So you’ve been assigned to teach a student at the university level who needs some additional ESL support.
Your agreement with the university states this support will be in the form of one-hour sessions three times a week. Sounds ideal, right? So what’s the problem? Well, while one hour in a class of thirty seems to fly by—indeed, often seems not enough time—with one student it can seem to drag. With a class of thirty you can arrange a number of interactive activities involving different groupings along with some teacher lecture; this is not possible, of course, in a class of one. So after your planned activities from a text or handouts, as much as a half hour might hang empty on your hands.
However, this problem is solvable by being proactive and planning meaningful activities. With the following steps, time will also fly by in your one-on-one sessions.
Steps to Filling Your Tutoring Session with Meaningful Activities
Do a Needs Assessment. And Often
With the current student I tutor in a one-on-one session, I took an initial needs assessment and found she wanted to work on pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. So we had initial activities in those areas, but after a subsequent informal assessment, I found she was also very interested in learning idioms in American English. Now I do a quick assessment at the end of each session: “How did this work for you? Would you like to continue in this same way?” Sometimes the student isn’t quite sure of what she wants or doesn’t know how to articulate it: for example, not knowing the expression “idiom” in English for fixed expressions, she may just say “vocabulary,” and it takes additional probing from the instructor to clarify what she really wants. In addition, the needs may change: after some initial work on pronunciation, the student now feels more confident and is ready to work on other areas.
Try Material Out
This is a perfect opportunity to test out new material because the stakes are fairly low: If the student doesn’t like it or doesn’t understand it, you can just not do it again. It’s harder to change gears, however, in a class of thirty. For example, the student I am working with now is very interested in Business or Workplace English, that form of English used in professional situations that is different from the English used in more casual settings. Because I have not taught this before, this is a great opportunity to seek out Business English texts on the internet or develop materials of my own.
Try Out-of-Copyright Material
In a regular classroom, with a purchased text that costs students fifty dollars, you are more or less committed to using that text whether or not the students benefit from it. However, the Internet is replete with out-of-copyright resources, such as classic literature like the poetry of Emily Dickenson or stories of Ernest Hemingway. What better way to introduce American literature than through a variety of stories and poems virtual free of charge? Sometimes you can also find entire books that have fallen out of copyright, such as Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby.
Develop Your Own Material
Because you aren’t correcting the papers of fifty students, you have some time to develop materials if your internet searches don’t yield anything useful. Materials that you can develop easily and at little investment are conversation and journal cards (index cards with topics for conversation and writing), short dialogues between two speakers you can practice with your student, and lists of vocabulary and idioms relevant to the student’s major or career.
Most students of English are eager to read aloud to practice their speaking and pronunciation and get feedback on it. This is something that is much harder to orchestrate in a large class, but in a class of one that student has your full attention for feedback, focusing on the student’s pronunciation as well as comprehension of the passage.
In a class of thirty students handing in essays, it will take the teacher a week or more, perhaps, to turn those essays around and get feedback to students, and often the feedback will be minimal. In your class of one, you can read the essay and give feedback on the spot after it has been given to you in as little as ten minutes. The feedback is also of better quality in most cases because the student can ask for clarification immediately: “What do you mean by ‘develop it’? What’s a sentence fragment, again?” This isn’t possible most of the time in a large class, and writing feedback often gets ignored by students because they don’t understand it or receive it too long after doing the writing.
Question and Answer Sessions
Because in a large class both teachers and students are so pressed for time, the teacher usually can’t answer questions that are not directly related to course content. But in your class of one you can devote the first five minutes or so to just addressing questions about American culture or the English language as it relates to what may have happened that week. For example, the German post-doctoral student I am currently tutoring had many concerns, understandably so, regarding the mass shooting in Colorado in July, which led to some discussion about the legality and culture of weapon ownership in the U.S., and some basic precautions to take, such as avoiding situations that might be dangerous like visiting an ATM late at night. This kind of conversation would take up too much time in a more traditional class, when often the class is lucky to get through the designated curriculum, but a one-on-one session is the perfect place for such concerns.
So does the one-on-one ESL session have to be sleep-inducing for both teacher and student? Absolutely not!
The one-on-one session is the perfect place to target individual student concerns, try out innovative materials, discuss the student’s new culture, and engage in extended practice of the new language in a way that isn’t usually possible in a large class.