Tips for Teaching Online Lessons

photo of boy looking at a laptop with teacher on video call
While technology and software make online teaching a viable option, this method also presents challenges that teachers may have not faced before. Luckily, the strategies for successful online lessons are not so different from learning in the classroom. It’ll just take a little adjustment to learn new programs and discover new ways to stay connected with students.

Let’s look at some easy tips and tricks for teaching online lessons so they can be as engaging and fun as possible.

Environment 

Before starting an online lesson, take time to choose your environment and set it up for comfort and functionality. Try to dedicate a space to teaching so you don’t have to constantly take it down and put it back up for each class session.

  • Lighting - Choose a well-lit spot and consider bringing in even more lighting if needed. Some online teachers have 2-3 lights on overhead and around them to get the most vibrant setting without strange shadows.
  • Background - Consider what’s behind you where you are teaching. Look at the space as if you are seeing it for the first time. Is there any art you want to cover that could be distracting? Family photos you won’t want everyone seeing? If possible, design a little display that reflects what you are teaching. History teachers may use a map and music teachers may use a whiteboard with staff lines for teaching.
  • Acoustics - Regardless of what you are teaching, you’ll want good acoustics. Choose an area to teach where there aren’t distractions. This means the students will be able to hear you speaking clearly without any echoes or strange noises.  Also, if you are talking too softly, they’ll need to turn up the volume and will amplify any exterior noises like a dog barking or doorbell.
  • Appearance - Students will be looking much more closely at you on camera than normal, especially if it’s just your shoulders and head. Consider how you can make your appearance seem approachable and optimistic in the midst of a different learning environment — at least from your shoulders up. Nobody needs to know if you have yoga pants on underneath.

Technology

There’s a wealth of technological options, programs, and software that you can use to create value for students in your online classes. The best tip is to look around, ask for suggestions, try them out and keep learning. New technology comes with a learning curve.  

  • Video Software - Be sure to try out different video software and find what works best for you and your students.
  • Troubleshoot - Don’t try to teach an online class for the first time with a student. Expect there to be hiccups and a learning curve, so spend some time using the software and practicing a lesson with a friend or colleague. This way, you can get some great feedback on things like sound quality, lighting and how you come across via video.
  • Use Screenshare - Consider any teaching tools you might be using and learn them ahead of time. You can learn to do a screen share if you’d like to show a short video clip, share a PowerPoint, or model an online activity.
  • Send Instructions - Send detailed instructions in advance of the first online lesson to guide students on how to log in and communicate expectations. You may even want to send a video of you talking while showing them step by step how to log in.
  • Plan B - As with any technology, there may be hiccups. Plan ahead. Do run-throughs with a friend or colleague, so you can hopefully troubleshoot how to work through any issues before they happen with students. For anything you can’t predict, do the best you can and have a backup plan if something isn’t working.
  • Record the Session - Make sure to record the session. You’ll want to send the video out after the lesson so students can refer to it as needed. For classroom teachers, this means students who were unable to attend in real time can still participate. For private lessons, this means they can go back to find answers to questions they have while working on the subject alone. You can even go back and re-watch yourself and look for ways you can improve the experience.
  • Use a Wireless Mic - If you plan to be writing on a board at times or moving around at all, consider grabbing a wireless mic that will catch what you are saying clearly, whether or not you’re facing the screen.
  • Start a Blog - Rather than sending separate emails, start a blog that is password protected and give all the students the password. Post all instructions, how-to videos, recorded sessions, and anything else you need to communicate as a separate post on the blog. That way, if they need to go back and reference something, they don’t have to dig through 500 emails to find it. This platform will also make it easy for you to integrate new classes since you’ll have the previous blog posts. You can either just update the date on the posts so they show up on top for new classes, or you can group blog posts into categories for easy navigation.

Teaching Tips 

Here are some teaching tips to make your online lessons come to life.  

