How to Successfully Teach English One-to-One

Woman teaching young girl

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Whether you are looking to increase your salary or want to transition into a more flexible teaching schedule, you might be considering becoming a one-to-one English tutor. Private tutoring can be a highly rewarding experience. Learn the pros and cons of becoming a private English teacher and find out how to get started.

Pros and Cons of Tutoring English

Before you jump into one-on-one English teaching, make sure this role is a good fit for you. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the job to decide whether the additional responsibility of private teaching is something that you are ready to take on.

Advantages

There are many pros of teaching private English lessons. For many, these include the flexibility, experience, and earnings that the job provides.

  • Flexibility. One-to-one teaching of any kind is built around your schedule. Whether tutoring is your only job or more of a side gig, lessons are delivered on your time.
  • Experience. The very nature of private tutoring requires you to tailor instruction to student needs. The experience that you will gain differentiating instruction for a single student—constantly tapping into learning styles and intelligences—is invaluable and will improve your practice across the board.
  • Earnings. It goes without saying that you will make more money if you start working more but some full-time tutors even earn as much as teachers while working fewer hours. There are many variables involved but private tutoring is always fairly lucrative.

Disadvantages

Tutoring has its drawbacks as well. Among these are the travel, instability, and unpredictability that come with teaching private lessons.

  • Travel. Most tutors have multiple clients. Depending on where you live and what you tutor, your clients could be very spread out. Tutors often spend a good deal of time traveling to and from their students' homes. If this is an issue, tutoring might not right for you.
  • Instability. Tutoring work ebbs and flows. You will not always have a steady stream of jobs, especially when you are first starting out. If you are relying on a stable income or a consistent schedule, you should probably not pursue private teaching.
  • Unpredictability. A diverse client base comes with unpredictability. Students cancel, plans change, and you have to accommodate your students' and their families often when you are a tutor in order to keep them as clients. This job is not for those who don't adapt well to change.

Getting Started Tutoring

If you have considered the pros and cons of this role and are sure that you want to become a private English teacher, you can start preparing for your first students. You will need to understand what each of your clients requires in order to design productive instruction that meets their needs—the best way to start is by performing a needs analysis. From there, the results of your analyses will help you plan lessons.

How to Conduct a Needs Analysis

A needs analysis can be as formal or informal as you would like. However you choose to assess your students, keep in mind that a) Each of your students will have very different needs and b) Your students might not be able to tell you what they need. Your job is to find out what your clients hope to get out of tutoring even when they can't vocalize it themselves and what level of experience they have with English.

You should start your needs analyses with this quiz to determine how comfortable your students are with the language. Some will have studied English extensively in the past and are already approaching fluency while others might just be getting started. Your one-to-one teaching needs to pick up wherever your students left off.

Once you've administered a quiz, follow these steps to finish your needs analysis.

  1. Have a conversation in English. Warm up with a casual conversation. Try to speak Standard English as much as possible (e.g. avoid local language, slang, etc.) to begin and then switch to the learner's style when they start talking.
  2. Ask why the learner is looking to improve their English. Use your clients' motives to inform your teaching. Work and travel are common reasons for improving English skills. If a learner is unable to express their goals, offer suggestions. Encourage your clients to provide as much detail as possible for this answer.
  3. Ask about experiences with English. Has the learner taken English classes for years? Taken no classes at all? Did they grow up in a household that spoke only broken English and they're hoping to develop something closer to fluency? If they have ever taken English tests, try to acquire results.
  4. Provide a brief reading comprehension exercise. Speaking and reading English are two very different tasks—found out the extent to which your learners can do both. Give them a short reading and listening exercise to assess their reading comprehension.
  5. Administer a writing task. You do not need to give a learner this task right away if they demonstrate very limited English skills—your first order of business for them is to develop their spoken English. Give this intermediate grammar review quiz only to more advanced speakers.
  6. Gather results. Compile the data from all of the above assessments into a comprehensive summary of each student's abilities.

Designing Learning Goals

Use the results of your needs analyses to establish learning goals for your students. In general, every lesson should have a learning goal or two to guide instruction. Share these targets with your students before you begin to make each session more purposeful. Be detailed and specific when writing these goals. Here are some examples of one-to-one English lesson learning goals.

By the end of this lesson, the student will be able to:

  • Correctly identify the subject of a spoken or written sentence.
  • Demonstrate eye contact, proper intonation, appropriate rhythm, and confidence when presenting.
  • Analyze written English for proper verb tense usage and make corrections as needed.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in speaking informal English in the context of grocery shopping.

The more precise your learning goals, the more likely your students are to reach them. Strong learning goals help your students to communicate what they are learning and help you keep your instruction aligned with long-term objectives.

Planning Instruction

With your learning goals mapped out, you can select engaging activities and exercises for your students to practice in order to reach them. The range of activities to choose from when working one-on-one with a student is endless. Learn about your students' interests and take advantage of the wiggle room that private tutoring allows. If ever something isn't working, simply try something else.