In this article, I’d like to talk about how to provide material when conducting an online lesson.

How do you present your material? How do you make it available to your students?

I’m not going to talk about what kind of material is most appropriate to use. This is actually a topic I intend to cover in my next article.

In general, you have these possibilities to  provide material: 

  1. Send it by email before the lesson
  2. Send it through Skype before or during the lesson
  3. Share your screen during the lesson
  4. Share links to websites or videos during the lesson
  5. Give your students the possibility to download the material

So, let’s have a closer look at these possibilities:

1. Sending material by email before the lesson

This seems to be the most common idea, also among students. When I tell a new student that he will get material from me, he usually gives me his email address at once. My Quechua teacher also sends me everything by email. However, it’s not the best way to provide your students with material. Why?

  1. Even if you create an email folder for each student and save your sent emails in it, you will need to write down in another document what exactly you sent and when you sent it so that you don’t lose track what you did with your student. If you work with a textbook, that’s a bit easier, of course.
  2. Don’t expect your students to be organised. Some are but in many cases, it will happen that you asked your student to open the document you emailed yesterday and the student will frantically start to search his emails. Unnecessary loss of time. I’m not the most organised student, either, by the way.

2. Sending material through Skype before or during the session

This seems to be a preferred method by teachers. Just like with emails, you will also need another document where you note what you sent.

Sending material through Skype before the lesson is acceptable but not the best solution, in my opinion. When downloading it under standard settings, the file is saved in the student’s download folder. Once again: Don’t expect your students to be organised. Most likely, the file will stay in the download folder and disappear from the student’s mind after the lesson. That’s a pity.

Sending material through Skype during the lesson is a no-go as far as I’m concerned. Here are my reasons:

  1. It slows down the connection. You may have fast internet and it doesn’t affect you when sending something during the Skype lesson. It may be different for your student. I worked with a teacher from Bolivia who used this method and I saw it immediately when he started to upload another file during the session. The video became blurry and the sound quality decreased. It’s annoying, even it lasts just for one or two minutes.
  2. Judging from my 5 years of experience as an online teacher, many people who take language lessons online are introverts and/or a bit shy. Being an introvert myself, I still hate it when I don’t know before the lesson what to expect, especially when I don’t speak the language well yet. Spare your students this feeling, give them the possibility to have a look at the material before the lesson. Some won’t do it and that’s fine but it’s their choice then.

3. Sharing your screen during the lesson

Some teachers provide material just by sharing their screen, they don’t make the material available to their students. Guess what? As a student, I absolutely hate this. Even if the teacher sends me the material we used in class after the lesson. Why?

  1. When a teacher shares his screen with the student, the student totally depends on the teacher. There’s no way, he can scroll up or down to check something which was discussed a couple of minutes ago, for example. It’s a situation of absolute dependency and that’s not necessary nowadays.
  2. The content often appears very small on the student’s screen. Sure, the teacher may amplify but it’s still difficult for the student to read. When using Skype, the student also sees himself at least twice, on his own screen and on the teacher’s screen. Believe me, that’s distracting for many people.

So is it always a bad idea to share the screen? No, you may do this temporarily. For example, when the student is lost and doesn’t know where you are. In this case, both of you have the same pdf file and by sharing your screen you can quickly show the student where you are.

4. Sharing links to websites or videos during the lesson

Here, it depends on the content of the website. Does it complement other material you’re working with? In this case, it’s absolutely no problem to send a link during the session and go to the website for a couple of minutes.

Or do you want your student to read and discuss an article from a newspaper or blog? In this case, it’s better to provide the link before the session. Same reason like I already mentioned above: Give your student the possibility to have a look at the material before the session.

Sending a student to a website with online grammar exercises is pathetic, in my opinion. You may have spent some time searching for a website with such exercises but your student will get the impression that you were too lazy to prepare something adapted to his needs. Providing such a link at the end of the lesson and ask the student to do the exercises as a homework is absolutely fine, of course.

I will write another article about the use of videos in class soon, so here are just two short hints:

  1. Beginners and low intermediate students (A1 – B1) usually need 2 or 3 times to grasp the content, so give them the possibility to watch the video before class or as a homework assignment.
  2. Asking high intermediate and advanced students to watch a video in class is fine and nice for a change but make sure the video is longer than three minutes.

5. Giving your students the possibility to download the material

For me, this is the silver bullet and it’s how I work. I use a combination of GoogleDocs and classmill to make all material available to my students – one day before the class starts.

All my material is stored in a cloud so I can easily share it by giving my students the download link. Every student has his own GoogleDoc (which we also use as a kind of blackboard in class) and I leave all download links on the first page of that GoogleDoc.

It gives the student the possibility to download the files before class and store them in a special folder. Some students simply open the links in class, that’s also fine. The links stay in the GoogleDoc, so the student can always go back to them.

Classmill, on the other hand, is great to organise different kinds of material. You can upload files, include videos and images and there’s even a discussion feature.

As mentioned above, I will go more into detail with some of the things I shortly addressed here in further articles.

I’ve seen in recent social media discussions and also while having lessons with new teachers on italki that there are still many questions about how to teach online. Often, there’s not just one answer, of course but in the past 5 years, I had the chance to learn quite a bit and am happy to share my experiences.

Do you have any more questions or doubts? Please don’t hesitate to write in the comments or send me a message and I will answer your questions either directly or in another article if I think it’s relevant for other people, too.

Author: Daniela

Hi! I'm Daniela - a native German who's living in Lima, Peru. Besides making a living teaching German and English, I'm constantly trying to improve my Spanish and Portuguese. On my blog, I write about those four languages which are part of my life and also write articles for (aspiring) language teachers to help them getting started.

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3 thoughts on “How to provide material when conducting an online lesson

  1. Hi Daniela, thank you so much for sharing these useful tips. I will check Classmill. Eva P.

    Posted on 8. February 2017 at 10:29
  2. Thank you so much for sharing these tips. I have one problem with google documents. For example, I have 10 lessons with the same student and I use google document to take notes or to provide him or her with materials. But when google document becomes too big (more than 10 pages) it starts slowing down and it’s irritating and takes a while to open it and find the right page. So I tend to create a new file for each lesson but then I have a bunch of documents for one student… Have you ever experienced the same problem?

    Posted on 10. February 2017 at 7:00
    1. Hi Lena

      10 pages are not yet a problem for me. I always start writing on the first or second page, so the oldest lesson notes are on the last page and if I see that the GoogleDoc slows down, I delete the last pages. I have some students where I convert the lesson notes into PDF files and store them in classmill. That way, the student has continuous access. However, I also know that some students simply don’t look at the lessons notes again once the lesson is over, in that case, I don’t bother to make this effort.

      Posted on 11. February 2017 at 12:18