Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Teaching via Skype: the basics

Explore the tool and develop your level of confidence  

Teaching English as a foreign or second language via Skype, or a similar web conferencing tool, is certainly nothing new these days. There are plenty of educators teaching this way and it seems to me that there is a growth in websites where teachers from around the world are encouraged to sign up and advertise their services. Having said that, I only know of a couple of teachers in my personal network who teach via Skype. This makes it difficult to exchange ideas and reflections about this method of teaching as they don't do it on a regular basis. But that's another story. I seem to know more who would like to try their hand at it but are too anxious to start. From the few conversations I've had around this subject, one of the main problems that emerges is that some teachers don't feel tech-savvy enough. In my opinion, this is an issue that can be overcome with a bit of effort. Take the time to play with the web conferencing tool of your choice and experiment with fellow teachers, family or friends. For those who feel this is too big a leap i.e. downloading the necessary software and playing with the tool, then how about watching some 'how to' videos on Skype teaching and doing a bit of follow up reading to build your level of confidence?

There are quite a few You Tube videos which demonstrate how a language lesson could progress but less that introduce teachers to the basics of the tool. This is why I particularly like Russell Stannard's video, Introduction to teaching with Skypewhich covers the following areas as illustrated in the image below:

           Figure 1: Table of contents. Introduction to teaching with Skype Russell Stannard 2015

The above topics are recorded as seven short videos which means you can select what is relevant for you and dip in and out as you wish. However, if you've never used the tool before I would recommend watching all of them and reviewing as necessary. And before you commence with a lesson, I'd highly advise experimenting with someone else first and having a dry run of things that you'd like to make use of in future lessons. This is where you'll have the opportunity to see where things can get messy and what you can do to ensure that your lessons run smoothly. Speaking from experience, I can assure you that you'll feel much more at ease when it comes to teaching if you're aware of what can go wrong and what you can do to iron out mishaps or unexpected technical problems if and when they occur. Have a Plan B ready and keep your professional face on. Swearing or bashing the screen might feel good but it might also cause you to lose a student. Remember, they're watching and listening from the other side!

The title of Stannard's video might be a bit misleading to some. His video is not about pedagogies or methodologies that are relevant to teaching via Skype but rather, an introduction to the basics of the tool itself. In other words, you'll be able to get accustomed to the affordances of the tool and it's features before you actually commence with students. Teaching a language via Skype is not the same as having a conversation with a friend or group of friends through this medium. You'll inevitably want to move beyond conversing via the main screen and integrate other activities such as watching videos together, listening to podcasts, exploring images and texts and entering collaborative writing spaces or creative working spaces together, in order to assist the learner to develop their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. As a bonus, both you and your students will most likely improve your digital literacy skills as well. And some of these newly learned skills might even be transferrable to the student's working environment or useful for other learning activities. Who wouldn't be happy about that?

Feeling confident with the basics and excited about teaching

Once you've honed your technical skills and your level of confidence is soaring high, you'll be excited about taking the plunge and teaching via Skype. In order to take you a step further I've linked my article, Using Skype to Teach English to this postIt outlines a few tools that you can integrate into your lessons and provides tips gained from my own experiences with this medium. In addition and as a bit of extra reading, here are some of my earlier posts that you might be interested in that relate to language teaching via Skype:

Sharing reflections

I'm always interested in engaging with other language teachers who  provide lessons via Skype or similar tools. It's a wonderful way to share reflections with the aim of improving our teaching practices. Feel free to leave a comment and if you have any questions I'll certainly do my best to answer them.


Introduction to teaching with Skype (2015) Teachertrainingvideos, by Russell Standard [Online]. Available at (Accessed 22 July 2015).


  1. Hi Patricia,
    Thanks for a great article :)
    I certainly agree that people are put off Skype teaching because they've never done it before/don't feel tech-savvy enough. I definitely wouldn't class myself as particularly tech-savvy though! I think it helped that I'd used Skype before to chat with friends and family, so would second the idea of playing around with it before the first lessons if you're not familiar with it.
    I also agree that it's important to have a plan B for any technical problems. They can be frustrating, but touch wood, I've had fewer problems with technology than with public transport getting to face-to-face lessons!
    I'm off to have a look at your other posts now :)

  2. Thanks so much for commenting Julia. I also initially experimented with family and friends and even called myself on my mobile devices to check out what the Skype interface looks like on different devices and to test if functionality was impeded when shifting to different sites. I prefer to be as prepared as possible.

    As to technical glitches, I've had very few over the years. I've found that if the line isn't clear, logging off and then calling my students again can solve the problem. In my experience, it's a good idea to discuss this procedure with them before commencing lessons otherwise you can end up in a situation where both of you are trying to reconnect and are in fact just blocking each other :-)

    Thanks again