Online Teaching Tips (Collected from Think Tank Readers, May 2020)

Online Teaching Tips Collected from Think Tank Readers, May 2020

By: The Crowd

Editors: We asked our readers to give us some online teaching tips and, in a couple days, we were deluged. We’ll show you a few staff picks, some favorites excluded, but you can see the full, X-rated version here. It includes tips from more teachers with these great monikers!

AL G – Can you hear me?                                                                Joe Suzuki-Parker — Dancin’ in the rain

Cindy – Scared in commuting train                                              Glenn Magee – Stand-up Lecturer

Bruno Jactat – Surfing on the digital waves                              Tim Murphey – Singing Neanderthal 

Michael Lin – Would Love to be your Robot                              Jeffrey Martin, Zoomin’ in Tokyo

Monica Behrend – University of South Australia                     Ray Franklin

Julia Daley -a writing teacher with even more grading to do now

1) If using Zoom, enable “Join before host” in your Meeting Settings (and do not enable “Waiting Room”) so that students can log on earlier and talk to each other. That way you don’t have to feverishly multi-task as the class begins or keep an eye on who might be waiting to enter later. 

2) Have an ongoing class Google Doc that all students have open during class as a common reference point. This contains your class plan, tasks you’ll do in class, links to any other documents or PDFs you’ll use in class, and directions for homework. Having a common desktop document makes communication much easier and class tasks more focused. 

Paul Wadden, Juntendo University, co-editor of Teaching English at Japanese Universities: A New Handbook

Pedagogy before technology. When changing platforms, nothing changes in terms of pedagogy. When moving online, start from your pedagogical and methodological roots and build out from there. Some of the specific techniques and tools may change when online, but the core goals and methods do not.​

Aaron Spooner – MY English School

If you make videos of your lecture materials for your students to view asynchronously (and you should!), keep them short and lively. Break longer subjects up into manageable chunks whenever possible! This is both easier on you (no need to lecture at length) and the students — they can make sure they’ve got each point before moving on. 

David K. Groff – Aspiring media guru

Build a sense of community by creating homework buddy groups. In groups of 2-3, have students exchange contact information during class (Zoom breakout rooms), and have them think of ways they can check on each other during the semester. 

Levy Solomon, ESL and Yoga Instructor – Teaching you what’s down, dog. (And down dog)

For people teaching kids: Sometimes you might want a bigger view that the head/shoulders view of a typical laptop. For example, if you are teaching a song that has body actions. Seria (the 100 yen shop) sell a “wide angle lens” for smart phone. It works on laptops as well. And if Seria has it, I assume other similar shops (100 yen, dollar shops) have it or will soon. It is too small to fit easily on big desktops. 


With class sizes of 30-50 students, giving customized and meaningful feedback to each student each week on their homework becomes a daunting (and stressful!) task. An alternative method is to read students’ homework while having open a blank PowerPoint (PPT) slide(s). As you go through students’ assignments copy/paste exemplar responses (either good or bad) into the PPT slide. The next class, just show it to your students at as a brief review of the homework.

Jason Gold – Streamlined Large-Class Feedback Guy 

 In Zoom, to find out which unmuted student has a noisy dog barking in the background, look at the flashing mic levels at the top of the “participants” list. 

Curtis Kelly –Zoom fatigued in a good way

For Zoom meetings that use a lot of breakout room activities and discussions, I’ve found it useful to create a separate document that the students can reference. All of the discussion questions and activity instructions are divided up by color, so all I have to do is say, “Work on the green discussion questions, or look at the blue instructions.” This has saved me a lot of time going from breakout room to breakout room checking to see if Ss know what to do!

Tim Ellsworth – Senzai Do-or-die!

Getting students to use paper notebooks for online classes

With everything suddenly shifted online, our students may get burnt out from constantly looking at screens and typing on their devices. To give them a break from their machines, I’ve decided to give them some assignments that they can do in their real paper notebooks.

Andrew Tweed – Lecturer and Coordinator of the Self-Access Center, Soka University, Tokyo, Japan

Exposure to the blue light from your computer screen or mobile devices before bed can negatively impact the quality of your sleep. If you can’t avoid your tech, consider buying a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses. Also, many devices have settings that can reduce the amount of blue light emitted (iOS>>Night Shift; Google Pixel>>Night Light; Samsung Galaxy>>Blue Light Filter). 

Tom Gorham – light sleeper

If you’re using Zoom breakout rooms, type discussion questions or short instructions into a document before class, then copy and paste into the broadcast message to all rooms box. That way you don’t have to worry about students forgetting what they should be doing.


Caroline – just needs an “e” before the “o” and “n” after

Every week I send a “File Request” link from Dropbox to my students. This is an incredibly simple way of collecting papers (or student videos in another course) from students. Here’s a mini-manual.

James Dunn

In Zoom, forget the microphones now and then in favor of the chat box. Then everyone participates all at once. Unfinished sentences work great: “I would like to travel one day to … because…

Kevin McCaughey – Belgrading in Belgrade

I adapted an idea I got from C about giving students a pass-fail grade on their first try and then giving them a chance to improve later. I didn’t want to give graded assignments the first month or so, not being sure if the students were all at the same starting line, so I did this for the first three weeks and then had them submit a mini-portfolio of their revised work at the end of the month.

Gerry the Coal Mine Canary

As is pointed out in many places in this Think Tank, human beings are extremely sensitive to facial signals and voice inflections. Teachers, too. That makes it virtually impossible for us not to be biased in favor of students broadcasting at HD quality as compared to students who are fuzzy and sound-impaired because of poor connections. I noticed this when one of my students in China, with a horrible Zoom connection every week, sent me a clear video of her speech that hit me in a drastically different way. Know this bias. And expect it to be a factor in any subjective evaluation you do.

Think Tank Team – Amazed by how much we learned in this issue.

Remote Teaching Tips

British Council – Hey! No one asked our permission!

The rest of the Tips here  and Kelly’s Famous Zoom Mini-Manual for ELT
& Bruno Jactat’s
Etiquette Checklist in Japanese

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