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3 Changes TEFL Teachers Need to Make When They Switch Between Individual and Group Lessons

3 Changes TEFL Teachers Need to Make When They Switch Between Individual and Group Lessons | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Teaching English is traditionally done in a classroom setting; however, a growing number of teachers and students are attracted to the convenience and flexibility of teaching one-to-one lessons. Whether teaching privately or for a company, in-person or online, to young learners or adults ESL teachers know their approach must change when switching from group teaching to teaching individuals. How is this done and what changes need to be made? Switching from group lessons to teaching one-to-one involves much more than modifying materials for a smaller audience; ESL teachers also need to make changes to teacher-student roles, syllabus and structure, and resources.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Victoria I. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

1. Classroom Roles

First, teacher-student roles must change in order for a one-to-one lesson to be successful. The teacher must step down in authority, move away from the spotlight and become equal with the student. The student steps up in responsibility, often making decisions, providing feedback and fully participating in the learning experience. The teacher’s presence plays a big part in establishing these role changes. For example, if the teacher sits next to the student instead of in front or hovering overhead--or stays within two hand-spans of the webcam for online lessons--it is easier for the student to engage with the teacher on a personal level (Verner, 2007). As the student feels more comfortable in the lesson, meaningful relationships can develop and teachers often take on additional roles of friend, confidante, coach, and cheerleader. However, sometimes a teacher and student are unable to ‘get on’ with each other and the relationship becomes awkward or antagonistic (Kaye, 2009). In those cases, teachers should have open discussions with the student on whether to continue the lessons.

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2. Course Syllabus

Second, the teacher must be creative when creating a syllabus and structure for an individual student. Although some one-to-one lessons are pre-planned and fixed like group classes, most one-to-one lessons are dynamic, flexible and fully customized to the student (Kaye, 2009). Often the student is learning for a specific purpose--such as learning English for business--and the teacher must conduct a thorough needs analysis to clarify the student’s schedule, needs, interests, and goals. There should also be a written agreement clarifying expectations, roles, and boundaries (Long, 2015). This is especially true for private lessons, where the teacher often has to spell out personal/professional boundaries, collect payments, communicate with parents and deal with lesson cancellations--in addition to determining the syllabus, lesson structure and schedule for the course. In private lessons, the student sets the pace of the lessons, goes through the material faster or slower than group classes and spends more time on areas that are the most difficult. Progress is often monitored by the teacher and communicated through ongoing feedback; student feedback is also necessary for helping the teacher understand what is--or is not--working in the lessons.

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3. Resources

Third, it is important for the teacher to be resourceful and engaging when teaching individuals. One-to-one classes can be physically and mentally exhausting for both the teacher and student, who are required to ‘always be on’ during the lessons (Kaye, 2009). These lessons often move slower and have more silences than group lessons (Long, 2015). Realia and authentic materials add variety, fun and “real” experiences to individual lessons. The teacher should also break up activities with games, chats or other appropriate activities if the student gets tired, restless or detached. This allows the student to recharge and continue on with the lesson. In one-to-one lessons, personalized attention and high talk time allow the student to ask questions and converse with the teacher, improve pronunciation, teach an area of expertise, give business presentations, roleplay for an interview or have a show-and-tell session. The student’s skills also improve as the teacher models correct language and use email and authentic resources, such as audio, video, guest speakers and the internet (Verner, 2007). The internet can provide multimedia and reading materials that can be used in class or for homework. Homework can focus on writing and reading material for the next class and email can be used to share feedback and written correspondence.

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In summary, teacher-student role changes, personalized lessons, and creative use of resources all combine to make one-to-one lessons successful. When teachers switch out of the group lesson mentality, step down as the sole decision-maker and empower the student to take a more active role in the learning process, both teacher and student can work together on a more personal level. A relationship of trust can develop as they set goals and work towards those goals together. The needs analysis, written agreement, and ongoing feedback make it easier for the teacher to create a personalized syllabus and structure for the student. Although individual lessons lack group dynamics to move the lesson along, the teacher can use resources to help break up lessons so that teacher and student can connect and recharge from being ‘on’ all the time. Realia, video, audio, email, and the internet add variety and fun to lessons while providing relevant--yet real--experiences and exposure to the English language. The teacher can also learn new things as the student shares his or her knowledge, expertise, interests and experiences. It can be a lot of work to change from group teaching; however, teaching one-to-one can be a very rewarding experience for the ESL teacher. Fun experiences are shared, real progress can be seen in the student’s English ability and friendships can last for years beyond the time spent together learning English.

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