One-to-one lesson solutions

father and son playing with cars

At some time in their career, many teachers experience teaching one-to-one lessons. They sometimes find this situation very different and more challenging than teaching a class. With this in mind, a teacher wrote to me last week for help preparing a one-to-one lesson. They had some problems, including added pressure from the student’s parents. Let’s dive in!

Teaching one-to-one problems

‘I am teaching a boy in South Korea, but he’s just not interested. He pays no attention to me, says he doesn’t like English, and goes off to play with his toys. What can I do?’

There could be several reasons why this boy is not interested in interacting with you. For example, he may be afraid of failure or have been put off English from too much pressure from his parents. On the other hand, he might be a spoilt brat! That said, you still need to find a way to attract him and make him want to learn with you.

One-to-one lesson solutions

I would try this: scrap the idea of wanting him to be interested in English and instead spend the hour playing with him. For instance, I once played cars with my nephew, and we made a Channel Tunnel crash. (The Channel Tunnel connects England and France under the sea.) We piled up the cars, made massive tail-backs; the helicopters and fire-engines were there, and the scenario developed. My nephew also collected military paraphernalia at the time and so we could have re-created historic battles, supply lines, surrounding villages, and endless stories.

Get the most out of your pupil’s toys, so if they have a toy car collection, then learn all the models. Look at US and UK manufacturers like Ford, Chrysler and Aston Martin. Learning the name Aston Martin may seem irrelevant, but teaching good pronunciation of those syllables is helpful because they come up all the time.

If your pupil prefers dolls, you could have fashion shows, learning clothing and accessories. You could create English invitations to the show, and invite the parents. The pupil can announce each model and describe their outfit. Then, one of you can walk the doll down the catwalk while the other lights it with a torch. Close the curtains for more effect. Dolls can also need treatment at the doctors or injure various body parts. Dolls and teddies can have parties, picnics, and go on outings. This post has ideas on lesson preparation and how to create something from nothing.

Integrating English with play

While you are playing with your pupil’s cars, you can be naming things in English, like “here comes the ambulance.” Next, ask your student, “where shall we put the ambulance?” Then, give him the ambulance to place in the scene – without expecting him to say anything in English (that’s the key)!

Once you build up a rapport, you’ll be able to line up all the toys. Then have your pupil ask for a toy to place in the scene. Talk to the parents first, explain what you plan to do and why and see if they agree.

Watch the video here for more ways to get started on teaching English using fun games and skits.

One-to-one lesson games

Now that you have connected with your pupil play some language games in the next lesson. Play games that he likes and find ways to bring English into them. For example, he might like aiming at objects or throwing them in a bin. Do that together while you speak English, and he aims or throws. To create a safe missile that won’t destroy anything, screw up a piece of paper into a ball. Next, line up a row of toys. Name a toy and have your pupil aim at it. He earns a point if he hits it. Then you have a go. Don’t force your pupil to speak in English yet. Focus on building his trust. Later, you may coax him to name a toy for you to hit.

In our shop, you can download our fun One-to-one ESL games for children, get the paperback from Amazon, or order it at your local bookstore. However, if you are teaching online, ESL Online Games is the book you want, covering ages six to adult.


PS For further reading on coping with pressure from parents, please browse this post: demanding parents.

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