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Building Rapport with Students in the Online Classroom

By VIPKid  |  April 13, 2021

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The relationships you have with your students can make or break your classroom experience. But in a virtual classroom, building rapport and connecting with students online can be more challenging than it would be in a physical classroom. With all the gadgets, toys, and other distractions at your students’ disposal, their connection with you as a teacher is the most effective way to pull them into your lessons.

Why else is building rapport important? We asked Jeanette Salazar and Tiffany Boone, two members of the 2020-2021 VIPTeach Fellowship cohort. Former teacher and VIPKid Founder and CEO Cindy Mi established VIPTeach, a U.S. non-profit organization that empowers educators with technology and professional learning to drive equity and innovation in education. In 2020, VIPTeach announced the inaugural Global Online Teaching Fellowship, a first-of-its-kind virtual service and professional development program for future leaders in education.

“Building rapport with students is important because students are more likely to open up to a teacher they know which in turn will help with their learning.” 

-VIPTeach Fellow Jeanette Salazar

“Rapport building is the foundation of a productive class where confidence and genuine connection have an opportunity to flourish.”

-VIPTeach Fellow Tiffany Boone

It can be daunting to come up with creative ways to connect with students online! Don’t worry, we’ve put together some of our top tips on how to build rapport with your online students, plus some potential challenges you may face (and how to overcome them).


Break the Ice

We’ve all been a new kid in class at some point or another. It’s awkward. Being in a new environment can be scary! But once a teacher went out of their way to make you feel comfortable, things probably got a whole lot easier.

As a teacher, it’s important to empathize with your students who might feel this way and find what works for them. Make your class a place that’s fun and enjoyable instead of somewhere new and scary by taking the time to get to know your students and what they’re interested in. Once you break through that initial barrier, connecting with students online becomes a whole lot easier.

“Be flexible, patient, and understanding. Students respond when they know their teacher cares about them. Show interest in them. They will want to learn and be engaged.”

-VIPTeach Fellow Jeanette Salazar

Get Students Moving

Using Total Physical Response (TPR) is a tried and true method to get students engaged in lesson material. Combining a new word or idea with an action helps students commit things to memory and reinforce language concepts. Not to mention, most kids would rather move around and be active than sit and listen to a lecture. You get the best of both worlds: being a good teacher AND a fun teacher! It’s a win-win!

Build a Reward System

A classroom reward system is a great way to engage and motivate students. But beyond that, reward systems also help foster a relationship and connection between the student and teacher in the online classroom. Students learn better when they’re engaged, and reward systems reward students for their hard work over time. But just as importantly, rewards make your lessons an event they look forward to! VIPKid teachers often use the platform’s built-in star system for their rewards, but there’s nothing wrong with creating your own reward system tailored to your students. 

“You can find something to engage the student with that will catch their attention. With a young learner you can give them a reward of their favorite things. With the older students you can build that rapport by asking them questions about themselves and keeping notes to bring it up in the next class.”

-VIPTeach Fellow Jeanette Salazar

Be an EQ Guru

Teaching English online isn’t just about teaching from a textbook 24/7. Sometimes your role as a teacher requires a more delicate touch. Use your emotional intelligence (EQ) to take a step back from the lesson and connect with your students online on a personal level. If a student doesn’t seem up to it on a given day, it’s ok to change your lesson on the fly to adapt to their needs. 

You might not be able to connect with all of your students on an emotional level from day one, but putting consistent effort over time will help you build strong rapport. Pay attention to their body language and overall mood, and you’ll start to pick up when they seem off. Once you know how to read a student’s body language, it can tell you more about how they feel than their own words! 

“[I]ndividualized support is a great opportunity to build a connection with the student and to model one-to-one conversational skills that the students can practice outside of the virtual classroom with their peers.”

-VIPTeach Fellow Tiffany Boone

Potential Challenges

Shy Students

Students are people too! And like everyone else, some students are just shy. While it’s tempting to want to be the teacher who “pulls a student out of their comfort zone”, chances are you’ll only make them more uncomfortable by trying. Every student is different, and it’s up to you as a teacher to find what works in your classroom. If they’re more reserved, a game that requires them to be loud and jump around probably isn’t your best bet for getting them engaged. Be adaptable to your students’ personalities and make the effort to help them feel more comfortable!


Let’s face it, distractions in the online classroom are inevitable. As a teacher, it’s your job to manage those distractions. Keep students engaged with props, get them moving around, and incorporate their interests into your lessons!  

Check out our post for more tips on managing distractions in the online classroom!

Distance Learning

Not being in the same room as your students can seem like a huge challenge to building rapport. But don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you might think. It starts with you setting an example! Smile and show your students how genuinely excited you are to be in the class, and you’ll be surprised how quickly students match your energy. We put together a list of resources for distance learning to help you out!

“The obvious challenge is the fact that it is distance learning. It’s not in person. There are some students that need more encouragement to be successful in a distance learning classroom. This is when a teacher needs to put their best practices and strategies into play.”

-VIPTeach Fellow Jeanette Salazar

Language Barriers

The language barrier is often your number one challenge in making connections with students as an online English tutor. Obviously, there is only so much you can communicate with words if you and the student don’t have the same native language. But by using TPR, creating a reward system, and learning to read students’ body language, you can knock down that barrier and develop real relationships with your students!

“However, students with limited English vocabulary may need visual aids to support rapport building. In this instance, you could hold up a popular children’s toy and prompt the student to express whether they like the toy, “yes” or “no.” Focusing on making connections, particularly when language ability is limited, will improve students’ overall learning experience.

-VIPTeach Fellow Tiffany Boone

Want to learn more about how the VIPTeach Fellowship program empowers educators? Check out the VIPTeach website for more info!

Interested in becoming a VIPKid Teacher? Start here.

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