Here are some useful tools and resources to help both you and your student get the most out of your online lessons. We’ll keep this updated with all the latest tools and resources from the Internet.
Listening resources (audio and video)
Probably the most important type of resource to use in your lesson are listening materials. If you read the chapter on how to teach listening, you’ll remember that it’s important to get your student used to listening to people other than just you speaking English. Now, we remember the days when using video and audio recordings with students meant poking around in the back of a dusty cupboard to find badly-labelled cassettes in sticky cases, shoving it into a player and hoping the tape wouldn’t get mangled up…then having to spend the next five minutes rewinding and forwarding the tape to get to the right place. Today everything is digital. Millions of video clips are a mouse click away. And they can easily be shared with students online. Video sharing websites like YouTube and Vimeo are obvious places, and there are some gems there, but the sheer quantity of videos there makes it hard to find something just right. Fortunately, lots of listening materials, both in audio and video format, which have been created specifically for our learners, can be found on the Internet. Here are a few sites we like.
The British Council
One of the best places to find high quality listening material is through the British Council websites and podcasts. They offer a fantastic selection of audio and video materials, most of which contain lesson plans and tasks that you can do with your student: these tasks can usually be done on the British Council website, or you can download the activities on a pdf and use them as a basis for your lesson. You can find a complete list of their listening materials for adults and older teens at learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/listen-and-watch
We particularly like the following:
This is a collection of short audio recordings, suitable for intermediate to advanced students, about issues connected with business and academic issues, from biotechnology, eBay and developing creativity. They are usually monologues.
Word on the Street is a series of half hour programmes created by the British Council and the BBC and looks at how English works in everyday life. Each episode is filmed in a different place in the UK and features drama, interviews and reports.
This is an audio soap opera, containing short episodes in which the characters discuss everyday life over a cup of coffee. Each episode comes with a lesson plan and a transcript.
The British Council also have videos for teenage students and children, including:
This section of the British Council’s Teens website contains lots of short videos on a range of topics of interest to teenage students, complete with transcripts and activities.
This section contains animated videos of conversations that focus on different grammatical structures, such as reported speech, articles and modals. Each video comes with activities and transcripts.
This section of the British Council website for children contains lots of short animated stories and songs, along with activities.
The British Council resources are so good that you might not need to go anywhere else, but here are a few other great websites that we’ve used to source listening materials for our lessons.
This is a fantastic site created by an American teacher, Randall Davis. It contains a huge amount of fun, engaging conversations on a wide range of topics at different proficiency levels, along with some activities and quizzes designed to develop your student’s listening skills.
The Voice of America website includes lots of listening materials, suitable for learners at different proficiency levels, based on current affairs issues.
The BBC World Service website includes the latest news, usually in a much clearer accent than you might get in news broadcast to British viewers. They also have a Learning English section with short audio and video reports.
ELLLO offers over 2000 free listening recordings with activities such as quizzes, vocabulary lessons and captions. It was created by Todd Beuckens, an English teacher based in Japan.
Real English is an online video library of people being interviewed in English speaking countries, organised by function and proficiency level. What’s good about the videos is that they are spontaneous, usually filmed in the street, so the language is authentic. The site also includes activities linked to the videos, including exercises based around transcripts of the videos.
If you have never come across TED Talks, then you need to check it out! Briefly, it’s a collection of excellent talks, usually no longer than 15 minutes, given by some of the greatest minds in the world on topics ranging from the everyday to the extraordinary and everything in between. Downloadable transcripts are available for many of these talks and subtitles can be shown to help your learner understand the talk. Better still, lesson plans and activities geared towards the needs of English language learners have been produced for many of these talks, and these can be downloaded at tedxesl.com
EduCanon is a website which enables you to create interactive activities based around videos found in YouTube, Vimeo, TeacherTube, Khan Academy and TED Talks. The activities – usually in the form of questions – can be embedded into the video. These interactive videos can also be embedded into your own blog or website.
Film English uses short films as the basis for English language lessons. The site includes embedded video, usually from Vimeo, along with step-by-step guides to lesson activities.
Simon’s Cat is an animated cartoon created by British animator, Simon Tofield, featuring a perpetually hungry, charming and curious cat yearning for attention. The short animations (usually under 2 minutes) are simple yet always action packed and can be used as the basis for great lessons. You could, for example, ask your student to describe the events of the video, or ask a series of questions about what happens.
This is a great resource for finding lessons and activities based around the news, specifically BBC News reports. New lessons are uploaded every two days, based on a current news story and they are written at different proficiency levels. Every lesson comes with an audio recording of the text and a super variety of text-based activities.
Breaking News English builds a lot of its activities using a separate website, Textivate, which is well worth checking out. You can create a wide range of activities based on a text simply by copying and pasting text into a text box and clicking submit. The website will then automatically generate lots of activities for your student to use.
Wikipedia is a great source of information, but often the articles are very long and complicated, far too difficult for most learners to understand with ease. Fortunately, many articles are available in simplified English versions. Let’s say you’ve found an article about Halloween on Wikipedia. On the left hand side of the screen you’ll see various tools; further down you should see a list of languages that this article has been translated into. You’ll often find that amongst that list of languages is listed ‘Simple English’. Click on ‘Simple English’ and your long, complicated article on Halloween has suddenly become much easier to understand. Now you have the basis for a lesson. There are over 100,000 articles on Wikipedia written in Simple English.
