Tutorials: why and how?

Feb 9 / Ali Kemp

Tutorials are so important to help students identify their progress and goals, but what's the best way to tackle them? Read on to find out how to make sure our tutorials are goal-oriented, effective and leave the students smiling. 

Why are tutorials important?

Tutorials give us the perfect opportunity to check in with our students and find out how they think they are progressing, what they are enjoying about the classes and what they are finding difficult. This can be the basis for planning our lessons to meet students’ needs and students generally relish the opportunity to have a bit of one-to-one time with their teacher!
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What are some of the challenges?

There seem to be a lot of challenges when it comes to delivering meaningful tutorials.
Sometimes we need to manage the expectations of our students but how do we tell them that they aren’t ready to ‘level up’?
And sometimes, we’re not even be sure about what the capabilities for each level should be. And how do we feedback to parents, employers or other sponsors?
And to top it all off, what do the rest of the class get up to while you are in a one to one with one of their classmates?

Let's break it down so that we can develop effective & purposeful tutorial techniques

Student self-evaluation

Guide students through their own self-evaluation with a pre-tutorial self-evaluation form. This can be done for homework or in class as a discussion activity. If your students know each other well, they could even evaluate each other!

 Use a sliding scale for students to mark how much progress they feel they’ve made.
 Find out what students enjoy about learning English.
 What three things do they want to improve by the end of the course?
 Encourage them to set one clear goal for the period up until the next tutorial.

Assessing progress and managing expectations

The best way to manage student expectations is to have clear markers for measurement of progress. These can be a number of different things. A pre-course needs analysis can identify students’ goals and can be referred back to during the tutorial. You can also use the coursebook as a marker – to what extent did the student successfully complete the units they’ve been working on?

The CEFR ‘Can do’ statements are also very useful as a reference tool. You might want to be a bit selective about which ‘Can dos’ you focus on in a tutorial as they are meant to be for guidance rather than a checklist of what a student should achieve before they can move to the next level. They often appear in coursebooks either as a set of goals at the beginning of a unit or as a self-assessment tool at the end.

During the tutorial

✅Use the student’s self-evaluation as the basis of your discussion. Do they see their progress the way you do? Refer to any test results or practical activities they’ve done in class which demonstrate how they are doing.

✅Make some practical suggestions about how to achieve the goal they stated on their self-evaluation form. These could be that they add three items every day to their lexical notebook or that they record themselves speaking and listen back at how they used verb tenses.

✅Using the ‘Can dos’, let students know what level they are at for each skill. They might have very good spoken fluency for instance but their grammatical accuracy might need more work.

✅Both you and the student should keep a record of the tutorial so that it can be used as a starting point for the next one. You may also need it if you are doing a report for parents or employers.

What about the rest of the class?

Sometimes in language schools, we have to integrate tutorials into our lessons - so that means having a one-to-one conversation during class time.
Won't the rest of the class complain if I take time out to do one-to-one tutorials with each student?

In my experience, no. There are lots of things that they can be getting on with either independently or in groups. They can test each other with vocab cards; work on collaborative writing tasks; share videos or learning apps; play communicative board games; prepare group presentations; or plan a school trip.

Why not present them with a number of ‘workstations’ with a variety of activities set up, so that they can choose what they do with the time and who they work with.

If you'd like to see one way of getting learners to evaluate their current level, click the button below to download our worksheet. This includes group activities for students to start reflecting on their own progress and goal setting, and a form for pre-tutorial self-evaluation and teacher’s comments.