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Why Should ESL Teachers Consider Teaching One-to-one?

Why Should ESL Teachers Consider Teaching One-to-one? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

ESL teachers can find themselves in various classroom situations. An ESL class may be advertised or posted on signs for students to show up at a learning center on a particular night. When the students arrive, they are most probably tested and grouped according to language level. What happens if many students are at the same level, but there is one student who is on a completely different level and has different needs? Other scenarios may put teachers in a situation where they are teaching one-to-one. Possibly, there is just a desire to tutor English language learners in a more personal setting. What are the advantages and challenges of teaching one-to-one?

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

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First, is a greater opportunity to develop a relationship with your student. Conversations can be student-driven so they have plenty of practice in becoming fluent in the language. You listen to your one student and respond appropriately and actively. Through this conversation, you can find out what interests them and use that in planning the course in a more focused way. For a student who loves mythology and myths, finding material that uses a study of the Greek gods will inspire them and hold their interest. You can not single out one student’s interests to teach an entire classroom. Because you have developed a closer relationship, one challenge is that personal problems may affect lessons when your student shares personal information. When this occurs, you need to be compassionate but remain professional.

Also read: 5 Creative Writing Activities for the ESL Classroom


Second, lessons do not need to move ahead until your student is ready. If they are absent because of sickness or other circumstances, they will not have to catch up later. You will not have to push your student ahead when they have not yet mastered the lesson. You can modify the lesson plan or extend a deadline on a project if necessary. In some cases, you may not be able to see progress when there are no other students with whom to compare the completed work. On the other hand, you may be more aware of their struggles and be able to adjust lessons to help them achieve success.

Stress Level

Third, another advantage of teaching one-to-one is lower stress for your student. English language learners may be shy or self-conscious, but more willing to speak with you, even if they make mistakes when no one else is around. Other distractions experienced in a room full of students are eliminated and the student can be more focused on the material being learned. Because some students become overstimulated, and as a result, not able to keep their mind on their work, the elimination of these distractions will cause your student to be challenged to be responsible for their language learning. They can bring materials such as magazine and newspaper articles and ideas to class instead of waiting for others to contribute. You will need to be more creative in keeping things fresh and exciting for your students. It may seem unusual to include drills, chants, and songs with just one student, but these give a welcome change of pace to the lesson.

Also read: Reasons Why Pronunciation is More Difficult for Adults than Children in El Salvador


Finally, teaching one-to-one gives flexibility in teaching ESL. Lessons can be moved around to days and hours that are best for student and teacher alike. As previously stated, lessons can be tailored to or modified for the best advantage of your student. They can quickly finish lessons that they understand, or they can take more time to fully comprehend difficult language points before moving on. You can organize a field trip without the scheduling concerns of planning for a whole class. Some examples would be a trip to the market for a food lesson, visiting a hotel for a travel lesson, or a meal out together for a lesson on restaurant etiquette.

Learning to be flexible with classroom activities may be difficult if you are used to always having a full class. But many activities can be adjusted to one student. One activity to try is to put vocabulary words for items in the room on Post-it notes. Have your student take each note and post it on the correct item. After the lesson is over, say the name of the item and have them find it and bring the note back to you. This gives them physical activity as they increase their vocabulary.

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If you have considerable experience in teaching in a classroom situation, you may be reluctant to take on a one-to-one teaching situation. There are disadvantages, but there are many solutions available. Consider instead the advantages of teaching one-to-one and how rewarding it can be to build the one-to-one relationship and see your student succeed.

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