Teaching One to One – Henrick

Henrick Oprea

What Makes One-On-One Classes So Special?
– Henrick Oprea

After a long time teaching mainly groups, I’m now back in the position of having an equal number of private (or one-on-one) lessons. This certainly makes it easier for me to put things into perspective. It’s shed some new light on the differences between each kind of teaching, and also on what makes it so special for me as a teacher.

First of all, I’m a firm believer in personalisation and proper feedback for students. I also believe that the role the affective part plays in teaching is just as important as the role of the cognitive part as you can’t really have positive cognitive results if you’re unable to connect with your learners in the first place. When I’m teaching a group, I usually take advantage of the first classes to get to know my students as people and create some rapport with them. It makes it easier for them to trust me as a teacher and this allows me to demand a lot more from them.

In a one-on-one classroom, with only two people in the room, empathy is key. What I try as much as possible is putting myself in the shoes of the learners and really understand not only the reasons for their need to learn, but also their shortcomings and even traumas with their language learning experiences. I use the word traumas because so far I’ve chiefly worked with adults in one-on-one classes, and they’d already been through some learning experiences before they decided to try having private lessons. Such exchange and understanding of your learner has to be done from the very first time you two have the chance to talk. If you manage to pass this stage successfully, you’re bound to have loads of fun, learning and reflection.

In a one-on-one class, the teacher has to be prepared to cater for that learner in particular. This certainly means being prepared to change your lesson plan entirely if need be. Suppose your student works for a company that has decided – in a meeting right before the class – to send him or her abroad for a meeting, or that there’s a document that needs to be replied to urgently and your student asks for your help? You’ve got two options:

  1. Sure, I can help you with that as much as possible;
  2. Sorry, but that’s not what you’re paying me for.

I myself always take the first option. By making yourself available to help your student with something that truly is meaningful for him or her, you have the chance to create lots of learning opportunities that will stick. After all, they are the ones who have brought the material to class, they’ve got an interest in learning what’s there, which is likely to translate in easier retrieval of what you end up teaching them. In addition to helping them, you yourself may end up learning something new and that is likely to be useful in the future with other learners.

Another point to consider is how resourceful you ought to be as a teacher when you’re teaching one-on-one lessons. In a group, you’ve got different learners, each with his or her expectations, demands and worries. More often than not, they’ll end up having to adapt to one or two activities you’ve decided to do in a class simply because this activity caters best to other learners in the group. At the end of the day, you need to add variety to your classroom activities, but your ideas can be used and reused every now and then. When you’re teaching one student only, things are slightly different.

Each learner has his or her own shortcomings, and it is only by being truly aware of these that you’ll be able to help them achieve their goals. Such awareness can be taken to situations that are really extreme. For instance, I’ve never thought I’d have to teach someone who’s recovering from a stroke. Yet, I’ve been teaching a student for about 5 months now and I can’t tell you just how gratifying it is to witness his progress on a daily basis. This has meant a lot of work on my side, as I had to not only re-read much of what I’d read about it, but I also had to study new things on the development of the brain. Among the many benefits to me, it’s rekindled my interest in cognitive neuroscience and it has forced me to put into use many of the different techniques I’d learnt in my teaching career.

There are also the other (more regular) cases, the ones in which you’ll find yourself dealing with a top executive who needs to prepare for a presentation in English, or for a business trip. There are those who are just interested in learning the ropes of the language to be able to communicate on their next trip to Disney World. There are students who want you to use a course book, and students who despise the use of a course book. Each student is unique, and so should your teaching be. It takes the one-size-fits-all approach completely off the table.

Teaching one on one means being prepared to tackle all possible situations as they come, it means being on the top of your game at all times and being able to think on your feet. Oh, wait a minute…. This is what teaching itself entails. The main difference in a one on one class, then, is the fact that you’ll end up having to develop your bag of tricks a lot further and faster if you are to make things interesting each and every day. Most importantly, you’ll better understand the value that trust, empathy and affection have in learning after you have the chance to work with one-on-one classes.


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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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Teaching One to One – Alexandra

Alexandra Chistyakova

Some Guidelines For Teaching One-To-One
– Alexandra Chistyakova

There is an upsetting disproportion between the amount of available teacher resourses designed for teaching groups and those for teaching one-to-one. While there are a really huge number of materials for working in groups, the resources specifically written for the use in a one-to-one classroom are somewhat scanty. And though some of the group-oriented materials could be adjusted to the individual lessons, they sometimes fail to be efficient enough and to meet the specific one-to-one teaching and learning situation. As Peter Wilberg puts it: “teachers face an almost lack of published materials written with them in mind. It is not very helpful to use course books with instructions such as Get the students to stand in a circle.” [2002, Heinle] The above disproportion concerns not only teacher resources but also the teaching methods and techniques for managing one-to-one classes.

