How to teach English online

Let's be honest, we express ourselves online constantly. We live-tweet March Madness. We Insta-story our workouts and boomerang squat thrusts. We FaceTime with Grandma every Sunday. (What, you don't? She misses you!)

We also teach dozens, if not hundreds of English students a month. 

But combining the two? Teaching Suddenly, we TURN INTO Grandma: 

"oh goodness me, how do I turn on the camera? Can they see me? Can they hear me? Is this thing on?" [slams laptop shut in terror.]

I know, I've been there.

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My online journey...

In 2015, I had 15 minutes to prepare to sub for my first online lesson, and I was totally freaked out. I had already been teaching for 3 years and I felt very comfortable in front of any class, large or small. But teaching English online? How does that even work?

How do I show my students their mistakes if I don't have a wipe-off board? How do distribute worksheets or play games? What if the tech fails? If I can't jump up and down in the classroom, how will my student guess that I'm miming "running with the bulls"?? (My lessons tend towards the theatrical.) 

So I opened Skype, pressed "Call" and jumped in.

One year later, I was teaching 100% online, to students all over the world. I traveled to Italy for 4 months, Germany for 4 months, and then back to Prague for 4 months, teaching full time in pajama pants (and a button-down blouse, of course) with a small dog on my lap.

Online teaching takes many forms

Do you want to go full Digital Nomad and test the wifi on the beaches of Costa Rica? Maybe you're simply looking to carve out your early morning teaching hours and teach from home (I highly recommend). Maybe you want to minimize your unpaid commuting time by teaching your current students online every other week (my students loooove the convenience of Skyping on their lunch hour). 

Here are only some of the reasons I love teaching online:

  • less unpaid commuting time
  • no more racing around town from school to school or office to office
  • no teaching in crowded coffee shops
  • more convenient for me (and my student - they're even busier than I am!)
  • easy to access and reuse digital resources
  • work from (almost) anywhere
  • teaching students all over the world means the ability to charge accordingly (and often more than the students in my country can afford to pay)
  • I developed the skills to break into online course creation (hello VuLingo!)

If you're interested in dipping your toes into the world of online language teaching, then I'm super excited to invite you to the 2018 Online Teacher Summit. 

What will you learn?

They've really put together an all-star cast this year—these teachers have been making a great living teaching English online for years. You'll learn about:

  • How to find students as an online teacher
  • Tools and systems online teachers use to work less
  • Creating and selling online courses
  • Smart online teaching formats to help teachers move beyond 1:1 lessons 
  • How to find and create perfect materials for your students
  • Creating an online presence 101: How to not feel frustrated coming up with new ideas
  • Creating an effective facebook page to find new students
  • How to automate student management & increase your profits—Hey, that's my presentation! ;)

Yep, I'm super excited to be a presenter this year, and I'd love to hear from you before my live session. What do you want to know about online teaching? What's holding you back from taking the leap? Tell me in the comments section so I can answer your questions in my live chat during the summit.

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The Logistics

Here's the deal: once you register for the Online Teacher Summit (for FREE!), you get access to all discovery sessionsnetworking sessions and live sessions from April 2 until April 7.

The free sessions are going to be super informative. But if you're interested in more advanced sessions and tutorials, the PREMIUM PASS will get you that, plus lifetime access to all the videos (even after the summit), plus all the downloadable audio files. The PREMIUM PASS costs $47 before April 2 @11pm CST, $67 before April 7 @11pm, $87 after April 7 @11pm CST.

Last year's summit had soooo much valuable info for online teachers. If you're an experienced online teacher looking to grow your business, or even if you've never used Skype, there will be something for you. I'd hate for you to miss out! 

How to create a Flipped Learning System

Welcome! This post is part of my Flipped Learning series. For more information on the magic of the flipped classroom (and what I'm even talking about) check out this page.

I've got tutorials on free flipped learning tools like:

  • How to harness the power of Youtube and the ESL community & even make your own videos
  • How to record audio to introduce a lesson's topic or grammar point ahead of class
  • How to send pre-quizzes to my students with google forms
  • How to make digital flash cards for your students to study before class
  • And just when you thought you'd collapse under all this great information, I'll show you the lesson planning system that not only ties it all together, but actually saves you oodles of time while giving more value to your students.

Alright, on to the lesson!

We know that flipped learning is great for the student. But what about the teacher? The key to making flipped learning easy and profitable for you is to have a system.

After you create a great audio exercise or a killer deck of vocabulary flash cards, or you find the perfect youtube video, where do you keep it so you can send it again and again and again? Seems an obvious question, but really, where? How do you know what to send to whom and when?

