30 tips for teaching 1-1

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Most TEFL/TESOL courses and materials are designed with group teaching in mind. This means you may well need to adapt how you teach and materials for a 1-1 or 2-1 setting.

Teaching 1-1 has its pros and cons. On the upside is the opportunity to tailor a course to the specific needs and interests of your student. You will also normally be able to get to know your student in a deeper more interesting way. However there are some issues that need thinking about.

Issues to consider

  • how you will go about identifying your student’s needs
  • how your student will get a sense of progress
  • what resources to use
  • how to deal with the potential intensity of 1-1
  • how to provide variety and keep things fresh

More than 30 suggestions for making 1-1 work

In preparation 

  • try to contact your student before the course and ask about their reasons for learning English and how they will be using it in the future (Homelingua will give you as much information as we have)
  • spend time on a needs analysis at the start of the course – goals and priorities
  • try to find out what really interests your student
  • consider what cultural activities your student would appreciate and how these can be integrated into your lessons
  • agree realistic objectives
  • ask your student how they enjoy studying
  • ask your student how much correction they want
  • consider some project work that can be done throughout the course – photography of local area?
  • prepare a skeleton week-long lesson plan and show to your student
  • explain you will be taking notes during lessons
  • provide suitable reading material in the student’s room (magazines, graded readers)
  • with adult courses make sure you are not on-call 24/7. Have some websites to recommend and be prepared to give some homework (writing, project, grammar/vocabulary exercises, DVD review, podcast review etc)

During lessons

  • usually best to sit next to or at a right angle to your student (not opposite)
  • be prepared to give your student ‘direction’ in their studies – after all you are the teacher!
  • avoid complicated, poorly thought-through coursebook exercises – put yourself in the student’s shoes
  • chunk your lessons into 30-minute max blocks of work
  • be ready to discuss study skills
  • be prepared to be flexible with your plan and go ‘off-piste’ when justified
  • plan in regular review sessions
  • record your student for analysis and to show progress
  • give your student time to digest new language – try not to rush it
  • do pair work – where you can play the other student
  • aim for a minimum of 50% student-talking time (another reason to occasionally record and listen to a lesson!)
  • even adult 1-1 student can enjoy learning songs
  • on longer courses vary your routine a little and build in some surprises
  • make some lessons active (cooking, interviews, games etc)
  • alternate ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ lesson activities
  • encourage your student to bring their material to or share their curiosities in the lesson
  • be prepared to have some ‘professional space’ between you and your student – particularly useful if there is a  personality clash
  • share the intensity by involving friends and family
  • be ready to give some end-of-course advice for continued studying

Recommended teaching 1-1 books

One to One: A Teacher’s Handbook, Peter Wilberg, (Language Teaching Publications)
Teaching English One to One, Priscilla Osborne, (Keyways Publishing)

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