Teaching English as a private tutor for an 8-year-old child

private English tutor and pupil
26 Nov Shelley Vernon No Comments

The Challenge from a private English tutor:

A teacher wrote to me with this problem and query: "I've just started a part-time job of teaching English as a private tutor for an 8-year-old child. I was told he was taught a lot of advanced grammar and vocabulary for his age but his mother wants to improve his speaking skill. She expects that after each lesson the child to be able to make a short presentation about a topic.


For speaking on a topic I chose film. I went to a great deal of trouble preparing an outline for reviewing a film, along with useful words and phrases. I showed him a short film and but when it came to applying what we had been learning, he just made one or two short sentences about the film and then started scratching his head in silence. The next lessons were no better so I switched to teaching him phonology using a pronunciation coursebook. His mother complained that my teaching is ineffective, and he still couldn't speak English like she wants him to. She says that I'm good-for-nothing because I got an 8 in IELTS test (which is a perceived "big deal" here in my country) but I can't "put my knowledge into practice" and teach a child to speak English.


I ordered your one-to-one games book and after flipping through it I think I have made several teaching mistakes by not using fun and movement-involved elements. But still, I'm not sure how to implement those games in the lessons so that I can teach him to speak as his mother expects, because most of them deal with very basic vocabulary like animals or colors, numbers etc and he has passed that level. Am I expecting too high? Should I use your plays and skits? Furthermore, how should I create lesson plans and how should I teach him so that he can speak as his mother wants? Or it's just that I shouldn't teach until I graduate? Shelley, any advice you have for me is deeply appreciated."



Here are my one to one teaching ideas and possible solutions for these issues:

Of course you can start teaching now, don't worry. His mum is very ambitious for him and you have to be careful not to put him off learning English by pushing him or seeming dissatisfied. His mum is putting you under pressure too. You can take it! But try and protect the boy by making lessons fun for him, and telling him that he is doing well when he thinks of things to say.


Your lessons are very well prepared and very formal. But they might be a bit dry to warm up an 8-year-old. You might seem more relaxed, so you can chat together. If he trusts and likes you, he'll be more likely to tell you things, things he likes, things about himself.

private English tutor playing with student


Don't despair, this demanding mum is an opportunity for you to develop your teaching skills - always look on the bright side! Tell her you are trying some new things and you'll be doing your best for her son and you'll keep trying until she is satisfied. (Of course if she turns out to be an ogre, you can eventually tell her that, but not yet:)




1. Firstly find out the things he loves.

- Does he have any hobbies?
- Does he collect anything? Stamps, video games...
- Does he play an instrument? Listen to music?
- Find out what he does in his free time, that is when his mum isn't cramming him full of English, ha ha!
- Play with him. If he likes playing soldiers, look up a real battle from history, set up a battlefield with him, talk through the action together.

Talk about this hobbies, even if it's video games, he might be able to talk about them...what happens, the different levels, what's the difference between level one and level two...and so on.

boy playing soldiers learning English through play

2. Get him to tell you a film he likes. Ask him questions. Have you seen any good films lately? If the answer is no, try, Have you ever seen a good film? Yes, What was it about? ... Space. Oh yeah? Did the whole film happen in space, or were there any scenes on earth? Answer... And go from there. Don't prepare a list of questions. Be spontaneous, as in a real conversation and find things to ask related to his answers.




1. I like your film ideas. You are trying to make your student think for himself, but at age 8, he might not be good at that, especially if put on the spot by a teacher, or his mum. I'm sure he can talk about a film he likes with his friends. Get him to talk about the film to you in a way that an 8-year-old would, not an 18-year-old!

2. As he relaxes and gets used to hanging out with you, in English, he might be ready to try this idea, which I've used and is sometimes hilarious. Which is his favourite bit in the film? Together, find a cool scene in the film, then try and act it out together. Learn the SHORT dialogue, both of you, rehearse it, put in actions and improvise some props from things in the classroom. A pen can easily be a laser gun, and a desk can easily be the dashboard of a spaceship, especially in the mind of an eight year old.



This teacher has my one to one games book.  

1. - Did you see the videos demo lessons that go with it? 

2. - Your pupil sounds as though he has an intermediate level, but you can still use the 1-2-1 games - when you need to drill new vocabulary or a grammar point where your pupil frequently makes errors. The games in the 1-2-1 book are for beginners AND drilling new vocabulary for intermediate students.

3. - You might try to perform my skits with him - at least that would be more fun, and your pupil will be able to show his mum what he can do. All skits are taught from memory, from scratch - I never give out the written script, that way you work on speaking fluency and confidence. The skits are easy, for beginners, but the scripts can easily be made more complicated. Your pupils might not be into acting much at first but that's OK. He will loosen up as he gets used to this way of learning. Later you'll be able to include things relating to his hobbies in the skits, and even choose music.
child acting learning English through play

4. Because your pupil is already at intermediate level, you could also use games like Boggle and some quiz games, from my teen games book.

Feel free to ask me questions anytime! Use the comments box below.

Kind regards
Shelley Ann Vernon
Teaching English Games

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