Paper-based management systems are totally out, or you're going to be writing down links that are 87 characters long (and getting them wrong). 

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You could create a word doc or a spreadsheet with a list of links. But does that list tell you exactly what you have to pre-send to next week's classes, all in one glance? 

And how can you know what your students should study for next week's lesson, if you don't know what next week's lesson will be?

Okay, before I twist your head in knots, I want you to know you can do this, and you can set it up in a step-by-step system that will rock your teaching world. I'm going to help. Let's get started.

How to use TRELLO

to automate your teaching life

I use Trello because it's easy, responsive and I can personalize everything. You might be a app developer and want to rig up a digital teachers' lounge for yourself—hats off to you. For the rest of us, I recommend free, quick & easy. Here's how I do it.

1. Get your links together. Your materials need to be accessible at all times, whether you're teaching from home, at school or out and about. There is nothing worse than realizing you left your lesson plan on your home computer and having to recreate a lesser version 20 minutes before class starts. Or realizing that the audio file you created for class is at home on your hard drive. Putting all your materials on the cloud is non-negotiable. 

You can house all your materials on Trello. I upload lesson plans, exercises I’ve scanned from textbooks, activities I’ve found on the internet, timelines, etc. With a free Trello account you can upload any document up to 10MB. If I have a document that’s larger, like an audio file or a Powerpoint presentation for my online students, I can simply store it in Google drive and link it to the Trello card.

Here's what a typical Lesson card looks like in my Trello for TEFL system. I can see right on every single lesson card, exactly what materials I have saved to the back of the card.>>

 Front of the TRELLO for TEFL lesson card

And when I open the back of the card, I have immediate access to every file, exercise, sound file, youtube link, & lesson plan that is related to that lesson, ready to send to students, print for my lesson or teach online.

 Back of the TRELLO for TEFL lesson card

See that copy & paste email at the bottom? That's the flipped learning magic. You took 10 minutes to make that deck of quizlet flash cards, saved the link to your lesson card, and you will spend no more than nano seconds to send the cards each time you teach the "A2 Clothes & Accessories" lesson. But your students will get huge benefits, again and again, without added effort on your part. 

With Trello, I have all my lesson plans and exercises accessible and printable from any computer phone or tablet.  I also have all my notes about individual student progress and even about the best way to present Future Continuous.

What was that really great visual demonstration I drew on the board last week? Next time I'll just snap a photo and save it to my lesson card so it's always there where I need it.

Grammar lesson cards come equipped with form, function, board-able example sentences and teaching tips, which you can whip out on your phone before class, just to refresh.


2. Know who you're teaching, what you're teaching, and when you're teaching it.

Having everything you could possibly need to teach on the back or your lesson card is only the beginning of what you need. In my TRELLO for TEFL system, we set up the student board so every private student (and full class) has an automatic syllabus pre-planned from the intake phase. The system comes with a Level Assessment Test so you can not only assess the perfect level to begin your lessons, but uncover holes in their English learning, and add those lower level lessons to their syllabus.

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The beauty of the Trello platform (totally free!) is that it's versatile. If one student needs or wants a particular lesson, it's drop-and-drag easy to add that lesson card into their syllabus, or to specialize according to their hobbies, jobs and whatever topics excite them. You can see what you taught two months ago, what you'll teach two months from now, and most importantly, what you'll teach next week—all automatically.

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In one click you can view all your lessons on your calendar and sync it right up to iCal or Google Calendar. Now you know exactly what flipped lessons you need to send, weeks in advance.

When it's time to lesson plan and send flipped learning materials, you can see at a glance, what's already been planned. In this system, you never plan the same lesson twice. All your materials go on the relevant card and you're never hunting or scavenging the web. You're only tweaking and making the lesson better, each time you teach it.

This system may look flashy and beyond what you think you can manage, but let me tell you, it's exactly the opposite. As you grow your list of private students, or take on new full classes, you're adding to the unpaid administrative time you're constantly trying to reduce.

With the right system, you can not only keep track of your flipped learning lessons, but completely automate all the tasks that are keeping you from from taking on more students or taking that extra vacation. I'd love to show you more about how I automate it all!

Happy teaching! 

How to Make Digital Flash Cards to "Flip" your ESL Classroom

Hey there Teachers! This post is part of my Flipped Learning series. For more information on the magic of the flipped classroom (and what I'm even talking about) check out this page.

I've got tutorials on free flipped learning tools like:

  • How to harness the power of the ESL community on Youtube & even make your own videos
  • How to make your own audio recordings & places to find audio resources
  • How to create online "quizzes" that teach your students the grammar point before you present it in class
  • And just when you thought you'd collapse under all this great information, I'll show you the lesson planning system that not only ties it all together, but actually saves you oodles of time while giving more value to your students.


