Online learning questions and answers

Here are my answers to questions asked by TESOL students at University of Texas at Arlington


1) What are some activities that you use to provide speaking practice for students?

The most common activities for speaking practice are:

  • Comprehension questions after watching|listening|reading activity like “What did Jane write in her note to her mother?” “Why was mom happy?” (elementary)
  • Discussions questions like ‘What are pros or cons of using robots in every day life?” (intermediate)
  • Role plays like “Convince the shop clerk to let you buy souvenirs when his shop is closing down. You are in Spain. This is your last day in the country. You had been trying to buy a unique souvenir and finally found it in a shop near your hotel. As you are walking in the clerk closes the door right in front of you and says they have an afternoon siesta. Try to convince to him to let you in. The clerk will resist and give his reasons” (upper intermediate)

2) What modeling techniques do you think work best for online activities?

a) Comprehensible input – New materials should draw on the previous experience of students. For example, use cognates – words that have international meaning. For example, “Do you play football?” (instead of ‘soccer’) – Everyone knows what football is.

b) Salient input: – New input may be made salient by a) pictures, b) sound and intonation, c) text emphasis

Past Simple Example

What did Nika do?

She solved a math problem

Look at the picture, listen and choose the right answer

What did Robot Leon do?:    He cleaned the house      He cleans the house

c) Providing models directly. For example,

Task: Think of how your life has already changed thanks to technology.  Complete the columns with as much information as you can.

Use expression ‘used to’ to talk about repetitive actions in the past

Use Present Simple to talk about repetitive actions in the present

Use will to make predictions (what you think will happen in future)

Past Present Future
People used to write letters People email or send messages in FB, WhatsApp People will use holography to communicate


1) Do you use a structured curriculum for your online teaching, and if so, what is it? What are your opinions of the program if any?

  • Yes we have a structured curriculum. We loosely base our curriculum on Common European Framework of Reference (CERF) with their levels A1 A2 B1 B2 C1 C2. To achieve each level a student needs at least 200 hours of studying. There are 3 levels of studying English at Webilang: Elementary, intermediate, upper intermediate. We call them Crawlers, Walkers and Runners.  Each level is covered by 2 years cycle. Within this cycle, there 4 terms, 50 hours each. Each term is covered by  ‘presentations’: 20-25 presentation for each term (August – January and January – July). Each presentation covers at least 2 lessons (60 minutes each).

2) Do you do classroom teaching online, one-on-one, or a combination? What is the structure?

  • We do both classroom and one-on-one. However, most parents prefer to send their children to groups and we favor it more. We believe it is more efficient and interesting to most students. Usually students take either group or one-on-one classes. However, there are a few students who take 2 group classes and 1 private class a week.

3) How much time is spent online in your program?

  • 100% is spent online in Webilang program

4) How much time and what is assigned offline?

  • Webilang online learning is organized synchronously (in webinars) and asynchronously (communication in blogs). So a student has to go online in both ways. However, sometimes a teacher may ask to interview parents or to take pictures of her city and post on the blog. This is a combination of online and offline activities.

5) What are the student demographics? Do they pay? If so, how much?

  • 70% students are from Russia, 20% from Israel, the rest 5% are from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Spain. All of them have Russian speaking parents. However, some students from Israel don’t speak Russian well or at all. All of them come from middle class families. Most parents have university degrees and about half of them can speak English. The tution cost varies depending on the plan of studying. On average 1 month of studying with 2 group classes a week costs $60.


1) Do you think that online language teaching will ever be a valid option for a fulltime job with a salary or enough pay for a comfortable standard of living? or will it always just be a part-time job for extra cash?

  • As an enthusiast of online learning and professional I would say ‘yes’. In my case, at least it has already happened. I used to work full time as a university faculty member in Russia (but keep in mind, it implies much fewer perks than the same job in an American university, with a Russian salary nearly 10 times less than the American one). 2 years ago I quit the university as a teacher but I still retain a part time position as an education consultant at Omsk State University. I have been able to provide for my family being full time engaged in online teaching and organizing online courses. However, most teachers at Webilang work part time today. I think it is only because I still don’t have that many resources to advertise our courses. When we have more students (now the number is only 60) we could provide teachers with more working hours.

2) Is working as a group online on an activity be just as effective as working in a group face-to-face? Or will the       interaction be lacking a certain quality that can only be done with a personal proximity?

  • If you have 3 factors of the same quality: highly professional teacher, high quality materials and high motivation of students then I believe today online group learning can be no less effective than a face-to-face class in the home country of the learner. However, if I could afford to send my children to a face-to-face class in the target language country (to a class with all these features mentioned above) I would certainly prefer a face-to-face class. The social cultural context is paramount for learning a language. At Webilang, we create it artificially for 2 hours a week with the help of our native speaker teachers. Staying in a target language country a student is exposed to the combination of the target language and culture 24 hours a day, which of course speeds up language acquisition.

So, what do you think ?