Six Steps to Successfully Begin Teaching Online: A Beginner’s Guide For Those Forced Into Online Teaching

Barbara FreedmanCorona, lessons, online course, teachingLeave a Comment

During this outbreak of coronavirus, many schools are gearing up to deliver instruction online if schools close. Many teachers and administrators are familiar with a variety of digital tools to give and get back materials from students. Although online instruction and learning is more than just distributing materials, there are some things you can do now to be better prepared for working with students online.

1) Start Your Path in Your Classroom NOW

The first step to online learning is making sure students know where and how to access materials. They also need to know how to submit materials if that is required. If you have the luxury of still being in school with your students, start getting them used to and understanding how online learning works. Start with making sure they all know:

  • How to log in or access the LMS or Google Classroom
  • How to find your class materials
  • How to know when assignments are do
  • How to get in touch with you if they have a question.

I don’t mean just showing them how to do an assignment or “flipping” the classroom. Actually, simulate what it might be like for them to have to find the lesson and do the assignment. Create one small short lesson that they might get online. When students come to class, explain that you are going to have them practice finding the lesson, doing the lesson, and doing the assignment. Then, let them do it. The very first time you do this, you can walk them through what they need to access your materials, logging in, finding your class page, finding the lesson, etc. Then let them do it. Students may have difficulty at first knowing where to go in the LMS or how to do all the reading and watching video. Many may want to just ask the teacher to tell them the answer. Once you have given group instruction, except for required differentiated instruction and individual attention, try to guide the students to find the answers for themselves. Ask them questions that might help them find what they need. Talk them through it as much as you can if you need to. Resist taking control of their mouse!

2) Choose a Path

Some subjects may lend themselves to more easily accomplish online teaching and learning for those new to this field. You may not be able to continue what you started in school but you can continue learning. You’ll need to assess if you can continue down the learning path you would normally do in your classroom or if it is better to break away and do something that can be accomplished more readily online. You may need to adjust your thinking about what you want your students to learn in their time at home and how you want them to demonstrate their learning. If you can choose this path with your colleagues, you can also break up the workload to produce and upload resources and assignments.

3) Make The First Lesson A Simple Success

If your students are not used to distance learning, they will need time to acclimate (so will you!). Try having your first lesson be very simple. Pick something they already know or have already done in the classroom and now have them recreate it in the online environment. This can give them a chance to use the digital tools that they might not be familiar with and also reinforce learning. Let them start with something they can be successful with in terms of accomplishing a content task or assignment and be able to do so in the new digital environment on their own at home.

4) Cut Your “Normal” Lessons In Half

Online can be more time consuming for the students than “regular” face-to-face teaching and learning. Preparing, delivering, and working with students in an online environment is also more time consuming for the teacher. You will not be right there to help guide and encourage students so they will need to be working on their own or with the help of a grown-up at home. To start, even for advanced or older students, think in terms of smaller chunks of step-by-step learning. Whatever you think you can accomplish in a half an hour in a face-to-face classroom cannot always be accomplished in the same time online so divide that half hour lesson into two 15-minute lessons. If you teach an hour lesson, make two 30-minute lessons. Then create an assignment for students to interact with materials or demonstrate their learning for each of the lesson segments. Students will not have you next to them to ask questions or have your eye glancing at their work and making those quick minor corrections that puts them on the correct path. This will be in the back-and-forth exchange online. That is time consuming and can be frustrating if you make the lessons and assignments too big. Know where the pitfalls are in the sequence of learning. Check at those points to make sure they are “getting it”. Nothing can be more frustrating and demoralizing for students and teachers than to have five things the students are supposed to have done in one assignment and they didn’t quite understand step 2 so 3, 4 & 5 are all wrong! That happens in a classroom, too, but we have a different way to recover.

5) Allow Student to Student Interaction Whenever Possible

Consider having students post to a discussion forum or some other method that they can make comments on each other’s work rather than just having them submit their assignments to you. You might need to do a preliminary lesson on digital citizenship or provide examples of what acceptable and not acceptable commenting can be. There are a lot of good materials available online about digital citizenship including free resources from International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) at

6) Stay Calm and Put Wellbeing First

For those of us being forced into online learning due to the current health crisis of coronavirus, the goal is to provide students with some sense of normalcy and connection as best as we can. Please keep in mind that we are encountering something we have never encountered before and we are going to do what we can to continue teaching and learning. You and your students will have a great deal of anxiety and concerns over so many different things. Some students might have family members that become ill and they might become sick themselves. We hope and pray that we will not encounter the very worst and that our students will all be OK. Be patient and kind to your students and to yourself. Be generous with your feedback, comments, and grades. Encourage as much positive interaction and joy as you can. Do something that is just for fun and don’t worry about the grade. We will all need more fun as we enter more deeply into this together. Remember, we are all in this together.


Dr. Barbara Freedman earned her Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the College of Information at the University of North Texas. She specializes in multimedia instructional design and delivery in digital learning environments. She provides consultation services, professional development workshops, and online instruction to teachers and districts on curriculum development, online instruction, and specific technologies including learning management systems. For more information or to contact Dr. Freedman please email:


Be well and be safe.