Images are the Online English Teacher’s best friend. They’re easy to find and use, are a quick and easy way to describe vocabulary and grammar, and a single photo can form the basis of an entire lesson.
A great example of this is the British Council’s Image Bank which contains photographs that form the stimulus for an entire lesson. Each photo comes with an audio recording related to the photo and activities.
You can, of course, find several billion images on Google Images and Flickr. And don’t forget your own camera – and your student’s. Why not ask them to take photos of their home or neighbourhood and describe them to you?
Worksheets are one of the main resources used by classroom teachers and these can be adapted for use online. You can either send a copy of the worksheet through Skype or, even better, upload it to an online whiteboard so you can look at the same sheet together and write on it.
This site contains lots of worksheet style materials which can also be used online. You have to subscribe to the site to use the worksheets.
Busy Teacher has a great range of free worksheets you can download and use in your lessons. The site also includes a useful blog in which teachers share their knowledge and tips.
One Stop English is a subscription website run by MacMillan Publishing and contains lots of worksheet style materials, many of which previously been published by MacMillan in print format.
Teachit ELT is a subscription website. It is a great source of material. Most of the site (which includes audio files) is only available to subscribers, which costs £25 a year, but it does offer some content for free as PDFs.
There are a couple of other great resources we like.
Off2Class is a wonderful resource offering lots of focused language lessons based around slide shows which you, the teacher, present to the student. The lessons include teacher notes. To access all the lessons, you need to request a username and password. You can also set up usernames and passwords for your students so that they can access the same resources of their devices. Otherwise you simply share your screen using Skype or Google Hangouts.
English 360 is quite an innovative website. It enables teachers to create, deliver and share materials. It also gives you online access to a wide range of coursebook materials published for adults by Cambridge University Press, as well as lessons and materials created by other teachers. You can also earn money from resources you create yourself. It’s initially free for freelance teachers; you just pay if you add a student to one of your courses. To find resources created by other people, log in and go to the Resources Organiser (located under the Organise tab). From there you can search through a big library of materials.
This site has links to more than 40 sites covering eight academic subjects. It’s more of a general teaching resource site, but there will be some great materials for English language teaching, including lesson plans, activities, games, handouts, slideshows, tests and quizzes. The English resources section is particularly useful.
Test Preparation Materials
If you’re preparing students to take English language exams, you’ll find a wealth of test prep materials online.
This site contains lots of materials and advice for preparing your student to take the IELTS test.
The Cambridge English exams site contains lots of information about the different exams offered by Cambridge English.
Commercially Published Coursebooks
Many online English teacher use one or more of the many coursebooks published commercially by such publishers as MacMillan, Heinle-Cengage, Cambridge and Oxford. These are often packaged as a student book, a workbook, a teacher’s book and a CD or two containing listening materials from the student book and workbook. Ideally, both the student and teacher should have their own copies of the student book and workbook, so the activities in the book can form the basis of lessons. This means that the coursebooks either need to be available in bookshops in both your home town and your student’s home town, or you’ll have to have them sent out to you in the mail.
The advantage to the teacher of using a coursebook is that you don’t need to spend time hunting down resources on the Internet, and because lessons are written out for you in the teacher’s book, it’s great for inexperienced teachers. However, in order to give your student the best value for their money, materials from coursebooks need to be supplemented or adapted for your student’s particular needs. As you get more experienced, you can view coursebooks simply as a place from which you pick and choose activities to use, rather than plodding through the whole book, page-by-page.
There are lots of good coursebooks available (along with lots of mediocre ones). Here are a few that we have found useful for using in online lessons.
Cutting Edge is a very popular adult coursebook published by Pearson. The book takes a task-based approach to learning English and we like it especially due to the emphasis on speaking activities and the use of real-life, role-play type activities. The book is easy to use and has an accompanying teacher’s guide. The book comes in six levels: Starter, Elementary, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate and Advanced. For more information go to:
Face 2 Face, like Cutting Edge, takes on a communicative approach to language learning. The book is published by Cambridge and is available in most countries. This book is fun and easy to use. The tasks and communication activities are easy to set up. This book also comes in all levels and has an accompanying teacher’s guide.
Speak Out is a great coursebook for your learners. The book is a little more aimed at younger adults and is a great example of a communicative approach to learning a language. Speak Out is another book published by Pearson. It comes in the same levels as seen above and has an accompanying teacher’s guide.
Gateway is a three level coursebook (B1, B1+ and B2 on the CEFR levels) for teenagers published by MacMillan. It includes some interesting topics for teens and each unit starts off with some vocabulary building activities. The reading and listening materials are quite good. However the coursebook does tend to plunge into pages of grammar activities that seem to serve no purpose, so pick and choose which of these you want to use with your student. I particularly like their ‘Developing Speaking’ sections in each unit. For more information, go to:
Incredible English is quite a nice course for children, with lots of vocabulary and stories, with plenty of listening and speaking activities, and not too much grammar. It’s a bit light on reading activities though, so you’d need to add these in yourself.
If you’re preparing students for the IELTS exam, IELTS Express (published by Heinle-Cengage) is a good book. It comes in two levels, Intermediate and Upper Intermediate, and includes lots of exam tips and exam practice activities, so even if you don’t know much about the format of the IELTS exam, you will after having taught from the book.
What about you?
What tools and resources do you recommend? Please comment below and we will add them to our ever-growing list of great tools and resourced for the Online English Teacher.