5 Ways to be a Better Virtual Tutor

By Learn To Be
December 31, 2023

This is part of a series of blogs written by Learn To Be’s Junior Board- a group of high achieving high school students.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Have you ever been frustrated by virtual tutoring? Maybe you weren’t sure how to find the best online resources? Or maybe you struggled to keep your student engaged through a computer screen?

It’s no surprise that virtual tutoring can be challenging. There are often tech-related issues and it can take longer to build a relationship with your student. But the virtual space allows us to connect and learn from others who may be a few miles away or on the other side of the country. While it may take some practice, virtual tutoring has TONs of advantages. Volunteering as a tutor with Learn To Be for the last 2 years has taught me a lot about online learning, and I’m excited to share what I’ve discovered!

Table of Contents:

  1. Online Books
  2. Saving Session Notes
  3. Enhancing Online Learning Content
  4. Customizable Games
  5. Using Tangible Items From Home

1. Online Books

Tutoring often involves helping students with their reading. Whether it’s for a book report, a literature class, or simply for learning how to read, books always seem to pop up — and it can be challenging in a fully virtual space.

Here is how I’ve improved my tutoring using books:

Online libraries

Online libraries are among the most underused internet resources. Not only are they free and easily accessible, but they have features that can improve your tutoring experience immensely.

Here are two I love:

  1. Libby
  2. Overdrive

Both Libby and Overdrive are quite similar but there are a few key differences. You sign into both of them with your library card so any books you borrow on Libby will show up on Overdrive and vice versa.


As for differences, I prefer Libby for in-session tutoring. It has a great interface with tools to annotate and looks great when sharing your screen to read with your student. Although Libby is better for tutoring sessions, Overdrive is better for choosing books and managing your books. It has many more tools for searching, borrowing, and downloading books.


Because all of the books you’ve borrowed on your library card are displayed on both sites it is nice to use them simultaneously.

Through these services, you will have access to thousands of ebooks and audiobooks with your library card. Their website allows you to read books in your browser using tools such as highlighting, font-sizing, bookmarking, and notes. You can share your screen and follow along with your student as they read during your session.

2. ​​Saving Session Notes

When I guide my students through an assignment or topic, I often find myself writing formulas, vocabulary words, or step-by-step solutions on the digital whiteboard.

My students benefited greatly from the things I did in our weekly meetings, but I wanted to make sure these benefits would last beyond our 60–90 minutes each week.

With this in mind, I sought out a solution.

Here is what I came up with:

At the end of your session, download your whiteboard and email it to your student. This way, they’ll have those notes for the rest of the week, aiding them with homework, studying, etc.

Here are the links explaining how you can do this depending on the virtual classroom you are using.

  1. Zoom
  2. Big Blue Button

3. Enhancing online learning content- Reading

If you tutor virtually, you are likely familiar with online whiteboards. Both Zoom and BigBlueButton have built-in whiteboards with various drawing tools to make teaching a whole lot easier (and fun too!).

BigBlueButton Whiteboard

Built-in whiteboards are great for any age, but the particular tips below are good for younger students who need support with reading, so feel free to skip this part if your student is fully capable of reading.

Your student is likely to encounter a word that they can’t understand right away as they read. When this happens, pull up a blank whiteboard and type out the word they struggle with. Change the color, bold, underline or spice it up a bit. Make the word fun! Use the various tools in your drawing toolkit to help your student break down the word. Draw a circle around the “ed” ending, highlight the double “o”, and draw lines between the letters if they need to be pronounced.

Not only does this reinforce good “sound-it-out” habits, but it also reduces the anxiety of seeing a new word, and creates a more encouraging and positive learning experience.

4. Customizable Games- Math

Students need tutors for a variety of different reasons. One common reason is homework assistance. The need for homework help arises when a student is stuck on a problem, needs the lesson retaught, or wants to go over questions they answered incorrectly.

