• Teaching one-to-one

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    Teaching English as a foreign language can be done one of two ways: teaching a group of students or by teaching on a one-to-one basis. It’s estimated that up to 40% of TESOL teaching is done one-to-one, however teachers find it increasingly difficult to find relevant material, advice and assistance on the method. Nicola Meldrum argues that teaching one-to-one “unfortunately is not covered much in ELT discussion” and that ‘It is somehow assumed that teaching English as a foreign language means organizing huge groups of students, while the reality is that one to one is a normal and significant part of our teaching lives”. Teachers are in effect left to their own devices; however this doesn’t stop the concept of teaching one-to-one being an effective and advantageous method for both the teacher and student.

    As there is only one student, it means that there is only one level of ability which allows Teachers to plan effectively. The planning stage is made easier as teachers can “select material we are sure will interest and motivate the student”. However, there is still room for flexibility, Catherine Fuchs argues that you still have to think on your feet in that it is “easier to hear where a student is and to pick up at that point and figure out how to help him or her move forward”. It’s not just one way either, the teachers can learn something from the students “students can teach us about their interests, works and experiences”

    As far as the students are concerned it is good for them in that the students can go through the syllabus at their own pace without interference from other students who could be going too fast or too slow. So the focus moves onto the students and as a student called Meg Grow pointed out “At a lecture I can sit and absorb the information. But with one-on-one learning, if I don’t hold my end of the bargaining, then no learning goes on.” Teaching one-to-one therefore ensures that students will prepare and understand the information better. The students can still enjoy themselves not with the ‘banter’ of a group class, but with the teacher instead and therefore one-to-one teaching can be just as fun. Brian Chow a student said “sometimes. she’ll talk about her dogs and I’ll tell her about school. In some lessons we just can’t stop laughing”

    There are obviously flaws as there are in any teaching concept, however there are more than enough advantages for the practice to have a more extensive bank of material and assistance to go with it. Nicola Meldrum argues that there is only one real handbook ‘One to One Teacher’s handbook (1987) by Peter Willberg and “while looking through published material on Languauge Teaching I failed to find any sections on teaching one to one, while there was lots of advice on the classroom management of groups”. Being such an important concept there is certainly room for development.

    • “Teaching one-to-one” by Nicola Meldrum
    • “Teaching one-to-one” by Nicola Meldrum
    • “Teaching one-to-one” by Nicola Meldrum - for the student
    • “Faculty discuss one-on-one work with students” by Ellen Granberg
    • “Teaching one-to-one” by Nicola Meldrum - for the student
    • “Faculty discuss one-on-one work with students” by Ellen Granberg –2001/students_one_on_one.htm
    • “Teaching one-to-one” by Nicola Meldrum

    Seb White’s

  • Teaching one-to-one

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    A few years ago I was asked by a friend of mine if I would help her two children with English. At that time I never thought I would become a teacher, a psychologist and a friend to my students, but that is what happens when you teach one to one. Coincidently, while I was researching for this article, I found out that is how most teachers of one to one feel.

    Teaching a single student can be very worthwhile or very demoralising depending on the student. At one time I had a student who treated her classes like a psychologist’s sessions, but in the end she passed her First Certificate exam and resolved the problems she had had with her parents.

    From doing the TESOL course I have learnt to expect different levels within a class, but with teaching one to one you teach one level at a time. In one day you can teach six or seven different levels ranging from infant to university and business English. Although teaching a class of mixed levels is difficult, teaching individually is very challenging and to a certain extent stressful. When lesson planning you need to plan for at least six different levels per day, which rarely go to plan. One student may have a surprise exam to prepare for; another student may have to prepare an article or a letter, so your carefully planned lesson goes straight out of the window. You have to be prepared for any eventuality.

    I intimated earlier that teaching one to one can be a pleasure or a nightmare and this is very true. From twenty five students you may get twenty who really want to learn or improve their English to be able to pass an exam or progress within the company they work for. These classes if well prepared motivate the students to work hard, very rewarding, both for you as a teacher and the students when they pass their exams or achieve their particular goal.

    The other five students can be your worst nightmare; these are usually young learners whose parents want them to have a good standard of English so they are obliged to do extra classes. You can be faced with a number of problems, for example, non-communication, no hobby interests, not wanting to write or do any exercises, or just to use you as their homework helper. At this point you have to be very ingenious and expert on nearly every sport, hobby, film, book or game.

    Another problem with young learners is the parents. While you are battling to gain the confidence and interest of their child they, as parents, obviously want to see some results from the extra tuition. You, as a good teacher, do not want to loose your reputation which can prove to be very stressful.

    One important aspect of teaching one to one is you get to know your students very well and the relationship becomes more of friend to friend rather than teacher/student. This could prove difficult and to a certain extent embarrassing for a teacher who prefers a definite teacher/student relationship.

    Not only do you have to teach, but you have to cope with the environment you are teaching in. With the majority of one to one classes you will find yourself travelling from one house to another which means you could be teaching in any room in the house ranging from the kitchen to a bedroom. This can be very off putting or disturbing when it happens for the first time or continuously thereafter.

    Some of the main advantages of teaching one to one are you get to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses structuring the lessons accordingly. You can concentrate on specific problems, which is not always possible with big groups. Your students can bring in things they are interested in; therefore topics and conversations can be centred on a theme. Although you do not have the advantages that larger groups have when interacting, the students get to practice a lot more English for longer periods.

    You might not get the variety of ideas and cultures when teaching one to one but your students can be varied and interesting, for example, among the students you are teaching there might be a Doctor who has to lecture in an English speaking country, a University student who is studying Tourism or Business English or a law student who wants to study European law with a need for English as a base language.

    I have spent the past sixteen years teaching one to one and on the whole I have really enjoyed every minute of it. I have had to study hard and be as imaginative as I could be with my classes. You have to be an expert at every level and keep up to date with the latest news, fashions, TV programmes, films, books, politics, art, architecture; nearly every aspect of daily life. It keeps you, as a teacher, aware of what is going on in the world never getting time to become bored. It may be stressful and difficult at times but it is well worthwhile when the goals you have set yourself and you students are successfully achieved.

    Research resources: One-to-one: Nicola Meldrum and Lindsay Clandfield

    16 Years experience Stella Mackenzie

    Stella Mackenzie


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