One-To-One Tips For TEFLers

business-executive1.jpgMany TEFL courses deal mainly with teaching groups. This is most often the most useful focus, but it means that if confronted with a one-to-one student early on, you might draw a blank. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  • It’s very important to build a good rapport. If you don’t like the student or the student doesn’t like you or feels his or her time is being wasted, you will not have pleasant lessons.
  • It’s essential to find out what the person interested in and attempt to accommodate these wishes, but be clear about what you can and can’t do. I don’t correct people while they speak often – there are exceptions and if I can do it quickly and effectively with a student I know, I sometimes will – but I can make a few notes and discuss common mistakes at the end or after a speaking exercise. I have a layperson’s understanding of business and finance but I let my students know that I can’t speak with authority on how to use specialized terms.
  • I think it’s quite normal to spend a few minutes at the beginning and end on friendly topics like “How was your weekend?” In a short lesson though, it’s fine to make a deliberate move to “let’s get down to business” to make sure they know the time will be well-spent. I do like to give some kind of summary of what I have planned. That can definitely be changed, but it gives us some structure to work with and lets the student know I have in fact planned.
  • It can be awkward to use some of the more modern discovery method activities for grammar with one-to-one students. In a group, students can work with a partner and aren’t immediately on the spot if they can’t figure something out; private students can’t and are. Put some thought ahead of time into what you’ll do if they really can’t get something. Don’t dwell on it (“You don’t know this?!”) – I try to give the answer and a brief explanation or example, and then move on to a question about content or something.

After all these “cautionary” notes, I should point out that I find teaching one-to-one students often the best part of my job: they are frequently interesting people who I really wouldn’t interact with otherwise. You can read about some of my more memorable one-to-ones here and here.