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Tips for Teaching 1-on-1 Lessons

assessment games rapport reflection stt May 15, 2023

While it’s true that group class dynamics can require some special attention from a teacher, it’s equally true that a 1-on-1 class requires a strategic approach from the teacher.

How are 1-on-1 classes different from group classes?

Most group classes have a range of abilities, personalities, needs, and background knowledge. That makes for an interesting mix of who can/wants to/needs to do different things in class. For a 1-on-1 class, however, the abilities, personality, needs, and background knowledge of the individual learner are largely going to shape your course.

While in a group class, you might find that it takes a while to build rapport between classmates, as well as with you, the 1-on-1 class lends itself to faster rapport building and a faster lowering of the affective filter, so you might find that you can progress more quickly with a 1-on-1 learner because they become more outgoing and more willing to take risks in class at an earlier point.

At the same time, you might find that a 1-on-1 class can be tricky because you don’t have a partner at the same level to have dialogues, debates, and games in class. On the other hand, you know you’ll be able to focus on the specific needs of just one learner throughout the course because you have the freedom to cater to just that learner.

For now, let’s look at some concrete ways to make the most of your 1-on-1 courses.

Start by diagnosing their level and needs.

If you don’t already know the learner’s level, you can use our speaking level diagnostic tool to help you determine where in The TEFL Lab’s curriculum the learner is best suited to start. Once you’ve got that out of the way, our Learner Needs Analysis tool is your next stop to determining how to set the objectives for this course, meet your learners’ needs, determine their interests, and make sure you both start out on the same page.

Build rapport between you and your learner.

Building rapport is an essential step to take at the beginning of a course. It’s a smart idea to have some type of icebreaker activity on hand, as well as a short presentation about where you’re from and other information about you, interspersed with questions for your learner to tell you their own personal information– consider chatting about hobbies, studies, family, travels, etc.

Taking the time to build rapport with your learner will put them at ease with you and make it easier for them to lower their affective filter and experiment aloud with English in class.

Don’t shy away from specific learning requests/needs.

1-on-1 learners are known to request lessons on extremely specific topics or skills from time to time. That can feel daunting as a teacher, as you imagine your lesson planning load increasing in real-time. However, you can meet these specific requests in lots of different ways without spending time creating presentations and lesson materials that you might never get to use again. Check out our blog post about teaching specific content without creating materials from scratch!

Keep things competitive.

It might feel like gamification and the competitive element aren’t possible to achieve in a course with just one learner, but they are! The thing is we’ve just got to make some adjustments for working with one learner.

Instead of competing against classmates, the learner can compete against their own record or the clock. Whether you work with a timer, or do a task multiple times and ask for better/faster/etc. performance each time, the important thing is that you give the learner a task and target to aim at regarding performance.

In some instances, it might be appropriate and fun to compete against you, though keep in mind if the quality of English being used or linguistic knowledge is the main measure of success in an activity or game, that’s not really fair. However, if it’s a challenge that has an element of luck or creativity involved, it might be fun for the learner to compete against you sometimes.

Create instances to boost STT.

Increased STT is a huge perk for 1-on-1 learners, even at the lower levels, but it can be tricky to get a learner to speak at length in a 1-on-1 class if you’re asking them to only share their opinion, preference, or other response to a question or prompt. Once they’ve said what they think, you’re off to the next question or activity, and suddenly it feels like the lesson is flying by– or even worse, it feels like you’re filling out a form together. That’s not a very good learning experience.

If you find yourself in this spot, try asking follow-up questions that encourage your learner to elaborate more on their answer. Avoid yes/no questions and stick to open-ended ones to prompt your learner to speak more.

Additionally, you might ask your learner to answer the same question/prompt they just finished, but this time as a specific person– the boss of their company or department, their favorite co-worker, or someone else. Or, you might ask them a connected question, like “Did you always feel that way or did something change the way you think?”, or “Do you think most people feel this way?”, or “What factors do you think make people choose X over Y?” – by widening the scope of the question, you can increase the amount of STT, the range of language used in class, and really connect over new ideas and opportunities to introduce new vocabulary.

Check in frequently.

You can use The TEFL Lab’s Course Checkpoint tool to have regular check-ins with your learner to give them a formal space to provide you with feedback on the course. This can be extremely useful in a 1-on-1 course because as you develop rapport with your learner, they may not feel like there’s a great moment in class to ask for help with something specific or request a change in the way the course is working.

There are lots of reasons why 1-on-1 lessons can be rewarding teaching experiences! For teachers who are accustomed to group classes that tend to follow a solid structure, feature multiple group activities per lesson, and have lots of different interaction patterns, 1-on-1 lessons can be a new challenge. However, with the tips above, you’re ready to dive into 1-on-1 lessons and enjoy all of the unique experiences they bring with them!