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Specific Challenges of One-to-One teaching and Ways to Overcome Them with the Help of the TEFL Course Content

Specific Challenges of One-to-One teaching and Ways to Overcome Them with the Help of the TEFL Course Content | ITTT | TEFL Blog

I have taught English in a classroom setting to large groups of adults for 4 years through a non-profit agency located in a mixed-race urban area of the United States. More recently, I have been teaching English to foreign learners on a one-to-one basis via video chat, also for four years. Given this background, I can speak from a wealth of personal experience to the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of each. As my goal is to continue to teach individuals online, I was admittedly skeptical of what I might gain from a TEFL course, as most certification programs are geared toward classroom teaching abroad. Having completed the ITTT course, I find myself very satisfied with having gone through the process, as I have gained many new resources for my toolbox which can be adapted to one-to-one teaching. In this essay, I wish to address some of the challenges I’ve encountered that are more likely to occur when teaching individuals online, and how to address them effectively using the knowledge gained from this course.

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

Problem: The Fear of Speaking

Perhaps the most common hurdle when teaching individuals, is overcoming their initial reservation to speaking in English. Classroom settings can take the edge off of feeling like the center of attention as there are multiple students all making language mistakes, but in one-on-one work, the entire spotlight is on the one student, and the fear can be crippling to them. What surprised me most is that it happens across all ages and personality types. Fear of speaking is, of course, is likely to occur with very young students, who often ask to have a parent with them for several first sessions until they become comfortable, but I have even had adult learners, who later turned out to be very gregarious and loquacious with time, that were initially extremely reserved, even needing their children to be with them for the first session, just to break the ice, so to speak!

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Solution: Rapport Building

The unit on managing classes has a section on how to create rapport with the students, and those tips, some as simple as remembering to smile, getting to know the students, and telling them a little about yourself, can elicit a more relaxed environment between teacher and student. Warmer games, which the course offered many clever and creative ideas, are also very helpful here. And while many can only be used in groups, several can be adapted to pair work to be done between teacher and student, such as hangman, or “tell me something.” Finally, and especially for adults, performing a needs analysis during the initial meeting, as outlined in detail in Unit 19, goes a long way in not only making a student feel more comfortable but gaining valuable information on what a student wishes to gain from the time together.


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Problem: Learning Goals

This leads to a second challenge that I’ve found to be more pronounced in individual sessions: students come with a very specific agenda. In classroom settings, I’ve found that most students are just happy with ANY improvement in their English, and are motivated by whatever the teacher brings to the table. But with individuals, motivations can be very specific, be it to pass an external exam, to meet a work requirement, to specifically work on listening and speaking, or to prepare for immigrating to an English-speaking country for university studies. I’ve even had a student from Poland who wished specifically to be able to communicate with her daughter’s Korean boyfriend, and the only common language was English.

Solution: Need Analysis

The in-depth coverage of needs analysis in Unit 19, and the example document that it allows you to reproduce, is an invaluable tool to gain very specific information on what the student wishes to achieve in your time together. Private students typically pay more than they would in a group setting, and so they want to feel confident that they are getting their money’s worth. Going through a needs analysis with them will ensure that you are meeting their expectations. It also helps the teacher create a realistic “curriculum” of sorts, which would include a timeframe of what will be included in the course.

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Problem: Struggles with Taking Part in Activities

A third challenge I’ve found in teaching individuals online, which wasn’t so prevalent in classroom teaching, is that students are less willing to participate in activities that they don’t think they need. In a classroom setting, most students go with the flow, participating in all types of activities with little complaint, be it drilling work, worksheets that they do individually, pair-work, or group activities of the sort that would be done in an “activate” phase of a class. In individual lessons, I’ve found that students are more likely to resist what they think they don’t need to do in the process of learning. For instance, I had a teenager who wanted only to do written material like gap work or grammar ABCD questions and was less keen on the conversation. This was primarily because worksheets were much easier for her and conversation took more effort. On the other hand, I’ve had adults who wanted the ONLY conversation and firmly resisted any form of written work such as grammar worksheets, because she felt that when she learned English in primary school, all they did was grammar and worksheets, and she was unable to use the language after eight years of classes. I’ve also had students who were excellent readers and could whiz through a reading extract and corresponding ABCD comprehension questions but was reluctant to do listening activities using videos or audio recordings. While individual members of a classroom group may complain of activities they don’t like, they will go through with them because their peers are all involved, and they almost always gain from participation. With individuals, the challenge is greater because they may flat out refuse certain activities if it is someone who is not afraid of voicing their disinterest. Someone less confident may not voice their disapproval outright, but simply become so apathetic, bored, or distracted, that the teacher struggles to continue.

english teacher and kids

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Solution: Knowing the Learning Points

There were several units in the ITTT 120hr course that presented material to help deal with such circumstances, giving teachers tips on how to deal with such aggressive, or passive-aggressive, behavior, and find the right balance between doing activities that the student wants or likes to do, and others that the teacher knows are important learning points to be covered, for the students own good. I found the ESA (Engage, Study, Activate) method to be a very well-rounded structure for lessons, allowing for a diversity of skills and activities, ensuring that no single strength is constantly utilized and no weakness is overlooked. The needs analysis done at the beginning of the course is another good way to make determine what should be focused on, and to let the student be aware that multiple types of activities will take place in the time together. And evaluation tools, which are covered in Unit 15, will also be useful in gaining feedback from students, to ensure that their needs are being met, not just at the end of their time together, but throughout the course. When a student has gained confidence in their teacher, which comes with efforts made by the teacher to build rapport, to meet the specific needs of the student, but also go beyond that to what they know will benefit them, students are more likely to be willing participants in the learning, even if it is activities to which they are less inclined. At the end of a course, a good teacher and a motivated student will both be satisfied in their respective growth that comes with this kind of cooperation.

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As the last word, I wanted to thank the ITTT team for all the material presented in the 20 Units. Everything from specific grammar structures to lesson planning to the invaluable list of online resources will aid me in my future endeavors as an English teacher. May many thanks for this wealth of learning!

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