Published 26th February 2018

Your TEFL course will prepare you for many things – teaching English to Young Learners, teaching English to adults, teaching English grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, listening and speaking. It will touch on a few other teaching situations like Business English, Academic English and English for Specific Purposes, but it probably won’t prepare you much for teaching 1-to-1 students.

Teaching 1-to-1 students is quite different from teaching a class of 20 or 30 learners. Though the subject matter may be the same, the teaching methods and techniques you use will be totally dependent on your student. You need to understand the needs of your student thoroughly and use their learning to guide your lessons.

It’s not as easy as having a chat with a friend, which is what a lot of people think it is.

Here are 5 mistakes you are probably making in 1-to-1 classes:

Following a general syllabus

The biggest advantage of a 1-to-1 class (for both the student and the teacher) is the fact that lessons are personalised and can be adapted to the ever-changing needs of your student. A big mistake you can make is to create a syllabus at the beginning of your set of lessons and stick to it rigidly. You need to constantly assess your learner and your materials and make a decision at the end of every lesson as to how the next lesson will proceed. This is not something you can plan ahead.

Using the learner’s first language

If you can speak the learner’s first language it can be tempting to conduct the lesson in that language and only switch to English when necessary. This is a mistake. The reason English language learners want EFL teachers is so that they don’t use their first language to learn English. Instead they are dropped in the deep end – even more so than in a bigger class – and there is added pressure on them to improve.

Overdoing error correction

While this is the perfect opportunity to work on the learner’s particular errors, there is still the danger of overdoing it and demotivating your learner. Your learner will certainly appreciate when you point out any errors they are making, but make sure you do it in a polite and non-threatening way. Also, don’t be so focussed on error correction that you forget to mention good language the learner is using.

Sticking to grammar activities

In bigger classes it is common to allow some time for learners to complete a grammar activity as a presentation exercise. This can take a few minutes and gives the teacher time to prepare for the next activity. In 1-to-1 classes this is not a good use of time. The learner is paying for individual lessons so they can speak to the teacher, not sit in silence and do something they could rather do at home.

Forgetting about revision

If you only have one student, you are solely focussed on their progress. It can be easy to do an activity, be satisfied with your learner’s performance and forget about that language point altogether. However, revision is still important, even with only one learner. Learner’s need time to process language and regular opportunities to practise language to make it a part of their natural production.

Teaching 1-to-1 classes is a great experience – you get to know your students really well and can see their improvement. If you find yourself teaching a 1-to-1 class, don’t be frightened, just remember not to make these mistakes.