Online group ESL lessons: what I've learned (1)

When I talk about my experience as an online ESL teacher, most educators are amazed that I’ve run group ESL lessons online. Today I would like to share some experiences and thoughts on running online group ESL lessons for educators who are thinking about (or already have) made the jump to online ESL teaching. This is the first part of a two part post.

First, my background teaching online group ESL lessons

I started teaching online ESL about two years ago while working full time at a private school in Istanbul. What started as a couple of extra hours of teaching a week morphed into a full-time, online ESL business. I’ve taught a mix of young learners, adolescents and adults, with the majority of my students from Turkey. Most of my experience with online group ESL lessons has been with young learners though I have also taught adults in an online group ESL setting. At the beginning of my journey as an online ESL teacher, about 50% of my classes were group-based (two to four students). Today almost all of my lessons are one-on-one.

So you want to offer online group ESL lessons?

If you are starting your own, independent online ESL business you need to start thinking about your revenue model. In previous posts I’ve discussed how relationships and quality can help you attain premium rates for your service. Now you should start considering whether you can be more profitable in a one-to-one setting vs. a group setting. I suggest you run some basic calculations such as this one (all the rates I’ve used are just for illustrative purposes and do not reflect my actual online ESL group or individual rates):
Of course, this is a very simplified calculation but it illustrates the attraction many online ESL educators feel towards running group lessons. If, on average, you can earn more revenue than in a one-on-one lesson by having three students present, why shouldn’t you maximize your revenue productivity?

First, the positive aspects of teaching groups online

Naturally, students learn from each other. In an online setting, students who have worked together in numerous lessons start to offer suggestions to their online classmates and even correct each another. If you have students with the same mother tongue, then it’s often possible for students to step in during certain moments when a quick, direct translation is needed. Communication between a larger number of students makes a lesson more interactive and often you can work at a slightly slower pace than in a one-on-one lesson. You can also conduct many more games and activities, such as dialogues or quizzes, that can make the lessons more enjoyable and relaxed. This is often harder to do in a one-to-one lesson as a single student feels obliged to every question from the teacher.

Some strategies and advice

If you are planning to offer online group ESL lessons, here are some suggestions:

  1. Find pre-existing groups. My most successful groups have been composed of students that already had a bond. Classmates, friends and work colleagues have both been successful in forming a strong ongoing relationship in a group environment.
  2. Use the individual chat function. During your group lessons you may still need to communicate to a student individually. You can use the chat function on a videoconferencing system to communicate privately with a single student, especially if you see motivation decreasing or reduced participation. Individual chat allows you to control behaviour with younger learners, without drawing attention to the student or affecting other members of the group.
  3. Define the group goals. One-on-one students are more flexible with their needs and you can change the lesson topic at a moment’s notice as required. In a group setting, I highly recommend advising your students in advance of the topic to be discussed in the lesson. Most adults in a group lessons take English classes to increase naturalness and fluency, so it’s worth advising students of upcoming topics so they can prepare for the following lesson accordingly. You also do not want to be in a position where a student announces his or her lack of interest in the topic, just as the lesson commences.
  4. Reduce your teacher talk. In a group environment you can reduce your speaking role significantly if you encourage other students to take the role of the teacher. Make sure you encourage students to ask each other questions, rather than returning constantly to you for direction. Once you set an exercise and ask Student A for an answer, Student A then repeats the question to B, Student B to C and so on. There is no need for everything to pass through the teacher.
  5. Tighten up your cancellation policy. As I discuss further (in part two of my post), cancellations have a serious effect on profitability in a group setting, so ensure you have a clear and concise cancellation policy that you implement.

I hope this is helpful to any teachers considering  online group ESL lessons. In the second part of my post I will outline some key considerations in running group ESL lessons.


  • Edwin says:

    February 18, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Hi there,
    I realize this is a bit late, but I was wondering what video conferencing platform you use in your online group classes, and is there anywhere you advertised to find groups. I hope this reaches you. Thanks and all the best.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      February 18, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Ed,
      Never too late!
      We like to use for as a VC for group lessons. You’ll need a “pro” account which is only $10/month to run group lessons longer than 40 minutes. You have a capacity of up to 25 participants, it manages bandwidth extremely well, you can record, there are annotations and great screen sharing capabilities. Here’s a review we did of Zoom a while back:
      As for finding groups, that is another can of worms. Your best bet (especially if you’re just experimenting) would be to find natural fits of your one-on-one students and ask them if they’d like to try out a group lesson.
      Let me know if you’ve got more questions, you can email me at kris at off2class dot come

    • Irene says:

      May 14, 2020 at 7:29 pm

      Very helpful and insightful. Thank you for the good work.

  • Peggy says:

    January 26, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    Hey there! I am very interested in group classes … I want to start teaching group classes. For example, more or less 10 students, and each student pays 5USD. I love your first point about finding existing groups. However, I am not sure how to do this, or even find 10 students at all! I think I’d cater to intermediate students looking for conversational practice.

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