Where to find your first online ESL students

Over the last several years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a large pool of independent online ESL teachers. I often come into contact with ESL teachers that are pondering the idea (or are at the beginning stages) of starting their own online ESL businesses. When I meet these teachers, there is one question that has arisen time and time again: where do I find my first online ESL students?

We’ve written about finding online ESL students before…

In a previous post, my co-founder (who started his own online-ESL school: TurksLearnEnglish) outlined some strategies for finding ESL students for your online tutoring business. He mentioned the challenges of the online world and that the key to building an online ESL business was leveraging your “offline” relationships into the online world. This can be a great strategy if you’re teaching in a high-demand ESL market (as James was) and want to return to your home country one day and teach online.
Jack Askew, who runs a great blog called Teaching ESL Online, has written extensively about finding a niche, and establishing a web presence (as a long term strategy).

Yes, but what about your first online ESL students…

What I’ve realized since James’ article, is that we missed the first step. What about teachers that aren’t in a high-demand ESL market, or don’t have any relationships (from in-classroom teaching)? What about teachers with no established online presence to work with? Where would you find your first online ESL students?
If you’re asking this question, don’t worry. I get this question from ESL teachers I come into contact with on a weekly basis.
If you’re wondering where to find your first online ESL students, you are likely an ESL teacher that doesn’t already have a pool of contacts (from in-classroom teaching) to draw upon.

your first online ESL studentsTo find your first online ESL students, you’re going to need some in-classroom experience…

Although the above statement may seem counterintuitive, it is the best piece of advice I can offer an ESL teacher pondering where to find their first ESL students. It’s not that you require the in-classroom experience in order to teach in the online ESL environment (although it is helpful), but that you require the relationships. Even a casual, part-time job in a local language institute will immediately immerse you in a world of potential future clients. Of course, you need to be smart about developing and retaining relationships (we discuss a lot of those strategies, here).
Think of your time at a language institute as an investment in your future life as an independent online, ESL teacher. Besides developing your relationships, you’ll also get some insight into your own personal teaching style, and student niche you want to pursue.  It’s easy to find an online freelancing job using a site like Jooble.

I would love to hear other people’s ideas on finding your first online ESL students, so please let me know! If you’ve been able to build an online ESL business without going through a classroom first, I’d love to hear from you!


  • Jack says:

    December 19, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Thanks for linking to my blog James, and love the idea. I would also recommend the following:
    – Get in contact with any non-English speaking friends you have and asking them if they want to practice their English online – maybe offer a free 30 minute chat and then persuade them to continue.
    – Post on classified websites offering your services.
    – Sig up for third party platforms like Verbal Planet.
    And if you are just starting out, don’t feel that you have to get certified first. But be honest with your students by telling them what you can offer (it might just be conversation and corrections) and get a feel for online teaching. And charge based on the value you can give.
    Teach, earn, and learn!

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      December 19, 2014 at 9:58 am

      That’s some wonderful advice, Jack, I especially like your first point of getting in contact with non-English speaking friends. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Charles Cornelius says:

    December 31, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Some very sound advice. Teaching in a classroom as a way to start getting online students is a very sound idea.
    I used to live in Moscow and taught a 12 year old boy face-to-face. After I left Moscow I started teaching him online. But from this one student, several new online students sprouted: his younger sister, a neighbour in the same apartment block, a family friend, a work colleague of the boy’s father. These were simply word-of-mouth recommendations and it’s by far the best way of finding students. In effect, all you need is one student.
    Social media can also help you find students if you focus on a niche, which I know is what Jack recommends. Lots of students want to prepare for tests such as the IELTS, and there are many websites and Facebook groups dedicated to IELTS prep; teachers wanting to teach IELTS need to get involved and contribute to online communities like these, and offer tutoring there. The same goes for other tests like TOEIC and TOEFL, and it’s the same for finding students working in a specific professional field such as medical care or customer services – groups for these fields can be found on LinkedIn, and teachers can then offer English lessons geared to that profession (English for Specific Purposes). In these niche areas, the value is high so you should charge more for your time.
    Another good third party website where you can find students is italki.com
    Thanks for the fantastic resources on Off2Class. Really useful!

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      December 31, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Cheers Charlie, great advice. We agree that in-person recommendations are the way to go!

  • Jessica Duncan says:

    October 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    Can you use off2class on a site like verbal planet?

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      October 16, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Hi Jessica, absolutely. You can use us with your students, regardless of how you acquired them!

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