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Teaching Individual Students – Drawbacks & Suggestions to Overcome Them

In recent years, the EFL one-to-one lessons have seen a large increase in demand, particularly in the business world.

Students feel that the individual lessons can be more specifically geared towards their own needs and wants than lessons for a group.

In this article, I will tackle some drawbacks of teaching individuals, suggestions to overcome them and some activities to do with individuals.

The Advantages of Individual Lessons

  • No mixed levels.
  • Having highly motivated students.
  • Needs can be clearly defined.
  • Developing a close relationship with the students can be achieved easily.

The Drawbacks of Teaching Individuals

  • Almost all teachers comment upon the loss of classroom dynamics and tiredness.
  • Obviously, as there is only one student, some activities become impossible to do.
  • One-to-one lessons are usually less formal, and the teacher will often be the partner of the student, helping, prompting, and working with him/her.

Suggestions to Overcome These Drawbacks

  • At the initial meeting, complete a needs analysis form.
  • Find out the students’ specific language problems.
  • Exchange telephone numbers (one-on-one lessons are notorious for cancellations).
  • Maximize the students’ interests and experience.
  • Use a variety of activities and techniques.
  • Find out about any practical problems that could interfere with the lesson:  workload, location, etc.
  • Try and arrange a combination of what the student wants and what you think she/ he needs.
  • Sometimes, students say that they only want conversation.

How to Manage a Conversation Lesson

  • Free conversation is fine for a portion of the lesson, but not for all of it.
  • Guided conversation, vocabulary building based on a topic or theme, or material based on grammatical problems experienced by the student, should constitute the rest of the lesson.
  • The student should get practice in conversation, go over old material and learn new things as well.

Suitable Activities for Individual Students

  • Short stories.
  • Articles from newspapers, magazines etc.
  • Horoscopes.
  • Quizzes, e.g., are you in the right job?
  • Idioms.
  • Taboo words. This is often requested by various students who want to travel abroad, they want to know if people are being polite or swearing at them!
  • Personal information, e.g. their family, education, etc.
  • Listening, e.g., telephoning, different accents (especially foreigners speaking English).
  • Various relevant topics, e.g., age differences, cultural differences, and women’s equality.
  • Goal-orientated activities.
  • Pronunciation – perhaps record the student and replay and concentrate on the most obvious mistakes. Perhaps listen and take notes on any mistakes made and highlight and correct them later. Also, work on intonation.
  • Postcards – about a topic, e.g., art, or architecture – either ask the student to bring her/his favourite postcard or discuss the ones you have taken to the lesson.
  • Conversations with grammar points and vocabulary items.
  • Videos.
  • Phrasal verbs
  • Photographs, e.g., family, friends – the student’s and yours
  • Recipes, e.g., ask the student to tell you how to make your/their favourite local dish and practice vocabulary for food and using imperatives.


Some teachers give students homework every lesson, and some students cannot cope with homework because of the pressure of work or other studies.

Homework assignments may be:

  • Reading a newspaper article before the next lesson.
  • Reading a book or a swap book and then discuss the plot, style, etc.
  • Preparing a short oral presentation on a topic of the student’s choice, or one that has arisen during other work in the course.

How to Check Homework Assignment

  • If you are using a newspaper article, pre-read and prepare any potentially difficult vocabulary and structures.
  • If the article is long, number either the lines or the paragraphs for easy reference.
  • Prepare a gap–fill or comprehension questions about the article.

Final Tip

Over-prepare – always take too much material to the one-to-one lesson – you can always use it in a subsequent lesson. Individual students do tend to get through materials more quickly than groups.

Thanks for reading

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