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How to Teach a Child English One to One

On the ESL forums one often sees teachers asking for ideas
to make their one to one lessons more fun. Many teachers
are brilliant in the classroom but are at a loss for ideas
when it comes to teaching children English in private
classes, and that is a shame because teaching one on one
can be very rewarding, as well as often being a good source
of extra income.

By far the best approach for children for successful and
fun one to one teaching is to use games and songs. One of
the tricks is to have a substantial library of games that
work for one on one teaching. Another essential is to have
a strong sense of fun and be prepared to join in the games.

If you teach using games children will love your private
classes, and their parents will love you for the results
you achieve. A bi-product of this already very successful
combination is that by teaching children in a fun way, you
establish an important link between enjoyment and learning,
which can enhance the rest of that child's whole life.

Here now are some ideas to use games successfully when
teaching one to one. Most games need more than one player,
which means that you sometimes need to join in and play the
game too. You could say, "well then I'd just win all
the time", and that can be true. So if you are
playing a game that is not just pure luck, and where
normally you would win all the time, then you can do things
like this:

- Give your pupil a head start of 10 to 30 seconds.
- Make your task harder.
- Double the task you must complete in the same time your
pupil completes it once.
- Award your pupil three points to your one.
- Award your pupil 10 bonus points at the start of the
- Lose deliberately by being slow (but pretend to hurry),
or 'accidentally' drop your pen.

Another way of adding an element of fun to a one to one
lesson is to use a stopwatch or timer to add excitement.
This allows your pupils to race against themselves rather
than always being in competition or playing against you.

Time your pupil each round of a game and see if they can
beat their previous time. You can also use the stopwatch
to give a time limit to an activity, aiming to allow only
just enough time so that your pupil is more stimulated than
if he or she were simply working methodically through the

Oven timers that tick and have a bell that goes off after
the given time is up are also good. Your pupil must
complete the task before the bell goes off. Substitutes
for an over timer could be an alarm clock, a wind up
musical box or an egg timer.

Bells that you find on hotel reception desks are also fun.
The students race to tap on the bell when they have their
answer. This is more effective when you have two or more
students but is still an added fun element for the younger
children even in one to one lessons.

And finally, always be sensitive: be careful that one
person does not always lose and only use competition if you
see that it enhances the mood rather than causes unnecessary
tension or a loss of morale. With children between the
ages of 3 and 6 any form of competition is best avoided.
You can play the game or use the timer as usual, but make
sure that you play until the end so everyone wins – not
just the person who finishes first, and with the timer
idea, it is essential that the child finishes before the
time is up – even if you have to indefinitely extend that
time. If a young child does not finish in the required
time it really upsets them and they will probably cry – and
that is not the aim of the game. Rather you want the child
ALWAYS to succeed, so that he or she feels great about
learning English.

Information about a special edition of 64 one to one games
for children is available in the resource box below this

Teaching one to one is immensely rewarding, as progress can
be fast. In addition to games putting on short plays with
your student in front of their parents or friends is also a
winning activity. Children absolutely love to be the
centre of attention and show off what they have learned.
One can write simple repetitive scripts with basic English,
but with a funny twist in them and this will give a great
deal of pleasure to the child, who will be happy to
rehearse and perform, and for the parents who will be so
impressed with your results that they will be sure to keep
sending their child to the lessons.

If possible lend or recommend films to watch for homework,
such as Spiderman, Batman, King Kong, or Cinderella and
Walt Disney movies - all in English with NO subtitles.
Your pupils will watch these many times over willingly and
will absorb a huge amount of language subconsciously, even
if initially they cannot understand the dialogues.

If you are thinking about the cost of buying videos then
take heart. You can find very cheap second hand videos and
DVDs on the Internet.

You could also build a library of comic books to read for
homework. You would not expect your student to understand
all that much initially but the subconscious will be
absorbing the language all the time.

Take a deposit for the replacement cost of the video or
comic (including postage) to encourage return of the video
or comic.

The combination of giving fun classes with games, getting
results and offering extra services such as a video or
comic library, will set you apart from your colleagues and
you'll be sure to get lots of recommendations from parents
to you for private classes.

Shelley Vernon has helped 1000s of teachers be an
inspiration to their pupils and achieve results 2x as fast.
Improve the effectiveness of your lessons by up to 80%.
Receive free English language games now on

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