Step 1: Don’t buy anything!
If you have a computer with internet access, a webcam, and a microphone, you are ready to become an online tutor. If you’ve been working as an in-person tutor, or as a teacher, and you want to tutor online, a basic computer setup and some free tools will get you pretty far! In this post, I’ll focus on literacy tutoring, particularly Orton-Gillingham tutoring. Lots of the tools I recommend work for other academic tutoring, too.
Free tools to become an online tutor
To become an online tutor, the first thing you need is a way to connect to your students with audio and video. There are lots of ways to do this. Here are my top recommendations.
- Zoom – this has become the obvious choice lately, in this season of working and learning from home. Recently, since they patched up some security things and made it easier for users to control who and what goes on in their meetings. It’s always been my favorite, and now I recommend it without reservations. (free for unlimited 1:1 meetings or group meetings up to 40 minutes)
- Google Meet – Google Hangouts Meet has been available to some users for a while, but lately they have rolled it out to all Gmail users. It is pretty comparable to Zoom in a lot of ways. It does not offer the meeting host the option to let others take control of the mouse. There are workarounds for this, but it makes it slightly less convenient than Zoom.
- Webex – This is a less well-known application outside of the business world. Webex by Cisco also offers a basic, free, version with meetings up to 50 minutes. It includes screen sharing and shared mouse and keyboard control.
- FaceTime, Skype – these are options for video and audio meetings. They aren’t designed for academic/business applications so they lack some of the features you may need, like sharing material on your screen.
I’ll focus on materials for literacy tutoring, starting with the basics and moving up.
Reading and Writing
- Phonics – letter tiles from the University of Florida Literacy Institute are a great start for letter-sound relationships and word building.
- Word lists – you can write your own in a Google doc, or whatever word processor you usually use (LibreOffice is my preferred free option but if you have Word, that works, too). You can screen share the list or email it to the student so they can print their own copy. University of Florida offers some ready-made lists that might be helpful, too.
- Decodable text – I have some decodable texts in digital formats I share on my screen. If you have some but they are in paper form, use an free app like Tiny Scanner to digitize the page you want to use. Or use your cell phone as a document camera to show it on the screen.
- Texts for reading comprehension practice – There are so many options for articles, ebooks, graphic novels and short stories online! I use articles from readworks.org, newsela.com, and my public library’s OverDrive ebook collection. (psst – see if you can join any libraries other than your own for a larger collection. Massachusetts residents qualify to get a Boston Public Library ecard, and they have more books (and also just different books) than my local library.) Epic Books is also free for teachers, when you register with your school email account.
- I use a free Google extension called Kami to open texts in PDF form and write and draw on them. This works well for stories and articles that you can download as PDFs.
- Writing – You can have your student write on a small whiteboard or notebook and hold their work up to the webcam. Or you can have them type in a shared Google Doc or in the chat box in Zoom. I use all three kinds of writing for different students and different purposes.
- Manipulatives and word-building – If you want a flexible tool for building words and sentences, marking up words in a phonics or vocabulary lesson, or sorting words, there are a lot of online whiteboard tools you can use. Zoom and Webex each have their own whiteboard. Google has a whiteboard tool called Jamboard. I prefer Jamboard, no matter what video platform I’m using, because I can create one from Google Drive and set it up in advance. It also works outside of the meeting, meaning I can send the link to my student through Zoom chat or via email and they can use it with or without me. The Online White Board awwapp.com and Miro board are two other options, but Miro board’s free version is limited.
There are so many!
- Playingcards.io is awesome for card games, but labor-intensive to set up.
- Wordwall.net has lots of word sorts and other games. You can pay for a subscription and build your own, or you can just search what they have for free, without logging in. If the student is on a Chromebook or iPad and can’t take control of your mouse, send them the game link and have them share the screen so you can watch them play and coach.
- Check out this roll-a-word game I created in a Google Slides presentation.
- Or adapt some of your in-person favorites by putting the game board or cards under your document camera and having the student direct you when it’s their turn. You can also take a photo of a game board (or download a picture of a game board) and share it on your screen, so you and your student can move pieces around on a whiteboard or in a PDF.
Ready to get started? Download my free guide “Online Tutoring – Day One” below!
I believe you can either invest money or time in building your online tutoring business. When I started out, I had more time than money. If you are in that boat now, here are some ways to get the word out about your services.
- Social networks – design an eye-catching flyer in Canva and upload it to Facebook and NextDoor. Ask your friends and family to share it.
- Start a Facebook page for your business, too. Also, set up a business listing on Google. These listings are what come up at the top when you search for something “near me” on Google.
- Word of mouth – once you get that first client, ask them to share your services with people they know. I offer a free session to any existing client who refers someone new. Friends, colleagues and other professionals are also great sources for word-of-mouth referrals.
- Old-fashioned flyers – these aren’t exactly free, but if you have a printer and some paper at home, you don’t necessarily need to lay out any cash to create a flyer. You can hang them at local businesses or libraries (with permission, of course). If you want to spend a couple dollars, you could get them printed in color or on glossy paper at a copy shop.
Don’t you have to spend money to make money?
After you become an online tutor, eventually you might want to upgrade your technology, or invest in some software that will make your tutoring easier. You may want to buy curriculum resources or pay for a course that teaches you how to develop your business or teach better. You may want to invest in business cards, a website, or even hire someone to help with your marketing plan. But you don’t have to make those decisions today. It is possible to get started as an online tutor with little to no out-of-pocket expense, beyond the technology and internet access you may already have.
Do you believe me? What expenses do you foresee as you start your online tutoring business? Have you made any investments already? Did they pay off? Let me know in the comments below!