting is a mini-classroom space. It should have:
    • White board or blackboard that the students can clearly see via the camera.
    • All realia that you would normally use in the lesson.
    • All visuals that you would normally use in the lesson. Note: A visual posted on a wall behind you remains more accessible to students than one you just hold up briefly.
  • Within your classroom space, ensure that you can move from talking at the board while writing or drawing something, to sitting so that students can see you close-up.


  • Provide a classroom-like space where the student can both see the online teacher on a computer or TV screen, and work at a desk with notebook and other supplies.
  • Print and prepare handouts/worksheets/student materials in advance. These should be sent by the teacher via email, or downloaded from a website.
  • Supervise independent work.
  • If parents speak English and want to participate in the lesson, they should reinforce the teacher’s directives as needed by re-stating in English. Parents should not translate unless the teacher has already re-stated, and there is still confusion. Ensure that students are paying attention to and following the directives given in English. (If students do not understand, then the material may not be at the right level for them.)


Some types of activities that we use in language teaching will need to be adapted for online instruction. The following suggestions may help:

  • Interactive student tasks: When students need to talk with each other, for example in activities where they go around the room talking to classmates, or when they work in pairs or small groups, the following adaptations may be possible:
    • Students may be able to use the “raise hand” feature of the online platform, and take turns asking each other questions.
    • The teacher can use the “breakout room” feature of an online platform such as Zoom, allowing students to do pair and small group work virtually. The teacher should also use a countdown feature, so that students know how much time is left for their group or pair work. A suggested timeframe for pair or small-group work is no more than 3-5 minutes.
    • Just as when interactive tasks occur in a physical classroom space, teachers must provide very clear and specific outcomes for students to work towards during the interactive time.
    • If students are younger, it may be good to alert parents ahead of time that pair or small-group work will be taking place. Parents can then help their children stay on task.
  • Individual student tasks: When students are working on a task individually, the following suggestions may be helpful:
    • The teacher should remain online, present, and fully visible and attentive to students while they are working independently.
    • Students should speak up or use the “raise hand” or “chat” features to seek the help of the teacher if they have questions, just as they would in a regular classroom.
    • The teacher can ask students to hold their papers up to the camera when completed, and the teacher can provide feedback as needed.
    • The teacher can mute student mics, especially if the individual task involves reading or rehearsing aloud.
    • It may be helpful to use a “countdown” feature and play it on the teacher’s screen, or in the background, so that students can see how much time they have left to finish the task.
  • Songs: When using songs, consider the following:
    • Lag time can be a problem if more than one mic is on. It is best to mute the student mics. Ensure that students are singing along through video alone.
    • If a song is accessed online, it will likely need to be played through the teacher’s computer.
    • Alternatively, the teacher could ask one of the students to access and lead the song from their computer.
    • If instructing young children and their parents are with them at home, the teacher could take a break, instructing each parent to access and sing the song with their child at home.
  • Games: Different types of games will need to be adapted in different ways. Some possibilities to consider include:
    • If there are only 4-5 students in the class, the teacher could set up the can for students to play virtually. For example, in a board game, students might give the teacher instructions such as, “Move my black marker three spaces.” The teacher essentially plays for each of the students, as they give directions.
    • If there are more than 4-5 students, students can be placed in small groups using features like Zooms breakout rooms, with one student in each group being in charge of the game. These student group leaders would need advance preparation in order to have the game set up at their computers. The student leaders then play for each student, following their directives.
    • Games for which each student has his own “board”, such as Bingo, can be played online just as they would be played in a classroom. The teacher should provide good instruction prior to the class about downloading and/or gathering the required materials.
    • Games involving movement are the most difficult to replicate online. Still, creative teachers can find innovative alternatives for some active games! For example, in a classroom activity called “speed talk”, students face each other in two lines, repeating the same utterance multiple times as one line moves on to the next person every 30 seconds, and the other line stays in place. For an online version of this activity, the teacher could place students in small groups in which they would each share their responses with the whole group.
  • Activities involving movement:
    • Active learning (such as TPR) can work well via distance. Students can get out of their seats, stand up, walk around, point, etc. Students may need coaching about how to stand at a distance from the camera, so the teacher can see their movements.
    • When active learning requires manipulatives that students might point to, rearrange, etc., these need to be prepared in advance. Students or their parents can be asked in advance to gather certain manipulatives to be used during the lesson.
    • Some active learning tasks will obviously require alterations for an online format. For example, if students are to come up and reach into a paper bag feeling an object and then having the other guess what it is, the activity could be altered in this way:
      • The teacher could have the paper bag with the items inside.
      • The teacher could send emails or messages to students privately in advance, telling them what their item will be.
      • Each student has a turn in leading the guessing as to what the item is.
      • The teacher acts as a proxy in pulling the item out of the bag after the guessing is finished.


    It is important to remember that there are also benefits to teaching online! Here are some possible advantages:

    • Student behavior issues are minimized. Though students can tune out or not show up in online instruction, actual misbehavior can be dealt with by muting a student or blocking his video. If the teacher plans to utilize this control, it would be good for students to know this in advance, and be aware that polite and participatory online behavior is essential to the success of online instruction.
    • Students may have more balanced participation time. Unlike a regular classroom in which the students in the front, or those who raise their hands, receive more attention, in an online classroom all students have the same amount of screen space, and the teacher may be more likely to call on students who are not frequently called on in the regular classroom environment.
    • More equitable groupings may occur. Because students’ presence (their faces showing up on the screen) in the classroom occurs differently and in different positions, they cannot seat themselves near their friends, and teachers can create groups and pairs on the basis of what is truly best for their learning.
    • Students who truly want to learn the language may have an easier time focusing on the teacher and the learning tasks, as there are fewer distractions.
    • The chat box provides options for students to participate in written discussions in a way that is not an option in a physical class space.
    • When the teacher and students speak, all other mics can be muted. This may provide much clearer input of spoken language than a physical class space that may be hindered by many student voices, extraneous noise, etc.
    • Online instruction may provide a better opportunity for working through a well-designed lesson for language acquisition. When class time is not taken up with role call, behavior issues, school announcements and other diversions, the teacher may be more free to present the lesson, lead students in language practice, and observe individual students using language, for assessment purposes.