All this makes one-to-one teaching a largely disregarded field of teaching. One may ask a truly legitimate question here: why is it so? The answer is that one-to-one teaching is a highly personalized and utterly unique process. Each student is unique, thus each one-to-one lesson is unique too. What works for one student may not work for another. That’s why it is rather challenging to produce generalized materials. However, it could be only right and, in fact, really useful to put forward some general principles that govern one-to-one teaching.

Below are the guidelines I have derived when reflecting on my one-to-one teaching experience.

  1. Be flexible. Be ready in the lesson to drop your lesson plan all together. Be prepared for the lesson or classroom discussion to stray in unpredictable directions. Spontaneity and unpredictability are an integral part of one-to-one teaching. Do not resist it: rather let your student do, discuss or ask questions about what they are genuinely interested in at the moment. However, be also aware of subversive behavior of young and teenage learners who sometimes pretend to be interested in questions they are asking you but, in fact, are just trying to avoid doing the lesson. That’s why teachers need to be flexible but at the same time they should not let the lesson get completely out of their control. Try to see a teaching and learning opportunity in everything that is happening in the lesson and try to gently steer your student toward their learning goals.
  2. Be patient. Be more patient. Never get tired of being patient with your student. Even when you have explained the same point dozens of times but your student still doesn’t fully get it or shows no sign of really making an effort to use it and all this makes you want just to explode – be patient still. Take a deep breath and start all over again. Try to find a new approach for explaining or illustrating the point. For this end, you will need another quality – creativity.
  3. Be creative. Creativity is helpful not only for a teacher to come up with new ways of explaining the same topic several times. More often creativity in one-to-one teaching is indispensible to address the needs and learning style of a particular learner. We should be creative and resourceful to be able to find the words, images, associations or lesson style and organization that best suit the particular learner.
  4. In order to meet the unique needs of our individual learners, we should be attentive to what is happening in the classroom. We have no right to switch off for a little while just to give ourselves a tiny break during a lesson as we sometimes do when teaching groups. Teaching one-to-one requires teacher’s full attention: the teacher needs to be always present and involved in the lesson. We should be observant and sensitive to the smallest changes in the course of the lesson and learners’ mood and situation. A teacher is like a fine-tuned instrument responsive to the slightest alterations.
  5. See a personality in your student. Take them as a whole person with their own problems, joys, aspirations and ambitions. Try to remember everything your students are sharing with you. Exploit your students’ context and environment for teaching purposes but do it appropriately and carefully so that not to hurt them accidentally. All this is highly important as it helps to build rapport with your student. Remember: it takes two to tango. Your student and you are both in it. And if you want your joint journey to be successful and pleasant for both you need to get to know each other better.
  6. Be enthusiastic about the language. Pass on your passion for the language to your students. Make them see the logic and beauty of the language. Let them enjoy working with and discovering new linguistic features. Make them want to start their own journey into the world of the language. Help them realize that the language is theirs to explore and enjoy. Help your learners to avoid the mechanical, I’ll-learn-a-number-of-words-and-grammar structures-and-be-able-to-speak-it attitude to the language. Bring in some poetic or humorous flair into the language learning. Let your students have fun!

And don’t forget to have fun too!

Also, we should be active and initiative to solve the problems we face. The disproportion in available one-to-one materials I was talking about at the beginning can be balanced up if we all collaborate! So, if you have some one-to-one ideas and techniques you would like to share with other teachers, I’m happy to invite you to the 1-2-1 Facebook group and wiki where we have set the goal to collect useful tips or lesson plans for all teachers who happen to teach one-to-one. We haven’t collected much so far but we are hopeful that the project will bring fruit in the end. Thank you!


1-2-1 Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/154531554730094/

1-2-1 Wiki: http://onetoonewiki.pbworks.com/w/page/67383628/1-2-1%20Front%20page


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Teaching One to One

What makes teaching one-to-one special? In this issue, Henrick Oprea
Débora Tebovich, Alexandra Chistyakova share their perspectives.


Henrick Oprea
Henrick Oprea
Debora Tebovich
Débora Tebovich
Alexandra Chistyakova
Alexandra Chistyakova


Connect with Henrick, Débora, Alexandra and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

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