A beginner’s guide to teaching online, part 3: sharing materials

This is part 3 of 3 in the series. Click here if you missed Part 1 and here for Part 2.

The elements that we discussed in the previous articles were the technology you need to bridge the distance between you and the student. Now we turn to what you actually teach. Your content. Your material. Online teachers need supporting material that is in a digital format. You need content for diagnosing students’ weaknesses and identifying their strengths, providing in-class activities for any of the four skills, expanding an activity with a choice worksheet, and the like. This content could be shared in the lesson or given as homework. You could easily show this to a student via screen share or by sharing the file with the student later for review or homework.

Curating digital material

Option #1: Create Your Own

If you have Microsoft Word, you can quickly and easily turn any document into a PDF. Not all have students have Microsoft Word, so they cannot all open .doc files. Even if they do have Microsoft Word, their device may change the way that fonts display.

You can guarantee the professionalism and integrity of your document by saving it as a PDF.

This is a great option for any lesson material that you’ve written. Any Microsoft Word Documents can easily be turned into PDF by clicking ‘Save As’ and selecting the option to save as a PDF (as opposed to the default .doc).

Presto chango! You now have a document which can easily be transferred to students via email, DropBox, or the built-in file-sharing system inside of Wiz IQ.

Option #2: Go to the Publisher

It is extremely important for publishers to understand how great the demand for ESL ebooks is. They will only know that if you reach out to them.

To catalyze much-needed change, you should contact the publisher directly to find out if your favorite ESL books are available for purchase as ebooks. Just do a Google search for the publisher’s name and ‘sales email address’. Let them know you are interested in obtaining an ethical electronic copy of your favorite book. You might get lucky and your favorite book could be available for download as an ebook.

Don’t hold your breath, though. Some of my requests are still pending, 18 months later. There are already teachers who proved they weren’t willing to wait that long, which creates the problem of digital piracy. Unfortunately, because of the ESL publishing industry’s lag in responding to the need for digital content, getting your hands on ethically-produced material is… well… challenging.  It’s very difficult to discuss this topic without touching on the reality of piracy in the ESL community. Mike Boyle wrote a post for ELTjam on what the publishing industry could do to tackle piracy which is relevant here. And some of the commenters on this post about professional development books in ELT looked at the same issues.

Option #3: Search for Legit Online Sources Produced by Teachers

By this, I mean you should try to find ESL material writers who have published their stuff online in a digital format.

ESLprintables.comOneStopEnglish.com and the Facebook page Free & Fair ELT fill a gap. Sort of. But the scope of these projects means there are often no audio files. Worse, because each resource is randomly created or crowd-sourced, these cannot replace online courses that have a sense of coherence or progression.

It’s truly going to take a community effort for all of us to come together and solve this problem. (It would be so easy to create a browsable library that ESL teachers and their students can log in to and study from – where audio files are stored and easily listened to with the click of a button. It just needs to be managed by someone. Get in touch with me if you’re interested. My development team is amazing. We just need seed money and someone to manage it.)

Until that emerges, you can check out the following websites for legit sources of ESL material. Because I’ve specialized in exam prep for TOEFL iBT, I only know about my niche. Please add a comment if you know of any good resources in the following niches, so we can update this section to lead teachers in the right direction.

Business English

  • Post your recommendations below in the comments and we’ll update this section.

Young Learners

  • Post your recommendations below in the comments and we’ll update this section.

Fluency / Conversation

English for Academic Purposes

  • Post your recommendations below in the comments and we’ll update this section.


  • Post your recommendations below in the comments and we’ll update this section.

Exam Prep:

As the industry morphs into online education, it is my hope that more and more teachers will begin to make their materials available for purchase and download to other teachers and institutions. They are greatly needed and as individuals and start-ups, we can respond much faster than traditional publishing.

Option #5: Convert Existing Material into PDFs

Only the publisher can legally do this as it breaks copyright laws for you to copy and electronically distribute books, or parts of books. So, again, write to them and ask for electronic copies of books you have already purchased or ask whether there are ebook versions planned. The ball is most definitely shifted into their court …

Storing & sharing digital material

Option #1: Email

This is what I used in 2010 for about the first year when I was getting my foot in the digital door. I would just attach PDFs and homework assignment documents to an email and send it to the student. They would do their homework, attach it to an email and send it back to me.

