7 Ideas for Giving Constructive Feedback in an Online ESL Classroom

Chad Emery
Teaching online can be challenging. This article shows teachers actionable ways to provide helpful feedback to students online.

When you’re teaching ESL to a group or in a one-on-one setting, giving helpful feedback to each student is essential. Providing actionable, encouraging feedback can be a little more difficult when you’re teaching English online, but it’s still a necessary part of the job. Feedback can help you structure your future lessons based on your students’ needs, and it can also help you retain students longer in the competitive world of online English teaching.

Here are 7 ideas for giving constructive feedback in your online ESL classroom.

1. Provide feedback using the student’s current knowledge 

Your students most likely don’t speak English fluently (that’s why they’re taking your lessons!). Keeping this in mind when you’re giving them feedback can save you and them a lot of frustration. Since you’re their teacher, craft your feedback in a way that they’ll understand. Use short and concise sentences, level-appropriate vocabulary, and don’t overwhelm them by giving too much feedback at once. 

2. Give real-time feedback after the student finishes speaking 

Giving real-time feedback can give your students a confidence boost, and it can also help you make sure you’re understanding their needs. The most important aspect of real-time feedback to remember is to let your student finish speaking before you provide verbal feedback. If a teacher constantly cuts off a student to correct minor errors, this can be demotivating and discouraging for the student. 

It’s especially important to wait for the student to finish speaking when you’re in an online ESL environment. Technology has its limitations, and when two people speak at the same time online, the sound can become distorted and incomprehensible. This can lead to awkward pauses, frustration, and a generally bad experience for the student. 

3. Nonverbal feedback can encourage the student

While you should always allow students to finish speaking before providing verbal feedback, it’s important to give nonverbal feedback while they’re speaking. Whether it’s staying focused on your screen, nodding, smiling, or something else, nonverbal feedback encourages students and lets them know you’re actively listening. If you just sit and wait for your student to finish without giving any nonverbal feedback, your student may think your computer froze!

4. Ask the student to self-assess

The typical teacher-student relationship is pretty straightforward. The student communicates in English and the teacher corrects the student or gives advice afterwards. While this is an effective way to learn English, it does have its limitations. Students tend to become dependent on feedback from their teachers. This is why it’s important to ask your students to assess themselves. 

Asking them what mistakes they think they made or how they can improve their English skills encourages your students to think about their own needs. When they explore their own areas of improvement with you, you’ll be able to identify knowledge gaps and understand what they need and want to focus on during their online lessons. 

5. Provide feedback based on the content of the lesson

Online ESL lessons tend to be pretty flexible, especially if you’re creating your own teaching materials. However, you should always have an objective or direction in each lesson. Be sure and cater your feedback to the content of each lesson to avoid confusing your students.

If they want to learn how to have a conversation in a restaurant, giving them feedback on how they misused a verb tense may not be helpful for them. Instead, focus on helping them learn related vocabulary words, common phrases they might hear in a restaurant, or other related information.

6. Positive feedback is just as important as identifying areas of improvement 

It’s easy to point out students’ errors and teach them how to avoid repeating those mistakes again in the future. This shouldn’t be the only type of feedback a student receives though. Letting them know what they did well and what they excel at can be really motivating. When you’re teaching ESL online, students may be apprehensive to speak because they aren’t comfortable with speaking through a microphone or webcam. Giving them positive feedback can not only encourage them, but it can also break down the barriers caused by technology.

7. Listen to student feedback and think about it when giving lessons

Feedback goes two ways. Asking your students for feedback on your online lessons can help you meet their needs more effectively. When you take their thoughts into account for future lessons, you’ll form a more productive relationship with each other. They’re also more likely to keep booking you!

Using these feedback tips for your online ESL lessons can help you foster a positive and productive online environment. These tips can open up the line of communication between you and your students, and they can also allow you to overcome the obstacle of building a virtual relationship with your online students.

Written by Chad Emery for EnglishClub
Chad Emery is a language enthusiast who loves both learning and teaching languages. This is the reason he started Langoly, a website to help people learn and teach languages more effectively.


  • Chad Emery says:

    That’s an excellent idea, Elizabeth! Knowing which activities the students prefers not only makes future lesson planning a little easier, but can also help build a stronger bond with the student 🙂 I’m glad you liked the article!

  • Elizabeth McMahon says:

    Great ideas! In regard to the last point, asking students for feedback on the lessons, often students will say everything is great. I will sometimes give students a list of things we have done in class and ask them to rank them from best to worst. That gives me an idea of which activities are working well from the student perspective.

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