Whether you’re just starting out as an EFL/ESL tutor, or have been doing it a while, you’re sure to want to improve your craft. Being a better teacher benefits your students, boosts your job prospects, and makes the experience much more fulfilling.

But it’s far from easy. There are so many things to think about when you’re solely responsible for what goes on in your lessons over the course of a year or more. What should you teach? How do you start off right? And how can you adapt to the different students you’ll have?

Photo by Zen Chung: https://www.pexels.com/photo/multiethnic-female-friends-studying-with-books-5538353/

This article is all about answering those questions. Here, I’ll give an overview everything you need to know, and I’ll link to more detailed posts I’ve written throughout.

My series of guides is based on years of experience as an EFL tutor, starting in 2016, teaching students of all ages and abilities, and making it my full-time job. Everything written here is based on my experience of in-person classes. That said, you can also apply it to online lessons.

This guide is about the teaching aspect of private tutoring, NOT the business side, like finding students and getting paid, etc. If that’s what you’re looking for, head over to my other guide, How to Get Started as an EFL/ESL Private Tutor.

So, with the introduction out of the way, let’s get stuck in!

Needs analysis comes first

Let’s say you’re about to start classes with a brand new student. What do you teach them? What kind of methods will they respond well to? Why have they hired you as their tutor?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you need to find out pretty soon. By the end of the first class, you should have an idea of the type of class they’re expecting and where you need to get them in the long and short term.

How do you figure all this out? With a needs analysis.

If you’re not sure what that is, here’s the short version: A needs analysis is the process of discovering a student’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences, aims and interests in order to inform future planning.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Some teachers use a level test which you can get online. This determines student ability. I’m not against doing that (although I’d avoid it with children), but it only tells you one part of the picture.

You should also learn what things they like – hobbies, films, family/friends, etc. Ideally you’ll have a few things in common which you can work with, establishing rapport and creating engaging lessons.

A rough personality profile is useful too. Are they comfortable talking at length, or do they get shy when under pressure? What is their comfort zone when it comes to challenging themselves? If it’s a group class, what are the dynamics like?

There’s a lot more that goes into a successful needs analysis, so I recommend you check out my in-depth article here: Needs Analysis for Private EFL/ESL Lessons: 12 step guide.

Make a great first impression

The first class with a new student (or group of students) is important for two reasons:

  1. You get to know your student(s), informing your future planning, as mentioned above with the needs analysis.
  2. Your students get to know you. Their perception of you and the expectations you establish will set the tone going forward.

Now, I know this isn’t easy. I’m always a bit nervous going into the first class with a new student, even after years of doing it. But getting it right sets you up for long-term success.

Photo by fauxels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-and-woman-near-table-3184465/

Fortunately, you don’t have to do anything revolutionary, just follow a few key steps.

  • Base the lesson around the needs analysis mentioned in the previous section.
  • Go in friendly and positive, creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
  • Establish expectations early on, including students in the discussion on what’s acceptable.
  • Get to know a few things that interest the student(s) to use as a hook for the next few lessons.
  • Err on the side of over-planning, and have several backup activities.

It’s hard to know what to expect in the first class, so flexibility and preparation are key.

To find out more about how to get that first class right, read my guide Acing Your First Private EFL/ESL Class. You can find my lesson plans for the first class here: Lesson Plans for First Private EFL/ESL Lesson and advice on setting expectations here: How to Set Rules & Expectations in Private EFL/ESL Classes.

Tailor lesson plans effectively

I’m not a huge fan of downloading lesson plans from the internet and plugging them into my classes. Not only is the quality of planning often underwhelming, but those lesson plans don’t maximise your students’ progress.

I understand planning can be overwhelming at first. And I wouldn’t begrudge any new tutors for finding plans and resources online. I know I certainly did it a few times to begin with.

But after a while, you should be designing your own. Or at least try adapting pre-created lesson plans, adjusting a few activities, and making them your own.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

The needs analysis you did (and subsequent knowledge you gain about students) informs what kind of thing you should work on, and what methods to apply.

You know your students’ requirements better than anyone else. Base lessons around aspects of language that need improvement, and use their interests to provide engagement. Choose activities you know they’ll react well to.

While I’m against getting lesson plans off the internet, I’m fully in favour of finding activities and resources online. After a while, you’ll learn to pick ones which suit your students best.

