Individual teachers vary greatly in their opinions about one-to-one teaching - some find them difficult whereas others find them the most natural way to teach. Any teacher embarking on one-to-one will certainly find it to be a totally different experience from teaching a class from a coursebook and, as such, it may require some significant adjustments to the teacher's teaching style.
- 1 The student
- 2 Dynamics
- 3 Teacher talking time
- 4 Interpersonal relationships
- 5 Intensity
- 6 Other aspects
- 7 References
- 8 See also
Although any student could conceivably be involved in a one-to-one, the most typical may be a business executive or civil servant of some type, and the rest of this section will be written with this type of student in mind. Although each teacher and each student is a unique individual, this article will try to generalise a little.
Such people are frequently very busy and you would do well to not seem to be wasting their time. On the other hand, they may sometimes regard their English lesson as an opportunity to escape for a time from their normal pressures of work, etc.
They will probably be an expert in a field of which you know little. If you have a large range of general interests this will be an opportunity for you, the teacher, to learn new things. What could be more natural than having your student speak about his or her area of expertise in English?
They may have high, or even exaggerated, expectations about what may be achieved by a one-to-one class - so you will need to be clear from the outset about what can and cannot be expected. In some cases students who have been sold a one-to-one class by a school may have been given exaggerated expectations by the school's salespeople - a situation which may require some tact on your part.
In one-to-one the teacher and the student are more akin to equals; two professionals with a common goal with the teacher acting as a facilitator rather than a teacher. There are a number of ways to emphasise this difference.
According to David Gauntlett, we are moving from a "sit-back-and-be-told culture to a making-and-doing culture". This socio-cultural perspective enables us to rethink how technologies should be used by people to share, build on, motivate and be inspired and this is equally, and possibly especially true of the teaching context. Students who take an active role in their own learning process will inevitably result in more effective learning, and use of, the target language.
Seating and pace
In classical teaching the teacher stands (or sits) at the head of the class and manages the speed and intensity of the lesson. However, in one-to-one classes the pace of the class will need to be managed to fit the individual student and the seating arrangement should reflect a meeting of equals. In consequence, a more neutral seating arrangement - such as at the corner of a desk - may be preferred.
If used, both teacher and student should feel equally free to stand up and use the board to assist in their explanations.
In a "traditional" listening the process is usually controlled by the teacher who starts or stops the recording at points he or she feels are appropriate. In one-to-one situations teachers may experiment by giving this control to the student.
Teacher talking time
- The teacher no longer has to carefully share out the talking time amongst a number of students but only needs to concentrate on the one.
- It is highly likely that the student wants the teacher to talk so that he or she will have a model to work from, both as regards pronunciation and listening to fluent, i.e. authentic speech.
Whereas teachers who teach large classes may have no need to get to know students personally (though it might be a good idea), in one-to-one it is highly likely that the teacher will need to establish a more personal relationship with the student. The teacher may, on occasion, be talking to the student about their likes and dislikes, job prospects, family life, etc.
It seems only fair that the teacher match the level of disclosure expected of the student. If you are uncomfortable with this aspect of one-to-one, it may be that this is not the system for you.
In a point connected to the above, teachers should naturally assume that anything that comes up in class is stated in absolute confidence unless the student assures them that the information may be publicly discussed. Telling one student about the private opinions of another is a sure way to gain the distrust of both.
The fear is occasionally voiced that one-to-one classes can turn into "therapy" for the student. Each teacher will have to decide for themselves how to handle such situations. While some will probably feel such "relationships" are undesirable, others will simply see them as another opportunity to use the language.
One-to-one classes can be quite intense for both the student and the teacher, basically because there is pressure for both to be "on mission" and productive for the entirety of the class. The student may have little or no opportunity to stare out of the window or doodle on a piece of paper. There are two possible solutions to this depending on the nature of the class:
- Teachers giving conventional materials-driven classes need to have a variety of activities planned and for the teacher to be prepared to quickly switch to another activity if they see their student starting to flag.
- Teachers giving less structured classes will need to learn how to vary the interaction between themselves and the student. You can force a break by needing to go the bathroom or by needing something to drink for example. Furthermore, with just the two of you there is no real reason to remain seated at a desk; you can walk over to the window and admire the view or even go outside and smell the roses.
If you, as a teacher, are going to enter an office environment where the usual dress code is quite formal then you might like to echo this code. Although some English teachers seem to take a pride in being somewhat counter-culture in their behaviour and dress, this is one teaching situation where a more formal presentation might be in order. That is not to say that one should necessarily slavishly copy the dress of one's clients however - smart clothing which expresses an air of eccentricity may also be an advantage if you want other clients to notice you for future reference.
If you are teaching a traditional class then you are pretty much stuck with giving your class in a classroom of some sort.
However, if you are teaching one-to-one there is no obvious reason whatsoever for your being obliged to stay in the same room all the time. Indeed, as natural conversations take place under many differing circumstances it would be worthwhile to take your clients out of the office occasionally and give a conversation class under different circumstances.
If you are freelance you may get another hidden benefit from this as potential students may see you giving classes.
Value for money
As has been mentioned previously, such students are frequently highly motivated professionals and they expect to get something in return for their investment. Frequently they personally - or more likely their company - will be paying a substantial sum of money for your time. It behoves you therefore to give them something worthwhile in return, and to be seen to have prepared something specifically for that student. Our article create a topical class has a large number of suggestions about obtaining topical material from the web, most of which could be adapted for a one-to-one class.
Many teachers like to leave something behind with the student at the end of the class in the form of handouts. For example a copy of an article they have been discussing, the teacher's notes of the class or the text of the listening. The idea being that, apart from the actual usefulness of the paper, the student will be left with some physical object in their hands as well as the experience of the lesson.
While it is hard to generalise, executives usually have at least an intermediate level of English and are frequently required to deal with authentic English texts on an intermittent or daily basis. Consequently it may be best to use authentic materials when teaching, as the use of graded teaching materials would result in them using simpler texts in class than they actually use in real life.
In an ideal situation you would use texts produced by the company itself - though this might result in you being drawn into providing an unofficial proofreading service.
See our main article listening.
Given the close relationship that may develop between students and teachers in one-to-one situations possible problems associated with teacher talk may be exacerbated. Under these circumstances the regular use of authentic listening material is more important then ever. Our article listening has suggestions about obtaining and using appropriate material.
Another reason to use "listenings" is the almost inevitable problem of the student becoming able to understand their teacher while being unable to understand everybody else.
See our main article correcting mistakes.
Although a teacher will have carried out a needs analysis before starting classes it is highly likely that the student will be most interested in improving his or her conversational abilities. An important thing to remember is that, although the student may seem quite happy to chat, he or she will also want or expect some form of feedback. It would be best to make a note of the students slips and errors and then give a mini-review during a natural break in the class. Try not to be relentlessly negative - if the student has overcome a repeated problem or used a complex structure then praise them for that.
New teachers may find the student saying something which the teacher knows instinctively is wrong, but which they do not have the experience to explain. In such a case wait until you are home, study the issue, and begin the next class with the explanation.
Those teachers who are comfortable with the style may find that dogme teaching integrates well with one-to-one teaching.
Coach rather than teacher
Freelance teachers may wish to recast themselves as " language coach" rather then "English teacher".