How to teach English one to one successfully

Woman teaching young girl
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Teaching one to one is something most English teachers will do sooner or later. Teaching one to one can help improve your teaching salary, and give you some flexibility in scheduling. Of course, teaching one to one has its drawbacks as well. Here's a quick rundown on the art of teaching English one to one, as well as some strategies and tips to help you get started or improve your one to one teaching skills.

Before you Get Started

Before you begin teaching one on one you'll need to do a needs analysis to be effective. Performing a needs analysis for a new student can be a simple as having a conversation about what the student would like to cover, or as complicated as asking the student to fill out a questionnaire. However you go about delivering your needs analysis, understand that many students don't necessarily know what their needs are. English learners who haven't studied in an academic setting for years might say something along the lines of 'I need to learn English.' and leave it at that. Here are the basic questions and tasks you should ask / perform for a basic English learning needs analysis for one to one teaching:

Doing a Needs Analysis

  • Have a short conversation in English to warm things up. If you speak the local language you might want to begin in the learner's native tongue, but switch to English as soon as possible. This will give you a feel for the basic level.
  • Ask why the English learner wishes to have one to one teaching. If he/she is hesitant make suggestions: work, travel, general interest in learning the global language of choice, etc.
  • Based on the answer to the above question, dig a little deeper. If your one to one client wants to learn English for work, ask about specific tasks they need to perform in English (feel free to switch language if you speak it). If the client wants to improve English for travel, find out where they are traveling, what they plan to do there, etc.
  • Ask if they've studied English before. When was the last time they studied? Have they ever taken a test such as the TOEFL, FCE, etc.?
  • Provide a quick listening and reading comprehension exercise to get a feel for their comprehension skills and vocabulary. If possible use the Internet to fish something out based on their responses to your previous questions. The closer you get to their interests, the better you'll understand their true comprehension capabilities.
  • Provide a short writing task if they need English for work or studies. If possible, give them a quick grammar review quiz.

Planning One to One Lessons

Once you've provided a needs analysis, you can decide on specific outcomes for your lessons. State clearly what you expect your one to one student will be able to do by the end of your sessions together. Once the student understands the specific goals you've outlined, and agreed to these goals, planning your lessons will become much easier. Make sure these outcomes are specific. Here are some examples:

  • Instead of 'Improve listening skills': Improve comprehension skills at conferences by focusing on language commonly used in presentations.
  • Instead of 'Improve grammar': Improve grammar in written communications such as e-mails and memos. Focus on better use of tenses to describe past situations, etc.
  • Instead of 'Practice English for travel.': Become comfortable with a wide range of expected shopping experiences.
  • etc.

The bottom line is that the more specific you can make your lessons to the individual learner, the happier your one to one students will be. Eventually, this will lead to lots of referrals.

Advantages of One to One English Teaching

  • One to one teaching can take place based on your schedule
  • You'll develop an extensive understanding of tailoring lesson to individual needs
  • You can focus on the type of learning that best fits students' learning styles (i.e. multiple intelligences are much easier to teach in a one to one setting)
  • Referrals - if you do well, people will be asking for you
  • Most importantly: better earnings than most language schools can offer

Disadvantages of One to One English Teaching

  • Students might cancel at the last second. Make sure you create some rules (i.e. cancellations must occur at least 24 hrs before scheduled lessons)
  • You might have to travel all over town if you decide to provide one to one teaching at places of work / home
  • One to one teaching is illegal in some countries (South Korea, for example)
  • Some (many?) schools frown on one to one teaching on your own
  • Once you've booked the lessons, you'll have to teach and some one to one students can be very trying!