Teaching One to One – Débora

Debora Tebovich

Joy On The One-To-One Learning Journey
– Débora Tebovich


“There’s a temptation (to believe) that there’s no group dynamic in teaching one-to-one and that there’s a single relationship involved in the classroom activities. This is not true…” (Wilberg 1994, p 6)

When teaching one-to-one the teacher can become a partner in a role- play, a companion, a collaborator, a guide, a friend, or an authority on language form – though not usually the one to provide the content of the classes. I support the idea that learners should provide the content for the classes as much as possible. Some learners are as avid readers as their teachers are, and they usually know which books they want to read. They can choose. Learners, regardless of their age or English level, usually know what they like, what they need and what interests them. They usually also know what they do not enjoy. The journey of exploration is an exciting one.

Teaching one-to-one is almost all about tailoring techniques to the student’s needs, interests and wants and using our students as a resource, as well as responding to their changes of mood. 

One of the challenges we face is that there’s not one method that can fit all our learners. It can be challenging to find out which activities and methods work better for each particular learner. Each of them is unique yet with time and exploration, we can discover each person’s particular learning styles. Haven’t you ever found yourself adapting material to fit your own learning style? Well, I have been there, and sometimes I still am.

One-on-one teaching allows students to take more risks, to be more open in general and to enrich the classes with their personal accounts. This allows teachers to focus on solving problematic areas in the learners’ weaknesses.

For me teaching one to one is a learning experience, a moment of sharing and collaboration – like a deal where both the learner and the teacher give their best.


Key characteristics of A Student-Centered Learning Approach

Maybe you are one of those teachers who thinks that teaching one to one can be boring, however if you advocate a Student Centered Approach, have you noticed how many things teaching one to one and SCA have in common? In his article, Carl Rogers and Postmodernism: Challenges in Nursing and Health Sciences, Phillip Burnard writes that learners might not onlychoosewhat to study, but also how and why that topic might be an interesting one to study. Burnard also says that when implementing a student-centered learning environment, one must pay attention to …

▪   What the learner is curious about learning

▪   Teaching strategies to accommodate individual needs.

▪   Increased responsibility and accountability on the part of the student, increased sense of autonomy in the learner.

▪   Shifting responsibility for learning from teacher to learner

▪   Mutual respect within the learner teacher relationship,

▪   Reflective approach to the teaching and learning process on the part of both teacher and learner.

▪   Designing content as a means to building knowledge rather than a knowledge end in itself

▪   Positioning the teacher as a facilitator and contributor, rather than director and source of knowledge

In order to interact with other people in one-on-one classes, some members of my PLN visit us for a Google Hangout once in a while.  As learners become more self confident, we Hangout together in groups even when at different levels. I encourage them to think that as long as they have a message to share they can get prepared for the meeting, and because we develop trust as a virtue in our classes, little by little we move forward together more confidently. Developing trust is crucial in any kind of teaching scenario. When I teach adults their main concern is privacy, and fear of making mistakes, which would make them feel awkward or silly and resulting in lower confidence. Caring for each of them is my daily commitment, and they know it.



Planning a series of lessons for the future might be another challenge. As for me, one way of getting daily motivation is to explore what’s going on around and within learners. I find myself looking forward to seeing what my learners bring to class. When it comes to language, though, it’s simply not possible to predict the emergent language they will need to communicate an idea, and so rather than plan, we un-plan and build up from what’s within and around us. This un-planning sometimes results in a walk around the neighborhood where we take some pictures on our way to the nearest park, and we sit down on a bench and talk about the images and the conversation usually takes us to unpredictable and powerful dialogs.

Learning happens everywhere.



I don’t usually grade learners’ work.  I don’t think they need a grade, however there’s lots of feedback. Besides, the more I dig deep into questions like “Why do we learn?” and therefore “Why do we teach?” the more I move into uncertainty whether learning can be really measured.

I try to put emphasis on what they have achieved. I provide clear examples of what they have managed to identify correctly, information about the use of language, vocabulary, effort, creativity, and any other relevant information. Sometimes I record videos, providing emergent language needs from their productions; and encourage them to re edit their work.

