Use Zoom to teach ESL online

Use Zoom for Effective Online Lessons

Previously, I shared A Beginner’s Guide to Teaching Online with you. You may remember that I raved about Zoom. I enthusiastically recommend it if you need to do any of the following:

  • feel like you’re connecting with another human online
  • teach online lessons (private or group)
  • lead online meetings or consultations
  • present online to a group (webinars)

Zoom, all the way.

Let me save you from falling into the rabbit hole of video conferencing and webinar options. Many of them are either extremely expensive (about $100 per month), or extremely useless (so you end up having to patch a few weak platforms together, which seems cheap but ends up costing more in other ways).

I’ve used Zoom for about a year straight and I’ve become a die hard fan. I spend a lot of time in here. The reporting that Zoom exports is not on my official list of favorite things, but it does have some interesting data that you can interpret, if you need (or like) that kind of thing. I’m not even through August yet and my usage stats look like some people’s daily caloric intake…


The top reasons I love Zoom…

1: Easy Connection

As long as a student attendee is on a desktop, they can click a URL link and instantly be transported into a conversation with me. It completely eliminates cumbersome downloads, irritating extra programs and lots of blah blah blah. Yes, sometimes people need to update their browser or flash to join me, but it rarely becomes a problem that lasts longer than 2 minutes. For first-time meetings and one-off consultations, it’s perfect.

2: Small Group Discussions

In group classes, I can create “breakout rooms.” In Tech Land, a breakout room is the equivalent of putting learners with a partner (or partners) in the classroom. So you, as the teacher, can facilitate small group discussions, and then bring everyone back together.

3: Video Recording

In my lessons, Zoom gives my students (or teacher trainees) control over recording and saving their sessions to their hard drive. That’s right ladies and gents, we the teachers do not have to waste any time recording the session. Circa 2012, I was recording lessons, rendering them, uploading them and managing all those hideous files for my students. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. It is not cool.

With Zoom, if a student wants to record specific segments of a lesson, the recording software can be turned on and off as many times as the student wishes, and each one will be saved individually.

(Precise control over recording is useful if you want your student to record just a grammar presentation, or only the final last 5-minute review session as a way to lead into homework. What parts of your lessons do you wish students could have access to again in the future?)

4: Reliability

Zoom works when Skype is having a bad day or the internet is cranky. I hate to say bad things about Skype because Skype was there for me in the beginning. We’re old friends but… Zoom’s connection quality is more reliable.

5: Your Digital Body

You know how when you’re teaching, you feel the urge to highlight or write specific notes to focus a student’s attention? Zoom lets me easily share my desktop and then “annotate” or write directly on top of whatever is showing. When I’m back in Skype only, I really feel myself hunting for the annotation tools because I want to highlight something. Annotation tools really do increase my confidence that my learner is focused on “the right thing.”

6: Audio Files

Especially in a language classroom, listening files and audio recordings are essential activities. Good news! Zoom lets you play audio files on your computer just as easily as it lets any student play an audio file off their computer. If this kind of functionality exists with Skype, I was never able to figure this out. So you’ll feel just like you’re standing next to a CD player in the classroom again.

7: Webinars You Control

I (or you!) can upgrade for a month to Zoom Webinar, so when I cluster a bunch of presentation-style activities together, I really get a lot of value for spending a bit more for a single month. Zoom truly is the simplest and cheapest platform that allows you to start a presentation where you have full control over the viewers’ experience — and then later switch to two-way communication, where you give attendees the option to speak with you (no, not type chatting—speaking). It’s amazing. The only major competition for this feature is GoToWebinar but is nearly twice the price.

8: Responsiveness

The company Zoom actually listens. A few months ago, they updated something on the dashboard. The “update” made it harder for me to use it. How many times have I been irritated by a company changing their website? Countless times! You don’t get what you want unless you speak up, so I do usually give feedback to companies of all sizes, hoping that something will change. So I did my usual thing and called up and gave my feedback. I didn’t expect anything to change because no company ever responded. But sure enough, a few weeks later, I logged in and there was my beloved feature, back again.

9: Tech Support

They are so awesome. Every time I call, someone answers within a few minutes. They have solutions to my problems. And… See #8.

10: Hello! Goodbye! Email me later!

I’ve been teaching online since 2010. As a result, my Skype contact list was expanding into unwieldy, chaotic mess. With the way I use Zoom, just with the dashboard through their website (and without the desktop software program), then I avoid Contact List Chaos.

Because they cannot just send me a random chat message through Skype, this also forces students to communicate with me via email. Skype pings, however, fall through the cracks and are difficult to “un-read”.

You can search but for the foreseeable future, Zoom will reign supreme.

What plan do I have?
I have the Pro Plan and sometimes I temporarily upgrade to the “Additional Plan” for Webinar.

Do you want to try it out?
If you’re going to sign up, here’s what I recommend: Start an account with Zoom. I personally use a Pro Plan for 1 host. However, you can also sign up for free and call a friend to check it out!