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Adapting to the Differences Between Group Teaching and One-to-One Teaching

Adapting to the Differences Between Group Teaching and One-to-One Teaching | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Lesson planning for an individual ESL student can be successfully adapted from lesson planning for a group once the teacher recognizes the differences and similarities between teaching a group and teaching an individual in a one-to-one setting. My first teaching experience was volunteering to teach a multilingual, adult class. After the class ended, Yordanka, one of the students, approached me for private help with her English conversation skills. I kept the following concerns in mind when conducting one-to-one sessions with Yordanka. These concerns address seven issues: student needs, student talk versus teacher talk time, trust between teacher and student, scheduling, lesson duration, the timing of lesson elements, and supplies.

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

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Student Needs

A difference that works to the student’s advantage in a one-to-one lesson is that the individual’s needs are more fully addressed. In a group class, needs are handled more generically, and therefore the topics discussed may not directly provide the student with all the conversation needed in his or her specific life. For example, the goal of a classroom lesson may be to improve the students’ general vocabulary for shopping in order to hit upon the most common scenarios they might encounter.

Yordanka was usually restricted to buying the foods sold at the markets near her home because no one in her family had a car. In one private lesson with Yordanka, the lesson objective changed from “improving my grocery shopping vocabulary” to a more specific goal of “being able to talk to the vendors at my local farmer’s market on Saturdays.” So, the lesson became more specific and more in-depth to meet the needs of the individual.

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Student Talk Time

Group lessons provide more opportunities for student talk. The lessons are designed to keep the teacher talk time to a minimum. In private lessons, students may feel less comfortable increasing their conversation with the teacher whose language skills are, of course, superior to theirs. Teachers need to plan more activities for the private lesson than for a group lesson. Having more activities helps to solve this talk-time problem by giving the student more to talk about, which will encourage more open-ended conversations.

Knowing that Yordanka enjoyed watching the birds outside her apartment, I brought photographs and information about many more birds than the handful we had covered in class about zoo animals. This led to her talking about not only the birds of her home in Bulgaria but also about the sheep shearing on the farm she grew up on there.


After a few lessons, Yordanka and I had established a deeper trust than we had in the group setting. I began having her write journal entries for homework. Then I had her read them to me during each class. I used this engage-phase activity to elicit vocabulary during the first stage of the study phase. Because I knew more about her personal routine by then, I could anticipate what vocabulary may come up in her journal entries. She was too shy to do this activity in the classroom setting.

Also, such activity may take too much time in a group session and may be too intrusive for some students who don’t want to share their journals with the class. Because I had spent more time with her, I could expand on group lessons that cater to the personal interests of the students.Lesson Duration

Because of the intensity of a private lesson, a teacher needs to keep private lessons shorter than group lessons. One thing I noticed during one-to-one lessons was my increased thirst. So, if I meet with an individual student for a field trip, I remind that person to bring extra water not just to prevent dehydration, but because the student will be talking more than he or she would be in the classroom.

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Schools or language centers will provide many materials and aids needed in the classroom. I had to provide more supplies myself when I taught Yordanka one-to-one. Because I took public transportation, I had to be mindful of the load I had to carry. I opted for blank paper, small whiteboards, markers, and erasers that fit into my backpack. I also prepared lesson illustrations on paper beforehand. And because Yordanka was the only student, I was able to leave these illustrated materials with her due to the lower costs of making copies.


Session schedules are out of the hands of the students in a classroom environment, but private lessons may be canceled by the students. Therefore, a teacher must be flexible in forming schedules. I ask that my private students let me know of scheduling conflicts at least forty-eight hours in advance, if possible. I give them the same courtesy. This instills a sense of mutual respect and responsibility for keeping appointments with one another.

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Timing of Lesson Elements

One thing that doesn’t change is planning the timing of the lesson segments. Yordanka wanted more conversation practice in our one-to-one sessions than she could not get in the classroom. I still portioned the lessons into segments that included written work, drills, and reading activities. Work on all these skills – receptive (listening and reading) and productive (writing and speaking) was needed in Yordanka’s English language studies.

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Regardless of the differences and similarities between these teaching situations, teachers always strive to get the students to increase talk time and fluency.

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