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What things can you do in a one-to-one class which you cant

do in groups?
Make a list.
1. Go at the students pace.

What things can you do in a one-to-one class which you cant

do in groups?

Suggested answers (not exclusive)

a) Go at the students own pace.
b) Be in real (authentic) communication with the student at all
c) Use input, materials, data, etc. supplied by the student for
language work.
d) Monitor the students speaking, progress and errors on a
continuous basis.
e) Give your student opportunities to record themselves and use the
recordings intensively.
f) Allow no time constraints on the students presentations, etc.
g) Give the student the task of transcribing recorded material from
listening to work on.
h) Make extensive use of close-up work, e.g. cuisenaire rods, small
cards, small visual aids, etc.
i) Gather material for the students individual needs.
j) Arrange trips and visits to suit the individual student.
k) Handle lessons with greater spontaneity and responsiveness to
the individual personality, level and style of the student.
l) Make use of individual dictation or of student board work.
m) Take breaks at any time.
n) Plan the pattern of the lessons with the student and offer

Types of One-to-one Dictation

Gapped dictation: Dictate a short text leaving out all examples of a
given language item, e.g. prepositions, modal verbs or (for fluency rather
than accuracy) adjectives. The student writes just the missing items.
Intensive dictation: An alternative to the above. The teacher dictates a
complete text but the student only writes down, for example, the passive
forms or verbs followed by gerund or infinitive etc.
Correction dictation: Dictate a short text on a subject well known to the
student which contains factual mistakes. The student writes the
corrections in note form and then either writes them up or tries to repeat
them to the teacher in sentence form. This could also be turned into a
speaking activity with the student interrupting to correct orally.
Dictation sorting: Dictate a list of words or phrases which the students
must write down in certain categories. These could be grammatical (e.g.
noun/verb/both, Verb 2/Verb 3/both), lexical (e.g. by topic or level of
formality) or based on personal reactions (e.g. write down the
word/phrase according to whether you like/hate/feel neutral about it or
according to the initial sense image you have do you first
see/hear/feel/smell the word, for example; write the phrase down next to
the person you would feel most comfortable saying it to How old are
you? to a stranger on a bus/your boss/your grandmother etc.) In the
case of personal reactions comparison of a students sorting with a
teachers can provide a basis for discussion.
Dictation matching: The student writes down dictated utterances next
to the appropriate response.
Dictation to the teacher: The student prepares a short text on a subject
of their choice and dictates it to the teacher. The teacher writes down both
correcting and reformulating as s/he writes. Teacher and student then
compare texts.
One-to-one Activities Using Cards
Say something about yourself: The teacher prepares small cards (or
slips of paper) with biographical topics on them and places them upside
down in a pile. The student and teacher take it in turns to select a card
and talk (for a set period of time) on the topic. Each takes notes as they
listen to the other. After a given number of cards, the student repeats to
the teacher what they have noted down to check for factual mistakes or
misunderstandings (and comment, ask questions, etc. if they like) and the
teacher does the same including appropriate error correction and
reformulation of what the student said.

