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How to Deliver Effective English Lessons Online

By Dr Scott R. Dempsey on 30th September, 2021

English is the second most popular subject taught on Bramble after maths. It’s another core subject in the UK and a very popular choice for A level students.

With such a high demand for English tuition, and online tutoring now being the preferred choice of tutoring, we wanted to discover what makes for fantastic online English lessons. To do that we asked some professional online tutors to share their experience, show some examples, and offer tips for those looking for inspiration.

All told, there's been over 400,000 hours of English tutoring delivered via Bramble and the tutors featured in this article have a combined experience of thousands of hours of tutoring English online.

While online tutoring is very personalised, you should find some useful methods to implement in your next session. For simplicity, we have broken the advice into the following sections:

  1. Preparing a session (pre-session planning and preparation)
  2. Starting a session (the first 10 minutes of a session)
  3. During the session (delivering engaging sessions)
  4. After the session (post-session analysis and continuity)
  5. Popular topics & concepts (insights from over 1 million sessions)

Let's start at the begining...

1. Preparing a session

Preparation is a critical part of any taught lesson, perhaps even more so when teaching online. Many of our English tutors found that loading resources into the notebook prior to the session works well. Others prefer to have their resources in folders on their device and upload them during the session for greater flexibility.

If you are starting out with few resources, or you’re new to online tutoring, It’s important to know how to use screenshot tools, what file types can be uploaded into the session, and how to upload resources quickly. Many tutors find the drag-and-drop method perfect for the latter.

It’s important to see your resource library as an asset that you can build and refine over time that will pay dividends by saving you additional preparation work for years to come.

Here are some suggestions from experienced English tutors:

Amanda Townsend, English and Maths Tutor (400+ hours on Bramble)

“Have sessions ready prepared as it keeps the pace and you have it looking the way you want it. Also, use a snipping tool rather than a drop in file to customise the size of the resource you are using.”

Frances Sutton, English Tutor (200+ hours on Bramble)

“The ability to populate pages with details from previous sessions means I don’t have to spend time uploading work again when covering the same unit.”

Sophia Kapcia, English Tutor (100+ hours on Bramble)

“Upload the materials for your sessions ahead of time. Also, if using Bramble, convert your PowerPoint slides to PDF so they can be shared in the notebook.”

Eric Windsor, English Tutor

“Have the necessary attachments and documents ready before the lesson and even setting up some pages on the Bramble whiteboard ahead of time with question sheets that you can easily scroll to during the lesson.”

image showing an English GCSE lesson in Bramble.

“This is an English GCSE lesson - I used the Bramble pdf upload to upload a past paper. In the screenshot we worked through the passage, underlining and circling interesting words and phrases using the draw function. We used the text function to make notes next to the passage” - Kiran Khanom, English Tutor.

2. Starting a session

The start of the session sets the scene for the rest of the session. How you set this up will depend on whether it’s your first session with a student or you’ve been working with a student consistently on a schedule.

When starting with a new student, it’s important to get them comfortable with the tools and resources they’ll be using. You’ll also want to build rapport with the student. The goal is to make sure they feel comfortable; actively engaging and participating in the session.

If you have been working with a student for a while, you might start the session by evaluating the points or questions from the previous session. You could even upload your work from the previous session for reflection or continuation. Some tutors will also leave work in the session notebook for students to complete between sessions.

Here’s some tips from other English tutors:

Jackson Campbell - English Tutor (200+ hours on Bramble)

“Invest time in getting to know your students and their interests. It may initially slow down how much content is covered but that time will be more than made up when you get full buy-in and engagement from your student who knows they are valued and respected for who they are as an individual.”

Emily Dunford - English Tutor (50+ hours on Bramble)

“Get students writing straight away. Focus on a specific writing skill at a time so that they can see clear progress.”

Frances Sutton - English Tutor (200+ hours on Bramble)

“Have a starter activity on page one linked to the last session’s learning. Great to check understanding before moving on.”

Hannah Barrow - English Tutor (50+ hours on Bramble)

“Get your student to interact as much as possible with the tools that are available! Encourage them to use the pen to draw on the screen, to use the text feature to write answers, and the upload feature to make sessions even more collaborative!”

Zoe Malik - English Tutor

“Get students writing straight away. Focus on a specific writing skill at a time so that they can see clear progress.”

image showing an English language GCSE lesson in Bramble.

“Here I’m teaching English Language GCSE non-fiction text, the student read an article about Tim Peake's space mission - using the extract to think about what to do when there may be difficult vocabulary in an article e.g. using the sentence to understand the meaning, and thinking about how to overcome any fears that arise in the exam setting when presented with unfamiliar words” - Hannah Barrow, English Tutor

3. During the session

So now that you’ve prepared your session and got off to a flier, how do you keep the student engaged and deliver an effective lesson?

Let’s look at what our expert English tutors suggest:

Emily Dunford - English Tutor (50+ hours on Bramble)

“Use technical terms and explain the term. Start phasing out the explanation and encourage students to do so as well. GCSE students enjoy spelling tests and starter challenges (like the synonym challenge, during which you take it in turns to give synonyms of a word). Work with students on general skill building (time management, SMART goals, Pomodoro technique working and other independent work practices, etc).”

