5 Ideas for Teaching English One-on-One

Raquel Thoesen
Individualized instruction provides a unique opportunity to truly engage a student in a lesson. Here are a few ideas to help you teach one-on-one!

photo student and teacher one-on-one
In many countries, classroom instruction centers around lecturing and passive learning. A group of students face a teacher, who delivers information without much feedback or participation from students. Students then must rely on their notes and textbooks to absorb knowledge, then retain it through individualized study.

This common teaching approach in the classroom makes individualized instruction, or tutoring in American English, a unique opportunity to truly engage a student in the lesson and provide a constant stream of personalized feedback on their performance.

Students are pushed to speak English with the instructor throughout the entire session, because there is no one else present to answer questions and engage! Students also receive customized instructions that suit their ability level and preexisting knowledge. These factors make teaching one-on-one much different than standing in front of a sea of students.

Are you looking for some unique ideas to encourage participation in individualized lessons? Here are a few tried and true ideas to implement in your next session!

1. Two-Player Word Games

While you shouldn’t spend an hour lecturing your student, you also shouldn’t expect your student to dominate the session either. Two-player word games are fun and encourage students to actively recall vocabulary words with correct spelling. The pressure to participate is distributed between the both of you, so the student doesn’t feel under a “spotlight” or singled out.

Some common word games to try include:

  • Hangman – The classic! Take turns thinking of words, and have the other player guess the letters.
  • Memory – Write vocabulary words on cards, turn them upside down, and take turns matching the cards by remembering where each is placed. The player with the most pairs at the end wins.
  • Shiritori – This game is originally Japanese, but works just as well in English. You can play either verbally or written down. One person says a word, and the other must say a word starting with the last letter of the previous word. You can play for as long as you want.

2. Describe Pictures

A sign of fluency in any language is being able to fully describe a situation or scene. Print out pictures, use images in a textbook, or rip out ads from a magazine and have your student explain what’s going on. You can ask follow-up questions to create a dialogue.

3. Write Short Journals

Establishing a routine for your students to follow in individualized instruction helps you keep organized and your student to know what to expect. Try opening each lesson with a conversation about each other’s day, then have your student write a paragraph or two depending on English ability about their day or a specific topic. This is a great exercise for writing practice and your student can receive immediate feedback, while also having a record to show progress over time.

Possible topics include hobbies, current events, cultural norms, reflections on past English lesson, or anything else of interest to the student. If he or she likes a topic, it will be much easier to write about!

4. Reading Practice for Pronunciation Practice

Anyone is able to grab a book and read alone, but the value of reading out loud with an instructor exists in pronunciation and intonation practice. When learning another language, it’s difficult to speak confidently or speak up at all, if you suspect you sound silly. Reading a text out loud at the students’ comprehension level allows them to listen to themselves and gives you the opportunity to provide live feedback.

Correcting pronunciation after every word can be discouraging, so instead try pausing after every few sentences to go over some mispronunciations you noticed.

5. Board Games

You don’t need to have Monopoly or Scrabble to teach English through a board game. Dedicated EFL board games like WORD UP are handy if you have one around, but there are alternatively several free options to print out.

EFL resource sites across the internet provide printable board games to practice specific vocabulary groups or grammar, such as passive voice or tenses. While it may seem that the student would be at a disadvantage against the instructor, games that incorporate chance with dice rolls even out the playing field. It also gives students a chance to hear your answers as an example.

One-on-one sessions let you design creative lesson plans and reinforce concepts as many times as a student needs. Apart from reviewing homework or answering questions, you can also incorporate these engaging ideas in your next lesson to truly encourage participation and reinforce learning!

Written by Raquel Thoesen for EnglishClub
Raquel has taught English in both South Korea and Germany. She is also a contributing author for Teach.com, a resource for online degrees in school counseling and careers in education.


  • fati lawan says:

    comment is that how can I learn m
    o experience about education and English

  • Ashleigh says:

    Any more ideas for an English club at a Japanese high school with 6-7 members (mostly boys)?

  • Waits says:

    Very interesting. I am going to practice it.

  • Ashley Chioma Opara-Ekwe says:

    Raquel Thoesen can I talk to you one on one?

  • R Ritchey says:

    I do describe a picture and landscapes work very well

  • Michael Whittemore says:

    Well done. I do a lot of one on one teaching and do pretty much the same thing. I have not tried items like “describe a picture” or “board games”. Most of my classes are online so board games would be hard to do. But love the picture idea.

    Thank you!

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