Published 1st September 2015


Teaching one-to-one lessons is a whole different kettle of fish to teaching whole classes. While it may seem like the perfect opportunity to sit and have a coffee and a chat, doing that for 45 minutes with someone who cannot speak very well can be frustrating, difficult and generally not fun. Funnily enough, your student possibly also thinks this is a great chance to get away from the usual grammar exercises and writing lessons. So, in order to walk out of a successful lesson, preparation is vital, though different to that of a whole class.

First of all, bear in mind that the time usually spent setting up activities or dividing the students into groups will now be spent on more worthwhile activities. Most activities are designed for groups of more than two learners, so they will need to be restructured or tossed out. This isn’t necessarily difficult to do, though, as it is often possible for the teacher to act as one half of a pair i.e. a student or it can be adapted to relate to life outside the classroom. For example, a Find Someone who… activity can be changed to Do You Know Someone Who…

On the other hand, teaching one student allows the lesson to focus on that student’s specific issues and the lesson can follow the pace set by him or her. It becomes easier to create a syllabus specific to the course and the student’s interests. Get to know your student in the first lesson and bear in mind what they enjoy doing and what they don’t. One-to-one lessons are more expensive than class lessons so it is important that students feel they are getting the individual attention they have paid for.
Also, being with only one student means that you can tailor the lesson to discuss topics of interest to the student. Asking the student to show you photos is a great way to get them talking about their family and their life back home; finding a map of their country allows the student to tell you about the different parts of their country, as if you were asking advice for an upcoming trip; reading newspaper or magazine articles relating to their specific job or area of study is a useful way of dealing with vocabulary necessary for them in their real lives.

An activity which is useful for one-to-one lessons is error correction. Throughout the lesson, while the student is talking, make notes of the mistakes they are making, good vocabulary they are using and words or phrases which could have been used. At the end of the lesson, spend some time looking at the errors and discussing them. Let the student take the notes home with them. This gives the student something tangible and completely personal for them to take out of the class.
Whatever you end up doing with your student, make sure it is personal and relevant, and the lesson should flow from that.