Mastering one-to-one English coaching

two people talking at table

When I started teaching, I never imagined that so many of my classes would be one-to-one lessons, but it's the way that adult education seems to be headed. With more money and less time than ever, people are willing to pay a higher price for increased personal focus.

Benefits of learning English from a coach

There are many benefits to teaching and learning one-to-one, but first, let's consider a few of the facts:
  • Increasing the focus on you is no substitute for putting in the time. Learning anything (let alone a whole new language), requires time and dedication. Paying extra for private classes will not necessarily increase your speed of acquisition. It all depends on how you approach the classes
  • Higher prices often mean that there is higher pressure more pressure on the teacher to deliver the right type of classes for the learner.
  • Many students seem to believe that educators should be at their beck and call, just as any service based company is. But teachers are often self-employed or work out of small operations. What is an acceptable amount of flexibility is up to both teacher and learner.
I've taught personal classes to approaching a hundred students from all ages, stages and walks of life. Here's just a few of the lessons I've learned.

Good English coaches set boundaries

standing at line

People will blame anything or anyone nowadays in order to avoid investing more time into their ventures. It's important to set norms for class times, cancellation procedures, learning objectives and outcomes as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we live in a world where it's become acceptable to cancel meeting via WhatsApp with 0 minutes of notice.

Good English coaches vary their voice

voices in different colours

Using different video, audio and voices as well is important for individual students' listening skills. Learners adapt to their surroundings quickly, and it won't be long before they feel 100% confident within your learning environment and lost outside of it. I'm a big advocate of 'real English', meaning kicking students' butts in order to get them listening to authentic materials, and focusing on eliminating their rather robotic speech patterns.

Good English coaches keep it real

various objects

Personal classes should have a personal touch. I find that objects from the real world can help students connect language better than almost anything. This can be anything from show and tell activities, to intricate explanations of machinery. Bring magazines, books, objects from home, or even everyday stuff in the classroom. Students enjoy taking a look into how the other half live! Make use of your surrounding as one-to-one classes are often held in offices, houses or even caf├ęs.

Good English coaches get personal

cat on person's face

Teaching to individuals does need to be more bespoke. As a teacher, you should be blessed with a perfect memory, so remember everything about your students - their hobbies, their work, their family, their favourite music - and tailor classes to suit their interests. Remember that people book one-to-one because they want someone to listen and pay attention to them. Isn't that what we all want? As an individual tutor, it's your job to be their sounding board.

Good English coaches avoid squeaky bum time

Homer Simpson whistling

While teachers should avoid blabbering away too much, any time where students are working in silence will seem like an eternity. These types of classes are often speaking focused (or at least interjected by regular conversation), however, some quiet work might be necessary necessary. If students are reading, or completing an exercise on paper, I suggest finding something to occupy your twiddling thumbs - correcting writings or prepping materials for the class while remaining available for questions.

Good English coaches break sessions up

One of the biggest challenges with one-to-one classes is keeping them dynamic and energising. Students want to be entertained, and at a time where we have the attention span of baby goldfish, teachers need to break sessions up. Classes can last 90 minutes, so varying as many aspects of them is essential:

    hammer breaking rock
  • Location - take a walk, move around, make the most of your surroundings
  • Topic - Try to vary topics - use some that students are comfortable with, and some which are challenging or new. They'll be thankful for anything that's directly useful to their job or study.
  • Skills - reading, writing, listening, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation work and fluency are all necessary.
  • Materials - use a variety of paper based exercises, games, realia, videos, audio, websites and apps as well as the good old whiteboard.
  • Phases of the lesson - I try to give students a good idea of what we're going to try and get through in the class. They have a reason to complete sections of the class and move on to the next.

Good English coaches have a back-up plan

plan z

You cannot rely on your one student. They will likely have not done the homework, not learned what you did last time, not have an answer or opinion. Tutors have to be ready to give 1001 examples and alternatives. Students don't have the luxury of copying others, or hiding in a class of 30.

Likewise, nor does the teacher. If you don't get your timings right, you could be left with 15 minutes to kill and nothing to say except ". . . so . . . err . . . got any plans for the weekend" (to which the student will probably say "nope").

I recommend preparing a bag of tricks - short paper based, pronunciation or speaking exercises, that can plug a gap for any level of student. Here are some ideas.

Good English coaches motivate students

two dogs

My final point is to stay positive. I have a habit of pushing students, and we must remember, that there are few real milestones that will make language students appreciate how far they've come. Being 'fluent' doesn't mean anything, as even experienced C2 language learners feel inadequate at times.

It's important to remind students of what they are now able to do. You can record conversations or presentations to show them their progress, tell them 'good job' on the errors they don't make anymore, and take time to say what they're doing well. Everyone needs encouragement to appreciate the progress they've made. After all, you need to remind students why they are paying you!


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