Frances Sutton - English Tutor (200+ hours on Bramble)

“Be aware that some sessions are repeated in different units, so have some extra exercises available and use these sessions to deal with misconceptions in areas covered so far.”

Tom - English and Maths Tutor (100+ hours on Bramble)

“Focus on having broad, reflective discussions on each aspect of English work and put a lot of emphasis into the written work, particularly in regards to spelling and grammar.”

Kiran Khanom - English Tutor

“Highlight and underline content as you read it out - it helps the session feel more interactive.”

Eric Windsor - English Tutor

“Using different coloured markers on the online whiteboard to help distinguish between different topics/questions, or, my personal favourite, between what you are writing and what the student is writing to help them see the proper setting out of answers.”

Zoe Malik - English Tutor

“Share notes with the students to ensure they are not spending too much time copying down information but rather they are focusing on 'actively listening' which is something students often struggle with.”

Ruby Brocklehurst - English Tutor (50+ hours on Bramble)

“Use the online nature to your advantage! Use the space that's in front of you to do things that in-person tutoring might not be able to; for example - using Bramble to write practise essay paragraphs together in a space that allows you both to revise and edit. Online tutoring really just helps to make sure that the student is getting stuck in, rather than them relying on the tutor to do all the work as a default.”

Patricia Natalia - Reading Tutor

“Cultivate a space of focus for the student and yourself. Use dynamism in your voice to capture the interest of the student.”

Lois Canessa - English Tutor (200+ hours on Bramble)

“Pupils find using the pen tool for annotation really engaging - I can be reading a text whilst they skim and scan for example hunting for verbs and adverbs - they can be actively doing something a lot of the time - I am working much more interactively online than I was in real person interventions.”

image showing a crossword game completed by students and tutor in Bramble.

“Here's an example of a crossword game I play with my younger students. We all pick a different colour and see who can spot the most words. It's great fun as well as being educational.” – Rebecca Kettle, English Tutor

4. After the session

What happens after the session is perhaps as important as what precedes it. The period after the session completes the feedback loop.

The first thing you might want to do is evaluate how the session went. If you’re using Bramble, you can use the CUE ratings system to measure and track the student’s confidence, understanding and engagement during the session. You can also reflect on your own tutoring by reviewing a playback of the session or by looking at the word counts and tool usage for your students.

Exporting your notebook gives you and your tutee a PDF copy of everything you covered in the session, so that can be a useful part of reviewing and revising from your lessons.

image showing Bramble session synopses for English lessons.

Here is some additional advice from the English tutors:

Emily Dunford - English Tutor (50+ hours on Bramble)

“Encourage students to read around the subject, and suggest diverse texts for them. Encourage students to link their learning between disciplines. Students studying sociology might discuss the theory in relation to texts studied, for example.”

Cliona - English Tutor

“Really communicate with your tutee - ask for feedback, what they enjoyed about your lesson, what they found harder, which activities helped them learn the most. Then take this feedback and apply it to your next lesson. Each student is different and will have different strengths, needs and abilities.”

Finally, let’s look at some insights from data derived from over 1 million hours of online tutoring.

At the time of writing English lessons account for 26.2% of all sessions delivered on Bramble, second only to maths at 30.2% (see figure below).

image showing the percentages of different subjects taught on Bramble.

In terms of topics, online English lessons can be split into:

  • Reading (13.5%)
  • Writing (10.1%)
  • General (2.6%)

Of which, the most popular subtopics tutored online are:

  • Reading: Literacy (28.1%)
  • Reading: Language and Structure (8.4%)
  • Reading: Critical Reading (5.0%)
  • Reading: Shakespeare (9.8%)
  • Writing: Creative Writing (27.4%)
  • Writing: Grammar (8.4%)
  • Writing: Transactional (2.3%)
  • Writing: Analytical (0.3%)
  • Other (10.2%)

According to our data, the most common English concepts mentioned during English tutoring sessions are:

  • Metaphor
  • Shakespeare
  • Romeo
  • Scrooge
  • Stanza
  • Dickens
image showing popular concepts mentioned in English online tutoring sessions on Bramble.

So what does all this mean for you, the online English tutor?

Our data highlights some of the most popular topics and subtopics taught on Bramble. This shows higher demand for tuition in those areas – suggesting students find them more difficult or that they're a particularly critical part of the specification.

It’s clear from the data that a significant proportion of English tuition online is focused on reading literacy and creative writing, so having a good set of resources for these areas would be advisable.

Overall, the good news is that English tuition is clearly in high demand and online tutoring is now the preferred method of tutoring. So the future looks bright for English tutors who wish to teach online.

Special Thanks

To all of the English tutors who took the time to take part in our surveys and share their tips, examples and wisdom. Your advice will undoubtedly help others who are looking to tutor English online.

Bramble is a market leader in the online tutoring industry. An award-winning online tutoring platform which has been used by over 5000 tutors and students in 100 different countries. The experience and knowledge gained from over 62,000 hours of online tuition has given us a unique insight into how people teach and learn online, and ultimately what makes the difference between a poor and a great experience tutoring online.