Learning to Love One-to-ones

The SGI CPD Club kicked off the Autumn-Winter series of workshops on Tuesday 13th September with a session looking at one-to-one teaching.

We had a full house of participants comprising of ex-SGI Cert trainees, 1 current member of staff, a quartet of teachers from Frances King, representatives from Regent, Harrow, and a couple of freelancers, most of whom admitted to having little or no experience of one-to-one teaching and only a few with considerable previous experience  – a perfect balance!

The title of the workshop alludes to the negative perception for many teachers of what is undoubtedly a daunting and intense teaching format, but the main goal was to highlight the endless possibilities for both learner and teacher.

Pros & cons

We started by looking at the advantages and disadvantages of one-to-ones by exploring learner and teacher attitudes, concluding that whilst there are challenges to be aware of, there are also many opportunities which both learner and teacher can benefit from.

Needs Analysis

We then moved on to look at needs analysis and the first lesson. Wherever possible, any pre-course information which can be gathered will be useful to get the course started with a relevant and meaningful lesson. But we agreed that all too often 121 students are either too busy to send back pre-course TNAs (training needs analysis forms), or they are unable to specify clear goals. So, faced with a vague TNA, what to do in that all-important first lesson?

The First Lesson

Obviously, you need to ask questions and start exploring the learner’s needs and wants, or expand on any pre-course information you might have received. You have to go in with something to teach as well, and I gave a number of suggestions for an effective first lesson:

  1. Social Trends (based on a lesson in Skills Plus: Listening & Speaking Advanced, Briggs & Drummett, Macmillan) – get student to select & discuss trends in their country in areas like clothes, diet, design, technology, language etc & compare with UK; then useful language for describing trends will emerge.
  2. A set of idioms/phrasal verbs– I recommend Oxford Word Skills: Idioms & Phrasal Verbs (Gairns & Redman, OUP, with Intermediate & Advanced levels) – the vocabulary items are organized into logical & memorable groups, making it really student-friendly.
  3. For professional students, the language for starting a meeting is a good opener.
  4. Guess the news story – collect newspapers over a week, and cut out a number of photos from topical current stories; you then need a piece of A4 card with a square hole cut out in the middle of it; use this to reveal parts of a photo & gradually reveal it all – the student speculates what it could be and then finally tells you what he/she knows about the story (got this one from onestopenglish.com)
  5. Describe your colleagues/team. As a model first, draw some abstract shapes to represent some of the people you work with and then briefly explain why the shape represents the character of each colleague – then get the student to do the same.  You can then ‘populate’ your simulations with the student’s colleagues.
  6. You’re an expert! Get the student to note down 3 things of which they are a kind of ‘expert’ – could be a type of cooking they are good at, a sport they play, a video game, an instrument, a subject they have studied etc etc. You also note down your 3 areas and then role-play meeting at a conference and discuss your areas of ‘expertise’.

Within the first lesson, you will start to understand the needs / interests / wants / lacks of the student and can begin to negotiate with the student the course objectives, and this negotiation will continue. The goals will change according to progress and response; needs analysis, in other words, is an ongoing cycle.

Teaching Approach for 121s

I asked if it is just like group teaching but with a class size of one – the answer: yes & no!

Yes, because we want to keep some of our techniques like eliciting, drilling, cut-up materials, student at the board, games, variety etc etc.

But mostly no – because the shape of a one-to-one lesson is different. Rather than pre-selecting a language point, presenting it then practising it (broadly a typical group lesson approach), far better to use a kind of test-teach-(test) approach by getting the student to do a task first and then review & reformulate the language which emerges.

Record it!

One key technique is to voice-record the student. You (and the student) can then choose to listen back and review the ‘output’.  I would recommend using a smart phone for this, or an mp3 recorder – but there are other suggestions from my colleagues on twitter.

Top Tips

We ended the session with some practical suggestions for one-to-ones. My workshop prezi has all the top tips, and everything else mentioned above, here: http://prezi.com/hoppjnxfwrh1/learning-to-love-121s/


I hope the session and summary here give you food for thought when next teaching a one-to-one lesson. Please leave any comments below – it would be great if participants/readers shared their First Lesson ideas, and any other top tips for teaching one-to-ones.


“One to One – A Teacher’s Handbook”, Peter Wilberg, LTP, 1987

This is a summary by Ceri Jones of an #ELTchat on twitter about teaching one-to-ones http://cerij.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/eltchat-summary-teaching-one-to-one/

From the British Council Teaching English site http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/teaching-one-one

Paul Emmerson’s article about ROLO (Reformulate Output Lightly & Often) – a great approach for one-to-one teaching http://www.paulemmerson.com/?page_id=344

Methodology tips and activity ideas on onestopenglish.com http://www.onestopenglish.com/business/teaching-approaches/teaching-one-to-one/methodology/

Two teacher blogs with tips on recording students:



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