How to Teach English Online: A Complete Beginners Guide

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 02/20/23 •  Teach Online

Welcome to our FREE 5 Step Guide to Teaching English Online The ESL industry is rapidly changing from in class to online, providing some unique opportunities to work abroad anywhere and teach online. If you’ve been looking for a way to teach English online and actually get paid a good hourly rate, look no farther than Teach and GO. Ready? Let’s get started.

How to teach English online, your two options.

When it comes to teaching English online you have two options you can take advantage of:

Both have their respective pros and cons. In general we suggest you start with an online teaching company like VIPKID and then move to more of a freelance setup.

The reason being that online companies are easy for a beginner to learn and understand how to be an effective teacher. Then once you know what you’re doing you can go the freelance route.

Become an independent contractor with an online teaching company

This is the preferred route for any beginner. This method is where you sign up and go through a hiring process to become an online teacher with an online teaching company.

The main company we strongly recommend you start with is VIPKID – a Chinese startup which is now the industry leader. You need to be an American or Canadian (the preferred accent) with a bachelors degree.

The advantage of becoming an independent contractor is that the online teaching company takes care of all the business aspects of the online teaching model. They create the lessons, they recruit and maintain the students, they take care of the payment and communication aspects.

The only thing you need to do is teach the lesson and meet the objectives. No tests, no quizzes, no homework, no following up. You just teach and go. This model is perfect for anyone looking for something part time or even full time if they want.



Freelance teaching

Freelance teaching is where you setup your own online teaching business and recruit your own students. There are numerous websites that enable you to do this. Some of our favorites are:

The advantage of this route it you’re more in control of how much you’re paid. The downsides are that you have to take care of all the business aspects. The recruiting of students, giving discounts, managing your teaching schedule, dealing with no-shows as well as creating a lesson for each student.

While some teachers make a full time income from teaching and selling language courses, it is a difficult business model as getting students, creating lessons and managing expectations is quite difficult.

Particularly if you’re looking to simply supplement your income with teaching online.



What is an Online Classroom Like?

For your online class you’re provided with a lesson in the form of an interactive slide presentation with graphics and sounds that form the foundation of a specific lesson. Each slide has a specific objective which you’re required to meet.

Lessons can be for a wide range of topics as well as varying degrees of difficulty. You could teach young learners who are just learning their ABC’s or you could be teaching more advanced students about the differences between metamorphic rock and igneous rock.

It really depends on the company, the lesson and what you’re qualified to teach.

How do the students find you and book you?

This depends on the online teaching company you work with. Some like VIPKID will have the parents book you week to week. If you’re an excellent teacher with good reviews you’ll find getting classes is easy. Other platforms like Magic Ears book you with the students.

To get booked you simply submit your availability and the teaching company does the rest. Some companies want you to open hours week to week, others like DADA want you to give hours a month in advanced.

How do you teach the students exactly?

To teach an online class with an online teaching company you’ll simply log in and use their propriatry teaching portal to enter the online class. Load the slides and away you go.

Of course, you have the opportunity to review the slides before you teach. But the process of actually teaching is quite straight forward.

Remember to have good energy and to use plenty of TPR for your online class. Last, have fun! Kids are fun and you’ll love being an online teacher.

Step 1 – Meet the Educational Requirements:

Alright, so you’re ready to get started with one of these online teaching companies. Before you start applying, please make sure you have the required experience and educational requirements.

These positions typically pay between $22-28 an hour so you do need to be a working professional to get hired:

Native English Speaker

No surprise here. Non-native speakers want to learn with native speakers. Most teaching websites connect you with students in Asia. China currently being the biggest market and the country leading the way in the online teaching space.

Some platforms also require specific accents as well. Case in point is VIPKID. You must be North American to even get an interview, then you must have a standard North American accent. No southern twang or odd accent allowed.

Bachelors Degree

Part of the recruitment process is to submit a copy of your degree and sometimes your transcript. A degree is still a basic requirement for all ESL teachers online or abroad. Your bachelors degree can be in any subject. Education is preferred but not essential. You’ll need a degree to get an interview.