Structuring lesson plans is more of an art than a science. I like to use the 10-20-20-10 method for hour-long sessions:

  • 10 minutes: Get Going
  • 20 minutes: Input
  • 20 minutes: Practice
  • 10 minutes: Let Loose

Timing isn’t everything, though. Sometimes activities go longer than expected, other times they’re shorter. That’s totally normal. Always have something in your back pocket if the lesson runs short, and don’t be afraid to bump activities to the next session if you run out of time.

Plans should be a guide rather than a rigid set of rules.

For more on planning lessons, read my extensive explanation: Principles of Designing Amazing Private EFL/ESL Lessons.

Adjust methods depending on the type of class

Private EFL/ESL tutoring covers a variety of different class types. Dynamic group sessions with young children, business classes with professionals in the workplace, exam preparation, conversation-based lessons, and even grammar-directed teaching are all things you may end up doing.

You may have a preference. If you’re not interested in teaching children, then you can focus on business, conversation and possibly exam-prep and grammar. If kids appeal to you, then a lot of the other types of class aren’t as relevant.

Or, you become a generalist, and teach all types. Whatever approach you choose, you need to adapt to the conventions and requirements of each. I’ll outline the main ones now.

Teaching children

Expectations are crucial when starting out with kids. Adults generally come to classes with an idea of what’s acceptable, but children might not know how to behave. Set boundaries early, while making them feel comfortable.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

Games are going to be a major feature. Build an inventory of fun, simple games both for practicing specific language points, and for providing energy and general progress.

Focus on vocabulary and speaking. Trying to explain complex grammar points to kids is a waste of time, as they don’t have the maturity or capacity to follow. Plus, it’s boring. Instead, use spaced repetition, games, and gamification techniques to help them acquire lots of words in an enjoyable way.

All this and more is explained in my dedicated article Give Amazing Private EFL/ESL Classes to Kids: 9 steps. And if you’re looking for exciting games for kids to play, check out my list of 9 High Energy EFL/ESL Games for Boosting Vocabulary.

Conversation classes

Some students just want to practice speaking. This is generally the case with adults, although I have a few conversation classes with teenagers, too.

It’s easy to think these classes don’t require much thought or preparation. That’s true to a certain extent. You don’t necessarily need to prepare lots of resources and engaging activities, but it’s wrong to think they’re super easy.

Creating the right atmosphere is the first step. Speaking is a performance activity, so feelings of embarrassment and fear of failure need gently removing.

You should also think about how you correct mistakes. Over-correcting is a common but damaging thing EFL/ESL tutors do. Not only does it slow down conversation, making it frustrating for all parties, but it knocks the students’ confidence.

And finally, you need to have topics of conversation. You can prepare these yourself, or decide on them together before class. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try speaking games or role play activities.

For the full information on conversation classes, check out my article 7 Steps for Incredible Private EFL/ESL Conversation Classes.

Grammar-focused lessons

Grammar teaching is hardly the most glamorous part of being a private EFL/ESL tutor, but it’s something everyone has to do at some point.

Keeping student engagement is the hard part. Fortunately, most students who request grammar classes come with a fair amount of self-motivation, so will accept lessons that aren’t full of exciting activities. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to make it enjoyable, but you don’t need to force it.

Here are my top tips for teaching grammar:

  • Teach grammar at an appropriate level. If you do a good needs analysis, you can target students’ weaknesses and focus on things that are within reach.
  • Take it slow. Don’t rush from one grammar point to the next. Give time for practice and internalisation.
  • Use games and fun activities to supplement direct instruction. Don’t spend too long explaining, instead get students exploring the grammar themselves, and trying to piece it together while you act as a helpful resource.

I go into further detail about grammar teaching in my article, Teaching EFL/ESL Grammar: A guide for private tutors.

Exam preparation

English proficiency exams are really important. Learners need them to get jobs and study abroad, and their future career success can depend on the results they get.

No pressure, then. Exam preparation is a tricky business, and quite a lot of students leave it until a month before the exam to hire a tutor, giving you hardly any time to make an impact.

But the truth is, a skillful teacher can make the difference.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The best way to approach exam classes is to know the exam inside out. That means quite a lot of research, but if it’s for a major exam (Cambridge, IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, etc.) the knowledge you gain will apply to future classes.

If you “know the exam”, you can identify specific strategies for your students to get extra marks. No exam is a perfect representation of a student’s ability – there are tricks and techniques.