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This is my favorite flipped learning method because I've been a flash card learner all my life. When I first started teaching, I recommended that my students make flash cards of the words we learned. I even made PDF print outs of the those cards and distributed them after class. Not flipped! What good was it for my students to study the vocabulary after the lesson, when my goal was for them to use the vocabulary during the lesson?

Quizlet, a free computer and phone app) is making my life so much easier. It takes less than 10 minutes to make a deck of flashcards, complete with photos, which extremely effective for learners of all levels. Students can study the cards on their phone or laptop and by the time they get to class, they've already learned the words, freeing up more valuable class time for using the words in conversation


And here's the best part: Quizlet functions like an open source library, with many sets already made by other ESL teachers. You can simply search for a deck you need and send the link to your own students. Like anything you find on the internet, you'll want to check for correct spellings, and that the vocabulary suits your students needs, then send away!

In the Trello for TEFL system, lesson cards come with copy-&-paste email language link. I simply check what my automated calendar has me scheduled to teach the following week, and email the students with the link. 

Want to copy my decks? All the links are in the Flipped eBook!

How to copy a deck of cards in Quizlet

1. Sign up for a Quizlet account, using facebook, google or your email account. There is a paid option, for less than $20 a year, but for what we're doing today, you can sign up for the free account.

2. First, we'll search for pre-made ESL sets. Just like any search, try words like "ESL" "English" or "EFL". We're going to start with ESL animals.


3. Scroll through the pre-made decks. I'll click on this set. (40 is a bit too many new vocab words for one lesson, but I can always edit the deck later.


4. Click Copy.


5. Give a title to the set (I always like to include the Common European Framework level, because I might have several decks of animals at different levels). Then click create.


6. Whenever you use any materials from the internet, always check for spelling and other mistakes before you use it. Run down the cards just to make sure they didn't include any cards you don't want in the set. At the bottom of the set, you have the option to Add or Remove Terms.


7. If you want to eliminate a word, once you're in this Add or Remove Terms mode, you can click the trashcan icon to delete, you can change the terms, and you can add photos. With the free version, you can choose photos from the photo library. With the paid version you can add your own photos. The paid version also allows you to record your own voice, but the free version will have the computer read the term to your student. 


8. Your students can study the sets in many different ways, try them out and play with your students. I like to start them off with the learn or flashcards modes.


9. Now you want to save the link to this set in an easy to find place. I save the link in copy & paste email language on the back of my A1 VOC Lesson Card in my Trello for TEFL system, so anytime I see that lesson in next week's calendar, I can copy, paste and email it to my students. To get that shareable link, click the share button with the arrow on it. In the pop-up box, click copy link. Then paste that link to your Trello for TEFL lesson card, or if you use another system, put it where somewhere you won't have to hunt it down.

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How to make your own Quizlet Flash Card Deck


1. Sign up for Quizlet. In the upper lefthand corner of your home screen, click create.

2. Name your deck. I like to use the level (A1, A2, B1, etc.) because I might have several  decks at different levels with the same subject matter.


3. Start adding your terms and definitions. The definitions (right column) will be what's on the front of the card. It's also the place you can choose to add an image, with or without a written definition. Also, make sure you choose English for the language, so the computer voice will read the word with an American accent.


4. To make life even easier, you can copy a list of words from any document, and Quizlet will automatically fill out the terms for you. I just go to my lesson card for A2 Clothes in Trello for TEFL, and copy the list.


5. Then in my new Quizlet set, I click Import from Word, Excel, Google Docs, etc.


6. Then I paste those words and click import. the terms for my cards have automatically been filled out, now I can write the definitions, or select the photos. Easy!


To add photos and complete your deck, simply follow steps 7-9 above and you're all set!

Whatever you do, don't let this work go to waste. It's easy to forget you have a link to this great deck of cards all ready to go, and you'll realize it when it's too late if you don't keep the link in a place where you need it—right with your lesson plan.

That's why in Trello for TEFL, everything related to that lesson is on one convenient card, and every time that lesson comes up in my automated calendar, you know ahead of time exactly what cards you have to send in advance.

Now, I want to hear from you! Think of your typical lesson plan. What components could  give to your students to ahead of time that would make your lesson go more smoothly?

Could you send them an introductory Google "quiz" to get them familiar with a grammar point before you present it?

Could you teach twice the amount of vocabulary if your students had the opportunity to study them on digital flash cards before class?

Could sending a video or an audio recording before class make the class more interactive and the discussion deeper because students were able to watch/listen as many times as they wanted on their own time?

Tell us in the comments below: What's a single, small way you could flip your next lesson?