Tutoring on Cambly: How to Easily Lead a Conversation

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Tutoring on Cambly is unique when it comes to online ESL (English as a Second Language) companies. The California-based entity connects native-speaking tutors with students all over the world who are looking to perfect their conversational skills. For the most part, students are just looking to talk and work on their fluency, which is nice for most tutors because it means they don’t need to worry about structuring a lesson for a 30 or 60-minute block of time. But, that also means that you need to figure out how to keep a conversation going for that long.

How to Structure Your Free-Talk Lesson on Cambly

Small talk may come easy to most extroverts, but for some people, the thought of leading an hour-long conversation with a stranger can be pretty unnerving. As an introvert and someone who fully understands those sentiments, I’ve created this guide to help you breeze through the time while tutoring on Cambly.


The good news is, you don’t need much to get started as a tutor with Cambly. However, you will at least need to have a laptop with a stable internet connection, along with a good pair of headphones with a microphone. Having noise-canceling headphones is a must, and makes it so much easier to work, especially if you live in a home with others and may not have access to peace and quiet as needed.

The Greeting

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If ever a time to make the most exaggerated greeting ever, this would be it. And, you know how 99% of the time when someone tells you their name it goes in one ear and out the other? Try to avoid that. You never know when the student that you talk to on priority hour will return for a reservation a few days later, and you’ll want to remember their name. I always start with a simple “hi,” usually followed by a, “hello,” and a quick wave. Ask them for their name and repeat it back to them if you are able to understand it enough to try.

If you’re not sure, you can say, “Is that correct,” and they’ll typically let you know if it isn’t and repeat it back to you. If you have zero clues about what they said and you’re not even comfortable attempting the pronunciation, just move on by telling them your name and letting them know you’re happy to meet them.

Note: You should also ask each student early on if they would prefer corrections after each mistake or if they’d like for you to make notes and wait until the end of the lesson, etc. If your reservation was scheduled in advance, you can check their preference on their profile, but if you’re on a priority hour, you may want to ask just to be sure.

Where in the World?

After you’ve said the niceties, the next topic to refer to would be their location. Ask them where they’re from if you’re on priority hour and you’ve never spoken to them before. If they’ve scheduled an appointment in advance, you can check their profile by clicking through your reservations page. It’s better to know in advance, and that’s because of what comes next.

If you know very little about the country that your student is from, it can be beneficial to open a new tab and use Google to pull it up. Or, at the very least, keep the search engine tab open so that you’re able to look something up at a moment’s notice.

What do you do?

“What do you do,” is one of the first things I like to ask in a Cambly convo. Knowing what your student does will give you some more small-talk ammo to arm yourself with. If they seem willing to talk about their job, you can dive deeper into it, asking them if they like it, and what a typical day in their field is like. Do they work from home, or from an office, etc.?


work from home jobs cambly tutor

If they’re a student, that opens up another door that you can walk through for a few minutes, too. Ask them about they’re schooling. Do they go to campus, or do they take school online? What subjects are they studying or interested in pursuing? Are they having any issues with English here that you might be able to help them work on?

Come Here Often?

Ask your student about their experience with Cambly, and speaking English in general. Do they speak English at work or school, or are they just learning for fun? How long have they been using the platform, and how many tutors have they spoken to? What’s the most memorable conversation they’ve had? Before moving on to the next subject, I like to thank them for giving me a shot over all of the other tutors they have to choose from. You can also give them any tips you have that may help them in their quest to speak English fluently.

Favorite and Cultural Foods

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Ask them about their favorite foods. How do they prepare them? What does the dish consist of? Do they like to drink anything specific with their food? You can also ask them about the traditional recipes of their country. What is the most popular food in their area? Are they a fan, or could they do without seeing it again? This may give you some fun ideas for new dishes to try out as well!

Movies, Shows, or Videos?

When I’m on Cambly, I like to ask each student whether or not they’ve tried watching any shows or movies in English. If they have and they’re pretty advanced in their speaking, you can ask them about what types of things they like to watch. I’ve noticed that in many cases, students prefer things like TED Talks and other types of educational viewing, over Netflix and Hulu, etc. Whatever they say, I dig deeper to keep them talking. What’s their favorite movie of all time? Do they use subtitles in their native language to watch?

Conversation Topic Ideas for Your Free-Talk Lesson on Cambly

  • Current events
  • Work/school
  • Culture
  • Food
  • Entertainment
  • Animals and pets
  • Hobbies

If you’re looking for some great icebreakers or more conversation topics, check out this awesome list of questions you can ask your students throughout the lesson.

More Ways to Earn Money Online

Everyone who’s tutoring on Cambly knows it’s pretty hard to make a full-time income doing so. So, if you’re looking for some other online side hustles to add more money to your bank account these days, check out this article next.

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Erika Sellmer is a digital content specialist with a passion for remote work and empathic design.