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Creating The Right Atmosphere for One-to-One ESL Lessons

Teaching English to one student is a very different experience from teaching a class full of people. How well you succeed in this depends a lot on the environment in which the lessons take place.

As such, it is important that you work together with your student to create a situation that feels right for both of you. Here are some questions to work through with your prospective one-to-one student.

1. What Kind of Physical Environment Do You Want? – Teaching ESL One-to-One

Getting the location right is a must. Does the student want – or need – you to travel to their place of work? Would they prefer a naturally more relaxed venue such as a coffee shop? Might either or both of you want a location that is more formally designed for learning?

Don’t be afraid to try different locations until you both feel that you are in a place that is creating the right vibe.

2. What Kind of Emotional Environment Do You Want? – Teaching ESL One-to-One

To some extent, this goes together with the physical environment but is equally important in creating a situation conducive to learning.

The student may wish things to resemble his/her notions of formal learning; cut-and-dried language activities with no messing about. Alternatively, the student may wish things to be more intimate and easy-going; chats over cups of coffee where new language naturally emerges.

Moreover, you need to consider if a time-pressured, intensive program in which you immediately ‘get down to business’ is more desirable than an extensive program which allows time for freer exploration of language.

3. What Sort of Relationship is Required? – Teaching ESL One-to-One

This is a factor that is intrinsically affected by both the physical and emotional environment. Will you maintain an air of professional cool, or can things develop in a warmer and more personal way. An important point to bear in mind is that you may need to adjust the formality to suit the location.

A CEO will be required to shake hands and sit rigidly at their desk if you have lessons in his/her workplace but may tolerate less procedural regularity were you to have lessons outside of the workplace. An element of familiarity will naturally develop over time, although you must maintain a relationship that you both feel comfortable with.

4. What Role is Expected of the Teacher? – Teaching ESL One-to-One

Students in different cultures and at different stages of life will have radically different expectations about the role of the teacher.

You may be seen as an ‘informer’; the person who provides the resources around which learning occurs. Alternatively, you might be the director of all that occurs; the planning and structure of lessons are seen as your sole responsibility, with no input from the learner.

Further still, you could be seen as the motivator; the person whose job it is to get this reluctant student learning.

The tricky thing here is that cultural norms may not allow the student to come out and say what they expect, so this sometimes requires a process of dipping your toes in the water to get a feel for what role the student expects you to fulfil.

5. What Do You Expect to Do in Class Time? – Teaching ESL One-to-One

Regardless of the physical and emotional setting of the lesson, or the degree of authority the teacher is expected to exhibit, some students will want to spend time doing things during lessons which others would simply hate.

Does your student want to spend time going over in detail the homework that you gave them last week? Does he or she want to spend the whole lesson speaking and have you correct errors?

The student will have clear ideas about what they want to do during class, so this is an issue that quickly resolves itself: look for the signs and, if necessary, ask what they prefer.

Summing Up – Teaching ESL One-to-One

How you set up a one-to-one teaching situation with a student will greatly influence how successful it becomes.

Nevertheless, don’t expect to get everything totally spots on from the start. Reflect on how your first few lessons go and don’t be afraid to ask for the student’s thoughts on how to change things that aren’t working.

Teach English communicatively. Learn to create professional lesson plans that are engaging and meaningful to your class.

Related Articles:

Assessment and Evaluation in One-to-One ESL Classes

TESOL One-to-One Private Tutoring

How to Structure a One-to-One Lesson

Authentic Speaking and Listening Activities for One-to-One Lessons

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