Last year, I invited some learners to create their own e-books. Because we don’t follow textbooks we use Google docs to collect notes, links, projects, ideas, reflections and I thought that putting their productions together would be exciting and motivating. And it was…

However it went far beyond that. It turned out to be a self-assessment project. Having done this activity at the end of the year somehow proved to them that learning had happened.  I will hardly ever forget their pride in becoming writers of their own learning journey.



One big challenge I face is that learners tend to cancel classes, which is undoubtedly detrimental for learning. On the other hand, when we are freelancers and teaching one to one, we don’t usually get paid for classes we do not give. I have been reflecting on finding ways to deal with this, and I am piloting the idea of “delivery lessons” as I call them. So, when learners cannot take the class they know I’ll email them the class.

Here are two examples:

Describing people

Simple Past, Present Perfect & more


Final Words

Teaching one to one or teaching groups is sometimes a choice and sometimes a question of professional opportunities or needs, but what I do know is that I teach because teaching makes me happy. Please scroll down to view examples of some of the explorations my learners and I have made on our joyous learning journey.



Burnard, P. (1999). Carl Rogers and postmodernism: Challenges in nursing and health sciences. Nursing and Health Sciences 1, 241-247)

Wilberg, P. (1994). One to One, A Teacher´s Handbook. London: Heinle.


Some examples of our learning journey


Allie visits White Planet http://www.pimpampum.net/bookr/?id=53440

Last Joke in Life http://www.pimpampum.net/bookr/?id=38099

The Case against Good and Bad-How the story can be perceived from different perspectives using adjectives http://www.pimpampum.net/bookr/?id=45183


E-books: We created them using Pages for Mac and exported them as epubs, so learners keeps their eBooks in their devices, in order to share an example I uploaded one of them into http://issuu.com, which unfortunately does not support embed videos or podcasts.

My 2013 English Journey


Dealing with the news: Writing about the news and reporting the news

Npaper-First edition

6 o’clock News


Which job would you like to apply for?

Which job I would like to apply for


Dealing with art

Salvador Dali

Community Project: Vincent Van Gogh

Sharing stories about holidays


Reading (Glogster works better in Chrome or Firefox) Of Mice and Men

Emergent Language and Needs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVV0CHZYMJc&feature=share


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Voices from the iTDi Community – Debbie

Debora Tebovich – Argentina

Debora (Debbie) Tebovich is a passionate teacher who teaches face-to face and one-to-one at home. Also she has begun teaching online because commuting in the city has become a great challenge. She lives and works in Buenos Aires. She is passionate about teaching teenagers and adults. She believes in the big power of learning together with learners, empowering each other and growing as human beings who are part of a huge community of people.  She is also an avid home-keeper and loves gardening. She would rather be gardening in her hometown, but her balcony makes her happy! She loves swimming and walking on sunny days yet, wouldn’t mind going out in the rain.

What are you passionate about, Debbie?

Teaching, learning, and writing are definitely my passions as well as being a mother and taking care of the home. What I love most about teaching is how much we can learn together with students and within communities of educators from all over the world. I can teach the same lesson twice and it’s never the same. My students are special and different which makes them unique, so we start the journey into a topic and they can lead me to something unexpected, which I grab quickly because it’s what they have discovered and it triggers motivation through curiosity. If we can’t do it right at that moment, I take notes and we return the following class. As I love to say, I might hold their hands to begin the journey but it’s them who become the guiding force in my classroom. Also, as they learn how much we connect with the world, they learn we are part of community, that we are people helping and learning together. That’s so amazing about teaching and learning, isn’t it?

How and why did you become a teacher? 

I can’t remember when, I guess I was still crawling. I opened a language school with a partner and it was a boom.  We had over 200 students the first year in a little town. But after some time, I discovered I enjoyed little classes that were more intimate, so with time also I started following my heart and I ended up teaching small groups.  Now more matured, freer to follow my own decisions and dreams, I teach at home one to one, or in very little groups. I cook something for my students and we share coffee while we learn. IF you’d like to hear me talk more about this question with perhaps some brutal honesty, please click here to listen if you’d like:

What are you most interested in right now?

Right now, I am interested in lesson planning and developing my own material. I started a project to involve my students in the decision of what we want to do in class, and what we can agree would be best for them to do in class. You can see some of that goal setting work with student here.


