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English Language Teaching Global Blog


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So you want to teach online?

Middle Eastern woman on laptopShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and expert in online tutoring, shares some thoughts on his upcoming series of webinars on teaching students online.

Over the last few years, language teachers have had to come to terms with a technological shift in the way they teach. Though VLEs (Virtual Learing Environments) have been used in education for many years, it is only over the last few that they have become part and parcel of teachers’ working lives as either they, their school, or the material they use have found their way online. Be it setting homework via edmodo, using Facebook to extend the classroom or using online workbooks to complement courses, language teaching is more blended than ever before.

Being thrust into this asynchronous world of teaching can be quite daunting for those of us that were trained for the face-to-face classroom. We are used to standing in front of a group of learners, setting tasks that get our learners to communicate while we monitor, react, guide and prod. We are skilled in the art of classroom management, noticing when a student is off track, reading body language to gauge if a student is struggling and knowing when a task is finished and how to wrap it up. We are comfortable working face to face, knowing our training and experience has given us the skills to handle most things that school life throws at us.

While the popularity of social networking has implicitly helped us come to terms with asynchronous communication, a tweeted conversation or discussion of the latest cat photo on Facebook hardly counts as adequate training for dealing with students online. Is it a given that a skilled classroom teacher will automatically make the transition to the online environment?

As with many of the technological changes that come to schools, blended learning is often introduced at the behest of the stakeholders, sometimes with little thought given to how the change is going to affect teachers and impact on their working routine. Likewise, they often presume this is what the students want and assume that students will jump into asynchronous learnin,g embracing in-task discussions with the same gay abandon they show when updating a social network status. However, in reality an online forum is, for many, a far more stressful entity than the physical classroom. If you have ever joined Twitter, think about how long it took you to craft your first tweet and the angst of getting it right. Will anyone read it? What does it say about me? Is my language correct? Do I have anything to say? These are all questions that tend to go through your mind. There is something about the written word that increases the stress – perhaps the permanency compared to the ephemeral nature of something said.

Having trained teachers to work online for the last eight or so years, I’m all too familiar with all these issues and the nervousness teachers feel when venturing into the online teaching environment. Even the most confident teacher can feel trepidation when taking their teaching into the asynchronous world. How do I set my class up? How do we communicate? How do I motivate them? How do I stop certain students dominating? When do I need to give feedback? Are questions I regularly get asked.

Now, you may be forgiven for thinking that starting to blend your teaching is a bit of a minefield. It isn’t. Getting started is easy; being effective is more of a challenge. So to help you get acquainted with the asynchronous world, we’re running a series of workshops over February and March. If you want to learn about the skills and being an effective teacher, join me over three webinars when we’ll discuss everything from netiquette to making sure students join in and not lurk.

To find out more about tutoring online, join Shaun’s forthcoming webinars:

Online tutoring part 1: what does it offer teachers and students?
Watch the recording of the webinar.

Online tutoring part 2: the challenges and benefits
Watch the recording of the webinar.

Online tutoring part 3: getting the most out of your students
26th March 2014


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Adapting online materials to suit your students

Students learning online

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Foundation

Our Online Practice and Workbooks (listed below) offer a variety of useful activities for students which help improve their skills, but did you know that as a teacher you can also upload your own content?  Join Michael Man in his webinar Adapting our online materials to suit your students on 23rd October 2014 from 10:00 – 11:00 or 15:00 – 16:00 BST when he will show you how to add a personal touch to your online course.

Online learning provides teachers with extra materials and students with opportunities to study further as they extend their learning out of the classroom. But what if a teacher wants to introduce his or her own reading text, speaking task or link to a website or online video? What, exactly, is possible to add and what are the advantages?

Let’s start with a scenario: you have been working on a unit on family life and your students are keen to learn more about family life in other cultures. You have a fantastic reading text you are sure the students will love, but you are already above your photocopy quota and three students are absent. Using our online teacher tools you can upload the text and any worksheets you’d like the students to work on. Students can access them through their account, and you can even send a message to the absent students to let them know the worksheets are there.

