Tutoring ESL: How to Teach The Perfect Trial Lesson

Finding an English as a Second Language (ESL) student to tutor is as easy as placing an ad online and then waiting for your phone to ring.
The difficult part comes when it’s time to meet your student face to face for that first lesson. What questions should you ask? Is it necessary to create a detailed lesson plan? And how do you convince your potential student that you’re the best person for the job?

It’s not as difficult as it may seem. Here are five tips to follow.

1. Dress the Part

That doesn’t mean that you have to wear a suit, but dress professionally. No jeans, wrinkled shirts, flip flops or anything else that would give your potential student reason to believe that you’d be a waste of money. A good first impression means that half the battle is won and if you look like a capable and intelligent teacher, they’ll be more likely to think of you as such.

2. Sell Yourself

Just like you would at a job interview, explain (briefly) why you’re qualified for the job.

After you’ve shook hands and introduced yourself, tell the student about where you went to University, what you studied and any relevant work experience you’ve had teaching or tutoring English. Talk a little about where you’re from and your hobbies. Personalize yourself as a likable person; a ‘friend’. Because the truth is that most students won’t know enough about teaching methods to be able to form an opinion on your tutoring skills. If they chose to hire you, it will be because they like you.

3. Ask Questions

Now here’s your chance to gauge their ability and level. Ask them simple, open-ended questions about their hobbies and backgrounds and mentally note how quickly and confidently they respond and which errors they make. Smile encouragingly and give them a lot of time to answer.

Some Sample Questions:

What is your job?

Did you study English before?

Why do you want to learn English?

What are your hobbies?

The answers to these questions can be very telling! It’s important to assess whether your student is serious about learning English or not. Sometimes students treat tutoring sessions as a dating service or as a means to gain an English-speaking friend (which means that once they’ve discovered that you don’t share the same agenda, they’ll drop you).

4. Offer Them the Choice of Three Different Teaching Methods

It’s extremely important to ask your students which teaching style they’d prefer. They may not know, but they’ll certainly appreciate being given the choice, as well as control over how their lessons are taught.

While there are a variety of teaching methods you could use, it’s best to keep your lessons simple and straightforward. Save the creative games and activities for a traditional classroom setting, as most adult, ESL students are too pressed for time to indulge in a game of hangman or Pictionary.

Give Them the Following Three Options:

– Lessons Taught with a Textbook (make sure to bring a few sample textbooks for them to flip through)

– Free, Unscripted Conversation Practice

– Conversation Practice based off a magazine or newspaper article

5. Give them a Contract to Sign

In the last 10 minutes of your trial lesson, show them your tutor contract (a typed outline of your rates and cancellation policy). Don’t have them sign the contract right then, because no one likes to feel pressured into making a decision. Rather, give them a copy and tell them to bring it back with them next time.

It’s important to go over the contract in the trial lesson because that way it gives the student a clear outline of your expectations. It also shows that you’re a professional and that you take your lessons and your commitment to them as a client, seriously.

Final Note:

It’s important to remember that students chose to not hire a tutor for one of two reasons.

1. The tutor doesn’t correct their English often enough and the students find the lessons to be a waste of time.

2. The tutor over-corrects their English and the students feel frustrated, discouraged or ashamed.

It’s therefore important to remember to correct their grammar or vocabulary mistakes as they speak but not to overdue it. How will you know where to draw the line? That’s why it’s so important to interview them in the beginning of the lesson and accurately gauge their comfort levels.

As a general rule, it’s better to rule on the side of over-correction. Just make sure to keep your voice light and smile. Always smile.