Teaching Experience – Any experience working with kids

Quality platforms that pay well demand experience from their prospective teachers in order to be hired as an independent contractors. This is not some minimum wage job or some silly part time online position that you don’t need to take it seriously.

You’re teaching children and are expected to have relevant experience teaching children. A year of teaching experience in most cases is all you’ll need. Have you taught for year abroad doing ESL or have been a teacher of children in some other capacity?

Great you meet the teaching experience requirement.

Even if you have no teaching experience but you worked as a volunteer teaching children or are a coach for a sports team you can still meet this basic requirement.

Step 2 – Meet The Technical Requirements

Once you have the background, education and experience to get hired. You’re also going to need a few things to teach. Most of which you already have. Here is a quick guide:

A modern laptop or tablet

A trend with online teaching companies is for them to develop their own app which you can download to your device which you use to teach. Most companies expect you to have at a minimum a laptop.

VIPKID for example requires you to have a laptop or desktop computer for the interview process. Once hired however, you’re able to teach using a tablet.

Other companies are strictly phone based where you teach from your phone. It depends on the company. If you’re reading this, you most likely have a laptop or desktop computer.

We suggest you look at laptops that have a screen size of between 13 inches to 15.6 inches. You’ll also want something that has a touch screen.

For more, check out best Laptops for online teaching guide.

Headphones (with optional microphone)

You’ll need a decent pair of headphones as an online English teacher. Don’t worry, you don’t need anything complicated or expensive. You’ll just need a headset that is not bulky, comfortable to wear and ideally has a microphone attached to it.

If you decide to go with a more expensive pair of headphones instead of a cheap headset for chatting, then you may want to get an additional microphone.

For more on headphones check out the 6 best headsets for online class.

Dedicated webcam – Option

With online teaching your most important tool is actually your camera. For most laptops, you get a 720P full HD webcam. Your integrated camera is “good enough” but if you want to improve the look of your online class then consider getting a dedicate webcam.

Webcams are not expensive, they work by simply plugging them into your laptop via a USB port and provide a vastly better video image than your integrated webcam. We suggest getting a 1080P webcam at a minimum, but suggest purchasing a 4k webcam to future proof your technology.

Learn more with our webcams for online teaching guide.

Dedicated microphone – Optional depending on your headsets

Audio is almost as important as video with online teaching. A lot of beginners may be shocked to find out just how bad the on-board microphone is on most laptops.

Of all the laptops we’ve tested for class, only the Macbook Pro 17″ was outstanding. If you decide to go with a pair of headphones that don’t have a an attached microphone you can get a simple USB microphone.

There are a lot of great, low prices microphones that sound crisp, clear and rich. If you want to level up your audio checkout our dedicated microphones for teachers content.

Lighting – For early morning class

Small, great for desk.

With teaching online, depending on where you are in the world you may need additional lighting. For teachers based on the east coast in America it’s quite easy to teach from 6:30 am to 8 am. You have that natural morning light to work with. But what if it’s still dark outside or you’re teaching at night?

You’re going to need a light source. Yes you can rely a bit on your overhead light in your room, but getting a low cost ring light really makes a night and day difference (pun intended). With using an overhead light, you’re face is not going to look bright and fresh. It’s a small thing, but consider getting additional lighting.

For more, checkout our dedicated guide to video lighting.

Props – Use your judgement

You’re free to use various teaching props as you see fit. In fact, it’s often encouraged as it makes your online class more fun and engaging while helping you to meet the lesson objectives.

Props can be anything you want. A cup, stuffed animals, toys, whiteboard, microphone, camera. Anything and everything you have in your home that you can use to demonstrate something.

This your chance to be creative and have fun. Your job as an online teacher is to meet the lesson objectives, so whatever props and tools you need is totally up to you.

For more, check out 10 MUST Have Props for Online Teachers.

Teacher background – Virtual or intentional designed

Since you’re on camera you will need to give some thought as to your online classroom environment. Don’t worry, you can build and design something great over time.

To get started, just use any wall in your home as your background and put up some ABC’s and a map. There are also lot’s of tutorial videos on YouTube to get an idea and we have a dedicated guide on teacher background ideas you can checkout.

