Number one for English language teachers

One-to-one methodology: Ten activities

Type: Teaching notes

Nicola Meldrum and Lindsay Clandfield offer ten activities for teaching one-to-one business classes, face-to-face.

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. For example, 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 (13)

  • Just a comment - Could you possibly start to split lesson docs out into 2 files: one file for students (JUST worksheets), and then one file for teachers (worksheets + teacher notes)?
    I teach a range of paperless and distance classes. Sometimes even without a smartboard! And it takes ever so long for me to edit/split every document into a student-friendly-file that doesn't have any answers in the pdf that sneaky students can find ^^

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  • Hi,
    Thank you for the feedback and we are now splitting all of our lesson documents. In the meantime, you can use to split the PDFs.
    Hope this helps,
    The onestopenglish team

  • Thanks for your response jamesgbrz. That's a lot of really valuable insight for us into the online teaching world :-)

    I don't have anything to add as it seems as thought you're doing all you can in a difficult situation! I agree that PowerPoints and screensharing are probably you're best options for resources. I'm sure your students love the drawing tools too :-) When I used to give online training sessions, I would frequently draw on large shapes to hide text and pictures in order to play reveal and guessing games.

    I can also recommend a few more resources you might like:

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  • Thanks for your response!

    I looked over the story of Mr. Crocodile and the lesson plan from your stories and poems webpage. This will be very useful because I can adapt this material the same way I have been adapting stories from Oxford Reading Tree and other sources.

    I work for a company based in Beijing and we use FS Meeting, a video conferencing platform. We use the Hip Hip Hooray series for the basis of our lesson planning and I have become somwhat adept at converting its “pencil on paper” exercises to Power Point slides that students can answer on screen using drawing tools.

    I know the platform supports MS Word files but I have not had success loading PDFs. My materials are an assortment of screen captures, graphics downloaded from the Internet and scans from the HHH series’ student books and work books.

    The material provided in the Mr. Crocodile lesson plan are examples of what I put in my Power Point slides: multiple choice or gap-fill exercises, word searches, and matching exercises. I have learned to create lessons that require my students to read aloud more and write less. This is in part because the writing tools in FS Meeting can be difficult for children to use. Also, there is an unfortunate audio delay in the transmission between the U.S. and China using this platform which makes sing-alongs and jazz chants impossible.

    One option I have not fully exploited on this platform is the ability to share my browser screen. There may be some files on Onestopenglish that I can use in this manner. If you have any specific suggestions (other than what you have already provided), please let me know!


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  • Hi jamesgbrz,

    Yes that's a tough one! We haven't yet explored creating materials to be used specifically in online classes but we have added it to our wishlist.

    All we can recommend at present is to upload the worksheets we do have into your online classroom so that you can both see the exercises. Of course, you probably already do this so I'm aware it's not particularly groundbreaking advice.

    What system do you use for the online classes? Can you upload media and play it in realtime? Can your student download materials? Just thinking that if your student is able to access pdfs you could use some of the exercises in these series (copy and paste links into your browser): (the traditional Top Trumps games is not an option but some of lesson exercises are)

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  • I appreciate your statement: "Many teachers of one-to-one classes are frustrated by coursebook or resource material that is only suitable for large groups."
    That is so true!
    Now consider this/(my) statement:
    "Teachers of one-to-one ONLINE classes are extremely frustrated that there are virtually NO materials available that are suitable for when teacher and student are thousands of miles apart."
    And I will add that I teach low-level ESL students, ages 7-9, for whom conversation and role-play activities are largely beyond their ability.
    I have to create my own methodology and materials and I could use a little help. HELP! :-)

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  • Hi golfqueen,

    Many thanks for the feedback. It sounds like we haven't done a good enough job of flagging up our new material - we're aware that with a site as busy as ours, that's something we need to work on. As well as our news lessons, we publish new material on the first Tuesday of every month. If you look at the homepage, you'll see a section headed 'New for September' which lists all the latest material.

    Thinking about subscriber-only series, so far this year we've had updates in series including Business Spotlight, EAP for the 21st century learner, Celebrations, Everyday life, Language for..., and Live from London, as well as methodology series including Digital criteria.

    We've also launched our new Top Trumps mini-series, Top Trumps London and Top Trumps Emotis, and our Film and TV series.

    We're also currently updating our Cambridge exams series, and hope to do more extensive updates to our older materials in 2018.

    Let us know if you need help finding any of these series, or if there is a particular section you think would benefit from more updates or more material being commissioned - we're always open to feedback.

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  • When will lesson plans and material be updated? Nothing has changed except for weekly/monthly lesson plans since I've been a subscriber. Disappointing!

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  • Hi Daisyflower,

    Sorry to hear that you didn't find the tips useful. Onestopenglish does try to cover all levels of teaching experience, from newly qualified to experienced, so we're disappointed you're disappointed with this section of the site. We'll make a note in our feedback log to try to include some more higher-level one to one teaching tips.

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  • This is fine if you are starting out in teaching, but hardly informative for some of us who have been teaching for a while. What's mentioned here is pretty basic and not that interesting. Disappointed

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  • 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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