Card conversations: There are two sets of cards, one set with
conversational topics and one set either with individual words/phrases
(perhaps vocabulary to be revised) or whole sentences. Student and
teacher both select three cards from the second set. The student then
turns over a topic card. The student and teacher talk on the topic, trying
to include the words or sentences on their cards within a given time limit.
At the end of the time limit they display the word/phrase cards they have
been able to include. (This can be made more or less challenging by the
degree of connection between topic cards and word/phrase cards.)
Story telling: Student and teacher select six cards each from a set
containing random words and phrases (perhaps vocabulary to be revised)
and devise a story which links the six words. They then tell the stories to
each other (which could be written up later). As an alternative to stories,
the teacher and student could make any connections they can (e.g.
grammatical, topical, fanciful etc.) between the words and explain them.
Recalling a dialogue/text: The teacher prepares cards with key words
or phrases from a short dialogue/text the student has listened to and the
student tries to reconstruct the dialogue/text in full.
Sorting cards: For vocabulary work, the teacher prepares two identical
sets of cards with related words/phrases (to be revised perhaps) and
another small set with instructions, e.g. Arrange the [noun] cards into
the groups: big/small/varying in size or Arrange the [verb] cards into
the groups: using a lot of energy/using a little energy, etc.. (There are
many possibilities depending on the words chosen). Student and teacher
each select an instruction card and arrange the vocabulary cards
accordingly. They then look at each others arrangements and try to guess
what the rationale behind it is.
Using photographs/pictures
Holiday snaps/family photos: The student and/or the teacher brings in
photos of their family from different periods or photos of a recent holiday
and explains them, asking and answering any questions that occur.
Explaining preferences: The teacher brings in several pictures of e.g.
different types of car, different types of shoes, different types of houses in
different locations, different holiday destinations, etc. and the student
explains which they prefer and why.
News photos: The teacher brings in photos of recent world or local
events, e.g. protest actions, terrorist attacks, celebrity occasions,
politicians caught in scandals or celebrating successes, environmental
damage, etc. and asks the student to identify them and express what they
feel about them. (If there is a danger of upsetting the student in any way,
make sure there is a wide range of pictures and allow the student to
select just those they feel comfortable talking about.)

Ways of Using Reformulation and Preformulation

Parallel writing: For students who want to work on their written English.
Both the student and the teacher do the writing task (e.g. a formal letter
of complaint, an IELTS essay question) either at home or, if the student
prefers (or there is a value in practising writing to a time-limit), at the
same time in the one-to-one class itself. They compare versions and
discuss differences.
Working with a text/dialogue: The student anticipates what they will
hear (or possibly read at lower levels) from key words or pictures. Either
the student her/himself or the teacher makes a note of this
preformulation, which can then be compared with the text itself.
Working with a recording of the student: The teacher records a
prepared talk by the student or a conversation with the student and then
reformulates, explaining and practising the reformulations where
Using student diaries: As an ice-breaker the student makes a diary of a
typical day/week in note form; later on, the student can keep a diary of
their week in note form on a regular basis. They use their notes to report
to the teacher orally about their day/week. The teacher reformulates as
s/he listens and then explains and practises the reformulations with the

Ways to bring variety to one to one teaching

Sitting eye to eye with one person for an hour or more is one problem
with teaching one-to-one as is the lack of different personalities in the
room. Week in week out, this can rapidly lead to a feeling of monotony on
both sides!
Varying seating positions and adopting roles can overcome some of these
Getting out of the classroom
You dont have to do this literally (though if the student is agreeable, of
course, you can). Pretend the classroom is another place
home/somewhere the student used to work/works now etc. First , take
your student on a guided tour of your home/your school, pointing out
items (imaginary or not).
The student then does the same tour. During their commentary you note
the errors the student makes. After the tour, you can work together on the
As a possible follow-up, the student repeats the tour - but add to the
challenge e.g. they are selling their home, executive office, factory etc.
Ask your student to bring in a text relating to his/her work, hobby or a
text s/he found interesting.
Sit with your student while you both read silently. After reading, ask and
answer questions about the text. Give plenty of time for the student to
formulate the questions and answers.
Ask your student to prepare 10-15 questions for a visitor that you
describe to them, maybe a co-worker, a character from a recent text,
someone with the same hobby as the student etc. The teacher leaves the
room while the student prepares the questions.
After the pre-arranged time, the teacher knocks and enters and appears
as the visitor.
Alternative: bring in a picture/photo of someone, famous or not. You
become that person. Swap roles.
Problem solving
Bring in various interesting photos from magazines/newspapers. Hold up a
picture, i.e. of a hijacking/train wreck/car breakdown/discovered oil, any
that sets a problem and together you have to solve the problem.
Alternative the teacher or the student becomes the journalist
investigating the problem, record or take notes of the interview.
Student and teacher goes over the errors that have occurred during the
Seating arrangement A or B or E

