How to Teach a Child English One to One

Joan S. Reed

On the ESL forums one often sees teachers asking for ideas to make their one to one lessons more fun. Many teachers are brilliant in the classroom but are at a loss for ideas when it comes to teaching children English in private classes, and that is a shame because teaching one on one can be very rewarding, as well as often being a good source of extra income.

By far the best approach for children for successful and fun one to one teaching is to use games and songs. One of the tricks is to have a substantial library of games that work for one on one teaching. Another essential is to have a strong sense of fun and be prepared to join in the games.

If you teach using games children will love your private classes, and their parents will love you for the results you achieve. A bi-product of this already very successful combination is that by teaching children in a fun way, you establish an important link between enjoyment and learning, which can enhance the rest of that child’s whole life.

Here now are some ideas to use games successfully when teaching one to one. Most games need more than one player, which means that you sometimes need to join in and play the game too. You could say, “well then I’d just win all the time”, and that can be true. So if you are playing a game that is not just pure luck, and where normally you would win all the time, then you can do things like this:

– Give your pupil a head start of 10 to 30 seconds.

– Make your task harder.

– Double the task you must complete in the same time your pupil completes it once.

– Award your pupil three points to your one.

– Award your pupil 10 bonus points at the start of the game.

– Lose deliberately by being slow (but pretend to hurry), or ‘accidentally’ drop your pen.

Another way of adding an element of fun to a one to one lesson is to use a stopwatch or timer to add excitement. This allows your pupils to race against themselves rather than always being in competition or playing against you.

Time your pupil each round of a game and see if they can beat their previous time. You can also use the stopwatch to give a time limit to an activity, aiming to allow only just enough time so that your pupil is more stimulated than if he or she were simply working methodically through the exercise.

Oven timers that tick and have a bell that goes off after the given time is up are also good. Your pupil must complete the task before the bell goes off. Substitutes for an over timer could be an alarm clock, a wind up musical box or an egg timer.

Bells that you find on hotel reception desks are also fun. The students race to tap on the bell when they have their answer. This is more effective when you have two or more students but is still an added fun element for the younger children even in one to one lessons.

And finally, always be sensitive: be careful that one person does not always lose and only use competition if you see that it enhances the mood rather than causes unnecessary tension or a loss of morale. With children between the ages of 3 and 6 any form of competition is best avoided. You can play the game or use the timer as usual, but make sure that you play until the end so everyone wins – not just the person who finishes first, and with the timer idea, it is essential that the child finishes before the time is up – even if you have to indefinitely extend that time. If a young child does not finish in the required time it really upsets them and they will probably cry – and that is not the aim of the game. Rather you want the child ALWAYS to succeed, so that he or she feels great about learning English.

Watch the fun demo video on the Home English Teacher website for ideas on how to teach English to your children.

Teaching one to one is immensely rewarding, as progress can be fast. In addition to games putting on short plays with your student in front of their parents or friends is also a winning activity. Children absolutely love to be the centre of attention and show off what they have learned. One can write simple repetitive scripts with basic English, but with a funny twist in them and this will give a great deal of pleasure to the child, who will be happy to rehearse and perform, and for the parents who will be so impressed with your results that they will be sure to keep sending their child to the lessons.

If possible lend or recommend films to watch for homework, such as Spiderman, Batman, King Kong, or Cinderella and Walt Disney movies – all in English with NO subtitles. Your pupils will watch these many times over willingly and will absorb a huge amount of language subconsciously, even if initially they cannot understand the dialogues.

If you are thinking about the cost of buying videos then take heart. You can find very cheap second hand videos and DVDs on the Internet.

You could also build a library of comic books to read for homework. You would not expect your student to understand all that much initially but the subconscious will be absorbing the language all the time.

Take a deposit for the replacement cost of the video or comic (including postage) to encourage return of the video or comic.

The combination of giving fun classes with games, getting results and offering extra services such as a video or comic library, will set you apart from your colleagues and you’ll be sure to get lots of recommendations from parents to you for private classes.

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