Online group ESL lessons: what I've learned (2)

This is the second part of my post where I discuss some of my experiences running online group ESL lessons. In the first part of my post I offered some strategies for running group lessons, in this post I’m going to discuss some key considerations to make sure your group lessons are worth it for both you and your students.

First, my background teaching online group ESL lessons

I started teaching online ESL about two years ago while working full time at a private school in Istanbul. What started as a couple of extra hours of teaching a week morphed into a full-time, online ESL business. I’ve taught a mix of young learners, adolescents and adults, with the majority of my students from Turkey. Most of my experience with online group ESL lessons has been with young learners though I have also taught adults in an online group ESL setting. At the beginning of my journey as an online ESL teacher, about 50% of my classes were group-based (two to four students). Today almost all of my lessons are one-on-one.

Key considerations when thinking about making the jump to online group ESL lessons:

There are numerous challenges you should consider before jumping into online group ESL lessons:

  1.  Group fit and dynamics are important. Your students need to get along or else they will not be motivated to join classes. This may sound simple enough (find a group that works and stick with it), but every student will have unique scheduling complications so it can still be difficult to maintain a group composition once you’ve found one that works.
  2. Students should possess a similar level of proficiency. This comment is especially geared towards my experience with young learners, but also relates to adults. You need to compose your groups with students at very similar ESL levels to create a positive and motivating learning environment. It’s sounds simple, but remember that some students focus on accuracy and others on pronunciation or vocabulary. If students have vastly different learning priorities then the group will be short-lived.
  3. Technical issues are compounded. In a one-on-one online lesson technical issues (microphone, camera, internet connection) are relatively easy to resolve in the first couple of minutes of a lesson. In a group session, it becomes significantly more challenging because you’ll have more issues, and some students can become frustrated while waiting for any technical issue to be resolved. Disengagement can occur rapidly when technical issues occur in the group.
  4. With young learners, discipline issues increase in a group setting. I’ve previously written about strategies to maintain discipline in an online ESL lesson with young learners. Discipline is significantly more challenging in a group setting (this is similar to the physical teaching world, just compare a traditional classroom to a private tutorial). Most of the discipline strategies I laid out in my previous article can be challenging to implement in an online group ESL environment. However, adults can also exhbit behavior that can present challenges. Many adults work late so tardiness can be an issue. Children will communicate their displeasure much more quickly than most adults – absenteeism is the clue that your student is not coming back, though he or she may have never communicated anything other than positive feedback.
  5. Scheduling can kill your profitability. You may have calculated that you need an average of 3 students in your group sessions to make your classes more profitable that one-on-one sessions, but what happens when one student can’t make your 7:30 pm Thursday class? Of course, cancellations are still an issue in one-on-one classes, but if you get a cancellation for your group sessions, you still have to teach the (now not-so-profitable) class for the students who show up. Finally, you cannot cater to every scheduling request. From experience, if a student can no longer attend the class he or she was previously enrolled in, move that student to another time as a one-to-one lesson and do not attempt to reschedule the entire group. You take on a whole lot of extra administration and you lose revenue immediately.

I hope this is helpful to any teachers considering  online group ESL lessons. As always, I would love to hear from any other teachers who have experience in the field.

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