It's been four years since I started working as an online English tutor.
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When I started my career as an online English tutor, there was and still is little information on how to teach English online, so I had to learn through trial and error (mostly errors.)

However, I succeeded in learning by mistakes, which I do not have to worry about running out of. An increasing number of lessons have been going well lately.

I would like to share a few tips with fledgeling teachers like I was four years ago on how to make your lessons successful.

NOTE: I have only worked with Japanese English learners, so my tips may not work for lessons with students from other parts of the world.

Failure: Case 1

A free topic conversation practice with a regular student in junior high without any preparation.
→I ran out of topics real quick and then asked questions that were not very well thought out, causing problems to my own English.

I had assumed that the student would choose the topic of an "open campus" because I had heard that this student would go to the event. But it turned out that he didn't go there because he changed his mind (that high school was his second choice.)

I did not set any specific goal for that lesson and I did not have any prepared topics either, so the 25-minute lesson felt like forever.

I fired away a series of questions about the weather, his club activities, friends and anything that came to my mind. I must have spoken too fast in a haste, and that made him puzzled, and we ended up having lots of silence.

This is what I should have done:

I should have had at least a couple of topics to talk about. At that time, he was trying to pass the Eiken Grade 2, so I could have prepared many other kinds of materials such as news reading, grammar and quick translation.

A free topic conversation practice was not the only option that I could have taken.

There is no such thing as “too many” lesson materials because you can use them some other time or even with other students. You must always be well-prepared.

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Failure: Case 2

Telling your adult student that he’s doing AWESOME in a self-introduction in a first lesson.
→They have just told you their name and where they are from.

Many adult learners seem to be frustrated by the fact that they cannot speak what they can write easily. The majority of adult learners tend to be able to introduce themselves rather fluently because they have done it many times with other teachers.

I made this mistake repeatedly, and I always wondered why my students seemed more and more unexcited as I told them they were doing great.

This is what I should have done:

This is an effective way to practice self introduction in English. You ask first and then your student answers. Have them add “How about you?” to the end of the sentence so that the conversation can become a two-way communication.

This activity is as easy as adding “How about you?” However, it is indeed difficult for elementary learners of English. And this also can be a goal for the lesson, which is good for both teacher and student because he can get a sense of achievement after the lesson.

Ever since I started doing self-introductions this way, students seem to have more fun.

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Failure: Case 3

You speak Japanese just because your student speaks in Japanese.
→The student won't get the feeling of achievement, therefore they will not schedule another lesson with you.  

It is effective and also important to explain grammar rules in Japanese, however, you cannot have a full lesson only in Japanese. Needless to say, students come to you to practice speaking in English. Ideally speaking, it would be great if you could make half of your lesson done in English.

I used to have lessons in which I spoke solely in Japanese after my students asked me if it was okay for them to speak in Japanese. This was not a good method for either me or my sudent because neither of us felt any sense of accomplishment.

This is what I should have done:

I do not think it is wrong to have your students speak in their mother tongue, but it cannot be good if you let them do so for a full 25 minutes of your lesson.

Try to encourage them to speak English even though their English may not be good enough to hold a conversation. You can correct them by giving them a proper way of saying what they have said via Instant Messages (if you teach on Skype like I do.)

Since you have to write correct sentences while your student is speaking, it takes certain English writing and typing skills.

Don't freak out. Your student needs more time than you do to make sentences in English. So you probably have more time than you might think.

It would also be very effective if you use those sentences in a reading practice and/or in a role play activity.

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★Misconceptions I had when I first started teaching


・“I have to give everything that I’ve got to my students because they pay for it.”
→Needless to say, you have to do your best for your lesson, but they say too much is as bad as too little.

Until recently, I used to have lessons in which I tought I gave everything that I had. I would bring a passage reading, listening practice and writing exercise in one lesson.

In order to fit all of these exercises in a 25-minute lesson, I would speak fast and give away answers right away without giving my students much time to think.  

It was a day when I felt even worse than usual, which made me consider whether I should cancel my lessons or not. I already had my lesson materials almost ready, so I decided to push through it.

At the beginning of each lesson, I told my students that I was feeling unwell and was going to take it slower than usual. I spent 1.5 times longer in a reading practice and twice as long as usual in a writing practice on that day.

To my surprise, all my students seemed to enjoy my lesson more than usual and their English comprehension was also better than usual.

That's when I realized that I had not given them enough instructions or explanations to follow my lesson. Also I did not give them enough time to work on activities that I assigned them because I was always in a rush.  

You have to take it slow and make sure that your students always understand your instructions.

・“You have no idea what a student's level is in the first lesson. It should be okay to use the first lesson as an assessment session. And I will have a full practice in a second lesson.”
→I used to think that the first lesson with a new student was kind of a counseling session.

I once had a student solve a few Eiken questions in a first lesson, though she wanted to practice conversation for travelling. With another student who also wanted to learn expressions for travelling, I asked what kind of expressions that she wanted to learn for a full 25 minutes in Japanese.

As you would expect, I did not have another chance to have a lesson with them.

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One of my friends from high school became an English teacher at a cram school two years ago, so I can talk to him when I want to discuss teaching now.

However, I did not have anyone I could talk to about ESL back when I started working as an English tutor four and half years ago.

I had no experience, and had to start from the very beginning.

I'm breaking out in a cold sweat now that I think back to all those awkward moments that I had.

I hope this article is helpful to those who have just started working as an English tutor like myself. If any of you find this article helpful, it will be worth the humiliation that I'm feeling as I write.

If you have any better lesson ideas or anything that you'd like to share, please leave a comment or message me, Yukey, via Twitter or Instagram. I'd love to keep improving my teaching skills, so I'd be more than happy to hear what you have.

Twitter: @Yasunosukey

Instagram: @yukey.english

▼My profile page on World Talk

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▼The Japanese version of this article

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