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How Teaching One Student Differs from Teaching a Full Class

How Teaching One Student Differs from Teaching a Full Class | ITTT | TEFL Blog

When working one-on-one or with large groups, you need to adjust your methods appropriately. There are large differences in how you approach each group, how you teach them, and how much you should expect them to learn. We will be going over the differences by working with each of these groups based upon my own experiences. While they require differing techniques, at their core what is required is the same.

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

Primary Issues

What all class sizes require is an understanding of the students' skills and prior knowledge. When working on English you can provide small exams and a few games to gauge what they know, how motivated they are, and if they have any experience with other languages. Students with prior experience with language classes will be more prepared, and they may be used to the activities implemented in learning new languages than others. In groups, this means that they may learn at a faster rate than other students, whereas in one-on-one lessons it allows you to do more and advance faster. In skiing, experience in other sports provides a physical background that simplifies picking up the basics and advanced techniques. You can learn what the students already know with a questionnaire in groups, whereas in one-on-one a simple conversation can suffice. While skill and prior knowledge in areas separate from English may seem less relevant, it can be a good indicator of how willing they are to learn as well as their preparedness for a new language.

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Also Read: Can I teach English in an English speaking country?

Teaching Methods

The methods for teaching your students will invariably change depending on the size of the class. You can't treat a group of 50 the same as you would a class of 1. While you gauge the skill of the group, as they improve you need to keep track of all of their improvements, ensuring that the weaker students don't fall too far behind so they all stay together. When it is one-on-one you can adjust the lesson very easy to serve the student's needs. The bigger the group the more it needs to be planned out, the structured it needs to be to effectively keep track of progress. As a ski instructor when one-on-one teaching it was always simplified in that you could easily see and track how they improved. When I had to teach a group of 30 how to stop, it was challenging enough determining their level of ability, and who to progress to turning lessons while ensuring they weren't just ramming into things. However, the more skilled students would advise the less skilled students, especially their friends. This can take some of the burdens of the teacher, but you need to keep track of the advice students give each other, lest they give incorrect information. Correcting the bad advice is something to be done carefully, you don't call out the student giving bad advice but provide the group proper advisement. With large group activities, then split them into smaller teams is needed, so that you can more effectively observe and see how they are improving. It is easier to get a grasp on 5 groups of 6 than 1 group of 30. The core of both is effectively gauging how the students are improving, to teach them more effectively.

Also Read: English as a Tool for Global Communication


The biggest difference between large groups and one-on-one is the simple effect of a student missing a day. If a one-on-one student misses class, you don't need to plan for how they can catch up with the group. If a student in a group misses one or two classes, that can leave a big gap between them and the rest of the students. This makes it vital to have work a student can do outside of class and for students to know what will be worked on for days they are absent. For one-on-one, there's little need to worry about them falling behind unless there is a solid date for when they need to know the material, and even then you won't be playing catch up in the same manner. They still will need to work harder to make up for lost time, but that is always the case for lost time.

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While there are differences between groups and one-on-one lessons, both have the same core. As a teacher, you need to properly gauge the students' skill and how they grow, how to effectively teach them. The different skills between students demand to apply different methods. The teacher needs to be able to read the students to apply appropriate lessons, and while it is easier when you only have one student to gauge what methods to apply it also limits what can be used. Having all of the best teaching methods at your disposal means little if you can't accurately discern the level of the learners. That is the vital core for a teacher, understanding the capabilities of their students. The methods of determining the capabilities of my change with the size of the class, but the importance of understanding them does not.

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