Use any of the above situations to drill any grammar or vocabulary. The
talk/interview or tour can be set in the past, present or future. It can use
conditionals. Any topic can be used. It can be autobiographical, tell you
what you will/would have done, or about a third person (he/she), a
company (they) or their own company (we).
Seating arrangement D

Close-up work with cuisenaire rods

Cuisenaire rods are an ideal tool for close proximity work with small
classes and help to shift the focus away from the teacher.
The rods can be used to represent people, objects or relative values, for
example, or equally they can represent grammatical patterns, stress
patterns and intonation.
Using rods can help to put students in the driving seat, which can be
useful with business English students who are managers and used to
taking control.
Needs analysis
1. Get the student to write up on the whiteboard the areas she/he
wants to cover on the course.
2. The student/s each have a rod to represent each area and put the
rods in order longest to shortest to show the relative importance of
each area.
3. Student/s then make(s) a mini-presentation and explain(s) his/her
4. With a small group, the students could lay their rods end to end for
each category and compare their total lengths. This could show
what the majority wants to learn.
Graphs and charts
1. When different coloured rods are placed side by side they make a
good graph or histogram.
2. Write on pieces of paper steady rise/dramatic fall etc. in a
particular order and get the student to arrange the rods
accordingly. After checking, the student then uses the rods to
construct and explain a graph representing a situation they know.
3. Another method is for the teacher to dictate the trend or
alternatively the student dictates the trend and the teacher
arranges the rods according to the students instructions.
Problem solving
1. Ask the student/s to think of a process or sequence connected
either with their work or a hobby, e.g. a production line; a recipe;
an exam system. They select a rod for each stage of the process.
2. The student/s then describe the process, gesturing to the rods for
emphasis (e.g. as if they were walking down the production line;
making the recipe).
3. To add more difficulty the teacher could make a break in the
process to represent a breakdown in the process. Student/s then
discuss(es) what might have happened and suggest(s) solutions,
e.g. this part is damaged and needs to be replaced; an alternative
ingredient needs to be used; etc.

Business presentations
1. For students who work in a multi-national company you could
handout a photocopy of a world, continent, country map etc.
2. The student/s decide what each rod represents. For example,
branch, head office, a subsidiary, number of employees, etc. The
student places the rods to represent his/her company, e.g. the
student places three blue rods to represent 300 employees at the
Paris head office, one yellow at the Bangkok branch with 100
employees, etc.
3. The student then describes his/her company.
4. Alternatively, the rods could be used to show imaginary companies
or to represent information about a company from a dictation.
Describing organisation
1. The student thinks of an organised structure they know, e.g. their
family; the company they work for; a football team.
2. The student then decides what each rod will represent and arranges
them to show the structure. S/he then explains the structure.
3. If you have students from the same company, for example, you can
get them to discuss any changes they would like to make with the
company structure, using the rods. If you have two students from
different companies or different families, you can get them to
discuss the different structures and decide e.g. who has the best
company or the strangest family.
Describing dimensions/positions
1. The teacher first builds an object, which the student cannot see. It
could be as simple as a geometrical shape: they describe its height,
width, length, etc. and the student tries to replicate it. It could be a
complex random construction: they explain where to place the rods
in relation to each other and the student tries to follow. It could be
a representation of a room or a street or a country, etc.
2. The student then builds their own object/room etc., without the
teacher seeing.
3. The student then describes it and the teacher tries to recreate it.
Compare and discuss the differences, i.e. problem areas the
student is having with his/her language.
Cuisenaire rods can be bought over the internet at the following addresses:
In the USA
http://www.etacuisenaire.com/control/catalog.department?deptId=CUISENAIRE RODS
In the UK
In Canada