"Why do I have to be silly?"

Career Guide   ·   Hioffer   2018-03-12

Teaching English as a second language is no longer just reserved for the classroom. That’s right. You can now teach ESL students online and work remotely from anywhere in the world. 

With most companies in China, your students will be young learners. Most companies will also ask you to smile a lot, be silly, use props.....it feels, at times, like you are an actor.  And you are. Do you remember when you were a child? You could learn with a cartoon or television program such as Sesame Street? 

Here are some tips to be successful with teaching EFL to students in China. 

1. Smile whilst teaching your online ESL class

Smiling is really important. Creating a positive atmosphere with your presence creates a positive learning environment.

The Chinese student may never have met a foreigner before, so you want to make them feel at ease, and smiling is the quickest way to do this. You should also be really friendly so that your smile doesn’t look out of place!

Remember, you are teaching children. They look up to you, and so it is up to you to set the friendly tone for the online class.

2. Assess Your Online ESL Student’s English Speaking Ability

It is a good idea to assess your student’s English speaking ability early on in the class. You want to find this out so you can adjust your lesson plan accordingly.

You don’t want to spend your whole class trying to get a low-ability student to read Shakespeare!

So how do you assess your ESL student’s English speaking ability?

Try to engage the student with simple questions, such as:

What’s your name?

How old are you?

How are you?

If they get quiet and shy in response to these questions, then maybe they don’t know this basic level english.

In this case you should adjust the lesson accordingly.

Tips for teaching an ESL student with a lower English speaking ability


  • Repetition is key with younger students and lower-ability students.

Say you are teaching the Chinese student the word ‘zebra’, make sure you say ‘zebra’ at least 3 times.  Then make them repeat ‘zebra’ three times. Repetition is so important in ESL teaching…notice how I have repeated ‘zebra’ four times?  Repetition is a habit!

  • Speak slowly

It will help the student out a lot if you take the time to pronounce each word. As native English speakers, we have gotten very used to understanding each other’s quick mumbles, however your online student probably won’t be able keep up.

  • Be aware of what a student already knows

It’s no good repeating ‘zebra’ over and over if the ESL student has already mastered it in last week’s online lesson.

3. Praise Your Online ESL Student Regularly

We all enjoy a bit of praise every now and then, and your student will especially appreciate it when they’ve answered a question correctly.

Give them a big high-5 when they do well.

This will make them feel happy and comfortable and eager to impress even more!

Make sure to say their name a lot as you praise them, as this will help to build a stronger connection with your student.

Give them gold stars and say: ‘You are doing a really awesome job, [Student’s Name]!’

Because it’s true, they are – English is a tough language to learn!

4. Be Fun and Silly When Teaching Your Online English Lesson

Try to make the student laugh. Have fun. Your students will be learning this outside of their school hours, so your online ESL class shouldn’t feel like school – so make it as fun as possible (whilst still being educational)

Try to imagine yourself as a children’s TV presenter, being wacky and outrageous. Make funny faces and do funny voices.

Don’t worry about looking silly. The sillier you are, the more your students will enjoy learning from you.

This is your chance to embrace your inner-child once again!

So what is a good way to help bring out your silly-side?


5. Use Props To Keep Your Chinese Student Engaged During The Online ESL Lesson

Props are a fantastic way to make sure your student is both engaged and having fun.

If you see there mind start to wander, bring out a prop! Here are some great examples of props to use:


Puppets are great for bringing shy students out of their shell. If they are hesitant to interact with you, then they are sure to interact with your monkey pal, or your talking tiger.

Give them a name and a silly voice and bring them to life. They are great for practicing basic English greetings with your ESL student.

Musical Instruments

Children love music. A nice catchy song always makes phrases easier to remember, so why not grab a ukulele and start singing?

Even if you’re not musical, a ukulele is very easy to pick up and play and instantly sound good. They are also inexpensive, so they make for a great online classroom prop.

Click the image below for an affordable ukulele I recommend:

Gold Stars

Gold stars are great for visual encouragement. Your student will respond so much to your encouragement as mentioned earlier, however, if they can see a physical object like a gold star as a reward, this should encourage them even more.

You want to encourage your ESL student to speak and be as interactive as possible in the online lesson as possible. They could watch English television if their parents wanted them to just listen to the language.

They are there to speak and interact with their English teacher.

Be yourself. Be authentic. Connect with the student. And use props to aid this as much as possible.

However, we cannot simply rely upon props to assist in communicating with your student…

6. Use Total Physical Response (TPR) To Aid Communication With Your Online ESL Student

Before explain what exactly Total Physical Response (TPR), first let’s look at something called ‘incidental language’.

As an online ESL teacher tutoring a Chinese student, incidental language is something you should reduce using.

Reduce Incidental Language

An example of incidental language is as follows:

‘Let’s move on to the next subject.’ – your student will not understand this type of phrasing. It is better to avoid this kind of language, as it doesn’t really add any educational value.

Another example of incidental language:

‘Can you say “This is an apple”?’ – This phrase ‘can you say’ is incidental language and it is a high chance the student will not understand this and thus they would be confused by what it is they are expected to do.

So how do we get them to say ‘This is an apple’?

This is where Total Physical Response comes in.

The basis of TPR is to use over exaggerated body language. Imagine it as if it were sign language.

So, for example, if you wanted to get the child to speak and say ‘This is an apple’, you would not use incidental language and say ‘Can you say?’, you would use your hands.

Let me explain.

Cup your ear with your hand and hold it close to the screen. The student will see this gesture and understand that you want them to speak.

Or another example…

If you want the student to circle something, use your hands to draw a circle in the air. Simple, right?

Using these techniques will decrease the amount of time you spend looking at the confused face of a student.

Less incidental language; more TPR!

7. Leave Helpful  Feedback For the Online ESL Student

At the end of your online ESL class, you will need to leave feedback for how the student did in the lesson.

Use the child’s name to display that this not simply a procedure, and that there is a genuine connection between you and the student.

Praise all the things they did well, but don’t be afraid to include the things they had trouble with. Include way that they can improve upon these points.

Then in the next class, you can monitor how they have improved upon those previous points.

This will show their parents that they are progressing. After all, parents want their child to attend online ESL lessons so that they progress! So let’s help make it happen.

So let’s review the 7 tips for online ESL teaching:

  1. Smile Whilst Teaching Your Online ESL Class

  2. Assess Your Online ESL Student’s English Speaking Ability

  3. Praise Your Online ESL Student Regularly

  4. Be Fun and Silly When Teaching Your Online English Lesson

  5. Use Props To Keep Your Chinese Student Engaged During The Online ESL Lesson

  6. Use Total Physical Response (TPR) To Aid Communication With Your Online ESL Student

  7. Leave Helpful  Feedback For the Online ESL Student

Follow these 7 tips and you will be rising up the rankings as an online ESL teacher in no time!


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