Your first trial online English lesson – how to succeed

Your first trial online English lesson – how to succeed

Many first lessons you give in English are trial lessons, where a student tries you out for free and then takes lessons, depending on how they feel it went.

So, when giving a first ‘trial’ lesson 1-1, it is tempting to think you have to wow by explaining your credentials or by creating something exciting to teach in order to showcase your skills.

Well, that’s not my experience. In over 10 years of online English teaching, I’ve learned that the best trial online lessons – ones that convert to paid lessons - are much more about my student than me, so rather than teach anything, I focus on listening, creating rapport and giving them the space to speak.

So, what does this mean in practice? I let the student talk and tell me what they need. Then, I simply respond to what I hear. So that I can really learn about my student, I’ve found something like a 70:30 student:teacher talking time ratio works best. That means I ask pertinent questions and guiding, but mostly, I listen.

So, below is my approach to successful trial lessons. For ease, I’ve broken down the lesson into 3 easy stages, and there is a video at the bottom explaining how I take my new 'potential' student through each stage.

Stage 1 - the first third of the lesson: welcome and get your student talking early

Smile, say their name (check pronunciation of it if needed) and check they can hear or see you. Then, ask a simple open question designed to get them talking as soon as possible. I often say:

‘As I’m English, I must ask you about the weather. How is it with you?

I then move on to:

‘So, tell me about yourself.’

See how open this is? At this point, I don’t correct. I just show interest and ask simple follow-up questions and make a couple of notes for future reference.

Stage 2 - the second third of the lesson: hearing their objectives and meeting them

Here I ask questions to drill down into why they want to improve their English. I will ask some of the following questions:

  • 'So, why do you want classes?
  • How often do you speak English?
  • What problems do you have in English?
  • Tell me about: the last time you spoke English/a typical English exchange/a difficult experience you had in English.
  • How is your reading/speaking/listening/writing/grammar/fluency? Which do you think you need most help with right now?
  • Do you read/listen to things in English?
  • What do you like to watch/listen to in your own language? What are your interests?
  • Have you got time to read/listen to some things between lessons? This will really help your progress if you can do a little bit between lessons.’

Then, summarise their needs back to them, which shows you have been listening. Keep sentences short:

‘So, you have a problem making conversation, right?
And you feel like you are translating in your head?
And you want more phrases, and vocabulary to sound more natural?’

Give them a chance to say yes or no at the end of each of your short, summary statements. This is very powerful and students really respond well to this. Everyone likes to feel they have been understood.

Stage 3 - final third of the lesson: close and the next step

If you have understood their needs well, above then I say something like:

‘I can help you with this. First, with me you will have a safe place to practice and make mistakes. Then, we can speak about interesting themes like xxxx where you can learn and practice new vocabulary and phrases. With practice, you will begin to think in English more and not translate.
So, you will become more fluent.  Is that OK?'


Do you like to be corrected?’

It’s always great to get permission. With their ‘yes’, I go on to correct one or two things only from notes I have made earlier. I use the chat box and give them the chance to self-correct, where possible. This gives them a flavour of my teaching style and proves it is a safe place to make mistakes.

Then I commend them for what they have done well today. 

I also give them a chance to ask questions:

‘Well done today. You’ve had a 30 minute discussion with a native English speaker! You’ve understood me. Your intonation and pronunciation are really clear.  You’ve used some natural phrases today like xxxxx. We can explore some interesting themes together to improve fluency, phrases and vocabulary. With practice, you will improve.'

'How does that sound?/is that good for you?'

'Have you got any questions?’

If all seems well, you can gently ask them to book lessons with you:

‘So, what times and days are best for you for lessons?

Then, reply:

‘Great! that works for me.’


'So, are you happy to continue?’ or ‘So, shall we book the next class?'

A final word

Remember to smile, encourage and prompt as you go. Keep the lesson moving, don’t make questions sound like an interrogation and always find positives to say, as everyone likes constructive feedback.

The basic structure above works for me almost every time - and creating the space to allow a student to talk and establish a rapport in the first lesson really carries through to future classes.  For more on this, watch the video below and good luck with your lessons. let me know how you get on with your first lessons on YouTube or below the line here.   


Louisa Walsh is Course Director at Global English TESOL and also runs her own online English teaching business. She has given hundreds of trial lessons by Skype to 1-1 English students.

Want to be a 5* online English teacher? Louisa is offering 1-1 customised coaching to enable you to launch as an independent or deliver quality lessons for an online employer. Discover more >>


If you've aced your online trial lesson, what next? Here's a video walkthrough and plan for your first online English class >>

  • Author: Louisa Walsh
  • Date: 10/07/2020

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Your first trial online English lesson – how to succeed