  • Expectations - Just like a traditional classroom, you’ll want to have clear expectations for the session. You can communicate this in the way that works for you, either in a nice email beforehand or with a quick presentation at the start of the session. Consider things like how to participate, how to comment, how to create a learning environment (put barking dogs in another room, try to find a quiet place without siblings around, turn on lights so you can see them, silence phones, etc.)
  • Enthusiasm - Be sure to smile and talk enthusiastically. You won’t be able to use a lot of body language and motion to convey ideas, so make sure your facial expressions and mannerisms are positive and excited. Remember that students will respond to and feed off your energy. If you look uncomfortable and shy, they will respond likewise. If you look like you’re adapting and having as much fun as possible, they’ll relax and join the fun, too.
  • Stay Still - Try not to get up and walk around and move a lot. This can make it difficult for students to hear you clearly. Unless you are wearing a wireless microphone that will pick up your voice wherever you go and you feel that moving around is important to teaching your subject, it’s best to stay in one place and focus on teaching.
  • Take Questions - Ask students to submit questions on the messaging function of your video conference app or send in comments if you are live streaming. You can also set times to respond to questions during the lesson. If this is a private lesson, you can answer questions verbally back and forth as you go, but if you are working with a group or class of students, you’ll want to allow them to send in questions as they have them. Then, dedicate some of the class time at the end to answering those questions.
  • Routines - Set up routines for the online class so that over time everyone knows what to expect. Perhaps start and end the class the same way each time. Post a simple agenda behind you and go over it before you begin. Or, have a fun chant you all do together to get everyone engaged.
  • Audience - If teaching to a blank screen or to a group of kids who won’t turn their cameras on is messing with your groove, set up your own “audience” and teach to them. Put some stuffed animals or action figures in seats in front of you so only you can see them. Imagine they are your students and you are teaching to them instead. A big part of teaching is performing, and online sessions will put this skill to the test more than ever before!
  • Get Creative - Dig deep and look for ways to make online lessons memorable. Can you dress up in historical costumes that match the time period you’re discussing? Can you make changes to a set behind you that will keep their attention? Can you wear a silly bow tie, a funny hat, or do something else that will get them focused right away? Can you tell stories and jokes that will make students relax and feel comfortable? Remember that “stories stick and facts fade,” so look for creative ways to deliver lessons so they can’t wait to log in on time.
  • Check In - Make time to check in with students in smaller groups or one on one. These meetings don’t have to be every day and can just be 15-minute sessions, but will help develop and maintain a strong student-teacher relationship and encourage students to stay motivated.

Assignments

You can really get creative with assignments now that students will have access to all of the free programs and tools available online. Use this to your advantage and watch in wonder as your students will discover and create!  

  • Offer Choices - You can give students more options than ever to create content for you. Give them open-ended questions and assignments that start with, “Create a product...” and then let them decide how they produce it. Do they want to create a Kidblog, draw, write poetry, or produce a video with Animoto? They have plenty of technology at their fingertips, so let them use it to make something they are proud of and excited about.
  • Relax Due Dates - Rather than harsh deadlines and due dates, give students a timeframe to return work. This allows room for any technical difficulties or home life challenges that may arise with online learning.
  • Student Take Over - Don’t give up on great projects like presentations just because you’re working remotely. You may not be able to facilitate working in groups or do as many, but you can allow a student to take over the remote lesson and give a presentation. You’ll need to look into ways to share your screen without letting them take over as the host if they are going to do any kind of screen share, but it can still work! Everyone will enjoy hearing from a new voice, and you’ll enjoy seeing your students engaged.
We hope these ideas give you inspiration to start dreaming up how you can make your online lessons successful and memorable. Be sure to share the ideas that work for you and your students with other teachers, so they can improve the experience for their students as well. 

Thank you for all your hard work to inspire, encourage and mentor the next generation. We appreciate you! 

Erica Jabali is a freelance writer and blogs over at ispyfabulous.com.