Past papers are powerful. Get as many as you can, because the more your student is familiar with the structure and style of the questions, the less nervous they’ll feel. Plus, you can pick up patterns and identify what aspects of language the questions target.

Most of all, you have to stay positive. Sometimes, it seems like your students will fail, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And often they will indeed fall short. But if you stay positive until the exam is over, that energy may give them the confidence to go on and succeed.

Here’s my in-depth look at preparing for English proficiency exams in general: Getting EFL/ESL Exam Preparation Right: Tips for success.

Business English

I’m not going to spend much time talking about business English, because the truth is, I’ve only done a few of these classes. I’d feel like a fraud telling you what to do when I don’t have the experience to back it up.

What I will do instead, is point you in the direction of Pearson, a company which has a good article on their blog, giving six tips for teaching business English. Head to that article by following this link.

Image by Tina Koehler from Pixabay

They talk about teaching functional language, practicing relevant skills (presenting, language in meetings, writing emails, etc.), and maximising speaking time.

The only thing I’d change is the section on learning vocabulary. I’d add that spaced repetition is an effective method. Using spaced repetition software like Anki, as well as simple but effective vocab memorisation techniques, massively boosts vocab retention.

For more on teaching vocab effectively, check out my Best Method to Improve EFL/ESL Students’ Vocabulary: 9 Steps.

If you set homework, do it right

When it comes to private EFL/ESL tutoring, homework is optional. While I’d love for all my students to spend a few hours every week practicing what we learned and brushing up their skills, it’s not realistic.

School kids have enough homework anyway (which most of them hate doing), and adults are generally far too busy to get it done.

However, if you (and your students) do wish to set homework, there are two things you can do to increase its effectiveness.

  1. Make sure instructions are clear and submission is easy.
  2. Set interesting and engaging activities which you couldn’t necessarily do in the lesson.

Just giving students verbal instructions in class isn’t enough to ensure they’ll do the homework correctly. Chances are they’ll forget the details by the time they get round to doing it. Make sure they have a written reminder.

If it’s marked homework, have them submit it before the class, so you can mark it and give feedback in the next session. This means the time between doing the homework and getting feedback is shorter.

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/homework-paper-pen-person-267491/

The best kind of activities for homework are ones you couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do in class. Extended writing, for example. If you did a long writing exercise in class, most of the time you as the teacher aren’t doing much. They’re not paying you to sit around and watch them write. Same with listening and reading.

Make class time active, focusing on speaking more than anything else.

Homework activities can be fun, too. Don’t settle for boring worksheets and endless grammar exercises. Give them engaging tasks like listening to English music or playing Narrative Telephone.

For a detailed look at homework in EFL/ESL private classes, check out my article 5 Tips for Setting Homework in Private EFL/ESL Classes. And for fantastic activities, read my list of 9 Engaging Homework Ideas for EFL/ESL: No worksheets!

Never stop improving

I’ve been teaching private English classes for years now, but I’m still improving every day.

The joy of having a variety of students is that each class is different from the next. As a private tutor, you can really tailor lessons to suit their exact needs, and that means learning new skills, innovating activities, and sharing ideas and interests with so many unique individuals.

Every new student throws up another challenge, another puzzle to overcome, and we have to constantly adapt in order to solve those problems and help students as best we can.

So keep honing your craft, levelling up your game, and becoming the best private EFL/ESL tutor you can possibly be!

Follow the links below to learn how to be the best private EFL/ESL tutor possible.
Ultimate Guide to Giving Great EFL/ESL Private Classes
Needs Analysis for Private EFL/ESL Lessons: 12 step guide
Principles of Designing Amazing Private EFL/ESL Lessons
Acing Your First Private EFL/ESL Class: 9 Steps to Success
Lesson Plans for First Private EFL/ESL Lesson (+ tips)
How to Set Rules & Expectations in Private EFL/ESL Classes
What to Do if Private EFL/ESL Students Won’t Participate
Getting EFL/ESL Exam Preparation Right: Tips for success
Give Amazing Private EFL/ESL Classes to Kids: 9 steps
7 Steps for Incredible Private EFL/ESL Conversation Classes
Teaching EFL/ESL Grammar: A guide for private tutors
5 Tips for Setting Homework in Private EFL/ESL Classes

Similar Posts