Skype is a great tool for conversation-based English lessons. I should know as I have given hundreds of Skype English lessons and founded the original company Phone English, doing the same. Through Skype you can connect to the world for free, while the Skype chat facility allows you to send written real-time corrections and new words and phrases to your student instantly.
But how can you make the most of Skype to teach English? Well, I hope to give you a flavour of what is involved as well as some top tips for keeping Skype students interested, motivated and coming back for more.
1. Have a great store of ready-to-go lessons
Why re-invent the wheel? Good tried and tested lessons get your students talking around a theme quickly and with minimal set-up time. This is a snippet of one of my favourites from our 30 lesson plan pack which are mostly plug-and-play:
Imagine that you are in the UK. What do you say in the following situations?
a) Ask for a ticket on the bus. You want to go to London and back.
b) You want to know what time the next train to London leaves.
c) You want to sit down on the train. What do you say to the man in the next seat?
d) You want to book a room at the Palace Hotel for two people for two nights.
Can you see how great this is for getting students practising useful English? You can also develop the final one into an instant role-play for extra practice. Provide these prompts via the Skype chat box:
Balcony? Ensuite? Time in/out? Breakfast included? Cost?
Tell your student they are the customer and you are the hotel receptionist. They have to use the prompts to ask questions and book a room. Then reverse roles.
2. Get your students to do a little bit of meaningful homework
The more students practice English between lessons, the better. However, Skype students are often the busiest - squeezing 30 minute lessons into hectic lives. So when it comes to homework, short and meaningful are the key words. This means I usually only give either consolidation or preparation for the next lesson as homework. Typically I will either get them to revise corrections/new words from the lesson (which I will have typed into Skype chat) and ‘test’ them next time. Or I will ask them to read/listen to something short, such as an article from Breaking News English, ready to discuss in the next lesson.
Think of the 1-1 or Skype lesson as ‘output’ or production time. Any preparation they can do through the week as ‘input’ really helps with the quality of their output in the lesson.
3. Don’t just chat
The more you get to know your student, the more likely this is to happen and the whole lesson can drift by in a kind of lazy haze. The best technique is to be conversational while doing something meaningful or functional. If your student is adamant that chatting is all they want to do, then fine. However, ensure you correct and then every 10 lessons or so produce a revision sheet with all the corrections and new vocabulary (easily accessible from Skype chat history.) Then have students practice them with you in lesson 1-1. This has never failed to impress and ensures you are doing your job which is to listen, correct, refine and extend their language.
4. Following on from the above, correct well
In a class corrections can be gone through together anonymously, without naming the source. In 1-1 classes there is nowhere to hide. As a result, teachers can shy away from correcting. My remedy is to ask permission in the first lesson. Say:
"How often do you want to be corrected?"
Most students will respond that they want to be corrected a lot and that means you both know what to expect. However, at lower levels or if confidence is not great, I tend to correct less. I want to build confidence and get them to ‘have a go’ in English.
5. Know your grammar
I have rarely given a straight grammar lesson by Skype as most want conversation based lessons but I still have to know what is wrong, why and correct accordingly, often with little thinking time.
So if a student says: "If it will rain, I will take an umbrella."
I simply type their phrase into Skype chat and say: "This isn’t correct. What should it be?"
If there’s no answer, I’ll say: "In conditional sentences, we don’t put if and will together, so it should be…?"
Hopefully they will state the correct sentence. Then, I might say: "This is the first conditional. Here are some more prompts in Skype chat. Let's make these into first conditional sentences..."
hungry = eat, hot tomorrow = sun hat
If needed, I have a handy link to some online grammar exercises they can do outside of lessons to consolidate.
Enjoy your Skype students. Developing an easy relationship where your student feels comfortable experimenting with language and making mistakes is key. Be prepared to give a little of yourself to allow free-flowing communication but remember, this is their practice time. Often a Skype lesson is shorter than a face-to-face one and so it is more important to minimise teacher talking time and find ways to encourage your student to do most of the talking.
Interested in learning how to teach English 1-1?
Any questions on English teaching, TEFL or Skype English? Ask the experts at Global English TESOL: Louisa or William
Very useful tips !
Thanks, Louisa. I especially like the idea of a revision sheet after 10 lessons.
Thanks Lea and Janet and glad you found the Skype teaching article useful. Forgot to mention how great it is to 'meet' people from all over the world 1-1 and I'd count a few of my students as friends who have shared personal aspects of their lives with me over the years.
Thanks for sharing this clear and very useful resource. Keep them coming!
wow! Impressive. I have just finished my TESOL Certification at Portland State University and I keep looking for ways to tutor and/or teach English. This has given me some useful tips.
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