10 practical tips on how to onboard new ESL students in 2017

This week we are very happy to welcome Cecilia Nobre to the Off2Class blog! Cecilia is an avid ELT blogger, online teacher, and runs several online teacher communities in Brazil.

It’s a new year and we all need some inspiration to get moving after the holiday slowdown. Cecilia’s going to share her tips to onboard new ESL students this year.

Take it away Cecilia:
‘January is the best time of the year to welcome new students to your online teaching business: many of them are making new year’s resolutions and, chances are, studying a foreign language is one of them. Don’t miss the opportunity of creating a strong online presence to onboard new ESL students!
Here you will find 10 practical tips on how to onboard new ESL students in 2017.

onboard new ESL students#1 Narrow down your teaching niche

(What kind of students and skills do you want to teach? What are you good at? What do you love teaching? The narrower, the better.) You can find out more about niche finding with Elena Mutonono’s blog post.

#2 Use an email list building scheme to create a relationship with your readers.

These email subscribers are your students-to-be. Mind you, having a powerful website with clear contact forms is crucial.

#3 Contact your former students

Say, the ones who studied with you in the past two or three years. Let them know you have newly available slots for 2017 and offer an incentive if they or their friends want to have classes with you. How about a small discount for the first month or a free class as an incentive for referrals?

#4 Create a simple yet effective contract…

…which states your rules clearly. Make sure you tackle these issues: when, how, where are the classes taking place? How is the payment made? How are you going to deal with cancellations and no-shows? What happens if they have a technical problem (for online classes)? Having a contract makes you look professional and credible as a teacher.

#5 Make sure you have a material bank and lesson plans for your students

When you onboard new ESL students they generally will want to know what type of content-based approach you will be taking. I personally use different sources: Off2class lessons which are great (my favorite ones are the grammar-based lessons for beginner students), I use my own lessons (I post them on my blog here) and other great resources such as Viralelt, Ricardo Barros’ blog and Word On The Street.

#6 Set up a Needs Analysis for your prospective students

I highly recommend teachers to use the Off2class Placement Test. As there are 100 questions, give your prospective students a few days to do it (3 or 4 days as they might not have time to do it immediately and you don’t want to seem pushy) and read the answers carefully before you meet them for the first time. On the Placement test, you will find a grid which shows their level as well as the mistakes they have made. I would recommend you to offer a 30 minute to 1 hour Assessment Consultation meeting (paid or free, it’s up to you) where you can go through correcting some of the mistakes your prospective student have made on Off2class Placement test and ask them a few more questions related to their needs and aims. Some questions you might want to ask are related to their:

  • Personal information
  • Motivation to learn English
  • Present and past practice and exposure to English
  • Previous learning experience
  • Attitudes and readiness to learning English
  • Short and long-term goals

#7 Harness Facebook

I can’t recommend Facebook enough! It is a fantastic tool for networking and finding new students. I use my Facebook for both professional and personal purposes, and it works pretty well. Be mindful about your posts (this is a great read on Facebook etiquette) and post interesting tips on improving listening skills, grammar, share something fun you did in class/ with a student, share language learning tips (check out the fanpages AmericanEnglishAtState and BBClearnEnglish), and occasionally, you can share your students’ achievement (I’ve had students telling me some great news of passing IELTS and TOEFL via Whatsapp and I shared the print screen of the conversation on my timeline – make sure you crop your student’s name and phone number. If you take a picture, ask for their authorization, of course). This way you educate your friends and contacts about who are you and what you believe as a teacher.

#8 Harness LinkedIn

Linkedin is another useful tool for finding students – if you’re mindful of what you post. You can share the same type of links and tips I have mentioned for Facebook. Make sure your email and website/blog are visible in your profile. It is also effective to advertise your services once a week or once a fortnight – as long as it’s not overly salesy or pushy. Make your ad informative and useful to your contacts.

#9 Upgrade your Videoconference Platform

I also recommend Zoom as an online platform for teaching. I like Zoom because I find its quality better and more stable than Skype. As a paid member, you have full access to annotation tools, and you can record the lessons and send them to your students – by far my favourite feature from Zoom. Make sure you look and sound as professional and credible as you can be.

#10 Jump over to Instagram

My last tip is using Instagram for prospective students, especially if you teach online. You can post vocabulary challenges, grammar challenges, inspirational quotes, recommend websites or books for learning English, create short videos, etc. It’s important to interact with people, and a good way for that is using hashtags such as #learnEnglish #onlineteacher #studyingEnglish and so on.

I hope you find these tips useful. Have a successful 2017! Let us know your tips for onboard new ESL students below!’


  • Isaac Wajntraub says:

    January 4, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you for the tips.
    Happy 2017!!

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      January 4, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      And thanks for stopping by Isaac!
      Best wishes to you too.

    • Tamar says:

      August 25, 2017 at 5:13 am

      Hi Cecilia
      Thank you for sharing your tips!

      • Cecilia says:

        November 8, 2017 at 4:21 pm

        Thanks for your comment, Tamar.

  • Rosangela Dowe says:

    January 11, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Thanks a million for the hints!
    Good to know I’ve been using some of them myself!
    Let’s us all have a nice year of work!
    ……… 😀

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      January 11, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Cheers Rosangela! Thanks for stopping by!

    • Cecilia says:

      November 8, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      I hope the tips were useful, Rosangela 🙂

  • James Rantell says:

    February 6, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Hi Cecilia,
    Having been a full time online teacher for eight years one might be lead to believe that there isn’t a great deal to learn but I’m always amazed when I read an article such as yours how much more there is to say.
    A really fantastic article full of useful information and advice.
    Many thanks.

    • Cecilia says:

      November 8, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, James. Great teachers never cease to learn, right? 🙂

  • Stephen says:

    February 23, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    I am a freelance online teacher here in South America (Argentina). We have frequent power outages in our area. My classes are prepaid. Could anybody give me a tip or suggestion on how they handle the class. Does the student get a refund or is the class taken as absent. Many thanks.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      February 23, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Hi Stephen,
      Nice to hear from you! My first suggestion would be to make sure your laptop battery and mobile phone are always fully charged, that way you can revert to tethering off your data in an emergency situation.
      That being said, generally if the class is cancelled and it’s no fault of the student, I would suggest not using up one class credit, and rescheduling a make up.

    • Cecilia says:

      November 8, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      Stephen, I agree with Kris. Besides that, remember to implement your own rules before starting the classes. Do you have a contract in place?

  • Lisa Verrecchia says:

    September 30, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing. You mention having a “simple, yet effective contract.” Any sample contracts you can share or know where to look for some? thanks

    • Cecilia says:

      November 8, 2017 at 4:29 pm

      Hi Lisa,
      I’d rather not share my contract as I have designed it with a lawyer. Think about possible concerns and come up with solutions: how will you handle cancellations? Absences? Delays? Classes rescheduling? Your holidays? The student’s holidays? Classes days and times? Add this information in the contract.
      Best of luck,

  • Dawn Muirhead says:

    October 19, 2017 at 4:06 am

    Hi Cecilia:
    I am a teacher of English, and would consider myself to be an excellent one too. I have been considering lately what to do with all the experiences I garnered over the decades; and believe me, you have just reinforced the vision I want to start working on.
    I really enjoyed reading your “Great tips.”
    Keep prospering and much success to you.

    • Cecilia says:

      November 8, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      Thanks for your supportive words, Dawn! I’m glad you’re motivated.
      All the best,

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