Olha Madylus answers a question about the difficulties involved in finding material for one-to-one classes with young learners.

I have to teach a six year old and a nine year old with minimal English in two private hour-long classes and with minimal resources. As all the materials and advice for teaching young learners focuses on class games and activities, I am finding it very difficult to think up ideas for what to do. Can you give me any ideas or suggest any way of adapting games for one-to-one activities?
Thank you very much,

Naturally, it is easier to plan lessons for groups of students, as much of what we do in the classroom today revolves around pair and group activities, which ensure that our lessons are student-centred, communicative and dynamic. Teaching one-to-one classes creates additional challenges, particularly with young children who may not understand why they are being taught English at all and therefore lack the kind of motivation which older children and adults often have. Furthermore, young children generally tend to have a low level of English.

When teaching classes of younger learners, a lot of time is spent managing or organizing the class. When teaching only one child, an hour can suddenly seem like a very long time to fill usefully.

For one-to-one classes with young learners, you need to ensure that your lessons are:

  • balanced – with plenty of varied activities;
  • structured and well-planned;
  • fun for your students;
  • not too exhausting for you

I suggest that you create a structure/pattern for your lessons, as this will enable you to plan the hour productively. Try to make sure you follow this in class - it will not only help you, but will also allow your student to get a feel for the structure of the lesson, to understand and predict what will happen next and thus feel secure and organized.

Below is a suggested lesson plan you can use or adapt for your particular students. This pattern allows for teacher-led, student-centred and ‘together’ activities, helping to ensure a balance of dynamics. This will help you to avoid constantly ‘doing’ something and getting exhausted by filling in for the lack of other students. The child will get used to having activities to do independently, even if they are quite short ones. Don’t feel that you should constantly be in performance mode because the parents are paying for a one-to-one tutor. The child needs quiet time to practise language exercises in different ways. An hour of constant, energetic activity is tiring for both child and teacher.

A suggested lesson framework:

(Interaction – teacher and child)

Have a chat – this will be limited by the child’s level of English, but you can develop a format that the child becomes familiar with. It can involve a lot of repetition, but should facilitate a natural introduction to the lesson.
T: Hello and how are you today?
S: Hello. I’m fine, thanks. How are you?
T: What did you do this week/weekend?
S: I played with my sister, I visited my grandma, etc.

Look at chants for children and adapt some to use in this context. Introduce the target language and, by using it regularly, it will become more familiar and easier for the child to use. New vocabulary can increase the child's ability to interact in English. 

(Interaction – The student works on this alone, which provides the opportunity for reflection and the development of independent study skills.)

A game to revise language that has previously been presented. This could be a matching game (e.g. words and pictures, a pelmanism, or an exercise from the course book).

New language:
(Interaction – teacher and child)

The main focus here is to introduce some new language, probably vocabulary at this level.
For example, bring in flashcards of animals and introduce the words. Drill and check that the student has understood by asking him/her to ‘Bring me the horse’ etc. 

Practice of target language A:
(Interaction – child alone, supported gently by teacher)

Through a worksheet, using letter cubes to spell out words etc. 

Practice of target language B:
(Interaction – child with teacher)

You can use some of those materials designed for group/class use. Choose activities that are designed for pair work and take the part of the other student, but allow the child plenty of thinking/responding time.

(Interaction – teacher led)

Learning language through the experience of stories is incredibly powerful, as well as something children feel very comfortable with because they learn much of their mother tongue in this way. Choose story books with plenty of pictures to support meaning. Sit somewhere comfortable with the student (e.g. on a sofa). Read the story out loud, using your voice to help convey meaning. Ask questions as you read, so that it’s not a passive experience for the child. As your student learns to read, allow them to read along with you.

You can also find stories on websites such as the BBC, British Council etc. 

‘Creative Play’ Time:
(Interaction – child is actively involved in the activity and teacher provides language input)

For example, students could dress up dolls, build houses from cereal boxes, paint pictures, cut out pictures from magazines to create themed posters (e.g. food, animals, the countryside), or make puppets and then create a little puppet show.
While doing these tasks, talk to the child constantly in English about what you are doing. Ask questions, even if the only response you get is a nod – you are immersing the child in English and allowing for natural language acquisition.

Video time:
(Interaction – quiet time for the student to absorb language within a meaningful context)

Chose appropriate English language videos (make sure they are child-friendly), or use the Internet to find songs/videos etc.
This can be a great way to round up the lesson. 

Throughout the lesson, create lots of opportunities for the student to follow your instructions (Total Physical Response – TPR), using expressions like:

  • ‘Let’s sit down over here.’
  • ‘Can you find a nice book to read together?’
  • ‘You need a red and a blue pen now. Can you find them?’

This allows for lots of natural exposure to English that will, by necessity, be repeated to some extent in each lesson. The child will become accustomed to the language and respond naturally. Also encourage short natural responses from the child, like ‘Please’ ,‘Thank you’, ‘Here you are.’ etc.

Olha Madylus