Last, you can also use a virtual background which is great for people who are little more tech savvy and can’t be bothered to design a teacher background. For this, you’ll need to make sure that you’re using a chroma-key friendly app like Zoom or you’re working for an online teaching company like VIPKID that supports virtual background.

Once you know your setup support virtual background, go ahead and get a low cost greenscreen for teaching and try it out. You may find that you really enjoy using a greenscreen.

Step 3 – Apply and begin the hiring process

To get hired as an online teacher you must first actually apply to become an independent contractor. For the application process you’ll typically need a few things:

Resume – Standard Practice

You’ll need a resume to apply for an online teaching position. While resume writing is beyond the scope of this guide, just make sure to tailor it to the position as appropriate. Emphasis your experience working with children and any all relevant rewards and certifications you have as a potential teacher.

Profile Picture – This is for Your Teacher Profile

With online teaching companies, you’ll have an individualized teacher profile. Complete with an introduction for parents, a photo of you and relevant certifications like your bachelors degree and TEFL certificate.

You do typically need to submit a profile picture with your application as part of the process in the beginning. Chose a picture where you’re smiling and happy looking. It does not need to be a formal head shot with you wearing business attire. Casual but nice is fine.

Check out our 6 tips for VIPKID self introduction.

Copy of your passport

While this is not required at the initial application you will at some point be required to actually prove you’re from a country where English is the native spoken language. For a copy of your passport, simply take a picture using your phone then crop the photo as needed on your laptop.

Copy of your degree

Same advice as your passport. Not required typically with the initial application, but at some point you will have to upload your degree.

TEFL Certificate

A TEFL certificate is a “teach English as a foreign language” certificate. It becoming ever more important as the ESL industry evolves. It’s worth getting this certificate because it not only future proofs you again change, it also makes you a better teacher and opens up more options for you.

You have a lot of premium and budget options. Learn more at our free TEFL course guide.

Step 4 – Interview, Mock Class and Training

The next and most difficult part of the process is going through the interview process to get hired. Again, the process varies from every company. The only options we recommend that has no vetting process would be Fiverr where anyone can signup and create a gig.

For all other platforms and marketplaces you can expect is something like this:

Initial interview – 10 – 30 minutes

The initial interview typically consists of going through your resume and asking you questions about your experience and why you’re interested in an online teaching position.

In addition to a short interview you may be asked to demonstrate some specific aspect of a lesson using the companies teaching platform or app. Nothing intense, just something simple like “teach using these 5 slides.”

You’ll be informed of all this through email once you apply. Just prepare as needed.

Self Study – The Online Teacher Onboarding Process

Once you pass the initial interview you’ll be given access to training material related to the company. This material will inform you about the way the company works. How to open hours, teach, any certifications you need to complete as well as various questions like how to take time off and what happens if a student is a no-show and what not.

Once you complete the self study about the practices and policies of your online teaching company you’ll move on to the most stressful step, the mock class.

Mock Class – Prove yourself

The most un-fun and stressful part of the process is the mock class. Depending on the company you may have a practice class with another teacher or you may be in a practice class with an actual student so your performance can be reviewed.

This part is essential to complete and it’s where most teachers stop because they find the process too time consuming. But it’s worth doing as you only have to do this once.

Step 5 – Sign your contract and submit your availability!

Once you pass your the training the next step is to simply sign your contract and begin opening hours. From here on out you now have a profitable side gig that is quick and easy to do.

If you’re going the freelance route then simply create, list and price your offering and and be proactive about getting students.

For online teaching company lessons, take the time to go through each and every lesson in detail until you get comfortable with the teaching process. After a month or so of teaching you should get the hang of it and be able to teach more and more classes back to back.

How to teach English online for beginners conclusion

So that is it for our dedicated guide, our crash course on how to get started teaching English online as a side income from home.

If you’ve been looking for ways to make money online, online teaching provides as worth while opportunity. We suggest starting with something like VIPKID and then moving to freelance once you become more skilled.

Editorial Staff

I'm David Unwin and I head the editorial staff here at Teach and GO. I've taught as an ESL teacher in Thailand for 5+ years at all levels of education, from elementary to University. I was also one of the first 1000 VIPKID teachers. I and my team now share my extensive experience as a teacher here at Teach and GO. Learn more.