Tips for teaching ESL to small groups of private students

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As a trainee or novice ESL teacher, you might have taught an ESL student as a private student; however, it is also possible that you may find yourself having to teach a small group of private students. Here are some tips to help you with teaching a small group of private ESL students.

Private lessons are rarely done in groups, but when they are – you can usually expect anything from two to four students. It is desirable that the group has an even number of students: in the case of a triad (no pun intended), the ESL teacher can act as a partner for one of the students when doing pair work; however, it is always best if there is an even number of students: two or four.

Before you start teaching, you should ensure that the venue is acceptable to all the students and if the venue is to be rotated among them – make sure each student has a written copy of the programme which shows where and when each lesson is to take place. If you are teaching a pair of students – you are lucky.

You should evenly distribute your time between them. If one of the students is weaker than the other, you can dedicate more time to the weaker student while allowing the stronger student to progress relatively unassisted. Try to make use of activities that involve both students simultaneously, e.g. role play. If you are teaching a foursome, you should adopt a similar teaching style to that used with a pair of students – but discipline may be more of a problem.

If a student persistently misbehaves, you should report the student’s behaviour to the parents at the end of the lesson. If the behaviour is consistently bad, consider requesting the removal of the student from the group. Be warned, though, not all parents will react similarly to being told about their children’s behaviour: some parents will criticize you for not being able to control the students. If you are teaching a triad, you should still adopt a similar teaching style to that used with a foursome, but you will be more involved (as explained above) because of the odd number of students.

As it concerns seating arrangements, if you have a foursome or a pair, you should aim to use a rectangular table: seat yourself at the top of the table and have one/two students sit on your left and one/two on your right. Don’t let a student sit directly opposite you at the other end of the table. If you have a triad, use a round table. Irrespective of the number of students, if your lessons are interesting and have variety – they should be successful.

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