Example of adding content

Using the teacher tools you can adapt your online course and add your own content.

Let’s imagine that in the next lesson, a student comes in and tells you about a YouTube video she saw online that gives another view of family life in a little-known culture. She thinks it would be interesting for other students to see. You view it and agree with the student, so you insert the link. Students can now log in, click the link and view the video.

With students buzzing with ideas and things to say about how different family life is in their culture as compared to the others they have read about and viewed, you seize the opportunity to create a speaking task. You upload the task to the Dropbox, tell student A to work with B and off they go to record their conversation, which you can then listen to (and mark) later.

This scenario is not hypothetical; the ability to do just that is achievable and simple when teachers take advantage of the ability to add their own content to the Online Practice and Online Workbooks for their course.

Adapting our materials and adding your own content is suitable for students at any level and the tools to do it are available on every course that uses the Online Practice and Online Workbooks:

  • Aim High
  • American English File, second edition
  • Business Result DVD edition
  • English File, third edition
  • English Plus
  • Headway Academic Skills
  • insight
  • Network
  • New Headway, fourth edition
  • New Headway Plus, special edition
  • Oxford Online Skills Program: General English and Academic English
  • Q: Skills for Success, special edition
  • Reach Out
  • Solutions, 2nd edition (International, Nederlands and Maturita)
  • Speak Now
  • Stretch

Find out more about teaching and learning online.


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Improving communication skills with online tools

student laptopMichael Man will show you how to use messaging, discussions and chats effectively with the Online Practice and Online Workbooks for your course. You can take part in his webinar ‘Messages, Discussions and Chat – improving communication skills with the Online Practice and Online Workbooks for your course’ on 8th October 2014 from 10:00 – 11:00 and 15:00 – 16:00 BST.

Communication and collaboration tools

How can we give our students more individualised instruction and feedback? How can we extend communication outside the classroom? Teachers can struggle with these issues especially when large classes and teaching demands get in the way.

Individualised instruction and feedback

All the courses with new Online Practice and Online Workbooks (listed below) have integrated communication and collaboration tools. By using the Messages tool, teachers can contact the entire class with updates or announcements. This is a useful tool for reminding students of deadlines or other classroom management issues, and is also useful for relaying information about upcoming aims and learning objectives. As well as reaching the class as a whole, teachers can contact groups of students. This is not only useful for differentiating instruction, but also during stages of project work. For example, teachers can give each group targeted guidance or further instruction. The Messages tool also allows for individual messaging so that teachers can personalise feedback. In this way teachers can direct students to exercises which would benefit them, set targets to work on and send reminders related to those targets.

Extending communication outside the classroom

Learners often struggle with finding ways to use English outside the classroom. The Discussion tool provides a way for students to do this in a non-threatening environment.  Teachers can assign a discussion task as part of assessed coursework or to continue a class discussion that students may not have had time to complete. These discussions can be monitored or viewed later by the teacher who can then use them to help students build language strategies for better interaction. The discussions are also a useful resource for assessing in which language areas students may need revision or follow-up work. The Discussion tool can also be set up for use by groups so that they can meet in a virtual space to discuss project work.

The live Chat function is another way to increase contact time with English, and many students will already be familiar with if they use social media. These can be whole class chats or set up as groups. Ideas for using the chat include setting up reading circle discussions or doing role plays. Roles can be assigned to individual students within the chat – a moderator, for example, could ensure that all the students participate by inviting comments from less ‘chatty’ participants.

Live Chat function

These tools are suitable for students at any level and are available for courses with Online Practice and Online Workbooks at oxfordlearn.com:

—   Aim High
—   American English File, second edition
—   Business Result DVD edition
—   English File, third edition
—   English Plus
—   Headway Academic Skills
—   insight
—   Network
—   New Headway, fourth edition
—   New Headway Plus, special edition
—   Oxford Online Skills Program: General English and Academic English
—   Q: Skills for Success, special edition
—   Reach Out
—   Solutions, 2nd edition (International, Nederlands and Maturita)
—   Speak Now
—   Stretch

Find out more at: www.oup.com/elt/teachonline