Teaching English Pronunciation Online
As online ESL teachers, we often find ourselves adapting to the needs of the students in order to create custom-made lesson plans. I believe one of the most difficult types of lessons to create from scratch can be pronunciation lessons.
Not only would you have to create the lesson plan itself, but also the exercises or homework to give the students to work on in their own free time, as sounds don’t learn themselves! Thankfully, an abundance of resources can be found instantly which can assist you in prepping for your online ESL teaching job.
Often students who are interested in improving their pronunciation are advanced students. This is one of the first things you could assess.
Assess Students’ Levels
This could normally be a two-part process. First, you could send them an online assessment (such as The Oxford Online English Test) to be completed ahead of time, that way they could figure out for themselves their levels in listening, reading, vocabulary and grammar. They could send you their results and then you would already have a rough idea of what to expect before moving on to the next phase, part two. This would be the in-class assessment, which would focus largely on speaking, question-and-answer-type scenarios to induce proper use of verb tenses and occasionally throwing in more and more advanced vocabulary to see if they are able to recognize the meanings of these words.
In addition, you should include a short text (three or four paragraphs, maximum) to have students read and then take notes on which sounds they struggle with, so you know what to start out with from the first lesson.
Identify Their Needs
Once you have figured out their levels, you must figure out exactly what they intend to get out of a pronunciation class. Are they seeking general “accent reduction” or is it more focused on specific problem sounds?
Know Their First Language
Being aware of their mother tongue can be a huge advantage when trying to prepare for those problem sounds you might encounter. By doing a quick search of “problematic phonemes for [XYZ Language] speakers,” you are sure to find some helpful tips to their common problem areas. If you have prepped this beforehand, then you can go through the list as your student is speaking and identify which (if any) sounds they have already conquered, and which ones they have yet to tackle. For instance, here is an example for Spanish-speaking ESL learners, but you are bound to find many resources for most common languages.
Know Their Specific Goals
If they intend to “become fluent” in six months, this type of unrealistic goal won’t actually help you when creating a course plan. However, if they are able to give you some specific and achievable goals then this can be a great question to ask when you are doing your prep. For example, if a student wishes to eventually use English for work but is having issues communicating on the phone with native speakers due to issues with understanding, then you could include phone conversation role plays or dialogues to dissect together, a myriad of which are available at ThoughtCo.
Create a Game Plan
Upon completion of the first lesson, you have all the information you need to begin preparing for your students’ pronunciation journeys. One big mistake is to not approach it systematically; if you decide to have students just read texts each time without getting into the nitty-gritty of it, then they will tire easily and give up after just a session or two. Let’s see how you can create a foolproof lesson plan for every online ESL class.
Divide your lesson into categories: (based on 55/60-minute lessons)
Pronunciation Instruction/Drills (~30 minutes)
This is the bulk of your lesson after greeting and warm-up. Here is where you can begin with problem sounds that students have. There are several great sites for American English, but my personal favorites are EnglishCLUB and Pronuncian. They include instructions you can walk the students through to form the sounds, as well as specific drills, and, my personal favorites -- minimal pairs. Have a look around on these sites, or use the search feature to look for specific sounds that students are struggling with.
Reading a text and identifying errors (~5-10 minutes)
See our blog post Reading Exercises for Teaching Online English Lessons for some great sites to find texts! Decide whether you will give immediate correction or take notes to inform students of their problem areas after they’ve finished reading. Bonus points if you’re able to include many examples in that text of sounds that you worked on in that particular lesson!
Free Conversation (~5-10 minutes)
So now they can pronounce the sound and read it, but can they incorporate it in unrehearsed conversations as well? This kind of spontaneity exercise will be a great opportunity for students to put what they’ve learned into practice. Try a resource like ESL Conversation Questions so you don’t find yourselves discussing the same things every time.
Review at the end/Homework (~5 minutes)
The final step! This is very important to hone in on any struggles which continue to persist, so you know what to focus on for the next lessons. Also, be sure to encourage students by assigning homework and already giving them an idea of what will happen in the next class, so they will be excited and motivated to continue! Some examples of homework could be reading through the lists of problem words, doing daily drills and/or giving videos to watch such as Rachel's English or mmmEnglish.
By following these steps and using the resources I’ve outlined, you’re well on your way to creating a customized course plan for your online ESL students. Remember, the more organized and prepared you are, the more students will want to continue with you!