3 mistakes all online English teachers make and how to easily correct them

3 mistakes all online English teachers make and how to easily correct them

Having taught English online for over fourteen years, I know how easy it is to fall into bad habits as a Skype English teacher.

Recently, I’ve had a good, honest look at my classes and have identified three mistakes I constantly make, which I am sure are common to most online teachers of English.  However, the good news is, these issues are easily rectifiable – and I’ll show you how below:

Problem 1: talking too much

This is a particular issue where you get on well with an advanced learner. As a teacher in this situation you can quickly find yourself having a chat rather than a lesson and end up spending 50% of the time or more speaking. I know, I’ve been there; you may both enjoy the experience but you understand, deep down, your student is not being well served.


Think of yourself as a facilitator rather than a conversation partner. This shift in how you see yourself should encourage you to focus time asking great questions, prompting, correcting, assisting with pronunciation and helping students to reformulate answers that do not make sense grammatically or semantically.

Problem 2: not allowing pauses

In day-to-day conversation, if there’s more than a two second gap in fluent conversation, it's likely someone will say something to break the ‘lull.’ We just don’t like pauses. Yet, such gaps in the context of a lesson can be valuable as they allow students thinking time and the space to formulate a response. Is this a familiar experience for you as an online teacher: you ask a question, your student doesn’t reply immediately, so you re-phrase the question in the gap? Yep, me, too.


I’m learning that non-native English speakers often need longer to process their responses; a pause doesn’t mean they don’t understand and it doesn’t mean the teacher should fill the gap. Have the confidence to ask your question clearly and simply and then wait.

Problem 3: being too neutral and 'bland’

We know it is good to ask open questions to get students speaking, but unthinkingly we can fall into the trap of using the same ones regardless of the topic. Common questions like:

What are the disadvantages/advantages of…?
What was your favourite/best…?

Can be quite uninspiring over time.


Liven up your questions and your themes. I’ve recently found some fantastic articles on transhumanism (upgrading ourselves with AI) and the top 10 best cities to live in. Get students to read the headline first and guess the content. Encourage them to justify their views.
In terms of questions, ask about the worst place they’ve visited, rather than the best. Take a position:

I’m no fan of social media personally. I prefer face-to-face, how about you?

Find articles which are not neutral and get them to see how far they agree. Get your students to ask you questions about the theme. Choose your topics and your stance with care of course, but I have found engagement and interest on both sides ratchets up a level when you step outside the neutral zone.

Honing your techniques as I've outlined above is a sure-fire way to grow as a teacher and improve the learning experience for your students. Why not share your tips below or join in the conversation in our Facebook group?


What next?

Interested in teaching English online?

For purchase:

If you’ve got any questions about teaching or TEFL training, I'd love to hear from you so contact me direct.

  • Author: Louisa Walsh
  • Date: 18/10/2019

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3 mistakes all online English teachers make and how to easily correct them