What I’ve Learned Teaching Online

Online Service Concept: Learn Something New on Modernized Keyboard lying on Orange Background. Message on Keyboard Enter Button, for Learn Something New Concept. 3D Illustration.
Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

When coronavirus hit, we all had to adjust. For many ESL teachers, this meant navigating uncharted territory – teaching online.

I was used to teaching in class and interacting with my students in-person. My literacy class had over 40 students, while my CLB 4 class had about 14. How could I get all those students online and provide a program that addressed their needs?

The issues for the literacy learners included their language barrier as well as their access to technology and experience using it. Video conferencing was out of the question, as were some learning sites. After trying several things, I found that if I provided a link which took them directly to a lesson or exercise, they could respond.

So, I made simple lessons on Google Docs. They explored vocabulary using pictures—house or living room—then copied, filled in terms, chose from options, or practiced pronunciation. Initially, this took me some time to create, but later, it was quick.

My CLB 4 class was different. It was a smaller class, and students seemed motivated to join the Zoom sessions. Resolving all technical issues—sound, video, how to access things—took at least a week. But they were all there, and attending regularly. This made my online teaching a lot easier. Once we got going, things ran smoothly, and I enjoyed myself. It was a fun class to teach.

Each morning, while waiting for students to trickle in, I would screen-share a video. Live news from CP24 was a popular choice. Later, we would discuss and I would put summary notes in the chat box. Sometimes I’d show a mindfulness video to keep everyone stress-free. They also enjoyed videos such as how to properly put on a coronavirus face mask.

Then came roll call, this gave students a chance to say “present”, while also checking their mic and audio.

Technical issues were often difficult to diagnose, and I didn’t want them to take up a lot of time. I had my go-to responses or just asked them to log out and then log in. That sometimes worked, but if not, I stayed calm, talked the students through the issue, and gave them time to resolve it themselves, while continuing with the lesson. This required a bit of multitasking, experience, and patience.

Luckily, no one was prevented from participating in the class due to technical issues. One of our classes was “Zoom bombed”. I shut down the meeting and sent everyone a link to a new one. We got back on track in 10 minutes.

About 15 minutes into the class, we would do housekeeping or have check-in questions (“How is everyone doing?”). I wrote sample dialogues in Google Slides and had students act them out. I used breakout rooms to allow group discussion of a topic. It was important to create groups with the right chemistry, then mix them up for variety. Popping in was also crucial to make sure everybody was on track.

When it comes to speaking exercises, it is important to use the mute all and unmute functions seamlessly, which is easier said than done. But once I got the hang of it, I could teach and have the students respond without long interruptions.

One of my favourite lessons was searching online for recipes. We discussed ways to do that, the vocabulary used, and watched a Jamie Oliver video. The highlight was having students email me links to their favorite recipes. Now, I know how to make Japanese cheesecake!

Taking all of this into account, I now feel I’m a much better online teacher than when I started out, and I improve with every passing day. You always learn something new.

I think the case is the same for my colleagues, who I got to know a lot better as we connected through Zoom groups and shared ideas. An added benefit of online teaching is breaking down classroom walls when it comes to sharing our experiences.

How have you liked online teaching? What are the lessons you learned? Please share.


My name is Svjetlana Vrbanic—Lana—and I am a newly certified adult ESL teacher. I completed a degree in English and worked as a teacher and newspaper reporter/editor. Work has allowed me to travel from Labrador to Alberta and enjoy many great experiences. I was born in the former-Yugoslavia, but lived in Toronto most of my life. I can speak Serbo-Croatian, but primarily use English and love sharing what I know with students from all over the world. I like to have a good time and enjoy pursuing interests like cooking, running, volunteering, learning about health and psychology, and spending time with my niece, two rambunctious Jack Russell terriers, and a shy, but loveable cat. I am excited to blog about my experiences which will hopefully inform and entertain, as well as help support a vibrant teaching community. Wishing my colleagues many happy adventures in teaching.


2 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned Teaching Online”

  1. I learned a lot, too. I had an experienced on-line instructor’s help at first…then a volunteer to help with admitting students and even assigning students to breakout rooms and popping in to sessions to help with discussions.
    Since I had a level 4/5 level, I found the discussion groups generated a lot of ideas and helped students learn from each other.
    With regard to “homework” I found sending a reading and questions to students several days prior to a lesson helpful in order for them to prepare for the class. In class we could focus on speaking and listening. Even taking turns reading out loud was useful 1) gave students confidence in sharing information 2) identified difficulties with pronunciation 3) helped students with fluency. I learned that listening to videos on Zoom is more difficult than listening to videos in the classroom. Sometimes if I read the part of the transcript they didn’t understand, they understood it. Often students asked for the link so they could watch the video at home.
    Conducting assessments on line was also a challenge, but in some ways it was more focussed than in the classroom and the one-on-one conferencing for feedback purposes was more efficient. The students especially enjoyed receiving personal emails giving feedback on their
    All in all, teaching on line was demanding, but also rewarding. Establishing a balance of method and pace of delivery suited to meeting needs and. maintaining interest of students are key to success.

    1. Great points Luella. I would have found it helpful for someone to take me through the ropes. We were figuring things out individually, with some help from webinars and colleges sharing tips and resources. But, I think we made it. With experience and after making many mistakes you get more and more comfortable. (At least now we have some interesting stories to tell!) Many of us started as novices, but became experts. Keep doing what you are doing and have a great summer!

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