Teaching Children One to One: Tips to Make your Lessons Fun

On the ESL forums one often sees teachers asking for ideas on how to make their one to one lessons more fun.  Many teachers are excellent in class but suffer when it comes to teaching children English individually, 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.

This article is broadly divided into four parts as follows:

1. The importance of making your lessons fun
2. Tips for using one to one games
3. Ideas for short plays
4. Added value ideas to enhance your teaching and reputation

1. The Importance of Making your Lessons Fun

By far the best approach for children for successful and fun one to one teaching is to use games and songs.  In fact if you want to inspire your pupil and have him or her want to come to your lessons instead of being forced to come by mummy, you have to make the lessons fun. One of the tricks is to have a substantial library of games that work for one on one teaching. Another bonus 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.

2. Tips for Using One to One Games

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.

Visit this link for free one to one games and a video: Free video of one to one games here!

3. Ideas for Short Plays

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.

Ideas for short plays include things such as a client and a waiter in a restaurant.  The client calls the waiter, who fails to come to the table and the client has to call for him again and again becoming more and more exasperated.  Eventually the waiter arrives and asks for the order.  The client gives the order and the waiter repeats it back, but incorrectly.  The client gives the order again, and the waiter gets it wrong again, until eventually the waiter gets it right.  The waiter goes off with the order and returns with the food, but there is a bug in it, or a worm, or a giant bogey, urgh!  It's very immature I know, but kids love it!  You can give the child a plastic fly swat as a prop that they have hidden on their knee until this moment.  They then start swatting away on the table and ask for the bill (as they are not going to eat there).  When the waiter goes off with the bill the child sneaks off without paying and the waiter comes back in with the bill, looks for the client, looks under the table, and runs out after the client. 

The secret to making a short play like that work is that you use the same language, exactly, each time, with no variations.  That way you can wrap this play up with complete beginners in a few sessions, rehearsing for 10 minutes during each session.  You don't want to only learn the play but instead first introduce the language in the play using games, then gradually introduce the play, one section at a time.  Each time you see your child you run through the play a couple of times, adding a bit on each time.  Then at the end of each term you can perform it.   I recommend a bare minimum of props because if you use too many props the children will waste rather a lot of time preparing them, because they take all this quite seriously you see!  However if you can have at least a couple of props such as a tray and a tea towel for the waiter and a fly swat for the client that goes a long way in the child's imagination.   If you do not have a tray to hand use something else like an A4 flashcard or piece of stiff card, then on the day of the performance you can always bring in a real tray, or ask the parents to bring one.

4. Added Value Ideas to Enhance your Teaching and Reputation

If you really want to help your protégé as much as possible then 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.  Over time you can build up a library of these for your teaching purposes.  You would want to take a deposit on loan of your material to ensure its return.

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.

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.

In summary then an outstanding one to one teacher uses games to teach English and puts on a show each term for the parents to applaud their child, to see how well they are doing, and to give the child a chance to show off and feel proud.  Games, plays and songs are all things children love.  As an add on to your exceptional teaching skills you can also offer recommendations or the loan of English films or comics for even faster progress.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shelley Vernon promotes learning through fun esl games and encouragement.  Check out this special edition of games with VIDEO demo for fun one to one teaching here: one to one esl games for children

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