Also, as I have learnt and believe so strongly in the power of a community of passionate teachers, I am working on a project to take other teachers’ material and, as far as possible, see if it can be enriched as I develop adapt it for my students. The idea is, if we are a community, why would we start creating from scratch if we can use material developed and shared by other members and make it richer by adding something new. In the same way, this material would get incredibly rich if other teachers do the same. Imagine how much we would have! Also, I am very concentrated on developing as a teacher. In fact the more I study and learn, the more I see I have to go on. I guess this is not new but I just feel it so strong inside.

What things do you do to help you get better at being a teacher?

I do most of my professional development online. First because I can choose the area I am interested in and because I have met incredible teachers just willing to share and encourage us to try new things.

Now I am more careful about recording the  courses I take and I have made a grid where I collect info about my CPD, very simple but I know when I took a webinar, or course, who was the teacher, what I have learnt and the links to the new material.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher at this moment?

One big challenge is managing time and resources. There’s so much going on, it’s time consuming and I usually spend long hours trying to keep updated. So, sometimes it’s really challenging to figure out what is the best course of action to take to make my classes better. My ultimate goal is to teach in a way in which students feel comfortable as they develop their self- esteem and find that learning can be fun, in a way that empowers them and myself as human beings — and I am beginning to see great results. My students are more open to agreeing and disagreeing, also the value the work we do together, teenagers have learnt they read to discover and learn something new and not just get a pass on a test. I think this is the most rewarding result.

Also I read lots of blogs by great teachers absolutely passionate about their work, but as technology becomes so important I see we tend to spend a lot of time discovering new tools and blogging about them. I love tech tools too, but I have come to the point that my commitment is to be close to what my students need and design the best plans and projects. This is what I see they need the most, a great idea, something great to discover. I tell them the most important thing is to have something great and interesting to share. Then, if I think a tool will make the work easier or more attractive somehow, I suggest using technology.

I have the feeling that technology is exciting but I am beginning to feel it is something similar to fast food.  Maybe it’s a cheap metaphor but I have discovered that there’s nothing like homemade food.

There’s nothing like going out on a sunny day to take a walk and bring our cameras along. Then we sit on a nearby park bench, and we talk about the photos we took, which usually takes us to some stories and if they allow me, I record them. We come back to the classroom and we exchange feedback about our walk.

We use technology when we watch a video clip or read something online, or do research. Sometimes we write together so we can use technology to make our own e-books, and this gives learners the feeling of having a broader audience, like “someone out there is reading my work”. We also work on writing trip journals using technology and I encourage them to record some work, only to see how they make progress.

What advice would you give to a teacher just starting out on a journey of professional development?

I would love to accompany a new teacher beginning on her or his journey. I had felt lonely many times, until I discovered the most incredible force: the power of communities. This has helped me to get the best from myself. However, there is a road to reach this point. I would say that getting a twitter account was the first thing I did and that you should do if you don’t have one. My first tweet was, “Can anybody tell me what Web 2.0 means, please?” It still makes me laugh, but little by little I found that somebody has answered every time I asked for help. It still surprises me.

Debbie, is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

The blogs depend on the area of interest, and it takes some time to discover, who out there, is on a similar path. There are so many incredible bloggers on different areas, like reflecting upon teaching, technology applied to the classroom, lesson plans, or the BBC always providing great links. I think that one of the first teachers in Twitter who answered me was Lisa Dabbs, then Shelly Terrell. I still wonder how she manages to cope with so many things. Then there is Marisa Constantinides, Cecilia Lemos, Sandy Millin, Carla Arena, Scott Thornbury, Steven Herder, Barb Sakamoto, Nik Peachey, and my good friend Chuck Sandy, whom I can’t thank enough. You have given me the courage and trust I could not find anywhere. I never felt alone after I knew that there was a group of people you lead who rushes to answer and comment or at least “like” every challenge you share.

What’s your favorite quote about being a teacher, Debbie?

Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world” applied both to everyday life and education. For me teaching is inseparable from who I am as a person.

Is there any question I didn’t ask that you’d like to answer? That is, is there anything else you’d like to say?

Yes, thank you! I started this journey two years ago, and I just never thought I would be writing this.  I know how my journey started,  but I can’t say exactly how or what I have done, or define all the twists and turns on my journey that have allowed me to reach this point. And I know, and need to remember that it is just the beginning.