Number one for English language teachers

General: teaching English one-to-one

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

Long one-to-one lessons can sometimes be exhausting for both teacher and learner. Here are some ideas for keeping them fresh.


The scrap pack
  1. Before the lesson collect a pile of scrap paper and cut them up into small cards about 8 cm by 5 cm.

  2. Keep them by you and whenever a new phrase comes up or the learner makes an interesting error write a note on one of the scraps.

  3. 6 or 7 minutes before the end of class, hand the pile of scraps over and encourage the learner to go through them, remembering meanings, corrections, pronunciation, how they are used etc.

  4. Afterwards they can put the pack in their pocket - a handy self-test for quiet moments on buses etc.

Real role play
  1. Find out a specific activity the learner wants to be able to do better in English (maybe something at work - for example, answering an enquiry on the phone.)

  2. Talk through in detail how you could recreate that situation together in the classroom e.g. what role you could play, where you should sit, what questions you should ask, typical problems that come up etc.

  3. Then role play this real situation! Afterwards both take a few minutes to quietly make some notes about how the task went, language problems, how it could be better etc - then compare notes, focus on any language that would help - and maybe - do it all again.

Be revealing!

Sometimes a learner can feel that they are constantly being asked to tell things about themselves, reveal their secrets etc. Make sure the learner gets frequent chances to turn the tables and ask you questions. Be honest and let them find out some of your "secrets" too.

Tape it

Keep a cassette recorder or dictaphone on the table. Occasionally make short recordings of the learner doing role plays, making monologues, having a conversation with you etc. Replay these pieces and use them as the basis for future work - studying language, taking dictation, noticing pronunciation, comparing learner and teacher's language etc.

You've got mail!

Here's an activity for when you're both tired of hearing the other's voice!
  1. Divide a pile of scrap paper between you. Set a time limit, say 20 minutes, during which you will only communicate by writing messages to each other - with a strict no talking rule! 

  2. Write a short message yourself to the learner to start it off and then just see where it goes.

  3. Reply to each other's mail, ask new questions, raise new topics, give feedback on language and content etc.

  4. Some mail may be very short, some very long. This activity provides a change of pace and mood and a welcome breathing space.

Long distance calls

Sometimes really separating the seats can be useful. Write out some telephone tasks e.g. "Book a hotel in San Francisco." Sit far apart from each other and out of eye-contact.  Have a "phone" conversation.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • These are great ideas...I tried the first one out with my student and he found it really useful and the long distance call is always good for changing the energy in the room. Ta very much!

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