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Tips on planning your online ESL lessons and managing your time limitations

And for your homework today, I want you to…

And cut. The meeting closes. The 30 online students paying attention with varying levels of concentration disappear. You’re left staring at your PowerPoint slide with the homework details on it all by yourself. No one else is here. You can already sense the seething of the teaching assistant or staff member in charge of the class who now has to send details of your homework to all of the students via whatever social messaging system your school has set up; all because you didn’t have time to set up the homework.

Welcome to the world of online teaching, 2021; specifically, that done via Zoom, the video conferencing program that was virtually unheard at the beginning of last year. Then, suddenly, everyone was using it, or having to use it. And hidden between the humourous stories of middle managers permanently changing their managers’ profile pictures into potatoes, was the fear of teachers in being cut off in full flow when the 40-minute limit was reached.

teaching online

While many schools and institutions went ahead and upgraded their Zoom accounts to allow for unlimited meeting times, many more did not. And when teaching students online became the only way to teach, classes previously 50 or 60 minutes in length had to become 40 minutes. Exactly 40 minutes. Once the class was over, the students moved onto their next subject or duty.

So then, how to ensure that as an ESL teacher, you achieve everything you need to within the 40-minute time limit? While training courses like our Trinity CertTESOL correctly advise you to select one key objective or aim for the class and stick to it, I would add an extra piece of advice. Decide first where you want the lesson to be at the end of the class and work backwards.

If the students need to have their homework explained to them (page numbers, which activities to do, focus on example answers etc.), then start here when planning. Assuming that you are preparing a PowerPoint to present while teaching online, (using the shared screen function), prepare these slides first.

training with Trinity CertTESOL Thailand

Then work backwards – if the students have to use a specific language structure or vocabulary item in their homework, do they know how to use it? Prepare additional slides with similar examples to those found in their homework to give them an example answer. Before that, make sure that any new words or structures found in the homework are clearly explained too.

If you find that there’s simply too much to present and explain before your students are ready for that day’s homework, then you’ll have to reconsider your plans. Do you have to give homework that day? If you do, is there something else you could give them to do? It might not have to be from your coursebook. Depending on the age and level of the students, it could be to complete an off-book online game, draw a picture, write a story or another kind of activity. Rushing through an online presentation just to get to the homework set-up slides will be counter-productive in the long run.

managing your time in online class

Alternatively, you may not have homework to set but still have problems keeping to the time limit. I find having a watch or clock strategically placed in eyesight is an effective way to keep an eye on the time, especially if you find it difficult to view the onscreen countdown timer on Zoom while you’re teaching.

One final tip, include a hyperlink button on your PowerPoint slides to take you straight to the homework slides. This is useful if you have a game or other activity planned that you may need to skip in order to have time for explaining homework.

To do this in PowerPoint, go to:

  • go to Insert

  • go to Shapes

  • select an icon from ‘Action Buttons’ at the bottom and attach it to the slide

  • ‘Action Settings’ appears

  • Choose ‘Hyperlink to’ and ‘Slide’ and enter the slide number of your homework.

Then, if you decide to skip a game or activity, you can click on the icon to go straight to your homework slide or the ‘Goodbye Class’ slide.

Hopefully, these tips will help you better manage your time in your online classes.



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