Here is my approach to teaching English to a student or small group of students (e.g. 4 people) for the first time. I hope that some of you find it helpful.
Introduce Myself (5 minutes)
After basic greetings, I introduce myself to the student(s). First, I will just give my name and nationality and then ask the student if he/she has any questions. This is a good opportunity to see if the student can form proper questions. I expect questions like “How long have you been teaching? / How long have you been living here?”, etc. If the student does not ask any questions, I will give them a short outline of my teaching experience and qualifications.
Discuss Expectations & Goals (10-15 minutes)
Next is the most important thing: identifying the needs of the student(s). Making an effort to understand what the student wants communicates that you are serious about helping him or her. I ask questions such as “What are your language goals? What do you want to focus on in class? How do you use or want to use English in your life? What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are?“.
There is much to discuss under this topic. I may ask if the student has taken or plans to take any language tests. Also, I often ask the student to tell me about their previous English teacher and what they liked/disliked about him/her. This helps me learn how I can satisfy the student (the customer!).
Develop a Class Plan (5-10 minutes)
With this information, I propose a plan of attack. Typically, students have English language goals similar to the following :
1 – “I want to review some English grammar, work on some pronunciation, but mainly focus on conversation since I don’t get to speak English much.”
In this case, I suggest we review the basic elements of intermediate to upper-intermediate grammar by going through the review section at the back of Cambridge’s English Grammar in Use book. (Or if you don’t have such a book, you could take a reactive approach by just addressing the student’s grammar problems as they arise).
For pronunciation, I do my best to listen to the students and write down potential areas of improvement. At the end of class (and the beginning of next class as an option), I have him/her pronounce the words in English correctly.
For conversation, it depends on the student’s interests. Typically I use news-based lesson plans from English Current (this website). If the student is a businessperson in finance, I might bring an ESL lesson plan on business ethics. If the student is a housewife who is interested in more general topics, I might bring an ESL lesson plan on the family. Or, I might just bring a list of questions, topics, or new headlines to our next class and have class without any printed material.
2 – “I need English for my job. I would like to study business English and also work on my presentation skills, etc.”
For students who want to study business English (or a more specific field such as legal English), I suggest a textbook to the student. Although some students dislike textbooks, I explain to them that I can teach English but I am not an expert in business. For this reason, a textbook is the preferred approach because it was written by experts in that particular field. It can provide the desired content with an organized structure. Thankfully, there is a variety of business English textbooks available that practice presentation skills, describing charts, formal communication, etc. In my experience, I have found the Intelligent Business series the best for business English. (Note: This was in 2013 and the series has been discontinued; please look for more updated book.)
For these reasons, I usually bring a few textbooks to the first meeting. This shows that I am serious and have resources available to help the student. (If you don’t have any textbooks, don’t worry — most things can be found online if you are resourceful or you can have the student purchase a textbook afterwards if need be).
It is also helpful to develop a class cancellation policy at this point as well. For me, I demand payment for all classes canceled with less than 24 hours notice. If you are a new teacher, however, you may want to be more lenient.
Student Introductions (15 minutes)
Practical matters aside, I now let the student(s) introduce themselves. If it is a group class and the students all know each other, I get them to introduce one of their classmates to me using the third person. If the students don’t know each other, I pair them, have them interview each other, and then share the information with the class afterwards.
Look at My Watch (4 seconds)
Short Discussion (5-30 minutes)
If time permits, I will discuss one of three or four topics I have prepared in advance. Usually these are topics related to current local news (e.g. an election), or something more general. A long list of English conversation class topics can be found here.
If it’s a group class and there are at least 30 minutes remaining, I sometimes do an activity where I write a bunch of presentation topics on the board, for example “economics, politics, sports, entertainment.” Then I have each student pick a topic, prepare, and then give a short presentation on that topic in their home country. This can also be great for the student to prepare as homework and then give at the next class.
Review Mistakes (5 minutes)
In the last 5 minutes of class, I review the student’s mistakes. As a teacher, I have been noting down the student’s mistakes (on paper) during the class. At this point, I review the notes and explain the errors. Often, I recommend the student start an English vocabulary book and I ask him/her to add the key vocabulary items to it, and write example sentences for homework.
Say Goodbye (10 seconds)
Total time = 45 – 80 minutes
There it is. That’s my general structure for the first English class. Be sure to periodically check with your student if there are things he or she would like to change. Providing an easy and stress-free opportunity for the student to suggest changes will help ensure you keep him or her happy to the best of your abilities.
– Matthew Barton / Englishcurrent.com