Personally, tutoring in homework help is a nightmare. It seems easy, but most of the time it is hard not to fall into a pattern of guiding them through each problem while they nod their head in silence. This is not at all effective; you are essentially doing the problem for them! And, even if they seem to understand, their understanding likely won’t stick.

Here is how I use the virtual classroom to overcome this issue:

Creating Math Games with the Whiteboard

Game Suggestion #1: Decimals — “Cash Register”

Either use the whiteboard to draw a “store” or you can find an image online. Share your screen and annotate over it.

However you choose to do it, I’d suggest leaving a space blank for calculations. My student and I made “receipts” where we’d type up the amount for each item the customer “bought” and add them up.

My student and I have done this many times! Here is an example of one we did recently.

Game Suggestion #2: Fractions — “Pizza Parlor”

Like the previous example, draw some sort of pizza parlor on the whiteboard, or share your screen with a photo of one.

One person plays the “chef” and one person plays the “customer.” The customer will ask for “a pizza for 8 people, 2/8 of the pizza needs to be cheese, and ¾ of the pizza needs to be pepperoni.”

The chef will use the annotation tools to then put the correct amount of “cuts” in the pizza and toppings on the right amount of slices.

This game is super customizable depending on your student’s skill level.

Game #3: Percents- “Discount Shop”

Just like the previous two examples, create a store or upload a photo of one and share your screen.

In this game, you will assign prices to each item and then assign a discount of categories of items. (for example: socks are 50% off, t-shirts are 30% off, etc)

The customer will pick out a few things to purchase and the cashier will have to individually deduct the correct percentage off of each item.

5. Using Items From Home

While the first four ideas focus on technology-based solutions for enhancing tutoring, what about non-tech alternatives? The lack of tactile engagement for students is a drawback of online tutoring. There is a need for hands-on activities in nearly every tutoring subject.

If you’re not seated next to your student, that doesn’t mean you can’t provide them with a tangible learning experience. Here are some examples of when tactile resources can be utilized to enhance tutoring sessions.


Teaching a student how to add different types of coins and different dollar bills with tangible items is often the difference between a deep understanding and a surface-level understanding. Ask your student to grab a few coins or dollars. You could also use fake coins or dollars (from a game like Monopoly) or cut out paper coins and dollars. You can incorporate this tangible money with the games listed above!


Although reading online can be extremely useful, there are also cases in which a physical copy is necessary.

Encourage them to read from a physical copy instead of the screen if they have one. As I mentioned before, you can always follow along using Libby or Overdrive.

Pen/Paper & Non-virtual Whiteboards

As an alternative to typing or drawing words on the virtual whiteboard, using google docs, or speaking out loud, have your student write down their spelling words. There is a lot of research that suggests that taking notes helps students retain more information. Here is a link to an article explaining this in further detail. Your student can write words on a piece of paper and hold it up to the screen, or if your student has a small physical whiteboard, that’s great to use as well!

Not only will this improve their confidence in penmanship and letter writing, but it will help them break down words and think more deeply about what they are spelling.

The use of tactile items can benefit students’ learning in a variety of ways. Go the extra mile by asking your student to retrieve these items and use them during the session. I’d recommend letting the student know ahead of time so they have it ready before the session starts. And keep in mind that you don’t want to make your student go and purchase items if they aren’t in a financial position to do so. So keep it to items around the house!

Although it may seem like a hassle and you may prefer to stick with your usual technology, in some instances using physical items is the best solution.

To Summarize

In many cases, online tutoring can be an advantage, rather than a limitation. You can use the solutions above as a starting point, and I encourage you all to come up with your own creative ways to engage your students virtually.

If you’re interested in volunteering as a tutor with Learn To Be, like I have for the past 2 years, you can learn more and apply here. Or if you know of any students/families in need of free, online, one-on-one tutoring, they are welcome to apply here!

Thank you — I’d love to see your comments or suggestions in the comments below!

By Learn To Be
December 31, 2023