Skip to main content

Online Tutoring: A Beginner’s Guide To Crafting The Perfect Lesson

Online tutoring is taking off in the UK and across the world. It is becoming an increasingly attractive option for tutors especially, because it enables the ability to teach from the comfort of your own home – saving time, money and effort travelling around.

It’s not just tutors that are shifting to the online mindset, though. With the integration of vast amounts of technology in schools, many younger students (especially 12 – 16 year olds) are beginning to find it more intuitive, accessible and adaptable than ‘traditional’ face to face tuition.

Imagine, just clicking a new tab opens up a new world of teaching resources: different ways of engaging and new styles of learning. Tutor and student can explore different media, complete mini-tests that are marked on-the-go and in cover more material. And, this is all done remotely, often at a lower cost.

With this rising demand, many tutoring platforms are having to adapt. Some are even building their own online classroom facilities while others are making integrations or suggesting well-known tools like Skype.

So, as a tutor, how can you get started?

 

Getting started

Well, first you need a computer or laptop and somewhere to host your online lessons – whether it’s at home or in a quiet spot in your favourite cafe. Wherever you tutor, just make sure there’s a decent internet connection. Oh, and invest in a microphone headset. It will vastly improve the sound quality for you both and ensure you can’t hear yourself on echo (which can be very off-putting!).

Next, you need software.

Most tutors enjoy using Skype alongside a tutoring whiteboard and/or Google Docs. By far my favourite is BitPaper. It’s a free online whiteboard that allows you to video call, write, draw, copy and paste images and share files in one screen. I’ve used it in the past for teaching maths, physics, chemistry and preparing students for university interviews. For essay-based subjects however, using Google Docs maybe the most effective option.

Other popular (and free) options are:

  1. Google Chat (one-to-one chat)
  2. Google Hangouts (group chat)
  3. Idroo (educational whiteboard)
  4. Scribblar (educational whiteboard)

If you’re happy to pay, you’ll generally find higher quality videoing software where you can record lessons, then save and share these recordings with your student. Some examples are:

  • Webex (£15 per month)
  • Wiziq ($19 per month)
  • Zoom (£11.99 per month)

It’s really important that you invest some time in deciding on your prefered tools and tricks. Every tutor has their own preferences and to find yours, test out as many as possible. I know it seems like a waste of time (why not just pick one and use it?!) but each platform is so different and resonates with different teaching styles in different ways. With tech, things can always go wrong, and when tutoring online you’ll be drawing, talking and sharing files at the same time. Finding the right tools for you will mean you’ve got less to think about in the long run and your lessons will be that much smoother, more engaging and effective.

 

Before your first lesson

You know those days where nothing seems to be going your way? The internet’s not turning on, your laptop isn’t charging, you can’t find your student’s Skype ID… and sometimes, things simply stop working in an instant, from no fault of your own.

It happens to all of us. The solution? Be prepared.

From my experience, it’s best to start getting ready for the lesson at least 10-15 minutes beforehand. Here’s a getting-ready-checklist:

  1. Sit somewhere quiet
  2. Have good enough background lighting so that you can be seen
  3. Remind your student that you’re due to begin soon and send them any relevant links so they too can prepare
  4. Open up your lesson plan, software and any other materials you’re going to be using
  5. Test your camera and microphone
  6. Ensure you have your student’s Skype ID (or equivalent)
  7. Take a couple of minutes to think about the lesson…your structure, objectives and teaching methods

Note that operating with professionalism as a tutor means that your student understands what you’ll be covering in the lesson at least 1-2 days before. You will have sent them a brief lesson plan with key objectives and any material they need to look over before hand. There should be no surprises at the start of your lesson. It’s important to be aligned and ready to hit the ground running, to ensure a smooth and productive learning experience.

 

During your lesson

Online tutoring is a skill that you’ll develop over time – it’s a different ball game.

Firstly, beware of new challenges you weren’t aware of before, like…

  • Oh, the student’s webcam isn’t working. How do I adapt my teaching style?
  • The student can’t access my whiteboard. Do I have a backup?
  • Because the wifi stopped working, I now have 45 minutes instead of an hour. Was my lesson plan flexible enough to accommodate this?

Again, being prepared as well as flexible in your lesson plan is really the best mitigation for these eventualities.

Secondly, the interaction you have with your student can be very different to lessons in-person. Because you’re missing a fundamental element of communication – body language – your language, tone and ENERGY has to shift gears. You need to talk with more clarity, you need to be more engaging and you need to make sure your student hasn’t switched off by getting them to contribute lots and often.

But beware.

Many online tutors think that being more engaging means that every silence needs to be filled. It doesn’t. The best tutors will give their students time and space to think. These ‘silent’ moments can be the birthplace for creativity and for students to generate their own solutions to problems, which is an incredibly efficient learning technique.

Where possible, read their body language, be patient with them and give them time to work things out. You can expect students to find this uncomfortable or even weird at first – but they’ll get used to it.

 

After the lesson

You can imagine a tutoring lesson being an arena for learning. You will clear up any confusion, walk through model examples and provide your student with the framework to work things out themselves. However, it’s unlikely that your student will understand everything you teach in a lesson and they will need time to digest and revise. It’s your job to ensure the student has everything they need outside of the lesson to be able to do this independently.

So, make sure you follow up with the following:

  1. Summarise the lesson with the key objectives covered
  2. Give feedback: what did they do well and what do they need to work on?
  3. Provide homework and corresponding resources
  4. Send the recording of the lesson if possible (remember to get permission)
  5. Generate the homework and brief plan for the next lesson
  6. Ask the student if this is all clear enough or if they need any more support

Hopefully this has helped provide you with an insight into world of online tutoring and what the expectations are of you as a tutor. If you have any questions or would like further advice or support, please contact me or the Tutorean team on
[email protected].

To conclude, here are my top tips:

  1. Take time to research before diving in
  2. Explore available software, test them and understand their limitations

  3. Prepare
  4. Inform your students early on and sit down ready to teach 15 minutes before the lesson is due to begin

  5. During the lesson
  6. Be engaging and honour silence as the birthplace of creativity

  7. Following up up
  8. After the lesson, provide a summary, feedback and a plan for what’s next

  9. Be in communication
  10. The best tutors will stay in communication with students outside of the lessons to provide ongoing support: especially during exam periods