It worked until things got real and I had about 10 online students a week. My inbox became a psychotic, untrackable mess and I turned to Option #2, which I still use…

Option #2: DropBox or similar alternative

DropBox is a program that syncs documents and files between your computer and your students’ computers. Your email inbox will be blessedly clear. I have one shared folder for each of my students. This gives us a little place where I can collect all of their homework assignments, or any random grammar lesson material that they need.

I use DropBox to assign my students homework and check their submissions. I transfer relevant material to them to complete homework and I write out special documents for each lesson’s homework activities. Students add their written essays or audio recordings into DropBox. Before a lesson, I check what they’ve submitted.

Of course there are a dizzying number of alternatives to DropBox – however, as I mentioned in my first article, some solutions are easier and more globally-accessible than others. In any case, it’s always good to send along a link to a YouTube video tutorial of how to use DropBox (or whatever platform you choose). This way, your students overcome the tech obstacles painlessly, and you get to focus on education.

Option #3: Online Storage / ‘Library’ Options

Depending on what you’re teaching and how resource-heavy it is, you do not want to put all these files into DropBox, simply because it’s unwieldy.

If you want to charge a premium for your services, you need to look pro. Students aren’t willing to invest in online teachers who clearly haven’t invested in themselves. You may find yourself searching for a more permanent, organized and professional-looking option to supplement DropBox.

Wiz IQ knows this and so they’ve created a sort of library where you can store your files for use in lessons. Neither Skype nor Zoom have a similar equivalent, so Wiz IQ has a clear advantage. Their cloud storage for material explains why their monthly subscription rate is higher.

However, from a business perspective, it has never made sense to me to tie my course material to one system. I personally want the freedom to use Zoom, Skype or whatever else comes along, without being anchored to a particular platform.

I use LearnDash on my WordPress ‘membership-style’ website. At this point, my Online Workshop has grown into an extensive membership website where I distribute my own videos, audio and PDFs to students who take private lessons with English Success Academy, students who want to self-study with the programs on their own, and teachers and institutions who want to use my programs with their own students. Click here to see what it looks like on the inside. Over the years, with two digital renovations (I spent US $3000 in 2011 and then US $7000 in 2015) to hire more and more experienced website developers to redo the site and do fancy integrations like fully automating a student’s enrolment after they pay. So even if it’s 3am and my team and I are all fast asleep, the student gets access.

I sure didn’t dive into high-end web design in 2010 when I started off. In the early days, I did it all myself. It was up there with the world’s worst html coding ever. It did the job, though, so I fully support amateur efforts.

Today, you can easily set up a new website with WordPress and LearnDash for about US $200. If you have no experience, just pay someone with high ratings on Fiverr to install them for you. After that, you can watch YouTube tutorial videos and figure out how to add your content. Basically, you’ll just upload your files to your website so students can access them from wherever. Proceed with some caution. If you have gigs of material, you need to consult with a web designer to make sure your website backups don’t get out of control.

Moodle also allows you to upload and store files. Do some research, though. You’ll see that LearnDash is pretty different from Moodle.

Want more help with this?

If you like what I’ve talked about here, check out my course, Online Tutor Launchpad. It leads you step-by-step through the digital business landscape to make sure your online teaching platform gets set up the way that will serve you best.

Don’t miss the first two articles in the series, A Beginner’s Guide to Online Teaching: Part 1 and Part 2

Featured image credit: JulyYu via Compfight cc. Text added by ELTjam.

Jaime Miller has taught private online lessons for TOEFL iBT prep since 2010.  Today, she shows ELT teachers how to teach exams effectively and establish online careers that keep their schedules full.  Click here for more info.

5 thoughts on “A beginner’s guide to teaching online, part 3: sharing materials”

  1. There’s a great searchable library of open educational resources over at oercommons.org, though it’s not structured into a ‘course’ as you mentioned in your post, and focusses mostly on the US.

    In my rather biased opinion, there’s a good source of free business English resources here, including a job interviews workbook released under creative commons, and lots of professional-quality guides and downloadables for pronunciation, presentations, speaking, etc.: http://blog.tjtaylor.net

    Hope it helps!

  2. I have a resource that I would love if it were listed in the fluency/conversation section: Lessonslides.com .

    I’m an experienced online ESL teacher, and I create downloadable lesson slides for private online English teachers, so they can emmediately begin taking clients without endless curriculum. You can preview each lesson before you download the PPT file, and you can even get 3 free lessons to try and teach. They’re easy to teach, great for conversation, and require no prep or other materials.


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