Number one for English language teachers

One-to-one Methodology: Ten activities

Type: Teaching notes

Ten activities for teaching one-to-one classes

1. Guess the news story

Collect a week’s worth of newspapers (in any language) and cut out pictures of news stories from each one. Aim for a selection of five or six topical news pictures from that week. Then take an A4 or letter size sheet of heavy paper (or card). Cut a small square out of the middle of this card. When you come to class, place a picture from the news under the card so that only some of the picture is visible. The student must 1) speculate about what the picture is about, and 2) tell you as much as they know about the news story.

2. Written conversation or role play

Conduct a conversation but only in written form. Take a piece of paper and write a question to your student and give him or her the paper to write an answer on. Go back and forth like this until you have a good sized sample of writing. This can be used as the basis for correcting written mistakes and planning further classes.

3. Post-it mania

Bring a pack of Post-it notes to the class one day. Look around the room and write a word of something that is in the room on a post it note. Give it to the student and ask him or her to stick the post it note on the correct object. Do this until you have labelled many things in the room. At the end of the lesson call out things and ask the student to bring you back the post it note (unless they would like to leave it on the object as a memory aid!).

4. Sight translation activities

Many one to one students are business people who are expected to learn English for their job. One typical area that people at work need English for is sight translation. Someone comes into the office waving a piece of paper and asking if anyone can tell them what it means. Do this from time to time with your student. Give them a document related to their work and ask them to explain it quickly to you in English. If you speak your student’s L1, give them a document in English and ask them to give you a quick translation into their language.

5. Get out of the class

One-to-one classes are often extremely mobile, and teachers can take advantage of this. Ask your student to take you on a guided tour in English of their home or workplace. Do a shopping class, where you and your student go to several shops together. Or just go for a walk outside with your student and do your class like that one day. A change of environment is very good for refocusing the mind, and there are lots of new topics for language study that you can get just from walking down the street.

6. Questionnaires

Prepare a series of question prompts on a topic. For example, if your topic was sports you could have the following question prompts:

- / like sports?
- what / sports/play?
- what / sports / watch on television?
- ever / win / sports award? etc.

First interview the student using the prompts. Then ask the student to do the same for you. When you have finished, review any special vocabulary or grammar that came up. Tell the student that for the next class he or she must prepare a similar list of questions on a different topic to interview you.

7. Cuisinaire rods

Cuisinaire rods are little coloured wooden sticks that are used in teaching maths. With one-to-one classes and very small groups, there are lots of things you can do with cuisinaire rods. Ask the student to make a representation of the company structure using the rods (like an organigram). You can also use rods to teach word stress (rods for every syllable, a different coloured rod for a stressed syllable). Jim Scrivener has more information on Cuisinaire rods in his book Learning Teaching

8. Index cards 

One piece of equipment that is particularly useful for a one-to-one class is a set of index cards. Use them to keep track of new vocabulary. The cards can then be used from time to time to review this. You can also use index cards as cue cards for a presentation. Help the student write their cues for a mini presentation on a topic, then get them to give you the presentation using only their cues. You can also write different conversation topics or role plays on individual cards. Ask the student to choose one at random and talk about or act out the situation on the card.

9. Think of someone who ...

Many teachers of one-to-one classes are frustrated by coursebook or resource material that is only suitable for large groups. However, some of these activities can be adapted. For instance, the classic Find Someone Who activity can be changed to a Think of Someone Who and used with only one student. Using a Find Someone Who worksheet, ask the student to write the names of people that he or she knows who match each category. The student must do this without telling you anything. He or she must also write the names down in a different order than they appear on the worksheet. Do the same yourself with another copy of the same sheet. Then swap papers. The objective is to ask and answer questions to find out which person written down on the paper matches which category. 

You and the student will therefore be asking and answering the questions several times, just like in a Find Someone Who activity with a large class.

10. Speaking lessons on onestopenglish

Let us take some of the pressure off you. There are several lessons on onestopenglish that can be easily used with one to one or very small classes. Specifically, the deck of conversations and the deck of business conversations are two speaking classes which are ideal for small groups or just one student.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Great- I have individuals or classes that are rarely more than 6, so find someone who used to be a problem.

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  • Muchissimo thanks!

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  • very useful thank you!

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  • Many thanks for the above info. Helps enormously.

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